Needle knowledge brings gold standard to delicate old craft

SYLVIE DESCHAMPS fell in love with the art of gold embroidery when still a teenager.
Now the holder of a prestigious Mâitre d’Art title, her needlework impresses Gary Lee Kraut who visits her at Le Bégonia d’Or, her workshop in Rochefort

Sylvie Deschamps was 15 years old when she first held golden strings of cannetille.

“I loved its coldness and its glitter,” she says, showing the fine, gold-varnished coil that she’ll cut in pieces to embroider like pearls onto fabric.
“When I held it in my hands, I didn’t want it to stop. I didn’t find this vocation; this vocation found me.”

That vocation is gold embroidery. Thirty years later, Ms Deschamps is France’s premier master of the craft –and the art. She holds the prestigious title Maître d’Art (Master of Art), awarded sparsely by the Ministry of Culture in recognition of those with unparalleled know-how of an uncommon craft and who practice it to an exceptional degree of excellence.

Since receiving the title in 2010, numerous haute couture and luxury goods houses have come knocking at the door of Le Bégonia d’Or, the small workshop she oversees in Rochefort, in Charente-Maritime.
When this visitor came calling, she immediately put away her high-tech magnifying eyewear and hid from sight the prototypes that she and her fellow gold embroiderer, Marlène Rouhaud, were developing for luxury watchmaker Piaget. Exclusivity breeds confidentiality. However, Ms Deschamps and Ms Rouhaud are welcoming and quick to share their passion for their work.

Rochefort, a town of 25,000 in Charente-Maritime best known for its historic naval dockyard founded in 1666, would seem more apt to teach the twisting of hemp into rope to hoist sails than delicate embroidery with cannetille or gold thread.

But in this town once brimming with military uniforms bearing stripes and braids, fine embroidery was part of the fabric of the military economy... before restoration work became a part of the post-military economy.
Rochefort’s ...

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