Sunday, October 27, 2013

My Day in Mulhouse, France, Part 2: The DMC Archives

After touring the DMC factory in the morning and having lunch in the company cafeteria, we drove into the City of Mulhouse, which houses the archives of DMC.
We were met by Marcel, who was our guide for the afternoon.  He was absolutely passionate about his subject and his work, and yet we were still able to wear him out with our endless questions and enthusiasm!  His English was very good, luckily for us.

This is a characteristic pose, Marcel bringing out volumes or boxes of interest to show us.  This was where he started us, in a room housing original objects from the very first days of the company.

Jean Luc and Michel, our hosts from the morning, were with us.  The oil portrait is of the founder, I believe.

This is the only machine of its kind extant in the world, very old.  I am not sure what it does, but the blown glass thread guides totally intrigued me.  Marcel almost had a heart attack when I touched one.  After that, I was careful not to touch unless given explicit permission!
He recovered very quickly, though.  ;-)

If you look closely, you can see these designs were used to block print onto fabric...use your imagination, and those sprigged French florals from the early 1800's come to mind.

This is an engraved copper roller, also also used to print fabric, but later.

Above it was a framed panel of the fabric printed with the roller.  (Sorry for the reflection of the overhead lighting.  And by the way, this entire tour was underground...literally in the Vaults!  There was no damaging sunlight anywhere, and of course, temperature and humidity were carefully controlled.)

This lady was a key figure in DMC history, Madame Therese de Dilmont.  She wrote the first seminal encyclopedia of needlework in the later 1800's, which has been translated into I forget how many languages and I believe is still in print. 

There is a framed photograph of her needlework school in Paris.

The archives contained much more than needlework samples, which was my preconception going in.  The threads manufactured and company history through the centuries are all documented and archived, from the company's beginning in 1746.  This is just one of countless thread cards.

Marcel opened it up for us and these rayon threads were as vibrant as if they were made yesterday.
And note those drawers in the photo...what was in them?

This is what!
We didn't have time to go through all the drawers, alas....

There were also countless volumes of original designs.  This one is hand drawn, of course.  I'm guessing the lettering was done with both pencil and a quill pen.

Eventually designs were printed in volumes like this.  There are thousands of such volumes in the archive.

There were display cases on the way to the actual vaults that had threads and the embroidery created from them.

This I believe is size #12 perle, the same as we use today.

And now...deep into the vaults we go....

Marcel would spin these handles and an aisle between the vaults would open up.  It was a great system.  Otherwise they are closed, saving space and preventing their contents' exposure to light.

 These are all boxes of thread samples.

Marcel enjoyed showing us this SOLID GOLD and SILVER thread!

But on to the Black Frames.  These themselves could easily take a week's time to study, at the very least.

 The Black Frames, of which there are over 300, contain needlework examples.

Marcel just pulled out a few to show us how they are organized.
 I snapped pictures as I could, but everything was going by very quickly!

 Each one was amazing.

Some of the work was simply mounted separately, but all categorized, of course!

 There were so many color cards...

This one made me think of crazy quilter Brian Haggard, who as some of you may know, loves to work in sepia and neutral tones.

 There were aisles and aisles of design folios...

Marcel would randomly pull one from the shelf and open it to something like this..handpainted, of course.

 Or this, hand penciled and then sometimes inked.

Or this, more handpainting.

Some of the volumes themselves were breathtaking, like these suede bound books.

\ The were actually very large, maybe 30" tall.

Some of the ends of the textblocks were hand marbled.

I was just about to pass out from all this richness at this point.  Marcel knew it was time to wind up our tour, but not before excitedly showing us this little folio that had just come to the Archives the week before.

It was a swatch book!  From 1807. When he opened it I just wanted to die then and there.

These are the actual cloth samples, pasted in  And again, that writing must be from a quill pen.

Each design was so beautiful to me.

This was inscribed in the back of the little volume.

After we came back up to the archive office "on the surface", Michel, Jean Luc, and Marcel spent a few minutes in rapid French with each other, no doubt glad to not have to struggle with their English with their clearly overwhelmed American ladies.

We gave our heartfelt thanks and bid our good-bye to Marcel, and walked back to the train station where Michel and Jean Luc mercifully bought us glasses of wine before putting us back on the train to Paris.

We will never, ever forget our day in Mulhouse.
I am bound and determined to go back and stay there for at least a week.  The Museum of Printed Textiles is in Mulhouse as well, you see....

I will leave you with this little sample of Japanese Embroidery, taken especially for you, Susan Elliott!

My relationship with DMC will begin a new chapter between now and New Year's, as they have very kindly commissioned me to make a small crazy quilt commemorating my impressions and feelings from my trip.

I plan on blogging the entire process here, and am looking forward very much to sharing it with you...
after I get back from Quilt Festival in Houston next week, that is!  I'll post some photos from there too.

I hope you enjoyed a taste of the Archives...!

Friday, October 18, 2013

My Day in Mulhouse, France: Part 1, Touring the DMC Factory

DMC-USA, the maker of the embroidery threads we have loved all our lives, arranged for me and my fellow contest winners to take the train to Mulhouse, France, for an in depth and personal tour of their factory, as well as of their archives which are housed by the City of Mulhouse.

Truly, it has taken me a month to digest all we saw and I hope I can convey some of our great experiences there.  I must say from the onset, I would very much love to return to Mulhouse for at least a week to properly investigate those archives.  With a good camera!

But this post is about the venerable factory.  At the very beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, DMC was the first in Europe to buy steam operated machinery for the purposes of manufacture...from the City of Manchester, England.  The company has of course had to adapt to many changes over the centuries, going from employing 5,000 in the 1920's to the 250 employees working there today.  But they've stayed on the cutting edge of efficiency, environmental responsibility, and most of all, quality.

This is the company's founding document, from 1746, from the archives.  But more of this in the next post.  Let's go see our thread being made!

Patti and Laura, on the left, are the shop owners invited by fellow contest winner Louise, center.  They are located in Lancaster, Pa, at Threads Needlework. (That's Louise's wonderful husband, Jerry, also in the center.)  Here we have just arrived after being picked up at the train station by our hosts, Michel Biechlin (current head of Research and Development, but retiring) and Jean-Luc Barbier, Michel's next-in-line.

Jean-Luc and Michel.

We went into a lab where we were shown how threads are meticulously "stress tested" to ascertain exactly if their tensile strength is up to standard.  (DMC invented all these machines, by the way.)

They keep records of every dye lot of every color they make, to ensure that colors are exactly the same.  They make over 400 colors, so this is some amazing documentation.

Never will I take a skein of DMC thread for granted again!  This thought went through my mind often during the day...

Once the individual threads were spun, they are here being plied into the 6 strand floss we know so well. (The cotton is from Egypt.)

Another shot of the thread being plied.

It had then to be put into hanks, large ones, so the thread could be mercerized.

(This might be a different thread, like perle.)  But you can see it being wound from the cones into hanks.

Mercerizing is a chemical process that makes the thread smoother with a subtle sheen, and able to accept dye better.  The hanks get dipped into a solution for a short period of time.

Michel probably knows more about thread than just about anyone in the world!

All the different weights and types of threads were there.  I was thrilled!

 Have some perle....

You can see, I was starting to get overwhelmed!

And so was Louise....

And this was before we got to the dyeing room!

The hanks have been transformed...

Once they were dyed, three hanks went into a unit.  Each unit gives over 5,000 skeins of the thread we buy at our local needlework shop.  But if it seems like a lot, remember that DMC sells their thread to over 120 countries around the world.

We are talking a zillion miles of thread here.

Every color, every thread, tested and true....and ready for our needles.

The dyed hanks go back onto the cones so they can be measured, cut and packaged into the 8 meter skeins we all know. (We didn't see the other threads being packaged, just the floss.)
Due to reasons of industrial privacy, we were asked not to photograph the machinery where the skeins are made, but here are some labels!

There was so much pride amongst all the employees, and it was well deserved.  They didn't like being photographed, so we left them in peace, hard at work.

Before Michel and Jean-Luc dropped us off at the train station to return to Paris (and after we all had a celebratory glass of wine at the station), we were given bags of goodies.

The tour was treat enough, but we all came home with lots of beautiful thread.

And while the factory was fascinating, the Archives absolutely blew me away, maybe permanently!
That will be in my next post...

I will always treasure the memory of my day at the factory!