What is Soutache?

I don't know about you, but I feel that keeping up with beading trends can often feel like balancing on a greased hamster wheel. New bead colors and shapes, new techniques, new products…the list goes on and on! Not all of these trends catch on, however, so I give in to caution about whether to embrace something or not. So, a couple of years ago when I Googled "What is soutache?" I thought boy, this is a trend that's just not going to catch on in the bead world. How wrong was I? Beading with soutache has been, and remains to be, very popular!

For those of you who don't know, soutache (SOO-tash) is basically a flat decorative trim or ribbon that's traditionally used for concealing a seam on clothing, but sometimes is used as a decorative element, too. Think about the piping and other textile embellishments on military uniforms, for instance. You'll get a sense of what I'm talking about with this 1897 illustration of a Parisien woman whose elegant collar is festooned with squiggles of soutache:


In the last couple years, our beadwork brethren have embraced soutache with a passion. In general, bead embroiders have been using a soutache cord that has a flat profile with a seam down the center. It looks great layered in different colors with beads mixed in. Some beaders use it as an embellishment when beading into a beading foundation (like Lacy's Stiff Stuff), or they use it as the armature of a piece itself, allowing it to provide the shape of a piece of jewelry.

There are many talented soutache artists doing wonderful work these days. Miriam Shimon, Anneta Valious, Dori Csengeri, and countless others are combining soutache and beads to create colorful, swirling statement pieces that just keep getting better and more elaborate. Amee Sweet-McNamera (Amee Runs with Scissors), is one of the leaders of the soutache-trend pack, utilizing the gorgeous soutache color choices available and combining them with the multitude of beads we have available, including the new two-hole beads. To get a sense of the beauty I'm talking about, check out these examples of Amee's work:

The Countess by Amee Sweet-McNamara

Bollywood Wedding Earrings by Amee Sweet-McNamara

You'll also want to check out Jen Vanbenschoten's interview with Amee, where you'll gain some insight behind what makes Amee tick as a designer.

Do these beautiful images inspire you to want to try using soutache in your next jewelry design? Maybe you feel you need a little how-to before you dive in? Well, look no further…Amee Sweet-McNamera will be conducting a live web seminar next Tuesday, November 4 that should answer all your questions and get you on your way to making beautiful soutache jewelry. (Can't attend the seminar on Tuesday? Totally fine–you can download the webinar and listen to it later!)

Happy beading!

Jean Campbell

Editorial Director, Interweave Bead Group

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