Three Centuries at Sajou, Purveyors of French Needlework Supplies
The story of Maison Sajou spans three centuries. In the 1830s, Jacques-Simon Sajou founded Maison Sajou in Paris and sold embroidery designs; he hired women who produced images of prints and drawings in embroidery and white beads. He patented the designs, and Maison Sajou became immediately successful; gaining the attention of royalty, including the French queen, Marie Amélie Thérèse (1782–1866), certainly helped.
About 1838, Sajou established a workshop at 20 rue des Anglais that provided opportunities for orphaned girls, who lived and worked in the workshop. Students arrived at age ten or twelve and learned to read, write, count, and embroider; they also received religious education. Sajou’s objective was to ensure that by the time that the girls left, they would have the education and training they needed to make them good housewives and mothers.
By 1840, the business had expanded to include patterns for cross-stitch, and in 1848, Sajou published the company’s first collection of embroidery and cross-stitch pattern albums with charts for decorative alphabets, allover patterns, borders, and motifs. He also produced patterns for needlepoint with a color diagram (tapisserie échantillons), whitework, tapestry, and filet, and sold tools and supplies for all types of needlework, including embroidery, cross-stitch, guipure lace, bobbin lace, crochet, and weaving. Sajou became known for his ability to innovate, and his business continued to grow. In 1848, at the age of forty-three, he was named a Knight of the Legion of Honor. He also won many awards for his work at exhibitions, including a first class and a silver at the Expositions Universelles in Paris in 1867 and 1889.
In 1871, Sajou passed his business to his brother-in-law, M. Cabin. Cabin had been involved in the needlework industry, serving as a jury member for the Exposition Universelle of 1867 and a founder and former vice president of the Union Centrale des Beaux-Arts. Jacques-Simon Sajou died in August 1882, but Maison Sajou continued in business until 1954.
As early as the 1960s, Sajou’s products had become highly sought-after collectors’ items. The most desirable, treasured for their content and presentation, were the pattern albums. One of the most avid collectors was Frédérique Crestin-Billet, an author of illustrated books.
In 1988, Frédérique began publishing beautifully illustrated books on corkscrews, playing cards, snow domes, and eyeglasses. In 2003, she produced a book about scissors and another about thimbles. Some of the objects featured in these two books were from her collection.
Frédérique Crestin-Billet does not come from a long line of French needlewomen although her grandmother made wall tapestries throughout her life. She learned to knit as a little girl from her grandfather, who acquired the skill as a soldier during World War I (1914–1918) and taught herself to embroider, mainly doing satin stitch and perfecting her monograms. She always designed her own patterns, often inspired by vintage Sajou pattern albums.
In 2004, on learning that the Sajou name was no longer under copyright, Frédérique purchased the name though she was not sure what she was going to do with it. About the same time, she acquired a stock of French-made embroidery scissors. With the scissors, a few postcards inspired by vintage pattern albums, and a vision, Frédérique produced a catalog and revived the trade name of Sajou.
Catherine Amoroso Leslie is a professor in the Fashion School at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.
Sajou continues to thrive. Download a copy of the November/December 2009 issue of PieceWork to read Catherine’s complete article on this well-known brand. I fell in love with Sajou products the first time I saw them at a trade show. I am delighted that we now have several Sajou products for sale in the Interweave Store: Sajou Rosettes studded with glass-headed dressmaker’s pins, Sajou Needle Cards holding 40 needles, and the recently added Sajou Metal Tin with Travel Sewing Set. This tin contains four small cocoons of thread, two sewing needles, a needle threader, two safety pins, and two shirt buttons. Each item is a delight, and they make perfect gifts. Stock up now for the holidays!
Featured Image: Sajou thread winders. All photos by Ann Swanson. All Sajou samples courtesy of The BagSmith.