15 years ago, I discovered “traditional” embroidery through Christel Gouze-Elbaz’s kits – burgundy fabrics and threads, initials and small patterns. My passion for embroidery was born. Today I am happy to welcome Christel, her cat* and her team on my site for a more personal meeting. A meeting rich in discoveries!
Interview Claire de Pourtalès
Photos – Un Chat dans l’Aiguille – Photos are protected, please do not copy them without the permission of their author
*In French, the eye of the needle is called Chas, which sounds just like Chat, the word for Cat. Hence the word play for Un Chat dans l’Aiguille (The Cat/eye in the needle)
Can you tell us your personal story with embroidery?
I started to embroider when I was a child. During the summer school holidays, I went to my grandmother Marguerite, who was a seamstress by trade for a department store in France. Every afternoon we spent a few hours around a table on which she arranged fabrics, threads, buttons, needles. While making me dresses, she showed me how to sew a button, assemble two pieces of fabric together, embroider some very simple stitches to decorate a pocket, a napkin … the goal was to keep myself busy, while teaching me what she thought was essential for the education of a little girl.
My very first embroideries were printed wool canvases, then growing up with my own very simple, very naïve designs, this time with traditional embroidery stitches. My trousseau too… it was very important for my grandmother that I participate in its development. Embroider handkerchiefs, napkins….
Then came adolescence. My interests changed somewhat, the needles and threads remained in the drawers …
It was when I knew I was going to be a mom that I got back to it.
Becoming professional – how did it go?
After my studies, I worked for 4 years in advertising, then 4 years as a flight attendant. I spent a lot of time in airports and on airplanes. I always had a piece of canvas and threads with me … time went by faster. Not finding patterns that suited me, I started drawing them.
Then I had to leave this profession for health reasons. I then had to consider a professional retraining… After understanding which were my desires and my know-how, I decided to create ” Un Chat dans l’Aiguille /A cat in the needle”. Designing, manufacturing and distributing my first traditional embroidery kits was going to become my new job!
Why “Un Chat dans l’Aiguille”? We had a little cat at home who took great pleasure in playing with my threads when I embroidered on my sofa. Matching the cat and the needle was so easy (Note – see above). A little play on words and voila.
Then the first shows arrived. The embroiderers immediately joined in. The adventure has begun!
The first kits, the beginnings?
It all started at my home. I had taken over a room in my house, in which I cut yards and yards of fabric and threads, I drew all my models on the canvas.
A journalist from Bourgoin Jallieu had written an article on Un chat dans l’aiguille; after that my first collaborator came knocking on my door, and we started to work together. It was quickly necessary to buy a printer so that the models were directly on the canvas. I met my second collaborator while waiting for one of my children after school. She is still on the team today, and took the position of computer graphics designer.
We then invested an entire floor of my house, and the small family production of embroidery kits became a real professional activity.
So the time had come to rent a space for the company, a small house in the center of Bourgoin. The ground floor served as a Show Room, while the workshop was on the first floor. We were present on a lot of fairs and embroidery courses in France and abroad. This allowed me to meet embroiderers from all over the world with whom I still like to share.
What inspires you?
Everything inspires me, fashion, nature, trends. I force myself not to draw too much because I don’t have enough time to develop all the designs. There are themes that inspire me more than others. I love the seasons, nature, the theme of Zen because these are themes that are dear to me and that reflect a part of my personality. However, I remain attentive to the requests of the embroiderers who tell me their wishes, their desires.
Colors…. this is my favorite thing. Choosing them, associating them.
My very first designs for Un Chat dans l’aiguille were more classic, lots of red, burgundy and white. This was the trend in France 15 years ago. Then very quickly, I felt the need to add color to my embroidery. Rather soft and tender but always in harmony.
The way I put the colors on the canvas looks like me, they express my joy, my quest for serenity, my sweetness. However, in recent years, and at the request of embroiderers, my creations are more and more colorful, and I like it.
Today we are fortunate to have an inexhaustible source of inspiration, particularly through social networks, which highlight the work of many artists. I am therefore attentive to trends, universes, everything that can please and inspires me to be continuously up to date while bringing my own universe, that of Un Chat dans l’aiguille.
Associating modernity with new designs and new colors with the spirit of traditional embroidery is my universe and what makes my creations successful in my community.
Do you use other arts to renew yourself?
Sewing is an art of thread related to embroidery. It makes it possible to vary the supports, to make certain kits more complex to meet the requirements of customers who are fond of mixing disciplines. Also, this multitude of supports that sewing offers makes it possible to highlight the embroidery and makes it more accessible.
Some embroiderers also include my embroidery in their quilts.
I also like to be inspired by certain decorations, illustrations, sometimes paintings and photos when I am looking for my new creations.
The development of the Chat – online store, collaborations with haberdasheries, a growing team … tell us about your journey
When Un Chat dans l’aiguille began to develop, we made a website, but it was basically a showcase.
It was two years ago that we had a real e-commerce project and created a real online store. A website in the image of the brand, in my image, for which I have a particular attachment with regard to the universe that it shares, notably through the logo and the graphic charter.
Regarding collaborations with haberdasheries, when they have an open house, and / or if they wish, we lend them already embroidered models to exhibit, as well as stock of kits. I also try to share them as much as possible on social media when they give me the opportunity.
The team of Un Chat dans l’aiguille has grown steadily since its inception. I went from a home production, where I was helped by my family, to a team of nine people, ranging from the creation of models, to the management and production of stocks, through the community- management, computer graphics, trend monitoring, technical management of production and IT equipment, development and search for solutions to continue to grow the company …
How do you see the world of embroidery? Has it changed since you started?
There is a clear evolution in the world of embroidery since I started.
An evolution first of all in the vision that one can have of it. Traditional embroidery has long been considered a harsh discipline requiring a certain rigor and often too many demands. The goal of Un chat dans l’Aiguille is to bring this practice up to date, but also to make it accessible to a wider public, to modernize it while keeping the cachet that it has natively through the stitches and the beauty of the gestures, but also of the use that one makes of it.
Also, traditional embroidery as I practice it today has found its place in the virtual world. The financial costs and the time that the embroiderers used to spent in embroidery classes, they can same them today by watching our tutorials on our YouTube channel or by participating in our SALs, free courses which also represent a contact with my community, and who create a link between all these embroiderers from all over the world.
Still passionate about embroidery?
For me, stitching is close to meditation. To be focused on my work is to be in the present moment. It calms me down and relaxes me. I love it, and I like to think the same goes for embroiderers who appreciate my designs!
The community on social networks with whom I share this magnificent adventure are a source of inspiration not only by their productions but also by their requests for new models, which are more numerous every day. It allows me to keep this taste for creation and to explore other areas and universes, which I might not have done without this daily contact.
My team also allows me to stay in this enthusiasm and this momentum. As the team grows and becomes more professional, I can spend more time designing and embroidering, choosing my colors and doing what I love the most. We are a close-knitted and complementary team!
How do you embroider – in music, in silence, everywhere, in a specific place …?
I have so much work to do, and I travel so often, that I have to have my accessories with me wherever I go!
Each minute taken is one minute gained. I have a bag with me that I have everywhere with an astronomical amount of threads, needles and scissors. I happened to have 5 pairs of scissors confiscated while taking a plane! So I also have several thread cutters!
In this bag, I have several pouches with several works in progress…. Around these pouches threads everywhere!
What I enjoy most is embroidering at home, on my sofa watching a movie. I am more serene and productive because it is a moment that is mine.
But I also really like to embroider in the company of other embroiderers, in quiet places, close to nature.
My designs must be simple. I don’t like complicated things. They should be easy to embroider and harmonious. They must also be suitable for the supports I want to use (wall panels, pouches, accessories, etc.); now more than ever, media have a primordial place in creation. We have just created an easy custo collection, allowing embroiderers to personalize their clothes and accessories with our patterns! This also allows to vary the materials on which we work, to vary the pleasures.
I chose a linen or mixed (50% linen, 50% cotton) canvas with a weft of 20 threads per centimeter. The tighter the weft of your fabric, the finer and more delicate your work will be. I also sometimes use 100% cotton depending on what I want. This choice was made mainly on financial and qualitative criteria so that the artisanal production of the kits is profitable and efficient. We print the canvases on machines but they are then cut one by one by hand in our workshop.
The threads I use are DMC threads. They suit me perfectly for the wide choice of colors and their quality. Packaging in a cone also allows for large quantities without taking up too much space, it also facilitates the production of skeins, all different in each of our kits.
We are currently in the process of finalizing the purchase of a new machine, which will allow us to print on different materials, but also on fabrics of different colors, and thus continue to diversify our supports and our models, to adapt to new trends and requests from embroiderers.
Your site is also accessible in English – what impact does this have on your sales? On the patterns offered?
My goal is to make traditional embroidery accessible to everyone. For this, I use simple stitches which are explained in the kits. Diagrams accompany the embroiderers. The goal is to have fun while making current works. To do this, just let yourself be guided!
The trade and general public fairs that I have done, as well as my travels have indeed enabled me to meet people in several countries and to create collaborations in order to promote Un Chat dans l’Aiguille outside of France. Today, I have clients from all over the world. We therefore have no choice but to translate the site into English so that customers can understand the concept of the brand, what our kits contain and what they are intended for.
A Chat dans l’aiguille is indeed present in many countries in addition to France. In Europe, particularly in Belgium, Germany and Austria, but also in the United States, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Brazil …
The translation of our online store is therefore essential, and we plan to translate it into Spanish as well.
Our live on social networks are done in French, English and Spanish, which brings together embroiderers from different countries at the same time. The goal being that we speak the same language, that of embroidery, and that we understand each other even if I still make mistakes in these two languages that I continue to learn.
Do you also embroider for fun? Motifs that you keep to yourself?
My schedule doesn’t often allow me to take a break. I am in the workshop all day to manage my business, monitor manufacturing, send orders or even to trade fairs… The time for creating and embroidering is taken in my free time, in the evening, on weekends, on vacation. I would like to be able to run a little less, but I am in great demand in France and more and more abroad.
I devote my creativity to my business. However, sometimes I draw a small model at the request of a loved one, for a gift or a particular desire.
What are your projects ?
A Chat dans l’aiguille is in full development, and even more since the lockdown with the creation of our live SAL on Facebook which has brought a large community of embroiderers who like to meet around a canvas and a few threads to share a moment together and with me.
With this in mind, we are therefore creating new SALs for the months to come by trying to create collections, models that follow one another according to the seasons.
We are also on a Master Class project, which would allow the embroiderers to come together in real life and no more behind a screen, for a weekend of sharing with me. It would be embroidery lessons all together in several large cities in France.
In order to open our kits to a wider audience, I am also creating a collection for children, so that they too can learn to embroider and make their creations.
The professionalization of the equipment and of the team itself also allows us to embark on major projects such as the QR Codes.
For a few months now, we have been working on translating all our kits into Spanish (in addition to the English already done), by adding, in the stitches explanation sheets, QR Code links leading directly to each of the stitches a its explanation in tutorial on our YouTube channel, in addition to the small diagram already present in the kits. This way, beginners can start off more smoothly and accomplished embroiderers can continue to learn new stitches.
Finally, in this new year which begins, we are happy to go back to the fairs again after this long period of absence. We are therefore developing new installations for our stand, which will allow customers to make their purchases while meeting me and watching me embroider our new models!
Without forgetting our website which is in full reconstruction. We always aim to improve our service while remaining in our universe and our artisanal production because let’s not forget, our kits are handmade, in France, with a lot of seriousness but also a lot of love!
Who are the embroidery artists that you follow?
I really appreciate the work of Pascal Jaouen who does Glazig embroidery. I, who are very fond of the choice of colors, love the universe he shares, also because it reminds me of my Breton origins.
I also really like the poetic universe of Tamar Nahir Yanai, an Israeli illustrator artist who embroiders her designs using very simple stitches and soft colors.