Boutis by Lucie Berrest
Boutis (The Americans call it “Marseille Embroidery”) is an essentially Provençal art which finds its ancient roots (probably XIIIth Century) in Sicily.
Boutis is made by drawing on a fine cotton material (batiste), then stitching that top piece to a second one on the bottom. Once stitched through both layers of cloth, the drawn designs are embossed through the back of the work by stuffing knitting cotton between fibres, thus avoiding cutting the lining (unlike the Italian trapunto). The result is a delicate protruding design which, when held up to the light, reveals its quality of work.
Feeding knitting cotton through the back of the design
Bridal boutis underskirt. Source: Boutis des Villes, Boutis des Champs by Francine Nicolle
In old time Provence, a young woman’s trousseau was made up of her bridal skirt, of course, but also of several lap or even bed covers, and, too, “pétassons” to place under her future babies’ bottom (I reckon the pétasson might just be the ancestor of the modern diaper!)
Pétasson by Lucie Berrest
With industrialisation, boutis fell into oblivion until the 1970s when a group of women brought the technique back to life and shared their passion for this old traditional Provençal art with other needlework circles. The ricochet effect reached as far as the USA, Canada and Japan.
As a young Provençale, I was fortunate to own two hand-made vintage “costumes” (summer and winter) which included a boutis under skirt. When I moved to Sarawak I slowly forgot about folk dance steps and XIXth century clothing. Such memories belonged to my younger years, far, far away in Marseille; until one day, a
The magazine supplement that started my boutis passion. Yes, I still have it.
French tourist left me a magazine which happened to contain a supplement dedicated to the technique of boutis. Everybody needs roots, and mine suddenly started pulling hard again when I looked at those pictures of modern boutis work.
It did not take me long to buy white cotton fabric, sewing thread and knitting cotton to start experimenting all by myself. On my next trip to France, I called on Lucie Berrest who’s a boutis artist and expert with the Musée de la Provence in Chateau Gombert, near Marseille.
When I came back to Kuching, I applied what I had learned from Lucie to Dayak motifs; this is how I embossed the traditional Orang Ulu* Tree of Life design with the Provençal boutis technique.
*Orang Ulu: The people of the Sarawak Highlands
Orang Ulu Tree of Life, boutis version seen in transparency.
Large 44X35cm by Annie Teo
Orang Ulu Tree of Life design, Boutis version seen in transparency
Small 26X21,5cm by Annie R.Teo
Boutis, a work of passion and patience
Boutis purse or make-up bag by Lucie Berrest
Boutis lampshade by Lucie Berrest
Vanons, or boutis quilts. Source: Boutis des Villes et Boutis des Champs by Francine Nicolle