Just 4km from our chambres d’hôtes is the tiny commune and village of Bourg-le-Roi, on the border of Normandy and the Pays de la Loire, known for a particular form of incredibly delicate emroidery called “Point de Beauvais”.
History of Point de Beauvais Embroidery at Bourg le Roi
Henry II Plantagenet made the decision in 1169 to build a fortified town at Bourg-le-Roi in order to protect his interests in the region. This characterful little village – which never grew to be the major city it was intended to be – has kept some significant architectural traces from that time, with fortified ramparts of a kind unique in the Sarthe and rare in all of France.
History has it that Point de Beauvais embroidery came to France via Italy, having arrived there via the China trade routes in the late middle ages.
This form of “linked stitch” embroidery became enormously popular from the 17th century, probably reaching its greatest heights in the 18th and carrying on well into the 20th century. A workshop was founded at Bourg-le-Roi by Margaret Boulard in 1840, and at its peak it was employing up to 60 home needleworkers. The last commercial embroidery workshop at Bourg-le-Roi closed its doors in 1968.
The Point de Beauvais Museum at Bourg le Roi
Part of the brief of the Association Tourisme et Culture of Bourg-le-Roi is to preserve and promote the art of Point de Beauvais embroidery, which is part of the historical fabric (pardon the pun) of the community.
The Musée du Point de Beauvais counts among its exhibits a 12m long embroidered frieze tracing the history of the commune of Bourg le Roi between 50BC and 1450AD, examples of embroidered ecclésiastial vestments, wall hangings, tablecloths and items of clothing decorated with Point de Beauvais needlework. There is also a video to show the technique, and practical demonstrations each weekend in season.
One weekend each May the association and the Museé du Point de Beauvais organise an embroidery fair, featuring articles for sale and demonstrations of many types of needlework. We’ve been to this and can vouch that it is extremely popular and well-attended by people from many departments of France.
The association also organises about forty embroidery courses each year, for a maximum of 3 people each, open to novices and experienced neddleworkers alike. These take place in the museum itself.
Yvette Bertaux, one of the former workers at the commercial embroidery workshops of de Bourg-le-Roi, is one of the teachers. In an interview with a regional paper she explained, “I made my first few stitches in 1953, a beginner just like the people I teach today; it takes a great dexterity of hand and you have to persevere to go through three or four practical courses to learn the basics”.
Point de Beauvais embroidery, unlike some other forms such as Luneville, is worked with the right side of the workpiece uppermost. The pattern is traced onto paper, which is pierced all along the tracing lines with a needle; then ink is stencilled through the holes onto the cloth, which is stitched and held onto a workframe. The thread is worked from beneath the cloth using a very fine crochet hook, resembling a regular needle, to push and pull the thread, forming interlocking loops on the top surface and making a real “chain stitch”.
The best examples of the work can resemble paintings, since the Point de Beauvais technique allows many colours to be worked and combined, as finely as the embroiderer wishes, and the stitches can be very tightly worked together.
76 rue du point de Beauvais
Tel : 02 33 26 80 69 or 02 33 82 70 77
Open from 15h to 18h30
- July and August: Wednesday and Sunday
- June and September: weekends
Point de Beauvais Courses
Contact Colette Mezenge, President of the Association Tourisme et Culture of Bourg-le-Roi
Tel : 09 75 28 23 12
Three experienced embroiderers run the actual courses: Yvette Bertaux, Ginette Besnard and Lucienne Mondion. All necessary work materials and tools are provided.
Each 9 hour course takes place over a day and a half and costs 95€