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Happiness on a roll: Bright and cheerful Designer Woven Ribbons to embellish all your sewing projects!
Many years ago I began a love affair with French Ribbons... Jacquard, Brocade, Damask, Satin, Velvet, Taffeta, ... those gorgeous French Ribbons, even the names have a poetry, evocative of a way of life, of chateaux, tapestries, gardens, old roses...
You might like this article printed about my business by Linzee Kull McCray in Uppercase Magazine in 2016.
Risk-taking, heartache, passion and rediscovery – these are all part of Edith Minne's story.
Edith is the founder and CEO of Renaissance Ribbons, a company known for collaborating with artists and designers to create richly colored and lush, textured ribbons that are beloved by makers of everything from couture clothing to quilts to dog collars. But when Edith left France in April 1988, ribbons were the farthest thing from her mind. As she says, "I arrived in the United States with a little boy in one hand, a suitcase in another and $200 in my pocket." It was not the first time Edith had sought adventure abroad. She had worked as a nurse with Doctors Without Borders in refugee camps in Africa, Bangladesh and India. "It was a very passionate and beautiful experience, but after seven or eight years I came back to France to decide what to do next," she says. During a visit to the United States, a friend convinced her to move to northern California and work with his computer company. "I knew nothing about computers and didn't really know the language, but he said, 'In America, we love French accents, so I came.” She quickly learned that although computers were not for her, California was, but she needed a job to remain there. Then a friend told her that America had a dearth of quality ribbons. "Really? Ribbons?" says Edith. "That comment fell into the right ear at the right time."
Edith had grown up in the north of France, a region with a strong textile and lace making tradition, and she returned there to find ribbons. "It was at the time when there were telephone booths with telephone books, and so I searched them for ribbon factories," she says. One of her calls led her to the tenth floor of an old building in Paris. While waiting for a meeting, she opened a book of samples. "Inside were the most gorgeous ribbons I'd ever seen," she says. When her contact returned from lunch, Edith pretended she had an American business. "It was tricky, because I had no experience," she says. "But it's like a relationship when you meet someone and have a connection – I knew those were the ribbons I wanted to bring to the US." The company sent her 20 sample cards, and with those in hand she returned to San Francisco, where she visited a large florist shop. "I put the cards on the owner's desk and he said, 'I want this and this,' and basically took one of each." Edith remembers. "I thought, this is so easy.” She sent her order to the factory, the beautiful ribbons arrived and the florist paid her the balance right away. "I love that story because it never happened again! But that response gave me a lot of confidence and I think that's the nature of the American Dream. In Europe your family would have to be in the business, you'd have to have the right paperwork. Here I felt that if I believed in myself, others would believe in me, too." From that first sale, Edith's business grew and evolved. She worked with the same ribbon company for years and learned about the complex jacquard looms they used for weaving ribbons. She learned that in Europe the largest consumers of ribbons are pastry and chocolate shops, but in America she discovered the crafts market. Edith attended gift and trade shows in New York, Atlanta and Chicago, and expanded into the worlds of home decor, apparel, costumes, couture sewing and quilting, providing ribbons as an importer. At one point, Renaissance Ribbons worked with 64 mills in France and Germany. However, when European countries shifted their currency to the euro in 2002, driving the price of her ribbons up 30 to 40 percent, her business collapsed. "There went my customers," she says.
So Edith took up her knitting needles, which she does whenever something needs pondering. "I thought, what if made my own ribbons rather than depending on the laws of economics?" Within two years, Renaissance Ribbons was producing its own ribbons, though Edith soon realized that designing was not her area of expertise. A staff member suggested asking designer and artist Kaffe Fassett to design ribbons, and Fassett agreed. "He submitted little gouache drawings on the back of an envelope and we had to translate them into woven ribbons," says Edith. She recalls the phone call she received from him afterwards: "He said, 'I just got my samples and they are totally wonderful.' It was the most wonderful phone call of my career." Edith went on to select what she calls "the creme de la creme" to design Renaissance Ribbons. She has added Amy Butler, Anna Maria Horner, Tula Pink and Jessica Jones, among others, and at the fall 2016 Quilt Market she introduced ribbons by French General's Kaari Meng and the French designer Odile Bailloeul. "It's a very beautiful relationship, because they are all artists and appreciate the woven qualities of ribbon," says Edith. "They are used to seeing the flat rendering of printing when they create fabrics, and when you weave the same design it has texture. They all call them 'my ribbons."'
Designer Sue Spargo enjoys her collaboration with Edith. Known for richly colored applique with hand-dyed wools and embroidery, Sue also incorporates ribbons into her stitchery. "They add another layer to my quilts and work so well with wool," she says. "Creating ribbons is a very different process – we do it in a design program on a computer, so there was a learning curve but it's lovely to see your designs used in a different form."
In transitioning from pattern to ribbon design, Edith tells designers about her six-foot rule. "You have to be able to hold it six feet away from your eyes and get a sense of what you see,” she says. “It doesn’t matter that you see a tree, for example, but it has to have a certain flow and be harmonious.” (A ribbon pattern repeat is generally from two to eight inches.)
Once a design is created, Edith works with an engineer who translates the graphics into woven elements. "It's a skill, and I'm lucky to have the best person in the world attached to my business," she says. "Great design, a great engineer and a great choice of threads – we don't compromise on any of those steps."
Since Renaissance Ribbons began manufacturing its own ribbons, the company has worked with mills from Florida to Columbia to Taiwan to Guatemala. Currently their ribbons are woven in Thailand. "They are a very healthy, good company and we are proud to work with them." says Edith. The ribbons are polyester and washable and must ironed very carefully. “You must be very gentle with a not-too-hot iron and should use a press cloth,” says Edith. “You don’t want to crush your beautiful ribbon.”
Although Edith took satisfaction in seeing her ribbons adding elegance to everything from shoes to suspenders to dog collars, she longed to use them herself. "I had tons of ribbons passing through my hands and I wasn't doing anything with them," she says. She began simply, taking sewing lessons and learning to sew ribbon onto fabric. She has attended workshops and learned techniques from Sue Spargo and others and shares her ribbon-crafting ideas and adventures in hopes of inspiring customers and shop owners. The change in direction eventually led to a change in her business model as well. ' She took on more work herself, and in the room where she once had computers and filing cabinets there is now a textile studio with cutting tables and sewing machines. Edith can be found there before work and on weekends. "Satisfaction comes nowadays from touching the ribbon and making things from it," she says.
Across the courtyard from her studio is Petrarch Press, the letterpress studio started by her late husband Peter Bishop. When he was diagnosed with cancer, Edith, along with friends from the fine press world, built the studio to Bishop's specifications, as a way to cheer him up. The press continues to operate, and though Edith does not work there, she feels deeply connected. "It has my heart," she says. Edith's son, that little boy she had in hand when she came from France, is now designing for Renaissance Ribbons – his skull-and-crossbones tattoo-style ribbon is one of the best sellers among the company's 600 offerings. Decades of creating beauty and sharing it with others brings Edith deep satisfaction. "So many people express how much they love my ribbons," she says. "I did a show once and there were 10 people at my booth and I thought, it's like a candy store. From the work I've done, there is this moment. And if you can provide these moments of pure delight, it is worth it”