One of the exciting things about being a tourist in new cities – and new countries – is the opportunity to explore shopping venues related to your hobby that aren’t available near your home. During my trip to Europe last year, that quest for unique shopping opportunities took me on a visit to Paris’s Sajou, the ultimate French embroidery shop!
Maison Sajou is a historic name in French embroidery, dating back to its original founding by Jacques-Simon Sajou in the 1840’s on Paris’ Île de la Cité. The brand survived in various locations and under various ownerships until finally disappearing in 1954.
Frédérique Crestin-Billet, a prolific author of French embroidery books and collector of vintage haberdashery items, revived the Maison Sajou brand online in 2005. The new Sajou line of haberdashery – all of which is made in France – includes embroidery scissors, specialty threads and cottons, and vintage style embroidery patterns, among other items. In 2013, the Sajou name returned to brick-and-mortar retail in Paris with the opening of the shop on Rue du Caire.
Getting to Sajou Paris
You’ll find the Sajou Paris embroidery shop in the Sentier neighborhood of Paris, an area that historically has been known as the city’s haberdashery district. In recent years the garment factories have been pushed out of the neighborhood in favor of internet start-ups, but a few haberdashery shops remain along with a large number of fashion shops. In fact, a desire to help preserve the Sentier neighborhood’s legacy as a haberdashery district is how the Sajou retail store came to be at all. Crestin-Billet was convinced by a retiring shop owner to open a Sajou shop in his Rue du Caire location so the location would continue as a haberdashery after his retirement.
Sajou is easy to reach via the Sentier stop on Line 3 of the Paris Metro. Metro riders that reach Sentier by switching from Line 11 to Line 3 at Arts et Métiers will get to enjoy an added bonus at that station: the legendary steampunk style platforms featuring giant gears spinning out of the ceiling over the tracks! Once at the Sentier station, Sajou is just a block down Rue d’Aboukir and then around the corner on Rue de Caire. The brilliant orange facade is impossible to miss!
For Sajou shoppers looking for other things to see while you’re in the neighborhood, there are several interesting options. Almost directly across the street from Sajou, you’ll find an entrance to Passage du Caire. The passage is the oldest, longest, and narrowest covered passage in Paris. Dating to 1798, today this network of glass-covered arcades contains mostly ready-to-wear fashion wholesale shops.
Another option can be found about 500m (or less than a 10 minute walk) down Rue du Caire to the east of Sajou. The Musée des Arts et Métiers is a museum of inventions and technology that is known for its collection of early airplanes, the original sculpture of Bartholdi’s Liberty Enlightening the World (aka the Statue of Liberty), and its Foucault pendulum.
Need to know for visiting Sajou Paris:
Address: 47 rue du Caire (2nd arrondissement)
Metro: Sentier, Strasbourg-Saint-Denis, Réaumur-Sébastopol, or Bonne Nouvelle.
Hours: Open Monday to Saturday, 10am to 7pm.
For more information (such as holiday hours) visit the Sajou Paris website.
Shopping at Sajou Paris
The experience at Sajou Paris starts before you even walk in the door. The large windows are filled with beautiful displays showcasing finished items using Sajou’s products and patterns.
After soaking up all the beauty in the windows, you might think that you are prepared for what is inside Sajou. But even after seeing pictures of the store online, I’ll admit to letting out a small gasp when I stepped inside the door and was face-to-face with this amazing sight.
Stepping into Sajou feels like stepping back in time. From the beautiful wood and tile floors, to the vintage style mercerie cabinets, every detail seems transported from an era when embroidery was the pastime of every elegant lady.
It didn’t take me long to find the large display of one of the products for which Sajou is most famous: scissors. These scissors, all of which are made in France, are as beautiful as they are functional. A pair of Sajou embroidery scissors are an investment, a legacy to hand down to the next generation.
Sajou’s own brands feature prominently in the shop, and one of the featured items is their Retors du Nord embroidery floss (visible on the two left racks below). This four-strand, 100% cotton floss comes in 96 colors and (like the Laine St Pierre brand Sajou also carries) is sold on its own storage cards.
Sajou’s offerings of patterns for vintage samplers and cushions are seemingly endless. There’s also kits for making embroidered items. The collections include Paris and Versailles-themed designs, vintage samplers, and even color samples for French embroidery thread brands like Laine St Pierre and Sajou’s own brand. Choosing just one (or a few) to take home is a difficult task!
Being a mercerie, Sajou doesn’t just sell embroidery supplies. It also has a selection of high quality fabric and other sewing notions. This wall of thread, featuring the Fil au Chinois brand, was dazzling! Sajou is more than just a retailer for Fil au Chinois, though. In 2007, Sajou owner Frédérique Crestin-Billet designed Fil au Chinois’ vintage look packaging.
Another sign that Sajou is a true old-fashioned haberdashery is the rainbow of tubes of buttons that can be purchased by the piece. There was so many options, from perfect solid colored two hole buttons to ones featuring miniature toile scenes. The real quality of a project is in the details, and these are the kind of details that can make a project!
Ribbon is one of Sajou’s signature products, and for souvenir hunters there’s some great options like Sajou logo and Eiffel tower designs.
If you are used to shopping at American fabric super stores (or even a decent sized local quilt store), the selection of fabric at Sajou might seem small. But Sajou fabric more than makes up in quality what it lacks in quantity. Each fabric design is better than the last, and the material quality is excellent, for creating heirlooms that will last generations.
If visiting Sajou has you dreaming of redoing your own home craft studio in beautiful wood notions cabinets, you can take some of Sajou’s home with you in your suitcase – sort of. These miniatures are 1/12 scale, which is the standard scale for doll house collectibles. Or, they are perfect for adding to a shadowbox to remember your Paris trip!
It truly is hard to resist wanting to take everything at Sajou home with you. The good news is that virtually everything you’ll find yourself coveting at Sajou is easily packable: patterns, fabric, thread, and scissors (in a checked bag at least). I brought home kits and materials for several projects, plus some fat quarters and ribbon, and they barely took up any room my suitcase!
I did manage to find one slightly difficult to pack item to bring home – a somewhat heavy book. But this book by Sajou owner Frédérique Crestin-Billet is well worth dealing with the challenge! Called Mercerie d’antan (Haberdasheries of Yesteryear), the book contains a literal catalogue of various different types of vintage haberdashery like scissors, thimbles, thread cards, pins, bobbins, and other notions. These vintage items, some from Crestin-Billet’s personal collection and some belonging to other collectors, are the references that are used for the design of products for Sajou. Alongside the galleries of photos are lengthy explanations of the history of the items. (The book’s text is in both French and English.) For anyone who is both a sewing and history nerd, Mercerie d’anton is a fascinating delight.
Sajou is a must-visit in Paris for any embroidery and sewing enthusiast! Don’t miss this piece of French haberdashery history!