In Lyon, we follow the silk thread


LyonShopping and French Savoir Faire

La maison Brochier Soieries, à Lyon.
© Brochier Soieries - La maison Brochier Soieries, à Lyon.

Reading time: 0 minPublished on 11 December 2023, updated on 15 April 2024

For nearly 500 years, the heart of Lyon has been pulsating with the rhythm of silk, from the workshops of the canuts of the Croix Rousse to the lofty homes of the silk manufacturers. Sometimes overshadowed, never equalled, the most mysterious of materials has managed to resist, weaving with inspired craftsmen the bonds of an intact passion. Between the clatter of the looms, the softness of a muslin and the sparkle of gold and silver threads, we take you to vibrate with all your senses in the world of Lyonnais silk.

The origins of silk

How did the silkworm, used in China for thousands of years, make Lyon the world capital of the precious fabric in the 19th century? We follow the guide to the Maison des Canuts, the former headquarters of the weavers' union, now a workshop-museum, for a captivating history lesson. A look back at the epic of the industry from the monopoly granted by François I in 1540 to the Canuts' revolts in the 19th century, explanations of the different stages of preparation, weaving demonstrations and presentation of the last loom with the big draw... We are back in the time of the "bistanclaques", this onomatopoeia specific to the Lyonnais language referring to the noise of the looms!

Maison des Canuts

The life of a silk castle

La soierie Saint-Georges, un incontournable du patrimoine lyonnais.
© Soierie Saint-Georges - La soierie Saint-Georges, un incontournable du patrimoine lyonnais.

One thinks of the first "silk, gold and silver weavers" of the Renaissance when entering Soierie Saint-Georges in the heart of Vieux-Lyon. It is the last workshop in this district, once the stronghold of Lyon's textile industry! A captivating universe where Ludovic de La Calle, master weaver, and his two sons perpetuate the tradition of excellence of the French decorative arts: the house restores the antique furniture of the châteaux while collaborating with contemporary designers. Velvet or silk woven with silver or gold threads: we witness the birth of precious fabrics on authentic 19th century Jacquard looms!

Soierie Saint-Georges

Silk to weave for the "Gones"

How about learning to weave with your family? In a former passementerie workshop in La Croix Rousse (a real canut workshop with its 3.60 metre high looms!), the association Soie vivante invites young and old to plunge into the world of this fascinating material with introductory workshops from 4 years old. How does this funny little worm make silk threads? How are they interwoven to make a fabric? And what is the cocoon used for? This is the perfect way to get your gones (children in the Lyon language) to germinate the seed of silk before taking them down the traboules, the typical passages that were once used to transport bales of fabric!

Association Soie vivante

In the workshop of silk painters

Brushes and cotton buds? What a strange set of tools to create exceptional fabrics! However, "hand-painting on velvet panne" is one of the techniques that can be observed during a visit to the Atelier de Soierie, which has specialised in printing and colouring silks since 1890. The workshop is also the last one in France to practice hand-frame printing, a process that one follows from the preparation of the colours to the final silk square. The result is a true work of art! Like Brochier Soieries, with which it is associated, the Atelier de Soierie has made a name for itself in the reproduction of paintings and the creation of limited series.

Atelier de Soierie

Tailor-made silk for fashionitas

Scarves, scarves, but also ruffles, bibis (small hats) or capes, silk lends itself to all kinds of audacity! To stock up on the softest (and craziest!) fabrics, we invite ourselves into the workshops/boutiques. Sculptural at Sophie Guyot, who dyes and pleats materials in the tradition of Japanese shibori, airy in a muslin style at Sfate & Combier, or more classic at Giles Hévair, who wraps it in pretty bow ties, the list of silk's metamorphoses seems infinite. At Brochier Soieries, the material is readily transformed into masterpieces. Monet, Chagall, or Picasso... The most chic thing: create your own scarf in their workshop!

Sophie Guyot Brochier Soieries Sfate & Combier Giles Hévair

Recommendations and advice

Do you like to take your time to discover local crafts and heritage? Then take the opportunity to make your stay in Lyon eco-responsible! What's more, the third largest city in France is doing everything it can to make this transition easier for tourists. So don't hesitate to use soft means of transport (walking or cycling - the city is not that big!) to get to each of your points of interest. And don't forget to eat in one of Lyon's "bouchon" restaurants and fill up your water bottles in #GourdeFriendly places. Enjoy your stay in the land of canuts!

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