A master embroiderer comes to the end of a decade-long journey

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Lionel Descostes has traveled all over Asia in search of ideas for his creations. In 2000, his travels brought him to Vietnam.

Since then, the French artist and product designer hasn't really left.

He was immediately taken with the special needlework technique found here and fell in love with the region's unique embroidery. As he remained, he was saddened to find that many of the amazing craftwork villages around Hanoi were breaking up and Lionel Descostes, 45, at his studio in Hanoi

Descostes couldn't speak Vietnamese, but he closely studied the villagers at their work. He asked friends to translate books on embroidery technique.

In 2002, he secluded himself in his Hanoi studio to test different embroidery styles.

After studying for a year and a half, he mastered a delicate and difficult "one-thread technique" and began to create a body of work based entirely on the method.

"I tested each embroidery technique many times before I could complete a piece," he said.

"They were so fragile, insects alone could destroy them. When I worked in the studio, I felt stressed, but when I completed a project, I was so happy."

He continued to scour Vietnam, seeking inspiration.

"I walked hours and hours every day," he said. "When I stepped into the street, I saw many things, which contributed to my creative process."

It took ten years for Descostes to create the body of work for his solo show, which will wrap up on Friday, in Hanoi.

Descostes and his nine deaf and mute assistants spent nearly a decade creating a body of work using traditional Vietnamese needlework techniques

His journey toward the completion of the project is both touching and astounding.

Nine apprentices

Descostes took on nine deaf and mute girls as assistants, as he toiled on each, painstaking piece.

"These girls discovered a new approach to embroidery," he said. "I did this exhibition to prove that this craft is still alive professionally."

None of them went to school. In addition to training them professionally, he tried to teach them basic life skills.

"Before working with me, many of them didn't even know how to cook a simple meal," he said. "Now, all of them can go shopping, and cook well they all have those skills."

The teaching process was difficult and Descostes says he had to rely on body language to impart his expertise. His Vietnamese wife would go out and purchase supplies for him, so he had more time to work.

He mapped each piece on a piece of taffeta, and supervised as his team employed single-thread technique.

With patience, and diligence, his work started to take shape.

He didn't feel the need to show the work, to anyone, he told reporters he did it for himself.

What's more, he wanted the work to be perfect.

From students to masters

The exhibition, "from a stroke to the thread," presented a series of 40 handmade grids and pictograms rendered on taffeta using the single-thread technique.

The show ran for three weeks at the L'Espace gallery, in Hanoi.

Descostes, 45, said that each work utilizes strokes and lines as extensions of his inner self.

"I do them from my heart, and not to earn money," he said. "The one-thread technique can be used to produce high-end products, but it takes a long time, about four months for a small piece."

Descostes says that the process of creating the show has turned nine young women into independent artists.

"As handicapped children, I know, it is difficult for them to find jobs," he said. "Now they can make high-quality embroidery products at home, and earn money from them."

For the French artist, the growth and development of his assistants provides the most fulfilling end to the decade-long journey.

"I'm happy that I could give them basic and useful life skills," he said. "One of the girls has married, and had children. She earns her living by doing embroidery at home."

Descostes plans to remain in his Hanoi studio and continue to study the craft. He hopes, he says to have another exhibition here, soon.

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