Needle Exchange: DMC History, Part I

Hello Everybody! Welcome back to Needle Exchange!

When I started writing this column a little over a year ago, I set out to explore the historical roots of various styles of needlework, and then look at how we use those styles today. Unfortunately, it seems that I’ve kind of gone as far as I can go with that format. There are many types of needlework that I’m still interested in, but finding contemporary examples has become more difficult. Where are the weirdos that are reinventing Hardanger?

I put it to you, dear reader. So I’ve decided to take Needle Exchange in a different direction. From now on, I’ll still write about the history of some of our favorite styles, but I will also be writing about artists who use fiber and needlework, different materials and tools, cultural styles, and maybe even a few book reviews. As always, the focus will be on history, and I urge you to send me suggestions for future articles.

So, I am so pleased to kick off this new format with a brief history of my favorite needlework company DMC! As a long time user of DMC products, I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when they agreed to send me photos and information on the history of their company. A special thanks to Alison Burg, who without her help and materials, I’d have nothing to share with you. Let’s get started.

Now I said I was a long time user, but chances are, if you were doing needlework any time in the last 270 years and using commercial materials, you were probably using DMC products. Take a minute to let that sink in.

But let’s go back even further. Paraphrased from the DMC website,

In the 17th century, the Dollfus family were established in the Swiss allied, free town Mulhouse. Many of the Dollfus family held high offices within the republic. John Dollfus, one of the last three people who held the position of Burgomaster (literally translated as master of the town, borough, or master of the fortress, essentially a chief magistrate or mayor), had been operating a factory producing printed fabrics and continued to do so into the Napoleonic era beginning in 1798.

John Dollfus’ son, Daniel entered the family business and eventually took over the firm of Dollfus, Vetter, and Cie, the company founded by his uncle Jean-Henri Dollfus along with two other citizens of Mulhouse. He later married Anne-Marie Mieg and in 1800, the company adopted the name Dollfus-Mieg and Cie. DMC!

DMC Bell Located in Mullhouse, France

It seems that the expansion of DMC was largely due to Daniel Dollfus. Until the beginning of the 1800’s the company focused on printing fabric, even winning a silver metal at the Exhibition of French industry in Paris in 1806. The jury went on to say, The printed goods shown by these manufactures are remarkable for the beauty of the colors and the choice of designs: the dyes are fast. The art of printing on cloth has moreover, been advanced by Messrs, Dollfus-Mieg & Cie. The jury awards to this firm a Silver Medal, first class. All manufactures of Mulhouse printed textiles should see in this award a proof of the esteem of the jury, who have examined the products with care and found them beautiful, well finished, and worthy of the confidence of the consumers.

But Daniel Dollfus had a vision for his family’s company. By 1806, DMC employed 800 people produced 34,000 pieces of printed cloth. That year Daniel acquired a weaving shed and then in 1808 opened a sales office in Paris, which still exists today. In 1812 he built a spinning mill. In order to secure a consistent energy source for the company, coal, he became part owner of Ronchamp Collieries in the Department of Haute-Saone. In 1811 the company established sales depots in Brussels, Naples, Lyons, Strabourg, Bordeax, and Toulouse. Although I can’t find exact dates, it also seems that during the early 1800’s Daniel met John Mercer in Leeds. Mercer was a scientist, specifically a dye and fabric chemist, as well as a fabric printer. His contributions should be familiar to anyone who’s bought a spool of thread because he invented the process of Mercerisation. Mercerized cotton! His process involved treated cotton fibers with sodium hydroxide. The treatment caused the fibers to swell, which in Mercer’s version of the process shrank the overall fabric size and made it stronger and easier to dye.

But where are the products that we are familiar with? The roots of todays floss can be found with Daniel’s sons. In 1818, Daniel passed away leaving the company to his four sons, Daniel, Mathieu, Jean and Emile. In 1829, they installed a power weaving plant that eventually contained 300 looms, and soon after winning the gold metal at the 1834 Exhibition of French Industry, they added weaving yarns to their list of products. The yarn’s fine quality and patented cotton twist enjoyed a high demand. Soon DMC was offering sewing thread as well. With the success of the sewing thread, the products gradually expanded to offer embroidery, crochet and darning cottons. Starting in 1850, infringements began being reported and in in 1853, the first prosecutions for trademark infringements took place.

We’re going to stop here today, and pick up June 17th with Part II of the history of DMC. As always, feel free to send me suggestions for future articles.

Penny Nickels is a printmaker that started playing with needles with tremendous effect. She and her husband, Johnny Murder, have been described as the “Bonnie and Clyde of Contemporary Embroidery” and you can discover the power of her creativity at her blog.
All photos and information are property of DMC. Visit and for more information.