Thistle Threads
Tricia Nguyen has recreated this 17th-century-style box with drawers, known as a “casket.’’ (Justin Saglio for the Boston Globe)
By Cindy Cantrell
Globe Correspondent

Tricia Wilson Nguyen of Lexington freely admits, “I’ve got the weirdest job around.’’ The MIT-trained engineer is the founder of Thistle Threads, an online resource for threads, kits, cabinets, finishing materials, and other custom accessories to complement her courses in historic needleart techniques. Her blog, “The Embroiderer’s Story,’’ covers topics such as dress ornaments, techniques for making bullion animals, and the versatility of lacet in creating flowers, purse strings, shoe ties, and bookmarks. The mission, she says, is to “gather the critical mass necessary to bring certain techniques or materials back from extinction.’’

Q.How do you describe Thistle Threads?

A. The main thing to understand is it’s online-only. A lot of people interested in embroidery think there’s a store and try to find it because only recently has the hobby business model begun shifting to an online experience. I specialize in 17th-century embroidery, so for me, the benefit of having an online store and presence is being able to reach all the people fascinated by that period of history across the world.

Q.How many are we talking about?

A. Approximately 4,000 people follow the entire endeavor, and roughly 1,000 students take my online courses. The majority are in their 50s from English-speaking countries, but there are plenty from their 30s to 70s, from as far away as Africa, Japan, and Russia. I’m pandering to the passionate enthusiast.

Q. How do the courses work?

A. I’m a materials and product engineer, so I work with museum conservators to analyze how threads, composites made of silk and gold, and other materials are made. Then I go to Europe and work with the companies that have the wealth of knowledge to manufacture them. Courses start at $200 and can reach $1,200, and I’ve developed my own crowdfunding through which students invest several months in advance. The payments provide seed capital to manufacture these course materials, which sometimes need to be reinvented. I have threads, for example, that haven’t been seen in hundreds of years.

Q. Is it validating to unite so many niche enthusiasts?

A. It’s the best part! Some enjoy embroidering because it’s rhythmic and relaxing, but a section of us are fascinated by the cultural understanding of why and how. There is a finite time in which to pull knowledge from so many wonderful artisan manufacturers before they retire. I hope, for myself and everyone else, that a certain percentage will live on through this forum.

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Cindy Cantrell can be reached at