Goldwork encompasses a huge range of different techniques that are worked using a wide variety of metal threads. In this post I wanted to introduce you to some of the basic techniques that are most commonly used. There can be many variations on the techniques described below but this will hopefully give you a good understanding if you are new too goldwork.
Padding is an integral part of goldwork and although it is never shown, it is so important to get right and to be kept as neat as possible. Padding forms the foundations of your piece and if it is worked well, kept smooth and firm, it will enable you to create smooth and neat goldwork on top.
Padding is also used to create depth and dimension in goldwork, for example you could raise the areas in the foreground of your design slightly higher than those in the background, drawing your eye to the dominant areas of the design. By varying the heights of padding it can also help achieve different textures and it encourages light play.
Felt padding is stitched down using a machine thread and small stab stitches. By layering up the pieces of felt, you can create various heights within padded areas. Starting with a small piece of felt and graduating up in size smoothly will ensure the padding is rounded rather than stepped. Chipping and couched gold threads like Passing, Japanese thread, Rococco and Elizabethan Twist are all great goldwork techniques that can sit on top of felt padding. It is an ideal type of padding for larger areas of Goldwork.
Soft String Padding
Soft string padding is typically worked in narrower areas and usually has cutwork or plate worked over the top of it. It is important to wax the soft string before stitching it down as this helps to bind the soft string together. It is a great padding technique that can be used to taper into sharp points, which should be done smoothly to ensure the gold sat on top does not dip sharply. It is also important to keep the stitches inside of the design line so that the finished size of the shape does not enlarge.
Goldwork metal threads/wires tend to fall into two categories with regards to how you stitch them down, those that are couched and those that are stitched through. There are a huge array of goldwork techniques, too many to mention in this one post but I want to share with you a few of the most common goldwork techniques.
There are a variety of gold threads that can be couched, for example, Passing, Japanese thread, Rococco and Elizabethan Twist. These gold threads are usually comprised of a core thread, that have a flat metal wrapped tightly around the core. They are usually stitched down in pairs using a single strand of waxed machine thread. The technique is most commonly used to fill larger areas and the stitches are bricked. Bricking the stitches helps to maintain discreet stitching rather than making them look obvious. The ends of the metal threads are then plunged through to the reverse of the embroidery and stitched back.
Pearl Purl is a heavier metal wire that has been coiled around in one continuous length, creating small grooves in between each coil. It comes in a variety of sizes and is usually used to outline shapes filled with other goldwork techniques, for example chipping. It can also be used as just a single outline and looks really pretty with a couple of rows worked next to each other. It is stitched down invisibly using a single strand of waxed machine thread. Each stitch should sit between the coils to make it invisible.
Chipping is worked using a metal wire called Bright Check or Dull Check. This is another coiled wire that reflects the light beautifully. It comes in a long length and is cut down to the size of a small bead, making sure it is as long as it is wide. The needle is taken through the chip and stitched down like you would a bead using a double waxed machine thread. The chips should lay flat on the fabric surface with varying angles to each other so that they catch and reflect the light . Chipping can either be scattered or fully cover the area intended to be filled.
Cutwork is one of the most delicate techniques and can take many hours of practice to master. It is generally worked over soft string padding at either a 90 or 45 degree angle, using Smooth Purl or Bright Check wire. Lengths of the wire are cut to the correct length and a needle threaded with a double waxed machine threads passed through the purl and stitched down. Cutting the correct length of purl is crucial, too long and the purl will crack. Too short and the threads will be visible at either end of the purl. Once the purl is damaged, there is nothing you can do to fix it. It must be unpicked and replaced with a new piece. It is also important to note that the stitches should never be too long.
I hope you have enjoyed learning about some of the basic goldwork techniques.