An Introduction to Basic Goldwork Techniques

An Introduction to Basic Goldwork Techniques

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

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

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.

two layers of felt padding ready for goldwork
This sample demonstrates two layers of felt padding.

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.

Soft string padding filling a curved shape ready for goldwork
Sample shows soft string padding ready for cutwork over the top.

Goldwork Techniques

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.

Couching

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.

Couched passing, a technique used in goldwork embroidery
Sample of couched Passing

Pearl Purl

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.

Row of pearl purl, a goldwork technique
Sample of pearl Purl

Chipping

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.

Goldwork chipping demonstrating compact and scattered design
A sample of chipping

Cutwork

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.

cutwork, a technique used in goldwork embroidery
Sample of cutwork using smooth purl and bright check.

I hope you have enjoyed learning about some of the basic goldwork techniques.

Happy stitching!

Sara

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Ramona Andrews

    Thank you for this. I am very new to goldwork, have been doing embroidery since I was 6 yrs old so 50yrs now. I wanted to learn but my grandmother passed before I learned. This information has answered so many of my questions, I felt so lost in getting started.
    Thank you~Ramona

    1. Sara Rickards

      My pleasure, I am so pleased you found it helpful. Yes goldwork has many different techniques and it can be a bit confusing to know where to start. If you are interested I’m sending out a newsletter tomorrow which is including my top ten goldwork tips which you might find useful as well.
      Sara

      1. Lyrique

        Ooo, yes, I’d be very interested. Thank you.

  2. Wendy Armitage

    Thank you for this, I look forward to your top tips in your newsletter!
    Would it be possible to do a post with a clear picture of each kind of metal threads? I sometimes get confused about which is which!

    1. Sara Rickards

      My pleasure.
      Yes I can certainly add it to my list of blog posts to write.

  3. Jamie Carol Cerda

    Excellent article , I have taken a couple of classes but am constantly going back and re-learning as I don’t only work gold-work but you use it in a lot of stump-work designs that are mixed! Love what you are doing!
    Thank you,

    Jamie

    1. Sara Rickards

      Thank you, I’m so glad you found it helpful. Yes I love to mix techniques. Goldwork is also beautiful with silk shading too.
      Sara

  4. Deborah Mackay

    I found this article very interesting _ I would also be interested in reading your 10 tips for Goldwork. I would be grateful if you could also send them to me please.

    1. Sara Rickards

      I’m so glad you found it helpful. The goldwork tips went out in Monday’s email newsletter but I can see you’ve subscribed today so let me see if I can forward it on to you.
      Sara

  5. valerie Simms

    I be very interested in being keeper up to date and to learn how to do gold work

    1. Sara Rickards

      Thank you Valerie, if you haven’t already you can sign up to the newsletter and I send all my information out from there.
      Sara

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