Mace and Nairn




Goldwork - the technique of working with metal threads is believed to date back over 1000 years.  Some of the earliest surviving pieces have been dated from the 9th century.


Goldwork is in essence three dimension embroidery, stitched on the surface of the fabric.


Historically used for religious embroidery, but also used frequently in the clothing and furnishings of the royalty and nobility throughout Europe and later on military and other ceremonial dress.


The term Goldwork encompasses a range of different metal threads including silver, copper and a variety of coloured wires as well as gold wires.


Goldwork can be a challenging and time consuming technique, and can be very structured with certain types of wires being couched or applied and used in specific ways.  Historically metal thread embroidery was a specialised skill, taught in convents and professional workrooms, handed down through generations.


A number of different types of metallic threads including Japanese threads, purls, passing and twists are used to achieve different effects which would have traditionally been stitched with silk thread.  

Becoming acquainted with the various thread types; the different textures, sizes and colours and how they are used - which ones are couched down and which are applied like beads - is the challenge of Goldwork embroidery.



Fabrics - traditionally the ground fabric for Goldwork is closely woved and a reasonable weight to hold the density of the stitching and weight of the metal threads.  However, a backing fabric such as Calico can be used to add stability to the ground fabric. Silk is traditionally used and adds to the luxuriousness of the overall effect, either with a pattern or plain.  Church linen, a high quality 100% linen is also popular.


Metallic leather (often referred to as ‘Kid’) is used to add detail to the design and gives a plain, smooth contrast to the various characteristic of the metal threads. Usually applied over padding of several layers of Felt.  Padding for finer detail requires string/cord
- Soft Cotton being the thread of choice for this.


Metal Threads

Does the needle pass through the thread or not? Purls are hollow and tend to cut into lengths and are applied like beads.  The majority of other metal threads/wires are couched down. Threads types include Jap, Pearl Purl, Smooth Purl, Rough Purl, Bright Check Purl, Rococo, Check Thread, Smooth Passing, Twist, Broad Plate. Available in various sizes and different metals i.e. Gold, Gilt, Silver, Copper and colours.


Books and tools


A range of books is available, some with projects while others are more technique orientated. The A-Z of Goldwork from the popular A-Z series is a favourite and Hazel Everett’s Goldwork Techniques, Projects and Pure Inspiration is packed with lots of detail and good photographs any is providing a challenge to many stitchers.


A Slate Frame is recommended for Goldwork embroidery, as it keeps the fabric taut and supports the weight of the embroidery. The usual array of embroidery tools are required for Goldwork; needles, scissors, tweezers, stiletto, and thimbles. Beeswax is essential and a velvet board is useful for keeping the purls in place while you cut them.  A Mellor is a specific Goldwork tool and helps reduce the need to handle the metal threads. Goldwork scissors which are sharp and have a serrated edge help cut the metal threads cleanly.



Can't find what
you're looking for?