Goldwork is embroidery with gold. Different types of gold are used. Generally, the gold has been “spun” or pulled into long, tiny thin wires, and then either wound around a central thread or coiled into a tiny spring shape. Other types of gold are sometimes employed – from gold spangles (almost like sequins) to gold “plate” (broader strips of thin gold). Goldwork has a long history, beginning in the Far East and spreading into the West, where it became especially popular during the Middle Ages and later as decoration on liturgical (Church) vestments.
Probably the height of skill in goldwork history was the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance when a technique called “or nue” became popular. This technique involves couching metal thread (“passing thread”) with colored silk, varying the distance of the stitches to provide shading on the image. You can see a gorgeous example of Or Nue here, and another one here. Both are close-ups of vestments in excellent shape, the former depicting the Blessed Virgin and the latter depicting the Annunciation.
Goldwork eventually was also used to decorate the clothing of the wealthy and the uniforms of the military.
Today, goldwork is gaining in popularity again – people are using it to decorate clothing, handbags, and whatnot. It’s being revived as a hand-embroidery technique, a little challenging, but very rewarding. There are several good sources of information on goldwork, but the biggest problem is finding good thread, and, if you’re starting out, finding a source to help you along.
You can find some excellent goldwork kits to get you started in this exciting needle art from Tanja Berlin, who is located in Canada. She’s a designer featured in many publications, and she puts together a great goldwork sampler kit that will introduce you to goldwork techniques. She also has several other kits – even a few on Or Nue – that are really gorgeous. Here’s her goldwork page. Tanja also supplies those who purchase her kits with e-mail support, which is a great perk for the beginner. Note: shipping costs are pretty high, and shipping is rather slow from Canada. What you might save in the exchange rate, you will probably lose in shipping.
If you are really intrigued by goldwork and what to get started on something that will introduce you the variety of gold threads, I suggest Tanja’s goldwork sampler kit. It’s pricey, but it’s worth it. Besides, goldwork isn’t cheap – the threads are rather expensive, although you can buy gilt threads instead of the higher-content 2% gold. But try that sampler! It’s fun (I’ve worked it), and it will teach you basic goldwork techniques.
If you consider purchasing a book to help you get started in goldwork, there are quite a few available on the market, but not many that I really personally like. There are two books below that are pretty good, but New Ideas in Goldwork by Tracy Franklin is probably my favorite so far. The instructions within are pretty good. I’m really looking forward to the Beginner’s Guide to Goldwork (being published by Search Press), which will be released in December, 2006.