The Royal School of Needlework has been producing their Essential Stitch Guide series in conjunction with Search Press for a couple years now. I’ve reviewed all the books in the series so far (Blackwork, Crewelwork, Silk Shading, Stumpwork, and Whitework).
The most recent addition to the series is the Goldwork stitch guide, by Helen McCook. Here’s a glimpse of it and my impressions.
I’ve been waiting for the goldwork stitch guide for a while! When the RSN first started their series of Essential Stitch Guides, goldwork was my first thought.
So, as soon as I saw that the release date was coming up, I pre-ordered a copy so I could get my eager, grimy paws on it as quickly as possible.
I watched for the mail daily. Contemplating the golden delights within, I dreamt about the book nightly. I sighed for it. I pined for it…
And, although I am exaggerating more than a little bit on those points, I will admit that I did build up quite a bit of anticipation for this book, which can always be a dangerous thing when you want to look at a book objectively.
After the book arrived and I gave it a good once-over, I had to set it aside and come back to it for a twice-over, and then a thrice-over. Finally, I’m ready to write about it.
Essential Stitch Guides: the Rudiments of Embroidery Techniques
Keep in mind that the Essential Stitch Guide series is a collection of small, accessible books that are meant to introduce embroiderers to specific types of needlework. Within the confines of the book size, the whole scope of the technique could never be covered. Instead, what we get in these stitch guides are the rudiments of the technique, enough to introduce and teach the basics. The stitch guides are not thorough, exhaustive books on the subjects they cover – they can’t be. And really, can any single book on any technique be?
So, as introductory books, they form an excellent reference and guide for embroiderers.
At the beginning of the goldwork stitch guide, we get the initial information that we find in the rest of the series: information on the RSN, an introduction to the topic, a short (and, in this case, quite limited) history of the topic.
Goldwork: A Limited History
I was somewhat disappointed with the history section in this book, though again, we have to remember that the books are small and not meant to be exhaustive. The history of goldwork here is limited to goldwork in England – a bit of talk about the wealth of kings and the pomp of ecclesiastical ceremony, and then the involvement of the RSN in creating and maintaining significant goldwork embroideries.
When reading the history part, try not to forget that goldwork in the West was taken to incredible heights in Belgium, in France, in Italy, in Spain; and further, we can’t really ignore the influence of the Far East on goldwork.
Again, it’s a small book. But really, does our outlook have to be quite so small? A little mention of other significant places where goldwork flourished would have at least broadened the perspective of those reading the history section.
Granted, most folks don’t purchase a stitch guide or instructional book to read history – and so we move on to the meat of the matter, which is, of course, the rest of the book.
Goldwork Threads: This is Worth It!
The section on materials, and specifically on the threads used in goldwork, is worth the price of the book, even for just these few short pages of information.
Why? Although many other goldwork books go into the types of metal threads used in goldwork, they don’t necessarily go into what the threads are composed of and how they’re made. This book does. It’s brief, but good information. This type of information can help the embroiderer determine how, or how not, to use specific threads and how to identify threads.
Before instructing on actual methods, we learn how to frame up our ground fabric, a little bit about design and how to work up a design concept before beginning, some information on starting to stitch (how to thread a needle, starting the thread, the use of beeswax and the like), the order of work (an excellent section for the beginner!), and a very nice section on the various types of padding.
The instructional content in the goldwork stitch guide is delivered via step-by-step photos and photos of finished stitch samples. All aspects of basic goldwork are covered: couching threads (passing thread, Japanese gold, plunging the threads, couching in a circle, using pearl purl, etc.); what the author calls “cutwork” (chip work – the use of purls and so forth); working with kid leather; s-ing; spangles; plate; embroidery stitches with gold threads (i.e. working chain stitch or fly stitch with cut purls); using color (diaper couching, or nué); and finally, combining techniques.
You can get a very good idea of the instructional photos and other content by viewing this PDF from Search Press that offers some full-sized pages of the inside of the Goldwork Stitch Guide. It’s definitely worth looking at – you’ll see at least three good examples of goldwork pieces from the RSN collections used as illustrations, too.
The final section on combining techniques is where you’ll find pictures of various projects worked by the author that will provide inspiration for your own goldwork. Keep in mind, this is not a project book, so you won’t actually find instructions for completing the projects shown here, but you will find details on the techniques used in each project, with clear photos so you can get an idea of how to incorporate the techniques into your own goldwork projects.
The book ends with an index.
Pros & Cons
1. Truthfully, as far as the instruction goes, it’s all been done before. If you have the A-Z of Goldwork or Hazel Everett’s goldwork book, you aren’t going to find new instruction here, and the A-Z of Goldwork and Hazel Everett’s book are a bit more thorough, because they’re a bit larger and can fit more in.
2. I found the history part somewhat irksome. I do wish the book had at least glanced beyond the shores of England.
3. At just under $20 once the exchange rate is figured, it is somewhat expensive, especially if you already have the books mentioned in #1 above. However, it is likely that the price of the book will decrease a bit once it is available in your country. You won’t have the exchange rate and long-distance postage to worry about, anyway.
1. I really like the description of the threads in this book.
2. The instructional content is good, clear, and succinct – enough information to get the beginner started on the goldwork journey.
3. The book is small, easily portable, has a spiral binding for easy opening while working – it’s a nicely made book.
4. Of course, who wouldn’t love the pictures from the RSN collections?
6. It’s a worthwhile member of the series. It’s nice to have these reference books on each technique in one compact, matching series.
You can find the RSN Essential Stitch Guide to Goldwork by Helen McCook available directly through the Royal School of Needlework, where your purchases help the non-profit organization realize its goals. You can also find it through Book Depository, where world-wide shipping is free. It’ll be available in other countries besides the UK in the next few months.