Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Or Nue: Goldwork in Color


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Today’s particular topic tends to put me into the state of Embroidery Frenzy. I always feel as if I’m singing the same song to all of you dear, patient readers! “I want to do this! … I’m going to start that soon …. I need to start this project, that project, do this, do that!!!! To much to do, not enough time!” I’m sure, to an extent, every fanatic needleworker is in the same boat. There are so many projects I want to do – so many little tips and techniques I’d like to show you – but, regretably, so little time.

Here’s one technique that I’d really love to dabble and experiment with, and convince others to try their hands at. It’s called Or Nué – it’s a goldwork technique involving couching gold threads with colored threads to produce a painted-like picture with a gleaming gold foundation.

This particular example of embroidery over gold threads comes again from Margaret Cobleigh, who faithfully sends me pictures of her projects so that I can drool and grumble and glow green with envy! Truthfully and seriously, she’s a great source of inspiration for me and has become a great correspondent on all things embroidery-related! And, on top of it, she generously provides me with pictures of her projects for Needle’nThread, so I can pass on some neat stuff to you!

Last year, Margaret participated in a workshop that had as one of its projects this little Or Nué flower. It’s a small piece, only 1.5 inches square, but it took many hours of what I think was probably rather meticulous stitching to complete it.

Or Nue Goldwork Piece stitched by Margaret Cobleigh

This is the work in progress. You can click on that photo for a larger version, so you can see it a little better. The gold thread is the same size as Japanese gold #8, and for this project, she used imitation gold. The threads used are DMC stranded cotton which have been waxed. The gold thread is wound on a wooden spool (called a koma, used in Japanese embroidery), and all the threads you see are the different colors that are used to couch the gold. You have to have the threads all working in the project at the same time, so that you can switch from one color of couching thread to the other.

The technique works this way: on the ground fabric is painted the design to be embroidered. Over that, the gold is couched. In the places the gold does not pass over the design, it is couched with gold-colored couching thread. Wherever the gold passes over the design, it is couched with colored floss. When couching with the colored floss, care is taken to space the couching stitches in such a way that the gold is not completely covered, so that it does, here and there, shine through.

Shading can be achieved in Or Nué a couple ways: you can use darker and lighter shades of color to couch the gold, or you can also vary the distance between your couching stitches. In the latter technique, to achieve a darker shading of color, your couching stitches would be closer together (often touching and covering up the gold completely). As the design moves to a lighter shade, the couching stitches move farther apart, and the thread may even be changed to a lighter color.

In this design, the shading is achieved by the color of the floss. In its finished state (below), the colors are somewhat muted. I don’t know for sure, as I haven’t seen the piece in person, but I think that the muted colors can be attributed to a few things: the nature of the technique, with the spacing here and there between the stitches; the fact that, next to the gold, the thread is bound to look a little muted; and, finally, the waxing of the thread probably dulls it down a little bit, too.

Or Nue Goldwork Piece stitched by Margaret Cobleigh

I think this is a beautiful little project, and beautifully stitched!

I was trying to think of a way for beginners to try Or Nué without spending a lot on real gold threads, and without having to paint a canvas. The thought occurred to me that a small, simple flower printed on fabric (you can buy sheets of fabric that pass through a bubble jet printer) would suit for a foundation to try the technique on. Then, instead of real metal threads, you could invest in one of the less expensive metallic cords put out by companies like Kreinik, and use DMC for your colored couching threads. If you’re eager to see how the technique works, this would be a relatively inexpensive and accessible way to try it out!

I couple tips to keep in mind, if you do decide to pursue a testing project: gold passing thread (which is what the gold is here) is normally couched in pairs. That’s how Margaret did it here. I’ve seen Or Nué worked over one passing thread at a time, which would allow the stitcher to achieve meticulous detail. When couching the colored threads, often the build-up of thread between the gold causes the piece to bulge as it fills out. Some books recommend a hair of a space between the gold threads – not enough to show a lot of fabric or anything. But just enough to make the colored couching threads fit comfortably. Playing with the technique a bit will give the stitcher a sense of the right spacing between the gold to avoid bulging.

Finally, if you’ve been hanging around Needle’nThread a while, you probably recall that I’ve written about this whole subject before. I’ve got one article in particular on Or Nué with good links and resources in it, if you’re interested in reading up any further on the subject.

Well, once again, I shall leave you as I moan the same old song….

All I need is Time. Doo da doo da doo. All I need is time, time. Time is all I need….

Or maybe it’s that other song…

Oh give me time, lots of time, with my Ott light up above.
Please fence me in!
Let me spend every minute on the stitching that I love.
Please fence me in!
Let me be by myself in the evenings, please!
In linen, and gold and silk threads up to my knees!
Send me off forever so I can stitch at ease…
Please fence me in!

It’s really amazing to me that I’m about to hit the “publish” button and make such an utter fool of myself……… Seriously, though. I suppose we do what we can, when we can. Thank goodness for weekends!

Have a Happy Friday! May you find plenty of time on the weekend to enjoy some stitching!


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(6) Comments

  1. A few years ago I was taking the Silk & Goldwork class offered by the EGA and taught by Kay Stanis. One of the projects was Or Nue. I really loved the outcome, but talk about tedious!!! I should probably post some of those projects on my blog soon. I was literally one assignment away from completing the classwork when life intervened in a bad way. The final project is still on the stretchers in my studio. I should finish that…

  2. Lovely flower! Your post makes me think of "Small Wonders" by Jo Dixey in issue 23 of Insirations magazine. It's a very cool Or Nue beetle stitched with the gold threads travelling in a circle. The same piece is featured in "A-Z Goldwork & Silk Embroidery".

    This technique must demand a lot of precision in the placement of the stitches!

  3. Mary’s suppositions on why the colours appear dull are all valid. I also think they are somewhat dull because the colours used are muted. The class I took to learn this technique was part of an SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) needlework symposium. The colours we were given in the kit are historically accurate. It would be fun to try some more intense colours!

    Do try this technique. It’s not difficult, but I must admit it can be tedious.

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