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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Tools for Metal Thread Embroidery


Amazon Books

A few queries came in this week about the tools required to get started in goldwork or any other metal thread embroidery (one reader is particularly keen to work with copper threads…) To answer the question, I thought I’d show you my goldwork “tools” – they aren’t all tools, and there aren’t that many!

I only have one “specialty” tool for metal thread embroidery. I think the experts must have other tools that they use, but perhaps not. Most books I’ve seen don’t have too many items beyond these. And again, they’re not all tools, technically…

Goldwork and Metal Thread Embroidery Tools

The background of this photo is a velvet board – a thin piece of mat board with velvet mounted on it, used for cutting metal threads and keeping them in place while they’re being cut and while you’re using them. I’ve heard that beading boards work ok, too – they apparently have some kind of nappish surface of sorts, I suppose. It’s the velvet nap that keeps the metal threads in place, and keeping them in place is a good thing, especially when you pre-cut several pieces of purl for chipwork.

I have two things I use for cutting and holding the metal threads, actually – this red board and a piece of black velvet as well. The black velvet is not mounted on a board, and while I don’t use it for cutting, I’ve found it’s handy for resting the cut threads on, especially when I may have to pack up a project while it’s still underway. With the loose black velvet, I can fold it up carefully over the pre-cut threads and put it in a box. When I unfold it, the threads are still there…

From left to right, the rest of the tools, most of which many stitchers probably have in their needlework basket:

1. A decent pair of tweezers

2. A sterling silver mellore – This tool is used specifically for goldwork. Its main purpose is to help with manipulating gold threads without damaging them. It can also be used as an awl, to widen the plunging holes for the metal threads. You can find mellores made from other material besides sterling, and, incidentally, the mellore is not absolutely essential to goldwork. I’ve manipulated threads with the back of my tweezers….

3. Beeswax, used to strengthen couching thread

4. A plunging needle or plunging lasso – This is just a large eyed needle that you can either thread your metal threads into, to pull the ends to the back of the fabric, or you can string a piece of cord through the large eye and use that as a lasso to pull the metal threads to the back of the fabric. This is a #22 chenille needle, which seems to work ok in most cases.

5. A pair of scissors specifically for goldwork. I have three pairs of scissors specifically for goldwork, actually – and the other two I like much better than this pair! The scissors should be small and very sharp, and nice pointed tip is helpful. It’s good to have a pair that is specifically for goldwork and that can be distinguished from your regular embroidery scissors. One of these days, I may invest in a pair with a fine serrated edge, but so far, the scissors I have (which are all typical embroidery scissors by gingher) have served me well.

6. A selection of couching threads, which I already explained when discussing where to find silk couching threads.

So that’s it! Nothing really out of the ordinary is essential for goldwork, except the metal threads themselves. I like the fact, by the way, that Tanja Berlin gives the option on her website of ordering sample sizes of all her gold threads. The sample sizes are 9″ each, and they vary in price according to the type of thread. But 9″ is a good size to play with, and will go a fairly long way with most of the metal threads, except maybe passing thread. Remember as well that gilt metal threads are less expensive than the 2% threads, so if you’re planning to play and practice, choose gilt.



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(8) Comments

  1. Thanks Mary for the detailed explanations on each tool for Goldwork. I can now go and look for something similar in Bangalore.

  2. I have been reading about your adventures in goldwork, and drooling…I would love to try it!

    Do goldwork ‘threads’ tarnish? I would be heartbroken if after all that work the lovely gleam disappeared…

  3. MJ – yes, metal threads (real ones – gilt and 2%) will tarnish over time. Framing a work, and keeping it out of the sun, reduces the rate at which tarnishing occurs. Real metal threads do eventually tarnish, but the effects can be very well slowed down by proper care of the threads and the finished piece. I have had a good supply of metal threads (2% gold) for about six years now, stored in acid free packaging in a cabinet. They still look like new. So the rate of tarnishing all depends on how the threads are cared for…

  4. PS – you can buy imitation threads that don’t have gold in them and won’t tarnish… but not the same range or variety of threads, I don’t think!

  5. Hello Mary,

    Thank you for these wonderful tips :0) I have a question for you maybe you can answer it. My queston is do you still recommend the #22 chenille needle as a lasso to pull the metal threads to the back of the fabric or is there a different needle size, type and Brand that you can recommend now?? I know you did these tips in 2009 you might have found something that works better. Thank you in advance

    Jennifer G

  6. I love reading your information. The organization is thorough and concise. Comprehension is quick and speedy! Where are you located in Missouri? My grandparents lived near Columbia. My question: is there a conversion chart for metal and metallic threads? I stitch all kinds of embroidery and needlepoint. Because of cost and availability, we are searching for a conversion charts.

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