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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Beginner Goldwork & Silk Embroidery Project


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Here in the studio, Anna and I have been having a boatload of fun, stitching and … well, stitching. (We do other things, but they aren’t always a boatload of fun.)

After Anna finished my Gertrude Jacobean design – which was a variation on this Jacobean design I just finished – she moved along to a beginner goldwork and silk project.

Anna makes a great guinea pig.

It’s wonderful to have someone to test stitching ideas and theories on. The idea I had for this particular design was to develop it into a beginner’s project for working with silk threads and goldwork techniques. So we picked out silk and gold threads, I gave her an overview of a general idea for stitching, and she set to it.

Beginner silk & goldwork embroidery rose

The only specifics I passed along were that the rose itself needed to be stitched in long and short stitch, and that certain parts of the design had to be worked with real metal threads.

I also suggested that the foremost turn-up on the leaves feature light green, while the lower part near the stem feature a darker green.

But that was about it. I left the stitch choices on the leaves and stem to her.

Beginner silk & goldwork embroidery rose

Anna gravitates towards chain stitch for stem-like things, while I generally gravitate towards stem stitch. So her stem ended up being chain, and her leaves ended up being stem – which is fine!

I have a slightly different interpretation in mind for my version, which I will stitch next week, but I like the way hers came out. I also like the fact that the stitches are very accessible to beginners. There’s nothing “intimidating” about stem stitch and chain stitch.

Beginner silk & goldwork embroidery rose

Her first foray into long and short stitch shading on a flower like this went well. She’s a much sketchier stitcher than I am, in the sense that she’s not as constrained or uptight about the flow of the stitches, and that always works to good effect with long and short stitch shading on elements like this.

There’s still a line of gold to couch around the petals of the flower.

Beginner silk & goldwork embroidery rose

Because she has a very strange over-infatuation with beads, she really enjoyed the chipwork. And she said she likes all the couching, too, because it’s relaxing and because it brings about very fast results. There’s nothing intricate about couching!

As far as her first encounter with goldwork goes, I think she did really well.

This particular project, when you consider the relative sparseness of it, is larger than most designs I’d work in these techniques, clocking in at 6″ high.

I’ve found that beginners need a little more room, especially when tackling long and short stitch shading and when couching and bending goldwork threads for the first time. So I left the pattern relatively large, and it seems to have worked out well that way.

Anna will probably finish this experimental piece today. Next week, when I work through my version, I’ll make a few adjustments in the pattern and take plenty of step-by-step photos.

Goldwork & Beginners

I often get notes from relatively new stitchers, who exclaim that techniques like goldwork or silk shading are far too advanced for them. With this project, I’m hoping to establish that goldwork and silk are thoroughly accessible techniques for even those who are relatively new to embroidery.

There’s nothing complicated about either, as long as you’re willing to plunge in and try.

Goldwork can be very satisfying, because the metal threads tend to cover quickly – it doesn’t take long to get spectacular results! – and the stitches involved are rarely complicated.

For more advanced stitchers, it’s easy enough to bump up a project like this into something a little more intricate, too. So I think it will be a good project for beginners and beyond, and I’m excited about it!

But then, I’m always excited about The Next Project, aren’t you?

Coming Up on Needle ‘n Thread

I’ll be spending most of this week doing computer work, since it’s time to catch up on the technical side of things. I’ve got a lot to share with you in coming weeks, though, so stay tuned!

If you have any questions, comments, suggestions on this beginner silk & goldwork rose project, feel free to chime in below!

Have a wonderful Monday!


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(44) Comments

  1. The rose design is lovely, as usual! I have a question, the red and gold line around the flower, is it that the gold is laid on the fabric and then couched down with the red? Or, is one stitched then the other laced?

  2. I love Anna’s flower! Maybe it’s the color range she chose, but it just jumps right out of the computer. And I lean towards chain stitch for stems, too, so maybe Anna did this one just for me. 🙂

  3. Bravo Anna! Though certainly inspiring, it is so well executed as to appear daunting. But, I have faith that a ‘disciplined’ beginner could take it on. I’m a beginners beginner so it’s probably down the road a little bit for me. Just several more thousand stitches in a more forgiving medium and I might tackle it. Again, bravo to you both!

  4. I was thinking I might want to try goldwork, so I was very pleased when I saw this beginner’s project. Is this something you will be offering as a kit?

  5. A beautiful design and beautifully executed. It will be fun to see your version.

    What silk threads were used? They look fairly large but possibly that was because of the close up photos.

  6. Well done, Anna! Beautiful work. I’m not surprised that, being a bead lover, you have taken to goldwork. I agree with you that couching is very relaxing. I like it very much and the various techniques that involve some variation on couching.

  7. I’m so looking forward to hearing about this project. I’ve just completed my first goldwork embroidery piece and have been wanting to try silk shading for some time, so watching you do it will give me courage (and tips)! 🙂

  8. Hi Mary,
    I love your beginners goldwork and silk rose. Anna did a lovely job! I have wanted to try silk thread and goldwork, but as a new embroiderer, was rather intimidated by both! This looks like a perfect project and I will look forward to giving it a try. Thank you so much for all you do.

  9. Morning Mary (and Anna) – What a delightful project to explore goldwork and silk shading. Beautiful bright colors and simple stitches offset by all that bling. I love the texture that the chain stitch gives the stem. Assuming you (Mary) will be using the same design it’s going to be interesting to see your interpretation.
    You’re correct in saying that beginners need wiggle room when trying something new, looking forward to my experimentation in crewel embroidery but am wondering if some of the elements might be a little too large. At least there’ll be room to learn the shading though.
    Happy stitching – Brenda

    1. Hi, Brenda – I wouldn’t worry too much about the crewel embroidery design being too big. Crewel work is done with wool thread, which is decidedly heavier than regular cotton or silk thread. So it will cover the design area a whole lot faster. Have fun with it!

  10. I have been crocheting, knitting and tatting for years. My experience with embroidery is limited to using an stamped embroidery on pillow cases. During this lockdown for the elderly, I want to try something new. Where to start, what to get for tools and tools to get for the (pre) beginner.

    Thanks so much,

    1. This is a very difficult question to answer. It depends on the type of embroidery you want to do. Do you have a specific project in mind that you have seen that has attracted you? Start there. Find a project that you like the look of and that appeals to you. Then find out what kind of techniques are involved and do some research on those. I hope that helps a little bit.

  11. Beautiful work on the rose.
    I have Trish Burrs books and would like to do one of her roses and maybe do gold work around it and adapt slightly to my preference. Not ever having done any gold work could you advise what sort of gold threads I should and perhaps you are familiar with the rose in Trish,s book. I must say however if you ever have a pdf for your work I shall certainly purchase same.
    Thankyou very much

  12. I did a needlepoint project on a Elsa Williams piece and it had quite a bit of gold thread outlining the flowers, and I truly hated the gold thread. So I am very hesitant on considering anything in the future. So when you rave about it so, maybe you are using some wonderful kind of gold thread that I could substitute if it is not in the kit. Or maybe I just need to work on my patience?

    1. Yes, many needlepoint and cross stitch kits that involve “gold” thread are actually using metallic threads, not real metal threads. The techniques are different – you don’t normally “sew” stitches (passing repeatedly through the fabric) with real metal (goldwork) threads. They are mostly just couched to the surface or, in some cases, sewn on like beads. So the thread passing through the fabric is simply a regular sewing thread, as opposed to pulling a metallic thread repeatedly through the fabric.

  13. Mary, Is there the slightest chance this could become a kit? I am in a location where access to specialty threads and fabrics are difficult to get hold of.

  14. Oh, for the days when I just let my creativity flow. I find after taking so many correspondence courses and classes that I have become a rule follower and have forgotten my creativity. Anna did a GREAT job.

  15. I am in the middle of my first silk thread (Soie de Paris) project. I read your tips, which helped a lot, but still found them fiddly. An EGA cohort recommended running them lightly through a heated flat iron before stitching and that worked wonders; now they just behave. I really love working with them, btw, like embroidering with babies hair!

  16. Although I am a regular reader of your column, I have missed who “Anna” is. Her work is lovely. Is she an employee? I am a beginner and appreciate all your wonderful articles and resources!! Thank you!!

    1. Hi, Susan – Anna is my niece and I am absolutely delighted to say that she works with me now. She’s 26, so don’t think “little kid” when I say “niece.” She has some experience in embroidery (I taught her through her childhood and into high school), and she has a lot of experience in sewing. (I am not really up on sewing by machine, aside from straight, everyday seams.) She’s also got terrific organizational skills, so we balance each other out well. I don’t know how long I can keep her here working – she may fly off to some other pursuit – but I hope she sticks around for a while, because she’s been a great help for me. It’s nice to finally have someone around to bounce ideas off and talk about challenges and problems with. And her easy going personality makes every day delightful. It’s nice to have another human around – after 13 years of working in solitude, it’s pretty wonderful.

  17. What a wonderful job she did! I love the color and stitch choices. Hope mine will look half as good as hers when dive in.

  18. Before I tried gold work for the first time I was totally convinced that it was beyond my capabilities. I was wrong! I think gold work especially couching is easier than some embroidery stitches.

  19. I also share Anna’s over-infatuation with beads 🙂 I love her choice of Chain Stitch for the stems, I would never think to try it shaded like that but it’s really bold and bright. I’ve never worked with goldwork threads, but the sparkle is gorgeous!

  20. Your right about how intimidating gold work appears to a beginner. I did Alison Coles Beetle wing box just to try out the gold work. My biggest problem I have is knowing what gold thread to order and where it could be best used. I found out that some of it was easy, maybe a bit touchy but no problem, it was the hollow pieces I tried to attach that frustrated me. I kept breaking the little tube with my needle but with a little practice I should get it. I think that a kit i for beginners is a great way to start. Thank you for all your great videos and the information you share online.

  21. I don’t know if I missed it but did you show Anna’s finished Jacobean design? I am so inspired by your needlework. Have a great day/evening. Judy

  22. This is a lovely piece of embroidery and I think would be great for a beginner in goldwork. No one should be intimidated by gold work. I am an average stitcher and have done goldwork pieces and they are not too hard to tackle. I always say to people if you can couch down a thread you can gold work. I also love chipping. It gives the piece a real zing, and is super easy.

  23. Once again, I love you design! Looking at it, I would be intimidated! But your saying that it’s a beginner project and not all that difficult so I will be giving it a try when you offer it to us! I hope you will include a suggested supply list as well, it would be very helpful! I don’t have much experience …yet but I hope to get better as time go boys.
    Grateful for your talent that you share with us!


  24. Hi there I wish to say that Anna’s embroidered gold and silk work is lovely. She is going to be as good as you Mary in the not too distant future. Do not stop doing embroidery Anna
    Mary what a good idea to have Anna do some embroidery. It helps those ladies who would like to do embroidery but think that it would be too hard. Anna is, I am sure, going to give ladies the motivation to HAVE A GO. Embroidery does not have to be perfect. You can look back at your first pieces and then look at the latest pieces and see how you have improved.
    Keep stitching ladies everywhere.

  25. I have been getting your newsletter for a mumber of years and decided it was time to say something. I think your work is amazing. And thank you so much for all your wonderful tips, video’s snd general valuable information. You are a fount of knowledge. I have kept many of your letters over the years and mow in lockdown I have been reading them. Hope you are keeping better. Thanks again Myrna

  26. Congratulations!!
    You’ve found a delightful partner in many of your needlework adventures. I’ll stay tuned….Jo

  27. Feel I have to echo the fact you mention that with any embroidery technique , whatever colour, your advice of ‘plunge in’ is spot on. It cannot be said a technique is ‘too advanced’ if it has not been tried. The gold work piece designed for the article and stitched by Anna, proves this point. I believe the guideline as someone building their embroidery skills could be, if you can control your needle and not be over critical of your work, try all techniques, it’s the only way to improve skill sets. And how pleasant it is, to look back on earlier pieces and see your skills improve. But that can only happen if you take up needle and thread and try. Enjoy the journey.

  28. I’m way behind on email. Mary, so this is probably water under the bridge, but it looks to me as if Anna still has one section of the top leaf to fill in. It’s lovely! I envy her being there where she has such ready access to the best teacher!

  29. I love this silk and goldwork rose as I’ve just finished a silk shading course with RSN and have done some goldwork but not for a long time so look forward to the kit becoming available. Thank you for your chatty newsletters Mary! I love to see them land in my inbox!x

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