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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Goldwork Progress – Some, but Not a Lot


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Earlier this summer, I began sharing with you a Very Large goldwork project that we’re working on here in the studio. You can read the backstory of this piece by following the links at the end of this article.

Today, I’ll show you where we are, we’ll talk about how the mind can play mean tricks on you, and I’ll share a rigged tool solution.

Goldwork altar cover lettering

Last time we visited this project, I proposed the goldwork word game, to see if you could figure out / guess / discover the text that is materializing on this project.

Many of you got it. I left an indirect hint at the end of that article by linking to the Loreto embroideries, since the text comes from the Litany of Loreto. It is Domus Aurea, which means House of Gold. The Virgin Mary carried Christ in her womb for nine months, and so she is called House of Gold in the litany. The tabernacle on an altar is also a “House of Gold” – and, if you go back into the Old Testament, the temple was a House of Gold. All of these figures play symbolically into the title “Domus Aurea.”

I was pretty happy when I saw what the planned text was to be, because it’s extremely well balanced. This made designing the altar cover a whole lot easier.

Often, altar covers will have “Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus” (Holy Holy Holy) on them, or even a much longer text. It’s often difficult to balance wording well on projects like this. And if you are planning on anything decorative in the center of the fall on the cover (that’s the part that hangs over the front edge of the mensa, or altar top), it’s almost impossible to create a nice balanced line, because you can’t necessarily split the text up in clear halves on each side of center. And so, normally, the front fall on an altar cover is just text or just a design.

But two five-letter words works out really well, because you can put something decorative in the center of the fall and place a word on each side of the center. Yay!

In context, it will look something like this:

Goldwork altar cover lettering

This doesn’t tell you much, I’m afraid! And it’s not perfectly accurate – the center decorative medallion design is not finished, so that burst is just a place holder, and the lettering is not spaced perfectly. But this gives you an idea of the text and the context.

Goldwork altar cover lettering

The S, by the way, is the favorite letter so far – it’s got long, smooth, uninterrupted swaths of couched passing threads, so it works up a bit faster.

Goldwork altar cover lettering

The R is the least favorite letter on the whole thing so far. There are many points of interruption, and I think I may have worked out the wrong stitching path. *Sigh* It seems the right, most logical order, but now I’m questioning it. And so I’m faced with a dilemma: do I take it out and start it over? or do I go forward under the assumption that I’m the only person who will ever notice it?


So while I’m working on other things, I’m rolling those questions around in my mind.

Goldwork altar cover lettering

Domus is almost finished.

In fact, if you consider the partial S and the partial R on Aurea, we really only have three more letters total to cover with the passing thread.

Because of this, my mind plays tricks on me. It keeps telling me, You’re almost finished! Only three more letters!

But then we’ve got all the twist to apply… followed by mountain load of chip work!

Still, my mind keeps saying, Only three more letters!

I guess it works as a prod of sorts.

Goldwork altar cover lettering

When you’re couching goldwork threads in pairs, you can use the very handy wooden spools called koma that are used in Japanese embroidery. You can see a pair of them at work in the first photo in this article. They are resting on the frame on the left of the photo.

The advantage of the koma is that they have square sides, so they won’t roll off your frame. They sit comfortably right next to each other on your frame, so you can pull the gold off each as you go, in pairs.

I have a bunch of koma on hand, but we’re not using them.

When your goldwork threads come in hanks instead of on spools, koma are logical and most welcome tools.

But the gold passing thread that we’re using already comes on spools, and there’s no way in the world that I’d take the time to unspool the passing thread and re-spool it onto the koma.

Still, the plastic spools the thread is on have a distinct disadvantage: they are round spools and they can get a bit unruly and rolly.

So, to keep things in line and to keep the spools next to each other, I ran a small dowel through the holes in the middle of the spools and cut the dowel so that it extended just about half an inch on each side of the double spools. Then I wrapped a rubber band repeated around the ends, to keep the spools from shifting or sliding off the dowel. The rubber band also keeps the whole contraption from shifting about on the work surface, doing the same job of the square sides on the koma.

This is working great as an inexpensive and time-saving solution for keeping the spools of gold threads in line when couching long, uninterrupted pairs.

The Backstory

If you want to follow along with this project from its beginning to now, here are the articles covering this project in chronological order:

Goldwork Testing 1-2-3

Testing Some Texture in Goldwork

Goldwork Threads & an Idea Wall

Letters on a Large Embroidery Frame

It’s All Fun & Games – Until Plunging!

Gold & Blue & Encouraging You

The Goldwork Word Game

Other than this goldwork project, we’re super busy in the studio. No move date to the new location for the studio in sight yet, but I’ll keep you posted on that as it nears.

We’re working this week on the finishing touches for Autumn Fire, the new Stitch Snippet project that will launch in September. Of course, there’s One Item Missing from the kit, and I’m waiting on pins and needles for it to arrive! I’ll keep you posted on that, too!

I hope your week is off to a great start!


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(5) Comments

  1. I’m working on lectures for a New Testament backgrounds class this fall, and to be honest, the first thing that comes to mind with the phrase “domus aurea” is Nero’s over-the-top, treasury-emptying pleasure palace built at the foot of the Palatine hill. Gorgeous work y’all are doing! I’m sure the church will be over-the-top pleased with the finished results. (If not, what kind of crazy are they?)

    Thank you for teaching me how to do goldwork and other ecclesiastical embroidery! I’m just about to launch into some vestment construction for my church, which will mostly be sewing, but there will be a few embroidered touches here and there (such as crosses on the stoles).

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