Introduction to Embroidery

Image courtesy of Private Collection

Metalwork – Sculpture

Metalwork is a textural form of embroidery that employs the play of light and variously textured threads for shading effects. The threads come in a range of textures and weights, as well as imitation and real metal. It is available in gold, silver, copper and a few rainbow hues. When padding is used to lay the gold upon, it allows the light to hit the gold in playful ways that give great interest to the texture and light of these threads. Threads, for the most part, are laid onto the ground fabric rather than stitched through the fabric. Negative space plays an important role in the success of this technique, as well as the use of sequins. Or Nué is the couching of metal threads with colored threads to form patterns on top of the metal threads. This technique involves learning technical precision and is impressive to behold.

A Little History

Metal thread history dates back to ancient times, gold thread being mentioned in the Bible. The tomb of Ramses III at Thebes includes an embroidered  remnant in gold with lions and other animals. Metal thread embroidery has been found in vestments in Egypt, Italy, Turkey, Greece and Cyprus. The earliest surviving gold thread embroidery from England dates from the 10th Century.

The heraldry and religious designs through the Middle Ages in Egypt, Greece and Rome served the purpose of communicating without words. Opus Anglicum, the work of English embroiderers, was in high demand throughout Europe and the Vatican during the Middle Ages. The copes were of the highest quality, and they mark the height of artistry of this technique. In the 15th Century, a technique called Or Nué came to Europe and was used on vestments.

When the Opus Anglicum period came to a close, and throughout the Elizabethan era, gold thread was used on domestic embroideries, particularly in Blackwork and silk embroideries. Purses and book covers of velvet were stitched with gold thread. In the 18th Century, the dress of English and European courts was full of silk shading and metal thread, including metallic laces.


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