Goldwork Explored Part 2: Equipment Explained

Picture of Natasha Searls-Punter

Natasha Searls-Punter

So we have sparked your interest in Goldwork with a bit about it’s history, but what do you actually need ? Embarking on the intricate journey of goldwork embroidery can seem like it requires a carefully curated toolbox of specialized tools.  For that reason our Introduction to Goldwork Kit and class is a great way in as we try to use as few pieces of equipment as possible to get you started. However, if you decide goldwork is for you then here is a little explanation what else you might like to have at your disposal and for what other techniques they are useful. In this chapter, we will delve into the essential instruments that enable artisans to work their magic with gold threads, transforming mere fabric into a radiant tapestry of opulence and beauty.

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Introduction to Goldwork Online Class with mellor positioning cutwork bright check

Scissors: The humble pair of goldwork scissors is a vital tool in any embroiderer’s arsenal. Designed with precision and delicacy in mind, these scissors possess sharp, fine blades that allow for intricate cutting of metallic threads. The pointed tips ensure accuracy when trimming excess threads or snipping delicate openings in the fabric for cutwork techniques. With a pair of reliable goldwork scissors in hand, you can achieve clean and precise cuts, enhancing the overall quality of your work. We would strongly suggest a separate pair of scissors just for cutting your goldwork purls as the high metal value of the purls and threads will blunt your scissors, making them less effective when you want to use them on cotton or silk threads for regular trimming. So a minimum of two pairs of scissors will be needed in your embroidery kit.

Brass Handled Scissors make great all around scissors or as they are gold in colour can be kept 

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Luxury Hen Scissors have particularly sharp points

Curved Scissors for getting into tricky spots

Laying tools: A mellor is a small, smooth, polished tool; often made metal, but historically also of wood or bone. Ornate examples can be found with extra details such as engraving, filigree or mother of pearl.  It is used as a laying tool to apply pressure and smooth the metallic threads and purls in goldwork embroidery. The rounded end of the Mellor enables artisans to smooth and shape the threads, whilst the narrow end is used as the laying tool to ease threads down into place and ensuring they are evenly distributed. By using a Mellor, embroiderers can achieve a polished and refined look to their goldwork, enhancing the overall texture and shine of the design.

Mellors make for a lovely laying tool for more general embroidery tool and can also be useful for silk shading, monogramming or lace embroidery in particular.

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Mellor wide end used to shape and smooth a pearle purl with coloured core edge

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Mellor narrow end used to ease a piece of cutwork purl down over string raising in Goldwork Online Class

Alternatively you may prefer to use a stiletto as your laying tool for goldwork. The stiletto is more aimed at techniques such as silk shading, monogramming or lace embroidery as the laying tool of choice. But if you have become particularly accustomed to it’s longer size and narrower shape then you might prefer it to a mellor for goldwork too. One needs to be a little more careful with the pointed end of the stiletto when using it for goldwork as it is sharper than a mellor and therefore will more easily bruise your purls which is something to bear in mind when making your choice.

Stiletto laying tool placing cutwork bright checks 

Brass Stiletto, Vintage Mother of Pearl Stiletto , Rosewood Stiletto

Needles: Needles are an indispensable component of any embroidery toolbox, and goldwork embroidery is no exception. Various types of needles serve different purposes throughout the goldwork process. Standard embroidery needles at around a size 10 are a great all rounder for a range of techniques. When working with cutwork, a finer needle is required so that it can fit along with the thread through the purls, so an embroidery or sharps style no. 12 is a good example. For couching, a needle with a much larger eye and shaft is necessary to make a hole big enough to plunge your goldwork thread ends with. Something like a chenille no 22 or tapestry needle is good for this if you prefer a blunter end.  A curved needle can be hard to get used to but can make light work of weaving in your goldwork ends on the back of embroidered pieces particularly those that have raisings on the front.

Needle Pack set feat. curved needle, chenille needle, x2 embroidery needles no. 10, x2 embroidery needles no. 12

Goldwork Embroidery with Embroidery no. 10 needle working on the Intermediate Goldwork Jungle Online Class

Frames or Hoops: To maintain tension and stability while working on goldwork embroidery, a sturdy frame or hoop is necessary. When working with goldwork often you will need the flexibility to work with both hands simultaneously, therefore a frame becomes the superior choice.  They provide a secure and stable working surface, enabling embroiderers to focus on intricate details and achieve consistent stitch quality. Usually with goldwork the base fabric is very sturdy and likely to have been further supported with an additional base fabric so one is often able to balance your materials board and tools on the embroidery piece whilst working on it.

Goldwork on a slate frame with tools

Intermediate Goldwork Jungle in table clamp frame

Thimbles: Goldwork can be tough on your hands, quite a few of the materials or processes can be demanding so to increase your enjoyment of the technique it can be ideal to get used to wearing a thimble to protect your fingers and your work by preventing stab wounds. It is not so much that you are likely to stab yourself with the pointy end of the needle, though with embroidery this is always a risk. It is more so that because the the toughness of the base fabric and metal threads, that if you misplace a stitch then the pressure you would be exerting on the needle may force it backward into your fingers as you try to pass it through the fabric instead of forwards to make the stitch. Thimbles are a very personal choice so what will suit you, may not suit someone else. Therefore we have a range of thimble choices to suit your preferences. Thimbles are useful for almost every embroidery technique and once you become used to one you like- it can become difficult to stitch without it!

Cutwork C III R whilst wearing a Brass Open sided thimble– good for those with small fingers or longer nails

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Leather Double Sided Thimble- good for heavy duty work, if you like to switch which hand you wear the thimble on, or if you generally feel you need more coverage

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Adjustable Ring Thimble with Plate – ideal if you don’t enjoy the pressure of the needle on the tips of your fingers

Protect and grip thimble– soft silicone mould to the finger and provides a more natural (than metal) grippy surface

Velvet Board Aka Bullion Cushion: A velvet covered hard board ideal for cutting cutwork purls against so that they are held in place and less are lost. It makes them easier to pick up when cut as well as they don’t roll away on the pile of the velvet but also don’t skitter away from you like they would if using a beading tray for them instead. Can be used for beads as well if you get to liking it.

Design transfer items: Like with many other embroidery techniques, designs need to be transferred onto the goldwork fabrics to work into so you may like to add some of the tools needed for traditional design transfer as you become more immersed into the world of goldwork and perhaps working on your own designs. Prick and Pounce is the traditional way of transferring a design onto fabric, but piercing a series of small holes into tracing paper (or metal casts historically for frequently used designs) and dropping fine powder through those holes to reveal the design on the surface of the fabric, which is then drawn over with a drawing tool appropriate to the base material. For Prick and pounce you would need a pricker, pounce powder, a pounce rubber, drawing implement for fabric and a semi soft surface on which to prick like a velvet board.

What you choose to draw your draft in with once pricked will depend on the fabric onto which you plan to embroider. Smooth, light coloured fabrics  can be drawn in with a fine mechanical pencil which will give a good fine finish. However if working with a very subtle thread, you may not like a pencil as it will create a shadow around your fine embroidery, therefore you may prefer a fabric pen or heat dissolvable pen so it can be removed afterwards (always test thoroughly first) . If working on a dark fabric, pencil will not be visible and you may need to try a white dressmakers pencil or gel pen which can be good if the fabric is not very smooth as it transfers very easily.

Pricker tool– wooden handle for comfort with a fine needle loaded into the top with a velvet board

Goldwork Piece with white pounce marks and pounce rubber

Dressmaker’s Pencils in a range of colours 

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Water Soluble Pen Transferred designBroderie Anglaise

Wax: Beeswax is used to strengthen your threads so that they have more of a chance to hold up against the tough metal materials in goldwork.

Running a thread through bees wax in a holder

Building up your equipment collection can be a great way to spur you on through your embroidery journey as you discover why you might want to explore that next piece of equipment to be able to tackle more challenging projects.

Do check out our pro tips play list on our you tube to see a lot of these items in use and inspire you as you learn more about goldwork.

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