Goldwork Explored Part 4: Couching Techniques Explained

Picture of Natasha Searls-Punter

Natasha Searls-Punter

goldwork calligraphy on a red fabric
Ecclesiastical Embroidery with Japanese Thread and Pearle Purl Edge by Hawthorne & Heaney

Goldwork embroidery, an art form that has dazzled for centuries, owes its mesmerizing beauty to a tapestry of intricate techniques. These techniques, passed down through generations, transform plain fabric into a radiant canvas adorned with shimmering threads of opulence. In this journey, we will explore the enchanting world of goldwork techniques that elevate textile art to a level of unparalleled elegance. There are so many technques that could be included here that we decided to just touch on the main families of techniques as there is plenty to talk about there. Therefore this list is not exhaustive so you may still come across pieces with sections that dont quite fit into these families or where artists have mixed in other embroidery techniques to further expand their range of effects.

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Goldwork Online Class Product Outcome Close Up Couching rococco and passing thread single lines and leaf fill paired in passing thread

General couching: At the core of goldwork embroidery lies the technique of couching. This method involves securing the metallic threads to the fabric with a contrasting thread, often in silk or cotton. The couching thread, meticulously stitched over the golden threads, not only binds them to the fabric but also adds a touch of artistry. This technique allows artisans to create intricate patterns with the holding stitches and bold lines in the choice of gold thread fill direction and flow. If we look at the exaple above we can see the little parallel stitches that hold the gold thread in place on the lines of couching. This is then taken onto the next step in the fill of the leaf where a more complicated sprial approach is taken to create patterns within the area.

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Goldwork Letter 2 Online Class– Couching rococco/passing thread and overstreched Pearle Purl

Couching can be done with a wide variety of materials, passing thread,twist, rococco and japanese thread are probably the most common, but couching can also be a great way to apply any material that doesnt like to be pulled through the fabric outside of goldwork too. Thick wool threads, fine silk floss, chenille threads or ribbon also spring to mind as good candidates for couching as they are allowed to just sit on the surface of the fabric without the stress of sewing with the delicate material directly.

Goldwork Crown by Hawthorne & Heaney featuring Japanese Thread, passing thread and Pearle Purl couching amongst other techniques.
Couched 6 strand embroidery thread with 1 strand contrast colour holding thread from Introduction to Embroidery Ammonite Design

As only the ends of the goldwork thread need to be brought through to the back of the fabric (plunging), and the holding stitches are relatively far apart, couching makes for a good first foray into goldwork because it can be built up relatively quickly. It also means that the gold thread’s qualities are shown off to their highest degree as there is as little as possible to obsure them. Holding stitches are usually worked in a bricking pattern to give an even look to the finished surface.

Couched Passing Thread worked in a square paired from the Intermediate Goldwork Jungle Online Class
Japanese thread couches in a circle from the Intermediate Goldwork Jungle Online Class

Basket Weave: Basket weave is another step on that you can take to add interest to your couching. It uses hard string bars to create areas of height and depression into which gold threads can be couched in alternating patterns to create a fill.

Passing thread basket weave in progress by Taking Time With Tasha
Passing thread basket weave with pearle purl edge by Taking Time With Tasha


Pearle Purl Couching: Pearle Purl is a hard metal purl which is often used for edging areas for a professional finish. For this reason it’s application is also done using the couching method even though it’s make up is more like a harder version of the materials we would use for cutwork.  Due to the nature of the pearle purl, the stitches are dropped within the spiral of the purl- for more info on the make up of pearle purl do have a read of our goldwork materials blog.

Silk-shading and fine pearle purl couched onto a badge base by Hawthorne & Heaney
Shell patch photographed from above
Silver Pearle purl veins and edge from the Clam Shell Patch kit

Or Nue: Or Nue is a very traditional style of goldwork couching usually used for ecclesiastical pieces. In these pieces the gold threads are applied across the whole area of the embroidery with details added in the frequency and colour of the holding stitches on top, often done in silk threads.

Or Nue from the Opus Anglicanum Exhibition at the V&A museum
detail of blue stitching or nue over silver passing goldwork thread
A moden interpretation of Or Nue from the Intermediate Goldwork Jungle Online Class

This covers the first of the technique families we have to talk about as we explore goldwork, join us for the next blog when we will delve into cutwork.

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