Thursday, 8 April 2010

Spirograph I - couching goldwork

As the final spiral is bigger and so it's easier to see what's going on, I thought I'd show you the whole process in more detail. To start with, here are the threads I'm using:

I use two strands of the passing thread, Japanese Gold no. 8, and by running them straight off two reels I can use as long a length as I like (well, up to the amount left on a reel!) and don't need to cut lengths. This saves on starting and finishing, and gives long unbroken lines, which I like. The 'Sulky' machine embroidery thread is used to couch down the passing thread. It's an excellent match for the colour, which is great as the couching stitches then become almost invisible, though it does mean you're going to have to peer quite hard at some of the photos to see what's going on. Sorry about that!

If you recall, the design is formed of five overlapping seven-pointed stars, and I'm working each one separately, to make life easier for myself. Here, I've already worked two of them, and stitched the third one through from the back, to mark it out:

This is what I'll be couching the passing thread over.

To start off, I leave an end of about 2.5cm (1"), and stitch the passing threads down close to where the design crosses another line:

I then stitch down the two passing threads with small stitches of the 'Sulky' couching thread, with each stitch about 0.5cm (about quarter of an inch) apart.

By stitching on either side of the tacking stitches marking out the design, I can completely hide them.

As well as the regular stitches along the length of the passing thread, I also always put a couching stitch where two lines cross:

This helps keep the crossings - and there are a lot of crossings - nice and sharp. I also need to keep the passing threads parallel and flat - at no point do I want them to twist or overlap. Mostly, this isn't a problem as the design is actually formed by long sweeping curves; the exception is the top of the loop at the end of each point. This is quite tight, so to keep the threads parallel, I couch each one down individually. I stitch down the outer one first, bringing the needle up between the two threads:

and taking the stitch to the outside of the loop:

To couch down the second thread, I bring the needle up behind it, in the inside of the loop, and stitch it down next to the first thread. By angling the needle so that it goes slightly under the first thread, the second one is pulled tightly up to it:

This means that the two threads lie next to each other nicely, with no overlapping:

With each star, I'm heading round in the same direction each time; this means that with each one, the same cross-overs happen in the same direction, making a neater finish. This is probably most obvious with the cross-over at the bottom of each loop:

Once I've gone right the way round in this fashion, I end up back where I started.

I've finished off the couching thread firmly, then cut the passing threads, again leaving ends of about 2.5cm (1").

These now need to be taken through to the back of the fabric to be finished off. To do this, I use a thick needle with a short, double length of sewing thread through the eye, forming a loop. I put the needle through the fabric where I want the passing thread to go through, and then put the end of the gold thread through the loop:

I then pull the needle through, taking the gold thread with it. It helps to leave a loop of the gold thread as you do this if you can, rather than dragging it through from the base, which is both more difficult and can strip the gold foil from the thread core. Here it's partly pulled through, with the needle pulled to the back, but the passing thread end still a loop on the surface:

Trying to describe this process is a lot harder than actually doing it - if you give it a try, you'll see what I mean. All that's left to do now is to give it a good hard tug, and the thread is pulled through the the back of the fabric, where it can be caught down and trimmed.

Here it is with all four ends pulled through and (hopefully!) it looks like any other point where two lines cross over, completely hiding the start and finish:

Here's the full thing, with the third 'star' completed. Can you spot the start/finish line?

Just two more of the 'stars' to do, then all the embroidery for the first hanging is finished!


  1. Great tip to a would-be goldwork embroiderer!:)
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. WOW!! I have never heard of Gold work before!! Thank you for this amazing tutorial! I am off to the shop this afternoon to get some metallic thread to give this a try!! Thank you!!! I cant wait!!!

    Cleo fromn South Africa

    [cleo at techgear]

  3. this was very informative. I used to do what was called string art(the winding of thread gold and silver plus colours in metalic thread around small brads on a board which gave a 3d effect) was thinking that this could also be transposed into couching designs. Thanks for the memory jog.

  4. beautiful! I have a sudden urge to do some spirograph embroidery