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history of embroidery, history of goldwork, goldwork, goldwork embroidery, bright check, purl pearl, gilt twist, gilt passing, couching technique, couching embroidery, stitching, needlework, gold thread, metallic thread

Pssstt!!!  To my lovely website visitors, if you're interested in looking at photos of the modern embroidery pieces, scroll to the bottom of this article!  Otherwise, I'll be writing about the history of goldwork embroidery across space and time:


Embroidery, a delicate art form that weaves stories with threads, has taken many fascinating forms throughout history. Among the most opulent and cherished techniques is goldwork embroidery, where gleaming metallic threads impart a timeless elegance to fabric. The captivating history of goldwork spans across cultures, epochs, and royal courts, creating a legacy that continues to shine bright in contemporary fashion and art.


Ancient Beginnings:

Goldwork embroidery finds its roots in antiquity, where it graced the garments and sacred artifacts of ancient civilizations. In Egypt, as far back as the pharaohs, precious metals were skillfully interwoven into fabrics, showcasing the opulence and power of the ruling elite. In China, intricate goldwork embellished the robes of emperors, symbolizing wealth and divinity. Across the Mediterranean, Byzantine artisans adorned religious vestments with luminous gold threads, imparting a divine radiance to the garments.

Royal Ontario Museum, 18th Century Chinese Goldwork Embroidered Silk Robe (Wikimedia Commons)

A Renaissance of Brilliance:

The European Renaissance saw goldwork embroidery reach new heights of splendor. The courts of kings and queens became hotbeds of embroidery artisans, and goldwork was in high demand. Skilled craftsmen, often members of exclusive guilds, created magnificent tapestries, clothing, and ecclesiastical vestments adorned with gold and silver threads. Elaborate goldwork designs showcased intricate patterns and motifs, becoming a hallmark of luxury and aristocracy.

Mid-15th Century European Nue Goldwork Technique (Photo Courtesy of MET Museum)


A Golden Age in Fashion:

As exploration and trade flourished during the Age of Discovery, new trade routes brought exotic materials to Europe, including gleaming metallic threads from far-flung lands. The wealth of the New World further fueled the popularity of goldwork embroidery. During the Baroque and Rococo periods, lavish goldwork embellishments adorned sumptuous clothing, particularly during grand ceremonies and royal weddings.


Evolving Techniques:

Over time, goldwork embroidery techniques evolved, incorporating various materials to achieve different effects. Gilded metal threads, such as gold, silver, and copper, were spun into fine wires and couched onto fabric with silk or linen threads. Additional techniques, like padding and laid work, were employed to create raised surfaces and three-dimensional effects, adding depth and richness to the designs.


A Contemporary Renaissance:

While the demand for goldwork embroidery diminished in the modern era, the 20th century witnessed a revival of interest in traditional crafts. Inspired by historical pieces, fashion designers, artists, and craft enthusiasts rekindled the allure of goldwork. Today, goldwork embroidery graces haute couture runways, theatrical costumes, and bespoke designs, reaffirming its place as a symbol of luxury and artistry.

Modern goldwork embroideries incorporates the use of metal threads and metal wires.  Wires include what is called pearl purl and bright check.  Metallic threads include what is known as gilt twist, gilt passing, and roccoco.

Chanel Haute Couture Collection Fall 2014


Dolce & Gabbana Bee Crown Blazer Goldwork


Bee Hive Design, Example of Modern Goldwork Embroidery (Unknown Source)



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