I may be a little late with this one as we have had a season since Dolce & Gabbana’s incredible AW12 collection below. But I thought I would run through a little break down of gold ‘cutwork’ as we know it here in the Hawthorne & Heaney studio. Before I begin, there are many names for the techniques and materials, mine may be different to the majority as I learnt my draftsmanship within a company and not a school.
I began my apprenticeship in gold work draftsmanship nearly 6 years ago in the West End of London. Whilst also learning about many other techniques, gold work remained my favourite and still is to this day. There is such romance in the incredible history of this style of embroidery that it continued to be my speciality throughout my three year training period. I am still called on by fashion, military, tailoring and even Royal clients regularly, both to push the boundaries of the technique and reference its history by producing the incredible quality and skill used for nearly 2000 years.
What a lot of people don’t realise about gold work / cut work is that at least 50% of the work (or more) is in the preparation. The artwork must be created and then drafted with annotations for the embroiderers. Depending on who is producing the work, certain terms and annotations must be used to explain exactly what is needed. The annotations must describe first the material to be used, the size of the material, the colour and all the information about the raisings and edging that is also used on the design. At H&H we do this in a very particular ‘language’ which is specific to our embroiderers and varies quite often between them.
After the draft is made the design then needs to be applied to the fabric, in the studio here we use a method called prick and pounce. This involves pricking small holes in a copy of the draft and passing a chalk / charcoal powder through the holes onto the fabric. Then the design is fixed by ‘joining the dots’ with a water based paint and a very steady hand.
Now the embroidery is ready to be framed. All you embroiderers out there will know the importance of a night tight frame to the success of a piece. With gold work a holland linen is put into the frame and the area of the fabric to be embroidered pasted onto the linen. Then and only then are you ready to start preparing the raisings of your embroidery. There are many different types of raisings which create many different effects themselves and more again when used with variations in techniques and materials.
Once your raisings are down you are then ready to begin your gold work. The techniques we most commonly use here in the studio are gold cut work, passing, couched passing, pearl purl, essing and spangles, nearly all of which can be seen on the example below. Cut work is the medium in which I work most and is also extremely popular at the moment in fashion. It is created using purl.
Purl is a long gold coil which is cut into small sections at the correct length to span the distance across the design you are trying to fill. If your embroidery also has a raising, the length of the peice of purl must take this into account also. I often describe the purl like a flexible bugle bead, that can be cut to the correct length to fill a space. A waxed thread is passed through the center of the purl and pulled tight (but not so tight as to damage the fabric). If the purl is too long it will sit proud of the fabric and raising and if it is too short you will see the thread you are using to secure it.
I find the amount of skill used in this part of the embroidery by professionals can sometimes be absolutely mind blowing and despite it being a very difficult technique to initially get your head around and even more so to learn, it is always our most popular class at the London Embroidery School and is always sold out !
This is a technique that has really survived the test of time ! Gold work is being used just as regularly for british military and ceremonial embroidery as it was in the past and is being used increasingly for vestments and uniforms abroad, not to mention its resurgence in the fashion industry (thank you D&G!). Lucky for us and all those gold work embroiderers and designers out there.
Long may it continue !
Claire Barrett is an embroidery designer who has been working in the embroidery industry for six years. A former Creative Director at Hand & Lock, Claire runs Hawthorne & Heaney, dealing with celebrity clients such as Kanye West and high profile companies such as Henry Poole & Company Savile Row tailors. Claire is passionate about making embroidery accessible to everyone by offering sponsorships to young designers and even running the London Embroidery School to teach beginners classes to those who are interested in getting a taste of what embroidery has to offer.