Gold, gold, gold

When you get into goldwork you soon realise that it has a vocabulary all of its own – and I’m not just talking of waxing and plunging. There is pearl purl, which sounds like a superflous repetition but does actually mean something; there is the mysterious milliary wire which looks like a misspelling of military wire but isn’t, and which sometimes occurs without its second “i”; there is rococco which seems to be spelled with any combination of “c”s available. Then there are names which suggest non-existent similarities: check thread and wire check have absolutely nothing in common; wire check has much more in common with smooth purl. And why do only two of the flexible hollow purls (the cylindrical ones, shiny “smooth” and matt “rough”) have “purl” in their names, while the two corresponding facetted ones are called “check” and are designated “bright” (shiny) and “wire” (matt)?

Milliary and rococco Check thread and wire check A selection of purls, not all called purl

But some of the names you come across are not just obscure or mildly amusing, they are downright odd. Flatworm, anyone?

Flatworm. Really.

Flatworm starts its life as a rather thick passing thread, which is a metal wire or a thin strip of metal wrapped around a silk or cotton core. Then it gets bashed (not the correct technical term…) so that it ends up as an irregularly flattened, rather chunky ribbon. I describe it as “irregularly flattened” because when you try and lay it down flat, you’ll notice it twists here and there, unpredictably and to varying degrees. Not-so-flatworm, you might say.


If you use it as an outline, or a thin curve consisting of one thread only, you could couch it down as it comes, twists and all – I’ve not tried it but I think it would create rather a pleasing effect. But I want to use it to fill a shape, and for that it needs to be laid flat. Not that difficult, it just takes a little untwisting, so that’s not really the problem with this thread; what I found more challenging was managing the turns.

This refers only to filling a shape in back-and-forth rows, by the way; for a spiral filling I think getting it to lie flat around the curves would actually be the difficult bit (imagine doing that with a ribbon). But in my case the first thing I had to decide was how to make the turn. With passing or any of the other goldwork threads you would simply bend the thread around the needle at the end of a row, possibly pinching the fold with tweezers or small pliers for a nice sharp look, and go on couching in the opposite direction. But that doesn’t really work with this flattened shape. So I looked to another goldwork material, plate. It is basically a metal ribbon – flattened metal without a thead core – and it comes in Broad no.6 and Narrow no.11 (not shown in the picture) with the broad version also available Whipped (with a metal thread wound around it).

Broad plate and whipped plate

This metal ribbon is attached only on the turns where it is sharply folded over, and it zigzags rather than lying in parallel rows. As it can’t be couched along the rows because of the overlaps it tends to be used for relatively small, or at least narrow, shapes. Online you can find many beautiful examples of acorns and other shapes filled with this material, but for copyright reasons I will show you an unfortunately rather messy bit of my own sampling.

Plate attached in the characteristic zigzag pattern

I did actually try turning the flatworm as you would any other metal thread (orange arrow), just to see what the effect would be, but as the picture shows it isn’t very good. Even after pinching the ends together there is a noticeable gap which shows the underlying felt padding. As this is an extreme close-up it is not quite so visible in real life, but still far too much to be acceptable. The other turns have all been done by securing the flatworm on the edge of the padding with a stitch parallel to the edge, and then folding it over with another couching stitch close to the fold (yellow arrow). Although there are still slight gaps, these are so small that they don’t offend the eye when seen at a normal viewing distance, so this is obviously the way to go. Watch this space for pictures of the flatworm used in a proper project!

Turning the flatworm

As those of you who take the occasional look at my Facebook page will know, another golden moment during the past week was the arrival in my Inbox of the assessment for the RSN Certificate Goldwork module, a.k.a. Bruce. I will write more about the various scores and comments later, but for now I will just reveal with a grin on my face that I passed with a Merit and an 88% overall score. Haasje was speechless smiley.

Haasje was quite astonished when told the result

Colours and scribbles

Thinking of my quickly approaching first day of the RSN Certificate I began to wonder what exactly I would be doing from 10am till 4pm. There is no set project to work on, everything you stitch for the various modules has to be your own design. So besides learning how to dress a slate frame, which I sincerely hoped wouldn’t take from 10 till 4, whatever else I’d be doing it seemed unlikely it would be stitching. Discussing design ideas with the tutor, perhaps?

I decided to ask on the Mary Corbet FB group what my first day of the Jacobean crewelwork module was going to be like, as I knew the group boasts quite an impressive number of people with RSN Certificate experience. Although a lot of the reactions were enlightening, they did at times seem a little contradictory, with one person saying she hadn’t stitched at all until after her first class, while another had her frame set up, her design prick-and-pounce transferred, and her first stitches worked, all during that first meeting. Hari the Helpful Education Manager had told me that the programme was very much tailored to each individual, so that presumably accounts for some of the differences.

One piece of advice that came from almost all those who replied was, “Go well-prepared”. This was slightly unnerving, as I had by then not received any information about what to bring to the class and what, if anything, to do beforehand. Partly my own fault for jumping at the chance to start a month early, and consequently leaving the Education Team about two days until my first tutorial day, but even so distinctly unsettling.

Fortunately an email entitled “Joining Instructions” arrived this morning, so I am now a little better-informed; I have added a tape measure, small ruler, notebook and several other useful items to my project box as suggested, and printed and studied the design brief. I soon realised that the main challenge was going to be the restriction on colours: five shades each of two colours, plus two shades of an accent colour. Studying other people’s Certificate pieces online made it all to clear that there is virtually no colour combination that hasn’t been tried yet, but my own instinctive preference (influenced, no doubt, by the fact that Jacobean designs are generally plant/tree-based, albeit in quite a stylised way) clearly veered towards either green or brown as one of the main colours.

Unfortunately I do not have an Appleton shade card – well, only a digital one, and we all know how accurately colours are represented on a computer screen. So I decided to work by proxy, and choose a few colour combinations from my collection of DMC. I’d be unlikely to find exact equivalents in the Appleton range, but at least it would give my tutor (Angela Bishop, with whom I have taken several classes before) some idea of what I was aiming for. Having discarded green as too dominant (yes, I know there are subdued shades of green as well, but I felt it would still be in danger of taking over) I chose some muted browns, which I hope to combine either with not-too-bright turquoises or subdued pinks, with gingery/orangy shades for my accent colour.

Brown and turquoise colour scheme Brown and pink colour scheme

What many helpful group members mentioned as well, was to go furnished with plenty of ideas and sketches. Well, that wasn’t likely to be a problem – if anything I probably have too many ideas for a design that has to be less than A4 size. I’ve even been sketching ideas for canvaswork, a module I’m not planning on doing! So I’ve gathered all my sketches and photos and scribbles and will bring them all along. We’ll see which bits survive the weeding-out process.

Sketches and photographs

By the way, one of my sketches is of Lexi in her stretching-with-backside-and-tail-in-the-air pose, and I really want to include her. But the limitation on colours made me wonder whether that would be possible. Then my husband suggested I could use our previous cat, the lovely ginger Alfie, instead; it was partly this that led me to choose ginger/orange as my accent colour. I just hope it won’t put Lexi’s little pink nose out of joint!