Saturday, 10 January 2009


Several years ago I was able to take part in a one day seminar on Goldwork with Linn Skinner. It was wonderful, it was fun, and it was also a lot of work. I don't remember clearly whether Linn called us back to order when we were tempted to just play with the purl, or whether the temptation and calling to order were all internal. But certainly that stuff is awfully fun to play with. If you've never used proper gold threads, they are couched down with regular thread, and most of them, purl, pearl purl, check ... are really springs.

Last night I had a chance to learn a craft that developed in the women's monastaries of the baroque era. Gold threads and precious stones were used to decorate various religious items. The club of creche makers has a monthly meeting for learning this. It turns out that what it is is playing with gold thread. I spent three hours learning some basic ways of playing. For example, you take a short length of a soft wide purl. You thread it on length of wire and twist the wire tight to form the purl into a ring. Then you squash it with flat pliers and make a simple flower shape. Or you take pearl purl, thread it, and then pull it apart a bit. Now do the twisty thing, and form that ring into a leaf or square or whatever. Then you take 'Wiener Gold' (which turns out to be very fine purl). You pull the end until you have a bit of kinky wire, and fasten the end to your working wire. Now wind the Wiener Gold around your shape either parallel or as a fan, or just wildly, pulling all the while to make a veil of thin kinky wire.

A few times my fibre reflexes got the better of me. We were using a check purl to make another layer around one of those wrapped leaves, and I wondered how we were going to get it to stay where we wanted it without spoiling the division between the veiled inner part and the free outer part. It wasn't until we were done that it dawned on me: this is wire, not thread. It just stays there all by itself!

The time just flew, and I found myself tired but happy, with a pile of finished units just begging to be made into something. I think I'll try to make an Easter egg with a triumphant lamb inside decorated with my little treasures. But I can't stop the little voice suggesting that this all started back in some monastary work room, with a bunch of novices who were supposed to be learning goldwork. The nun teaching them must have left the room, and they started playing instead of stitching. But they came up with something beautiful and convinced their superiors that they didn't really have what it took to become skilled embroiderers anyway. ...

Monday, 5 January 2009

Paraments on View at St. Stephan's

Until the end of the month there is a small exhibit at Stefansdom of paraments from 5 centuries. Actually, most of those on display are 18th century, but I'm never against seeing baroque goldwork. There is one that dates probably to the 15th century, and the most recent is still unfinished. My favorite was one from 1900. Goldwork again, but this time typical Jugendstil scrolls instead of the heavy overall work from the earlier examples.

It's a narrow winding staircase up (two way traffic!) but well worth it even just for the view of the church from the higher vantage point, and when you have this rich treasure of needlework to see as well it would be a shame to miss it.