This Goldwork & Silk Shading Monogram was a Royal School of Needlework day class (well, two day class would be more accurate) that I took nearly two years ago! The good news is that it does seem to still be running at Hampton Court and possibly some of the satellites so if you do feel inspired maybe there is still chance to catch it.
The class was run by the wonderful Deborah Wilding. If you get the chance to go to one of her classes, do. She is an awesome embroidery teacher who can make even the most complex technique comprehensible and easy to follow and is really good fun, which definitely helps when your hands are cramping and crying for less fun tasks like mounting.
What I liked about this class is it was a chance to try out combining two different techniques. This isn’t something you get to do on the RSN Certificate course, where each module is focused on a specific technique only, but I think is a little bit of a shame. For me, there are a lot of techniques, like blackwork, that really come to life with a hint of gold of silk shading. Jen Goodwin’s Kaleidoscope Collection is an awesome example of that for me.
A little unusually for a day class, the day started with transferring the design onto the fabric. Normally, just in the interests of time, the designs are pre-transferred but this means we got to choose from the whole 26 letters of the English alphabet as Deb’s has designed all of them. The alphabet is all on a similar theme, with a lovely silk shaded pansy and embroidered vines with the central letter made up for couched Japanese gold and some chip work. What’s not to love?
Design transferred, the first order of the day was some stem stitching in stranded cotton to make the vines. As my confidence with hand embroidery has grown, I’ve really come to love outline stitches like stem and split stitching. I’ve definitely improved since this piece as well! You can just get into a nice rhythm with it and go, go, go. I love the accent leaves on this design too, really easy stitch-wise but also very effective.
Then it was on to the miniature silk shading. Most tutors design their day class pieces so that you can have a go at working all the techniques within the timeframe of the class, so you have the confidence to go and complete the design at home. The order of stitching in embroidery is very important. For example, when silk shading objects you work the stitching from the most distant part of the object and come towards the viewer and, for this design, it’s a lot easier to finish all the stems that meet the gold areas before laying the gold. Sometimes that means the progress looks a bit random but it’s a really effective teaching tactic.
For a beginner, a nice, small round flower like this is perfect. Three colours per petal and you don’t really have enough space to really fuss excessively over the blending. This was worked in single-strand DMC so nothing too fancy there either.
Coming towards the end of day one though, what I was really itching to do was get on with the bling. Goldwork is a little bit cruel as a technique for that though, as a lot of goldwork pieces take a lot of preparative stitching (and then hours of plunging afterwards just when you think you’re done…). This can be things like laying padding or different kinds to give raised areas or chopping up the gold to size for chip or cut work.
After cutting some felt for the areas that would later have chips sewn to them, my patience was eventually rewarded though when we got to start laying the gold on the second part of the course. The more materials you work with, the more you notice how every thread has their own personality. Sometimes even with threads that are nominally the same, such as the Appleton crewel wools, different colours can behave a little differently. I don’t know what they do in their dyeing process to make some of their darker colours extra weak and flimsy… Goldwork threads, in their infinite variety, do feel very strange at first, as you more have to coax them than order them were to go.
There’s a lot of stitching to go and the couching and bricking definitely needs some work but what a great design!