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Goldwork has long been associated with wealth, power and status. The first gold threads were strands of beaten gold, flattened and then cut into strips. Originating in the east, there are references in the Old Testament, of gold being cut into wires to be used in fine linen. When silk making was smuggled to the west, the Byzantine created their own Imperial monopoly on the production of gold and silk production. Tyre, now Beirut, was the main distribution center for metal and silk threads. In the early days, commercial work was completed by professionally skilled men. Workshops were set up to keep up with the heavy demand of wall hangings, furnishings, garments and tents.
When Constantine the Great turned to Christianity, ecclesiastical textiles and furnishings became the primary export for the next thousand years. Eventually the decline of Constantinople, led way for the West to produce embroidered textiles for smaller churches.
The tenth-century stole and maniple of St. Cuthbert from Durham Cathedral is the earliest surviving example of English metal-thread work.
The colour and brilliance was displayed on the armor used in jousts and on the battlefield. Often used to distinguish one side from the other. The manufacturing of portable furnishings became a political statement. Often becoming a display of one-upmanship.
The use of jewel on most textiles and goods insured the demise of these items. When hard times came, the pieces were often melted down to reclaim the gold. By the eighteenth century, the growth of the business man, the French Revolution and the broadcloth of the age industry surmised the decline of glitter.
Goldwork today is far from what it was. Today we have a multitude of fibers, colors and textures. Most are made of metallised rayon, cotton and silk. Rarely are items made with true gold. The cost and versatility of new fibers has created a new world of display. Churches still use the look of shining glitter but the emphasis is now on the excellence of the design.
Today gold fibers can be found in machine embroidery thread, crinkled, fancy, passing thread, imitation Japanese, gimp, knitting yarns and cords, plate, smooth purl, check purl, rough purl, Russia braid and a twist.
Over the centuries, gold embellishment of fabric became revered for its beauty and visual impact. Visit your local museum or textile history center to view some of the surviving tapestries, garments, and furnishings and notice the use of multiple thread types in embroidery. Needleworkers from Ancient Egypt, China and Europe used multiple fibers in their embroideries because the contrasts of the lustres enriched the design. Silk, wool, cotton, and metal threads were combined to create different textures and dimensional effects, making the final project more visually appealing.
Gold, by definition, is a metallic element, highly malleable and free from rust. In embroidery, while the words "metal" and "metallic" are often used interchangeably, the two terms do not have the same meaning. To be a true metal, the greatest percentage of the thread must be either a metal or a metal compound. The term "metallic" is correctly applied to those threads that appear to be made of metal, but which are actually composed of a synthetic material such as polyester. Since real metal threads have become rare and expensive, metallic threads are an economical and viable substitute.
Modern technology and knowledge of fiber construction has enabled Kreinik to create metallic threads that are soft, easy to use and non-tarnishing. Whether you currently use cotton or silk threads in cross stitch, or wool or silk thread in needlepoint, for example, by simply adding the appropriate metal or metallic thread, you can transform a flat, two-dimensional, single-thread-type design into a more visually attractive, three-dimensional, multiple-thread-type picture.