Goldwork and Crazy Quilting

Mary Corbet © 2009

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Crazy quilting has always struck me as the superlative needlework medium for those who love fibers, embroidery, and embellishment. The freedom of the crazy quilter to adorn, interpret and combine fibers, stitches, and fabrics is enviable for those of us who donít crazy quilt but who love all the same things the crazy quilter loves.

Iím not a crazy quilter! As ironic as that may seem since Iím writing for a magazine on crazy quilting, itís not so odd. This article came about when Allison Aller suggested the combination of crazy quilting with Goldwork. The idea struck my fancy! Think about it: the ultimate in embellishing textiles is crazy quilting; the ultimate in surface embroidery techniques is Goldwork. Why not marry the two? Oh, the possibilitiesÖ

Here you have the purpose of this article, then: to demonstrate how metal threads can be used in crazy quilting, and to help eliminate the intimidation stitchers may feel when faced with real metal threads.


The tools used for metal thread embroidery are familiar to most stitchers. In the photo above, you can see some of the basic tools used in this type of embroidery, though not all are essential:

  1. Velvet board: If you have a beading mat, it will suffice. The velvet board is used for cutting metal threads. The nap of the velvet keeps the metal threads in place while you cut them and afterwards.
  2. Tweezers: They donít have to be specifically needlework tweezers Ė any decent tweezers will suffice. They are used for pinching threads into shape.
  3. Mellore: This tool is unique to Goldwork, but it isnít essential for the beginner. It is used to manipulate metal threads, and can also be used as an awl. A laying tool will suffice, or the tweezers will work, too, for manipulating threads.
  4. Beeswax: This is essential for couching metal threads. A good cake of real beeswax will last quite a while and is relatively inexpensive, so invest in one and keep it in your tool box in a little plastic bag. Beeswax coats the couching threads and strengthens them against abrasion.
  5. Plunging needle: A #22 chenille needle and a short piece of string, cord, or heavy floss helps sink metal threads. The cord forms the ďlassoĒ that grabs the thread and pulls it to the back of the fabric.
  6. Scissors: A sharp pair of scissors that can be used solely for metal threads is a must. The metal threads can damage scissors, so itís helpful to have a pair solely for Goldwork threads.
  7. Gold-colored silk couching thread: Iím using two types in this project: Kreinik Gold Couching Thread size 0 and Tire Silk.

In addition to the above, itís nice to have a floor or lap stand that can hold your embroidery hoop or frame. Otherwise, you can sit at a table to do your Goldwork, and rest the hoop or frame on the table. Youíll need both hands for Goldwork.

To Begin:

Although the techniques discussed in this article apply to practically any Goldwork, for the crazy quilter there are a few steps to take before you can immerse yourself in the wonders of metal thread. Obviously, you need a crazy quilt foundation to work on! This foundation can be anything Ė a square, the outside pattern of a wallet or purse Ė but remember that real metal threads cannot be washed. Pick a project that wonít need normal laundering. Also, metal threads are a bit prickly sometimes, so you might not find them comfortable to wear or grasp (a purse).  Because they stick up and sparkle, keep in mind that pets Ė especially cats and birds Ė might find them tempting to pick on. Choose your project with these considerations in mind!

A foundation fabric behind the crazy quilt square is also essential. Goldwork needs support. A firm muslin or linen works fine for this. If you piece your square on muslin, this is sufficient.

Metal Threads on a Crazy Quilt Square

Iíll explain the metal threads and how they can be used as I discuss each seam treatment on this square. The majority of techniques here are specifically suited to the Goldwork newbie Ė theyíre easy, and if youíve stitched before, youíll have no problem getting the gist of how to use these metal threads. If you want to explore more advanced techniques of Goldwork, you can check the resources and information at the end of this article for suggestions.

Smooth Passing Thread

Smooth passing is a fine thread made of a silk or cotton core with a thin layer of gold wrapped around the core. Itís a couched thread Ė that is, it is laid on the surface and sewn on with Couching Stitches. Normally, smooth passing is couched in pairs, as seen above. Smooth passing comes in a variety of sizes, numbered from four upwards, with four being the smallest. My favorite sizes are #4 and #5, and in this project, Iím using size five passing thread.

On this seam treatment, I used silk buttonhole twist in a dark blue to couch the passing thread. Usually, youíll see passing thread couched either with colored threads or (more commonly) with gold silk couching threads that donít show up. The Couching Stitches are often worked in a brick pattern, as in the above photo, when two or more double rows are worked. In the seam treatment above, I worked two double rows, alternating the placement of the couching threads in a brick pattern. When couching with a colored thread, I prefer not to wax my couching thread. The wax dulls the colored threads. If Iím using a fine gold couching thread, I wax the thread before couching.

Nestled in the waves of smooth passing, I worked a little flower-like motif, with dark green Trebizond silk in Fly Stitch and blue silk buttonhole twist in Lazy Daisy Stitches.

When couching pairs of smooth passing along a line, itís useful to begin with double the length of your line, plus about an inch. Fold the length of smooth passing in half and pinch at the halfway point. Attach the smooth passing to your ground fabric by couching over the pinched halfway point, as shown below:

Once you take this first stitch, use your tweezers to give the thread a good pinch to keep the two threads close to each other; then proceed to couch at regular intervals along your line. Once you reach the end of the line, you plunge the ends of the passing thread through to the back of the fabric and whip over them with your couching thread to secure them.

Plunging Threads and Securing Them

To plunge a couched thread, you can go about it one of two ways: the plunging needle or the plunging lasso.

The Plunging Needle: With small threads like the #5 smooth passing thread used above, you can simply use a larger-eyed needle (the #22 chenille works fine for this). Take one of the threads from the pair just couched, thread one of the ends of the passing thread into the needleís eye, and pull the needle firmly through to the back of the fabric. Repeat with the other piece of smooth passing thread in the pair.

If youíre working several lines of passing thread in an area, leave the ends un-plunged until you complete the area. Then plunge each thread individually, securing each pair of threads on the back of your fabric.

The Plunging Lasso: Threads can also be plunged using a plunging lasso, shown below.

To make a plunging lasso, take your #22 chenille needle and a short length of cord or strong floss. (Here, Iím using a scrap of two strands of silk.) Thread one end of the floss into the needle in one direction, and thread the other end into the needle in the opposite direction.

Take the chenille needle from the front to the back of the ground fabric, leaving a loop above the fabric. Catch the end of the metal thread in the loop, as shown, and give the lasso a firm tug from below. The thread will pop to the back, where it needs to be secured.

After popping the thread to the back (either with a plunging lasso or with just a needle) itís time to secure it. In the photo above, you can see the yellow core of the thread plunged with the lasso. I took the gold off the thread by pulling on the strand of gold until the thread was unwrapped. You donít have to remove the gold from the metal thread; this is just a preference of mine because I find the threads easier to secure and less bulky if the gold is removed. If you decide to remove the gold wrapping, pull until there is about a 1/4" or 1/8" left around the thread core.

Using your couching thread, secure the plunged thread to the back of the fabric by passing under threads already there, or by picking up a little bit of the fabric lining under the quilt square.

Other Ways of Using Smooth Passing Thread

There are other ways to use smooth passing thread. In this project, Iíve used it in three different ways: couched in a line (described above), looped, and as flower petals.

Smooth passing worked in a line of loops makes an attractive seam treatment. To make loops, use one strand of smooth passing.

Leave a tail about an inch long, and couch your first stitch at the beginning of the line of loops.

To make a loop, bring your needle up where you want the bottom of the loop to intersect with the line. Wrap the smooth passing thread around your needle in the form of the loop.

Take your couching thread over the intersection of the loop, and pull on it gently. At the same time, pull on your smooth passing thread, until the loop is the size you want.

You can use a mellore or tweezers to help shape your loop. When itís the size and shape you want, couch the sides of the loop. Then couch the passing thread along the line, and proceed to the next loop.

When you get to the end of the line, plunge your threads as described above.

Smooth passing thread can also be used to make different types of motifs. The thread is flexible enough to be looped, scrolled, worked as flower petals and so forth. In the motif below, the passing thread is worked into very long Lazy Daisy Stitches.

Cut the passing thread double the length of the petals, and then fold in half without pinching. Secure the passing thread onto the fabric at the halfway mark with couching thread or floss. Here, Iím using a dark red silk buttonhole twist to secure the thread, since this silk will be used predominantly in the motif Iím stitching.

Plunge the ends of each of the petals to take them to the back of the fabric, then turn your work over.

Youíll see a general mess there. The threads need a bit of a trim before removing the gold and securing the threads on the back.

Secure the passing thread in pairs. If you try to secure all of them at once, youíll just frustrate yourself! Itís much easier to secure each pair of plunged threads Ė and that holds true whether youíre filling a whole area with passing thread and plunging the threads at the end, or whether youíre working individual petals like those shown here.

To decorate the petals, I wrapped the buttonhole twist around them, starting by passing my needle under the base of the first petal, around it, then under both the first and the second petal. Then, I worked in a kind of Back Stitch fashion, back around the petal, under it and the next petal, back around that one, and so forth, to the last petal.

Continue working the rows of buttonhole twist in this fashion until you cover as much of the petals as you like. I worked eight rows altogether.

After working the rows of buttonhole twist, I couched a little further up the petal to keep the passing threads closed, then opened up the petal by couching the sides of all the petals together. This was a fun way to use smooth passing thread and it made a pretty motif for the corner of a block.


Purls are coils of gold that come in a variety of types: smooth purl, matte purl, and check purl. Smooth purl and matte purl are basically the same metal thread with a different finish. Theyíre tube-like coils made from a very fine wire, and they come in long strands that are flexible and somewhat worm-like. The difference between smooth and matte is that the smooth purl is shiny and bright and the matte purl has a duller finish. Check purl is faceted. The coil is crimped so that the resulting facets reflect the light and are very sparkly. In this project, I used smooth purl and check purl. Purls are cut to the size desired and sewn on like beads, passing the needle and thread through the center of the tube. The difference between cut purls and beads is that purls are flexible and can be looped and shaped.

Using the smooth purl, I made petals for daisy-like flowers on this seam treatment. The buttonhole wheels are worked in red silk buttonhole twist.

Before making the purl ďflowers,Ē I affixed size #8 spangles (or paillettes) to the fabric as centers to the flowers. Paillettes are gold disks similar to sequins, but they are flat and smooth, not faceted. They can be attached to the fabric in a variety of ways. For this seam, I used a largish blue bead on top of the spangle.

To attach the spangle with a bead, bring your thread to the front of your fabric where you want the spangle attached, thread the spangle on followed by a bead, and then take your needle back down into the hole of the spangle. Simple!

For the purl petals, Iím using smooth purl #1. You can see in the photo above that it is a very flexible long tube of gold.

Laying the purl on your cutting mat, snip the first purl to the size you want. You can determine what size purl you want for a petal by using a piece of thread to figure the petal size, then measuring it against the purl before snipping. To cut purls, I put the tip of my scissors over the purl and into the nap of the velvet mat, then snip. After cutting the first purl, use it as a template to cut the rest of the purls youíll need for petals.

To sew on the purls, Iím using a fine beading needle and gold silk couching thread. Begin by coming up in your fabric at the base of your petal, just as you would do with a Lazy Daisy Stitch. Pass the needle through the purl, taking care not to catch the purl on any thread. If you stretch out the purl, it wonít return to its former shape and youíll have to start with another piece. This is why itís important to use a suitable needle with a small enough eye to pass easily through the purl.

After stringing the purl onto the thread, take your needle back down into the fabric where it initially emerged, and then pull gently until a nice petal-shaped loop is formed. Donít pull fast or hard here. If you tug hard, the purl will crack. Itís a very easy stitch, though, so donít worry about it! Just go gently.

After making your loop, bring the needle back up into the middle of the loop. Since we will be securing the loop with another piece of purl, leave a little bit of space between your thread and the end of the loop, so that the next piece of purl will have a little bit of room.

Using a shorter piece of purl, secure the petal loop by stitching the shorter purl over the top of the loop, just as you would secure a Lazy Daisy Stitch. Again, pull gently! Bring your needle up at the base of the next petal and proceed in the same manner to attach all the purls across the line.

Check purl is like smooth purl, but faceted. Itís cut and sewn on in the same manner as smooth purl.

For this seam treatment, I started with a line of Herringbone Stitch in dark green Trebizond silk. Over that, I sewed equal lengths of check purl. Again, measure the length you want of the purl, then use your first cut piece as a template for the rest. Sew the check purl on in the same manner as you would long bugle beads.

To finish the seam, I attached small spangles and white beads at the top of each Herringbone Stitch, and at the tip of each check purl, I worked two French Knots in dark green silk ribbon.

Pearl Purl

Pearl purl is a little different from smooth and check purls, despite the name of ďpurl.Ē Like the other purls, it is a coil, but the metal that is coiled is thicker. Pearl purl looks like a line of little gold beads. Unlike the other purls, pearl purl is normally couched onto the fabric between the coils.

While pearl purl is flexible enough to take tight curves, it is a much stiffer metal than regular purl. Itís very helpful to have tweezers on hand to manipulate this metal thread. It can make nice curves and swirls, and it also take corners well with a good pinch of the tweezers. When stretched, the spring-like coils become more apparent. It doesnít return to its former shape. To cut pearl purl, snip it with your Goldwork scissors between the coils.

This decorative treatment of a patch is not really on the seam. Iíve drawn a swirly design on a corner patch, using a fine tipped pen. Iím using a pearl purl #3, which is relatively large, to cover up the lines.

Before couching on the pearl purl, because it is such a stiff and hard metal thread, itís imperative to run your couching thread through some beeswax to strengthen the thread and protect it from abrasion.

Before snipping the pearl purl at my starting point, Iím attaching the metal thread to the fabric. You can also begin just on the edge of the pearl purl, in the first coil, which is what I usually do. When first attaching the pearl purl, itís helpful to couch in the first couple of coils to really secure it. After the first stitch or two are couched, Iíll snip the metal between the next coils. Begin by stitching over the pearl purlÖ

Ö then pull the couching thread down onto the pearl purl, until it rests between the coils. You donít want it on top of a coil, but rather on the split between them. If you pull your couching thread hard on top of a coil, you risk distorting the pearl purl. This metal thread, though, is a lot tougher than regular purl, so donít be nervous about it! Just keep an eye on where your couching thread ends up!

Once the couching thread is in the right spot, give it a firm tug and it will pop down between the coils with a very pleasant popping sound. Success with your first stitch!

Continue couching the pearl purl along the drawn lines. Couch in every third or fourth coil, except on tighter curves, where you should couch in at least every other coil so that the curve is smooth.

For each scrolly section, cut your pearl purl to approximate length. Itís better to cut more than you need than to cut too short of a piece. You can snip off an extra coil or two at the end if you need to. As you approach the end of your length of pearl purl, couch in each of the last two or three coils, to secure the metal thread and help it keep its shape.

To finish this treatment, I randomly stitched some spangles around the scrolly ďvines.Ē To attach the spangles without beads, wax your thread, then sew the spangles on by coming up in the fabric where you want the center of the spangle to be. Stitch over the outside edge, then come up on the outside edge directly across from where you just went down, and stitch back down into the center. This double stitching keeps the spangles nice and secure. You can also just use one stitch to attach spangles this way, but I prefer two so that they donít flop around.

Stretched Pearl Purl

You can achieve different effects with pearl purl by stretching it out before you apply it to your fabric.

For a very simple and light seam treatment, I took a piece of pearl purl (size #F1) and cut it half as long as the seam. Then, gripping the pearl purl between the last coils on each end (using my fingernails) I stretched it out to twice its length. Then, I took four strands of this silk stranded floss and wound it around the open coils.

The thread winds easily onto the stretched pearl purl. Leave a one inch tail of floss at the beginning of the pearl purl and at the end, to plunge after the piece has been couched onto the fabric.

Situate the metal thread where you want it, and couch it onto the fabric using the same color floss, working the Couching Stitches in the direction of the floss over the coils, so that they blend in.

To finish, plunge the tails of floss to the back and secure them with the couching thread.

You can also stretch pearl purl and couch it with a colored thread in every other coil, for a decorative effect. Here, I used red silk buttonhole twist to couch the pearl purl along the edge of the seam.

Stretched pearl purl also takes gradual curves well. Here, itís used at the base of the flower motif, in combination with pearl purl size F1 (the smaller pearl) and pearl purl size 3. Stretched pearl purl doesnít take tight curves as well as un-stretched pearl purl does. When itís stretched, it becomes stiffer.

Gold Plate

Metal plate is a stiff, ribbon-like metal thread used in more advanced Goldwork techniques. Normally, you see it bent back on itself to form a solid gold filling in Goldwork motifs. Itís a very stiff metal with relatively sharp edges, so itís important to wax your couching thread before sewing the plate down.

This particular plate is called whipped plate. There are two types of plate, whipped and broad. Broad plate has no markings in it Ė itís a clean, smooth ribbon of stiff gold. Whipped plate has little lines in it, as you can see in the photo above.

Since bits of lace are often used in crazy quilting, I figured this was a good opportunity to incorporate some into this square. I ran the whipped plate through the lace, just as you would do with a narrow piece of ribbon. Then I couched the whipped plate onto the fabric, working my stitches underneath the threads on the lace.

Unlike regular ribbon, the whipped plate really gleams!

To finish the seam, I added some Fly Stitches in green silk buttonhole twist, to couch down the tips of the lace.


Rococco is another couched Goldwork thread. Itís a lot like smooth passing thread, except that it is thicker and it isnít smooth Ė itís wavy. Rococco is often couched as a filling, working lines of it back and forth next to each other. Goldwork is all about light, and Rococco reflects light differently from smooth passing, because of its wavy nature.

Rococco is couched like smooth passing thread, but usually only one thread at a time. As a seam treatment, one length of a thick Rococco makes a nice subtle edge and is very quick to work.

Leaving a tail of 1/2" to 1" long, begin couching where you want the Rococco to begin. Youíll plunge the tail after you finish couching the line. Couch along the line in every other wave of the metal thread. Plunge the threads after youíve finished couching the line, and secure the metal threads on the back, following the instructions on plunging threads (above).

The Rococco was couched on the same seam as the stretched pearl purl. To finish the seam, I stitched little half-flowers in Lazy Daisy Stitch using blue silk buttonhole twist, and between the flowers, I attached gold beads. The beads arenít properly ďGoldworkĒ material, as they arenít real metal, but they work!

Other Seam Treatments and Motifs

Most metal thread embroidery is worked on the surface of the fabric. Rarely do metal threads pass through the surface, except when theyíre being plunged and secured. There are, however, some metal threads that can be ďsewnĒ with. Japanese real gold #1 (which is an extremely fine thread) is one of these.

For one corner motif, I gathered this blue ribbon and tacked two layers of it onto the square. I fixed the edges of the blue ribbon to the square using Japanese real gold #1 in a Feather Stitch.

Gilt Sylke Twist is a ďnewĒ old metal thread developed in the past couple of years by the folks at Plimoth Plantation who are recreating a 17th-century embroidered jacket. It consists of a tiny core of colored silk, wound with a tiny real gold thread. The result is a very fine metal and silk thread, somewhat stiff, and very beautiful. It passes through fabric easily if a little care is used. A hand-made Japanese needle is very helpful when working with it, but it isnít necessary. I wanted to incorporate a little bit of this thread into the square, so I stitched one seam with a very fine Fly Stitch in Gilt Sylke Twist, and added some gold beads.

This seam treatment is a combination of pearl purl, worked in a straight line below the seam and scallops on top of the seam, silk buttonhole twist in Straight Stitches inside the scallops, spangles sewn with beads, and check purl radiating from the spangles. Because of the nature of the pearl purl, it came out as one of the harsher looking seams Ė very bold, large, and bright.

Finally, since decorative ribbon seems to have a place of honor in the crazy quilterís bag of tricks, I added a metallic decorative ribbon to the last little seam on the square.

The Complete Crazy Quilt Square

The finished square was a bit busier on the seams than I originally planned!

The center is a bit plain, though. Perhaps next time, Iíll try adding a solid piece of Goldwork smack dab in the middle of the block!

Some Considerations

Before you take the Goldwork plunge and decide to incorporate some metal threads into your crazy quilting, you should consider the following points:

  1. Metal threads cannot be washed. Choose projects that are solely for decoration, not for wear or for use as a cover or quilt.
  2. Metal thread embroidery is a bit more ďtediousĒ than free-style surface embroidery. You might find yourself a bit more tense when working with metal threads. Make sure you get up and move around a bit, or youíll end up with sore shoulders!
  3. Keep a pair of scissors just for cutting metal threads. These should be small, sharp scissors.
  4. Try to think ďoutside the boxĒ to come up with other applications for metal threads on crazy quilts. In this article, Iíve covered some conventional ways of using metal threads. Since this is crazy quilting, after all, you arenít restricted! Go crazy and see what you can come up with!

Resources and Suppliers

Country Bumpkinís A-Z of Goldwork is an excellent book covering the basics of metal thread embroidery. It is well worth the investment if you want to learn basic and advanced Goldwork techniques. The book has several interesting ways of using metal threads in line stitches.

To learn different stitches used in Goldwork (such as couching) and in crazy quilting (including all the stitches used in this article), you can check out my Video Library of Hand Embroidery Stitches [] if you arenít already familiar with the various stitches.

You can find metal threads at the following establishments:

In the US:

Hedgehog Handworks []

In Canada:

Berlin Embroidery []

In Australia:

Alison Cole Embroidery []
Mary Brown Designs []
Jane Nicholas Stumpwork Embroidery []

In the UK:

Benton and Johnson []
Golden Threads []

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