The initial step in goldwork hand embroidery is to apply the padding. This image displays both felt and string padding completed

RSN Goldwork Part One – Felt and String Padding

RSN Goldwork – and a gold koala!


I really struggled with the design for my RSN Goldwork module. I’ve not done a lot of gold work (you may remember the Owl and brooch), and so whilst the brief lists techniques which need to be incorporated, I was at a real loss as to what would make a suitable design. And for the first time in the whole Certificate, a tutor referred to the piece as to what it in effect is – a sampler! Just a sampler that needs a ‘pleasing’ design.

Design Options

After looking through a range of different designs that have been completed, I came up with a couple of hummingbird ideas which ‘could work’, a frog (because why not?!), and a fairy mushroom house scene (my husbands favourite – he loves the idea of a gold mushroom!).

My tutors steered me away from the hummingbird, as birds in general have been ‘overdone’. Or perhaps they just lend themselves to the brief?? The frog was a real chance, and the fairy mushroom house was ‘too much work’. Still not convinced what I ended up with was any better on that front, but anyway!

At last a design – and a gold koala!

So after being sent home to think some more, I came up with a few different lazy koala images – and all tutors seemed to agree that this was something that could work! And so, a gold koala was born.

On a side note, I have done a lot of searching around, and haven’t found any other gold koalas. So if nothing else, he is unique!

Setting up – let’s get ready!

As with all our pieces completed for the RSN Certificate, it is completed on a slate frame. As silk was used, which needs to be backed with calico, the calico is attached to the slate frame first. Then, (after remembering to cut off the selvedge so the silk stretches evenly!), the silk is attached to the calico using herringbone stitch.

As part of the Certificate, we need to use long and short stitch when attaching the silk shading silk, and herringbone for the gold work piece. But, this is just so we can experience both methods. After that, it is a personal choice. Personally I think I prefer the long and short stitch method, but there is talk that herringbone is quicker, so I may change my mind!

Once the silk is attached to the calico, both pieces of fabric are stretched together on the slate frame. And as it is a slate frame, it is very tight!

Transferring the design

Again, as with all other pieces completed (with the exception of canvas work and blackwork), the prick and pounce method is used. I don’t mind the ‘prick’ part of this. Or even the ‘pounce’ part. It’s the painting on bit which seems to make my hands shake all over the place!

After having lines that were a bit on the thick side with both my Jacobean and silk shadingpiece, I purchased a really thin paintbrush. And I’m so glad I did! I was able to get much thinner lines, but also clear lines. So for anyone else who struggles with the paintbrush supplied by the RSN, I recommend investing in a thinner one. I purchased mine from a local art shop. But I imagine anywhere that sells watercolour paints would also have a suitable brush for you.

And after much relief, for the first time in my Certificate, I managed to transfer the design without any hiccups! Hooray for that!

Order of work – Goldwork

As briefly mentioned, there is a set order of work with gold work.

First up is to apply the padding (both felt and string), then the couching threads, (both Japanese and combination couching), purl purl, chip work and finally cut work.

I’m sure that as new techniques within ‘gold work’ are added, this order of work might change. But for the Certificate, this is the order. The reason being, that you work with the more ‘robust’ materials first, and the ones prone to damage, like the cut work areas, are worked right at the end to minimise damage.

And for anyone that is in the same boat as I was a few months ago, with this being double Dutch to you, the next couple of weeks we will look at these techniques in more detail!

Applying the padding

Felt padding

After not having a great experience with the craft felt when stitching the owl, it was a little disappointing to see that the RSN also uses craft felt for their felt padding. Again, having not used wool felt, I don’t have the experience to say what improvement would be had had wool felt been used. But, one thing I can say, is that as more layers of felt padding were used, the effect of the craft felt was minimised. So if you find yourself using craft felt, I would suggest using more layers of padding to minimise the ‘sinking’ of it.

Determining the layers

Applying the felt padding isn’t a case of just stitching on a bit of felt. The first thing you need to do is to look at your design, and work out what needs to be ‘higher’, and hence needs more padding, than other areas. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of my workings for this as they are with my assessment paperwork! I’ll try to remember to update this in a few months time when I get everything back.

But ultimately, the koala’s backside, to be a nice padded, ‘fat’ area, needed to have more padding than his back. To raise his arm so it wasn’t ‘flat’ with the rest of his body, this needed more layers of felt. His little nose needed several layers so that it was rounded. For the certificate we are limited to five layers of felt padding. I didn’t use more than four in any area, but it could be worthwhile thinking about this if you do need to raise an area substantially.

Cutting the felt

To get the shape of the felt padding, I employed a couple of different techniques.

For the top piece of felt in any area, I used my pricking, and pounced the felt with the design lines. No painting or drawing after that – just cutting it out!

For the pieces that needed to be smaller than the finished size, I copied (several times) the design, and cut out pieces of paper in the desired size, and essentially used that as a pattern piece.

Both ways were fiddly, especially when they got tiny! The padding for my gumnut definitely did not look like a gumnut!

Applying the felt

Once you’ve cut out your jigsaw puzzle of felt pieces, it is time to attach them to your design!

Working from the smallest piece to the largest piece, you stab stitch the felt on. The lower pieces of felt don’t require many stitches – one or two stitches on each side is sufficient. When you get to your top piece of felt, after using four stitches around the felt to keep it in place, you then go back and stab stitch the felt on with stitches roughly every 2mm. This gives you a nice firm edge to work with.

String padding

String padding is the application of 100% soft cotton string onto your area. It gives a really dense padded area, and we used it for cutwork areas, as it provides such a strong base for the cutwork to sit on.

Methods of preparing the string

There seems to be a couple of different theories on how to prepare the string.

I was taught to put the entire length of string through the beeswax until it was adequately ‘coated’ in the stuff (which means it was very stiff).

A few lessons later, another student was taught to cut off the string in the desired length, and then put the whole bunch of threads together through the beeswax. So again, I suspect it is working out what works best for you.

Applying the string

Once you have your string all nice and stiff from the beeswax, you work out how many lengths you will need to achieve the required coverage and height (unless of course you did this before you put it through the beeswax). You then couch the threads into place. When you need to taper your threads as your area reduces in width, you cut off one or two threads from the bottom of your bundle. At the very tip, you should be left with only one piece of string.

And then, just as you did with the felt padding, you go back and add in extra couching stitches, every 3-4mm this time round, to give you a nice firm working area.

And here is the design all padded up and ready to be stitched with gold!


The initial step in goldwork hand embroidery is to apply the padding. This image displays both felt and string padding completed


Next time we will look at the exciting part – when gold is finally added in!

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26 thoughts on “RSN Goldwork Part One – Felt and String Padding”

    1. Yes, there is a fair degree of work to do before starting with the actual gold. These techniques use a different type of metallic threads than what you may be used to, so do need to be approached slightly differently.

    1. There’s a few different options, depending on the colour and availability. For Australians, the Gumnut Yarns are a good, beautiful thread. When I was in the UK, Renaissance and Heathway Milano were what I favoured. But DeVere Yarns, also in the UK also have some. I’ve not stitched with it. All these are slightly thinner than the Appleton’s, but for me the nicer feel, stronger thread, and importantly, consistency within the skein, far outweigh Appleton’s quality. I’ve not used them since they were bought by new owners. So perhaps the quality has improved. But I won’t be finding out unless I purchase a kit that uses them!

  1. Yes, there is a lot of preparatory work, but it is so important to make the final result what you want it to be. I’m looking forward to seeing how this little fellow develops!

    1. I think when one spends so much time on it, it’s important to make sure you get the groundwork right. Just so much beeswax! It all makes a difference to the end result.

    1. It is certainly ‘messy’ isn’t it with all that beeswax? I found getting the right number of couching stitches was a little tricky – as well as balancing between getting close to the design lines, but not too close!

  2. I love the details you share about these techniques, it provides such a great introduction to them!

  3. Oh, how cool! I do love seeing how a goldwork piece develops… I only recently learned about all the prep work that goes into this technique! I can’t wait to see you how your koala turns out – and now that assessment isn’t an issue, I think you should revisit your original ideas as future projects. I reckon a goldwork frog would look brilliant!

    1. Thanks for your support Helen! There is a certain liberating feeling about not needing to worry about all the nitty gritty, but still getting it ‘right’. It probably means a better job anyway without all the stress! I too think a gold frog is a good idea – I might wait till there’s extra colour metal threads for him though. A bit of copper would look brilliant on a gold frog I think!

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