The Gold Koala – Final Techniques required in RSN Certificate Basic Goldwork
Last time we saw the gold koala it was all about couching and plunging. But there is more to goldwork than this! The final techniques we needed to demonstrate in this technique were chipwork, cutwork and using pearl purl.
A little bit about pearl purl
Pearl purl is a metallic thread which doesn’t have a core, which means it (thankfully), doesn’t need to be plunged. But it does mean you need to be very exact when you cut it to size. A little too short or a little long means it won’t fit the area properly.
Stretching pearl purl
Before using the pearl purl, you also need to ‘stretch’ it. There is quite the balance between stretching it enough for the couching threads to ‘snap’ between the grooves and hold it in place, and overstitching it. There will, outside of the RSN, be times when you may want to overstretch it for creative purposes – so it’s not necessarily a bad thing!
Outlining an area with Pearl Purl
There was apparently a stage in the RSN Certificate when ‘everything’ was outlined in pearl purl. So there is now a specific requirement to have an area not outlined in pearl purl. Despite this, you still do require some pearl purl outlines! A delicate balance.
As the body of my koala was not outlined, I did need to find an area or two to outline in pearl purl. I was happy having his nose outlined, as it gives a good definition, just as you do with ‘real’ koala’s noses. But apparently this wasn’t enough. So the insides of his ears are also stitched with pearl purl outlines. It’s not quite in keeping with the randomness of the koala’s ears, but as it is a sampler, it works well for this purpose.
Order of work when outlining in pearl purl
When stitching an area that will be outlined in pearl purl, you apply the pearl purl before applying whatever will rest against it. This seemed a bit backwards to me. But it is so you have a properly shaped outline, that isn’t pushed out of shape by your interior filling stitches. So it does make sense when you know the reasoning behind it.
Applying pearl purl
The pearl purl is couched in place, by placing your couching stitches into the ‘grooves’ created by the slight stretch. The thread does make a little ‘ping’ when it falls into place.
As you get closer to your finished shape, you slowly cut down the pearl purl until you are confident you will cut the right spot, so you end up with a nice neat finish to where you started. I guess the more you do this, the better you get at knowing when and where to cut.
It is also a surprisingly flexible material once stretched that little bit, and can be shaped quite well around seemingly tight corners.
Chipwork, or chipping
This is a bit like adding beads to your work.
Using the gilt bright check, small ‘beads’ are cut to apply. The ‘beads’ are supposed to be square – which was quite small! I’m sure I didn’t cut them all the same size, so am expecting to lose marks for this requirement.
Once you have created the beads, using a double thread, you apply them much like you would a bead. They should sit at right angles to each other, but I found this quite difficult to execute. On the whole they have been applied in the ‘random’ manner which is the idea of the right angle.
The final, most fragile technique – cutwork
The final technique is also the most fragile. It is recommended, where possible, to do this just before mounting (on the same day), so you minimise the potential damage to it. The problem is that the cutwork will ‘crack’. You can see evidence of some of these cracks in the Jenny Adin-Chrisite brooch I completed.
A Crack or a Shadow?
I had no idea there was a difference!
A crack is where there is a definite crack that has split the smooth purl. A shadow is where a crack as started, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t completely cracked. There seems to be a very fine line between the two! You also seem to be more likely to create a crack when you don’t have a lot of pieces applied. The further down your area you get, the more strength the smooth purl area has, and the less likely it is to crack.
Just like with the bright check and chipwork, the smooth purl cutwork is applied much like a bead. For the RSN Certificate, it needs to be applied over the string padding, though it can apparently also be applied over felt padding. The string padding has the advantage that it is quite a firm base if applied well, which helps with limiting the cracking.
Getting the right size of each piece is nothing more than an educated guess really. You cut a piece and apply it. If it’s either too long or too short, you take it off, and either trim it or start again. Once you have a length that is correct, it is recommended you keep one on your cutting board as a reference point.
I was unfortunately not given guidance on how to apply the cutwork, so basically went on what someone else in class had been told. So I believe the idea is that it sits on the string padding, without ‘floating’ above it. And also having the ends meet the fabric in a way such that no fabric is showing. I suspect I will find out more details on how I should have applied it in the assessment notes.
When cutting metallic threads, use a pair of scissors dedicated just for this purpose. You don’t need to purchase special goldwork scissors (I prefer ‘standard’ scissors). Scissors with a small, sharp tip work best.
The final touches – eyes!
Before finishing off, there was just one final missing puzzle piece – my gold koala had no eyes! So that just would not do, would it?
After testing a few different sizes of spangles, I settled on a spangle size. But he still didn’t look quite ‘finished’. After a bit of a fish around in the random bead collection at the RSN, I found some small and slightly larger gold beads, as well as some beads which perfectly matched the background fabric.
I really didn’t know which I liked best. It seemed to depend on how I looked at it! But finally, I decided on the beads which match the background fabric. I’m still not sure it was the right decision, but at least it was a decision!
And it’s time to meet my gold koala!
And here he is, all finished. With no time to spare either. I opted to stay late and finish him on my final day. It was the quickest I’ve ever mounted anything. Heather was amazing at helping and showing me some quick ways to get it done. I really wish she’d shown me this when I was doing the silk shading piece, as her method worked a lot better, and was considerably easier, than Owen’s!
I have searched and searched, and still can’t find a ‘gold koala’ anywhere. So, if nothing else, he is unique!
My thoughts on the end result and the technique
An introduction to completing the piece as an ‘intensive’
This was a little taster for me in what it will be like to stitch the RSN pieces as an intensive. Whilst I didn’t do this as an intensive, the final week I attended class two or three times (I really can’t remember the details!), and it was an intensive period.
I found there were pros and cons to this.
Pros of stitching in an intensive
The main ‘pro’ was that it got it done quickly! And I still wish I had adopted this approach for my silk shading piece. I think I would have ended up with a similar result and piece, just without having wasted the time I did doing it as a regular term time student.
Cons of stitching in an intensive
The main ‘con’ was that it didn’t give me time to reflect on the piece, or the technique. It was just stitch stitch stitch! No time to over think things, no time to unpick and try again (well, very little). After reflecting through the previous three pieces, I think I have learnt as much from the self reflection of the technique throughout the piece, as I have from anything else. I also had a few other things on my mind, which probably impacted my overall feeling on the whole process, so I’m not reading too much into it.
Thoughts on the technique
I’m not sure if it is because of when and how I was completing this technique, but it wasn’t my favourite technique. There is a lot of couching, and a lot of working on the back of the piece. Having to work only in gold certainly didn’t help, as it just isn’t ‘my style’. So it will be interesting to see how I feel after completing the Pheasant by Jenny Adin-Christie. There will be similarities, in the amount of couching. But there is also a colour other than gold which may help it’s cause.
Thoughts on the final piece
I’ll be honest – I don’t really like it! There is just so much gold. I don’t think the design met the requirements of the brief well – I think one of my other ideas would have worked better from a ‘sampler’ perspective. There is so much Japanese couching thread that it dominates the design far too much. The smaller areas like the gumnuts and leaves work well from a design and sampler perspective. Perhaps instead of working from the koala to these elements, I should have started from these elements and developed a better sampler piece.
In my opinion, this piece, more than any other in the RSN Certificate, should be approach as a sampler rather than as a designed piece ticking off stitches or techniques. I was pleased to hear one tutor actively call it a sampler! So my advice to you is to really think about this piece as a sampler. Then work your design around it, as there are some beautiful samplers out there in all techniques!