rsn basic goldwork piece a gold koala

RSN Goldwork Part Three – The Gold Koala appears!

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.

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.

example of worked pearl purl in goldwork hand embroidery


goldwork embroidery sample demonstrating pearl purl outline and chipwork


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.

Applying Cutwork

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.

rsn certificate goldwork demonstrating cutwork over string padding



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!

rsn basic goldwork piece a gold koala


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!

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32 thoughts on “RSN Goldwork Part Three – The Gold Koala appears!”

  1. Thank you very much Catherine for sharing your Koala. I will be using your ‘sampler’ approach for my Goldwork piece. I can see what you mean about the amount of couching in the Koala body – a challenge indeed. I do love the design of the gum leaves. As I only have the shorter period of the intensive module I do not think I will be taking on any thing as challenging. Well done.

    1. Thanks Sally. I would definitely give thought to the amount of any one technique, I really think mine is too much! The gum leaves and Gumnut flowers are my favourite part too.
      I hope you are enjoying the RSN! I’m looking forward to knowing how you found the intensive course.

  2. I think you’re right, and if you’d only been allowed to stitch your koala in silver with gold highlights, and the rest in gold, the design would have been a bit less overpowering.

    But you are a thoughtful stitcher, and I think you will find that when it all sinks in, you will have learnt a good deal more than you expect!

    1. Yes, I think a silver koala would have been much more appealing! But, I have learnt the techniques, which was the main point of it. That is what I need to remember. It will be interesting to know what the assessors think of all that gold!

  3. I think your Koala is adorable! Yes, all the gold is a little dazzling at first, but your couching of the fur is so neat and even that the other textures stand out well against it, especially the ears. The more I look at it, the better I like it ? I find stitching anything in monochrome is a lot more difficult than working with colour.

    I think it is a very accomplished and ambitious design for your first Goldwork piece, although I image it would have been much more fun to experiment with a real sampler, and likely would have given you a better understanding of the techniques, which I why I love samplers and testers. You should be very proud and I hope it grades well!

    Sometimes when we’re close to a project for too long – like the near intensive work here – we only see the mistakes and flaws and can’t clearly glimpse the whole work. Hopefully in time, when you stand back from it a bit, you might learn to love it ?

    1. Thanks for such an encouraging comment! I’m glad you liked him, and he is definitely dazzling with all that gold! I do think a more sampler approach would have meant I’d have understood the techniques more, but I guess when I do another piece using the same brief in my own time, I will develop a better understanding.
      Thanks for being such an encouragement and for stopping by!

  4. I think he is stunning, it has been fascinating reading about how you went about it. It must be so hard though spending so much time and effort on a piece whose style doesn’t actually appeal. Is the pheasant the one that is in Classic Inspirations, he is beautiful, he almost persuaded me to try goldwork until I saw the list of ingredients 🙂

    1. I think one of the good things about having a tight deadline was that spending the time on something I wasn’t overly fond of meant I didn’t really have time to consider that aspect much! It was just stitch as fast as you can.
      The pheasant is from Inspirations. I ended up buying the kit, as I struggled to find anywhere that sold the list of ingredients. I did see Jenny though after I’d bought it from Inspirations, and she said I could have purchased it from her. That may be worth considering as the customs charge was hefty going into the UK.

  5. Your attention to the smallest detail cannot be faulted though I do agree that his ears would have been better without the pearl purl (I see what it is because its an outline but I have no idea what it means lol). Most of what you have said goes over my head but know knowing of understanding how to do something does not stop you admiring and being in awe of the person that did. I think you deserve to pass with all the spangles and stars they have to give you Catherine.

    1. Thanks so much Helen! I guess when you stop and consider it as a designed sampler, there are always going to be aspects you don’t like about it and would do differently if it wasn’t a sampler.

  6. He is stunning Catherine – well done! The couching is very neat – but I can see what you mean about the amount of gold, so if given a free reign then maybe the colour could have been broken up. But then you know what the RSN are like about their rules! As always a very comprehensive guide to the technique.

    1. I’m glad you like him Deborah ? yes, there really isn’t much leeway in the briefs, but I guess the idea is we are meant to learn specific techniques to then be able to use elsewhere.

  7. I’m with you, gold is not really my thing, but koalas are one of my favorite animals, and this little guy does show personality inspire of being gilded! Your explanations of the techniques are so helpful to someone like me, wondering it that is something I’m interested in. You do a great job of telling the good and the bad, taking us right along with you. Good story telling!

  8. He is a dazzling, unique creature! I am in awe of how you have created him. The project might not have been how you would have chosen to do it, but working to the strict RSN guidelines would have taught you so much about the techniques. It will be interesting to see how much freer you feel with the next project.

    1. Thanks Anne. It will be interesting to explore the technique more now I know a little about the technique. Still much to learn but a good base to start from!

  9. He is a dazzling, unique creature! I am in awe of how you have created him. The project might not have been how you would have chosen to do it, but working to the strict RSN guidelines would have taught you so much about the techniques. It will be interesting to see how much freer you feel with the next project.

  10. Wow! He’s incredible! Like you, I don’t normally go for gold, but I think it makes this piece all the more striking… A fuzzy, grey koala rendered in glitzy gold is very eye-catching. I also love the way the gum leaves turned out! It sounds like this has been a great learning opportunity, too – now you know the rules, you can have fun bending them in your next project. Well done!

    1. Thanks so much! He certainly is very glitzy that’s for sure. It was a completely new technique for me, so lots has been learned. And I like the idea of breaking the rules now – that’s half the point of learning the ‘right’ way!

  11. Catherine, I think you did a really good job on the koala! But I can see what you mean by it being a lot of gold :). When I did my certificate goldwork piece I wasn’t told to tack the outline of my design before starting the actual goldwork. It did result in a little puckering, unfortunately. I still love the piece to bits, but with hindsight, it was rather ambitious…

    1. Thanks Jessica! Yes, I think it was an ambitious start to goldwork, nothing like jumping in the deep end! I’m not sure how he would look after sitting a few days – I suspect with all that gold he should have been laced, but with time of the essence I’ll just have to live with it. I’m glad you still love your piece. I’m hoping I’ll eventually like mine! Thanks for all your support throughout my Certificate- I appreciate having you there to offer your honest opinions! Now onto the Diploma.

  12. He is certainly the most blinged up koala I’ve ever seen!
    You have learnt so much doing this piece, it’s really fascinating to read all about it. Even if this all gold look is not really your style you have learnt techniques that you can put into other pieces later, maybe more sparingly! Learning something new is rarely wasted.

    1. He certainly is bling! But you are absolutely right about learning new things. I’m glad I now know more about these techniques, as these materials do come in a variety of different colours. And I can now pick and choose not only the colours, but also the techniques, and when to use them. Thanks for stopping by!

  13. I did some gold work years ago for a church – I found it very difficult so I am in complete admiration of the quality of your work!

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