A deep dive into the various couching techniques used in traditional metalwork hand embroidery. From a sampler stitched by Catherine as part of the SFSNAD CSP.

SFSNAD CSP: Metalwork Level 1: Couching

Metalwork Couching - a lot to cover!

Unlike what we study in the basic goldwork at the RSN, we study here all the different couching techniques used in metalwork embroidery. And, it is a great opportunity to play and experiment with the different threads!

Bricked, Combination and Turned Edge Couching

This is something I covered quite extensively in my RSN piece – my koala was very ‘heavy’ on the bricked couching!

I have a tendency of pulling my couching stitches a little too tight. But Lucy had some great words of wisdom here, which can be translated into any piece you are working! Because we were working on a slate frame, and the fabric is so tight, there is no reason to ‘pull’ your stitches tightly. Stitching on taut fabric such as this means you shouldn’t really pull your stitches much at all. Just enough for the thread to glide through the fabric.

I again, had problems with the various turned edges. But, after several attempts, I had a much better idea of what I was doing! That’s the great thing about learning at SFSNAD – there is no ‘wrong stitch’ – only ‘learning stitches’! It was also interesting to use the three different techniques for turning edges, and learn when would be best to use each of the different options.

As plunging was a bit of a nemesis for my koala with the number of ends required to tie back, it was really great to get some tips on plunging and tying back that ensure your work is stable and safe, but also means you don’t go crazy like I did when you have a large number to deal with.

This is also where I learnt I never want to use Japanese thread again! After using the various different couching threads, the Japanese thread looked and felt very ‘harsh’.

It was also great to learn about the different properties of the threads, how each is made and how to use these properties as design elements. This would have been great information for when I was designing my koala, as I probably would have changed the placement of some of the threads so that as it aged it tarnished in a more ‘appealing’ way than what it will actually do.


The important thing to remember here is that your coloured threads need to be the same weight as your couching thread, to avoid ‘gaps’ being created in rows of metalwork. You could use a different coloured Gutterman thread. I found that my Devere Yarns silks were perfect for this, and I was excited to be able to use and play with them!

Or Nue

Or Nue is the art of creating a shaded image within your straight line couched metalwork area. I chose to do a floral ‘C’. I wish I’d planned things a little better and had it right in the centre of the sampler, but, I didn’t quite get that right!

I really enjoyed this technique. If it were a much larger piece than this small sampler I think I’d get bored and distracted, but on a small scale it was a nice technique.

Italian Shading

Italian Shading is very similar to Or Nue – the only difference is you are stitching your shaded image on a curve. 

My sample here was decidly a fail! I thought I could do a lady bug. All that I seem to have ended up with is a blob of different colours! 

Diaper Patterns

I actually found the process of stitching this pattern rather laborious! Which is why I think I’m best suited to these techniques in small doses. Despite this, I already have thoughts about how I could use this in my level three piece!

Here, we are creating a background, symmetrical pattern. Mine isn’t particularly symetrical as I didn’t do a particularly good job of transposing the pattern. I also discovered that the best way to get the right placement was to use a ruler and measure each distance. This seems to eliminate the width of the pencil marks on the fabric much better!

Underside Couching

Underside couching was used quite extensively on old religious garments. It was favoured as it allowed the garment to be both covered in gold, whilst also being movable, and hence, wearable. Though I imagine they would have weighed a great deal!

I can honestly say that I don’t know how the historic embroiderers completed those garments! This is a technique that I found quite time consuming (yes, I only completed three rows!), and also quite hard on the hands as you pull the gold through the fabric.

Despite this, it is actually something I’d like to try again. Firstly, to try and get my rows a little closer together and in a straight line! And secondly, it is something I’d like to explore as a ‘garment’ (though I’m not sure I’d ever stitch an entire garment! Maybe something for a small doll?)

Underside couching is a medieval metalwork hand embroidery technique. Here it is worked on a sampler

Circles and Irregular Shapes

I did really enjoy these samples!


One of my circles was stitched using the bricked couching pattern. You can see that about with my questionable bug picture!

The second of my circles is stitched using the spoked couching pattern. I really do like this pattern, though I should have planned it slightly better to get it a little more evenly spaced.

Irregular Shape

For this we needed to complete it over several layers of felt padding. I really wanted to practice turning, hence my shape! It was good practice, and I enjoyed working through my problems with turns. Still more practice is required, but also a noticeable improvement!


For this, we used 1.5 twist. 

What I didn’t realise about twist is that there are two different techniques for couching it: firstly, like we do with regular couching thread, and stitch over the top of the threads. Or, what is I think my preferred option, the invisible couching method. Whilst definately more time consuming, I like the effect it gives more. With the twist, the thread seems to sit very proud on the thread. However, when using the invisible method, you get a lovely finish to your thread.

1.5 Twist couched using both traditional couching method and hidden couching stitches


My new favourite metalwork technique! I just love both stitching this technique and the effect it gives. It’s a real fun technique, and if your sample were larger, you could have a lot of fun with different patterns!

Pearl Purl

Something I have always struggled with is just how much you should stretch the pearl purl. I picked up some great tips on this, and I need to watch that I stretch it evenly throughout the length. 

There were a few different samples we completed here: regular couched pearl purl, overstretched, threaded, v-shape and a circle. 

I really loved the threaded pearl purl. It looks like it would take forever to wrap the thread around and around, but once you have the ‘knack’ and know how to do it, you have a decent size length all wrapped in no time at all! I can see a lot of possibilites for this technique too. For someone who isn’t keen on the overly ‘blingy’ style, this is a really lovely way of adding in a touch of bling without it being too over-powering.

Metalwork Couching Techniques

What a lot of different techniques and materials to cover off and use!

I learnt a lot during the stitching of this sampler, and it was great to try and play with so many different couching techniques. It was also good to learn which materials I enjoy working with, and which ones I’m not so keen on!

A deep dive into the various couching techniques used in traditional metalwork hand embroidery. From a sampler stitched by Catherine as part of the SFSNAD CSP.

10 thoughts on “SFSNAD CSP: Metalwork Level 1: Couching”

  1. The lovely thing about this has been learning which techniques and materials you most enjoy. And yes, basketweave couching is very satisfying!

    1. I think this is the perfect course for me, Jessica! So much in-depth, detailed information given as well as lots of time for practising and playing. I can’t wait to delve into level 2, as well as the other modules!

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