Gold Thread

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Frances Perry
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Gold Thread

Postby Frances Perry » Wed Apr 11, 2007 9:14 pm

I have seen pictures,and watched many reconstructions which show both men's and women's clothing embroidered and trimmed with what looks like lustrous gold coloured thread.

Assuming that this is not actually gold spun to a thin thread - is this just a trick of the painter or TV reconsructionist? Or is it thread that is impregnated somehow with gold dust? Or silken thread in a yellow-brown colour?

Apologies if this sounds daft to you all, but I'm intrigued. My first reaction was to just go out and buy 'gold thread' with a metallic lustre, but it isn't that easy in the 15th century, is it? :oops: :shock:


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Postby m300572 » Wed Apr 11, 2007 9:48 pm

There was a Gold Thread Works operating in Preston until the 1980's - as far as ! could find out the gold thread was made by spinning fine gold coloured material into cotton thread; in the latter days of the works it was either plastic or some sort of gold coloured metal alloy- the high class stuff for military epaullettes and the like in the earlier days of the works was made by making very fine strips of bullion (think fine wire thats been flattened) and spinning it into the thread. Small and heavily protected consigments of bullion arrived at the works every so often. I assume that the fine strips and spinning it into a base layer would have been used in earlier centuries as well - I have a feeling that there was a discussion about this about a year or so ago on here.


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Postby Neibelungen » Wed Apr 11, 2007 9:48 pm

Gold threads traditionally were a wafer thin coating of gold (effectively gold leaf) on fine parchment (later silver and copper foils were used as well). This was then wrapped around a silk or linen core. By adding twist to them they were loosely plied together to make a heavier thread, or thicker cores were used. Occasionally fine wire is wrapped around a core of thread to produce a gimp thread.

Gold wire by itself, though possible, is too heavy and becomes too brittle to be practical for embroidery. However, with later wire-drawing from the 15th C onwards, fine gilded copper and silver wire, were made into tiny springs and used as the basis for subsequent enbroidery (known as bullion work). Thicker cut rings of these springs are rolled to make spangles. (like a sequin, but showing a distinct closed C shape rather than punched from a sheet.)

Today most 'gold' threads are synthetic plastics (mylar and lurex), but specialist suppliers such as Toyes (Benton & Johnson) and Goldenthreads still make real threads. The gold content is about 2% max these days, though 100 years ago it was 4% and probably about 10-13% around the 15th C.



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Postby Neibelungen » Wed Apr 11, 2007 9:54 pm

The Preston company was Stephen Simpsons, who had been in existence from 1878. In the 1980's they were bought out by Bentons and concentrated on lurex threads primarily till they closed a few years later. Benton's were bought out by the Toyes group in the 1990's and disapeared effectively, though the name still remains in use.



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Postby Tuppence » Thu Apr 12, 2007 12:34 am

the traditional gold ribbon wrapped round a core dates back to at least roman times


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Postby mac (crucesignati) » Thu Apr 12, 2007 7:01 pm

Speak to Kat (she of Kats Hats Co.) she uses gold thread for her work.



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Postby dragonskie2000 » Thu Apr 12, 2007 8:15 pm

I use a lot of spun gold thread in my tabletweaving (brocade). I usually use the thicker stuff for embroidery though. Also have some spare, PM if you are interested.

It works differently from the fake gold (not as flexible but can be "pinched" for corners) and has a better result.

I *think* I've attached a photo of a piece I'm working on at the moment. It's 139 tablets wide and based on the stole at the V&A.



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Postby frances » Thu Apr 12, 2007 10:00 pm

Wow, do try again to post a pic. I would love to see your work.



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Postby dragonskie2000 » Thu Apr 12, 2007 10:08 pm

*LOL* I've only done 6-7 cm of this one and it's already driven me to chocolate.

I think the file is too large to post - can I PM you the pic so far. I'm not good with anything much more technical than a pencil.



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Postby Frances Perry » Sun Apr 15, 2007 10:19 am

Wow!

Sounds like gold thread was an incredibly intricate and time consuming - not to mention expensive - thing to make (and buy).

I assume that due to this only the very wealthy - royalty - could afford this kind of thread on their clothing?

Thanks for all your information on this subject - do you think that a saffron dyed silk thread would have been an alternative for those that couldn't afford the gold thread (I know this would have been expensive as well)?


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Postby Tuppence » Sun Apr 15, 2007 12:21 pm

you can get all sorts of variations on yellows that could perhaps have been used for poorer types.

though then you obv have the argument that embroidery was so time consuming that you probably had to be reasonably wealthy to have any hugely significant amounts.


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Postby frances » Sun Apr 15, 2007 8:09 pm

One of the reasons we do not have many examples of secular metallic embroidered clothes is that when they went out-of-fashion or were discarded for some reason, the owners had them burnt in order to recover the gold and any jewels. These then went back to the gold-workers to be re-worked into new garments, or just sold to pay debts. A few ecclesiastical examples do remain, particularly in Europe where they did not have Henry VIII and then Oliver Cromwell.



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Postby Tuppence » Mon Apr 16, 2007 1:13 am

actually, the reason the ecclesiastical stuff remains is a combination of the fact that it often portrayed saints and biblical imagery, so to destroy it was heretical, and the fact that many churches and cathedrals had well defended strongrooms.

hence stuff like the coat armour / pourpoint of the black prince, and a 12thC pair of buskins being fairly intact in canterbury.

very little remains of any medieval clothing, embroidered / decorated or not - when you start to get more survivals, you get more of the fancy stuff - but it's all proportionate


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Postby m300572 » Mon Apr 16, 2007 11:30 am

A few ecclesiastical examples do remain, particularly in Europe where they did not have Henry VIII and then Oliver Cromwell.


Some of Whalley Abbey's vestments are in Townley Hall Museum in Burnley (although they greatly predate Simpsons Gold Thread works, most of which is now either demolished or converted into flats - the County HER has a copy of the record of the building prior to its conversion).
They give a good idea of what was possible in terms of elaborate clothing.


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Postby frances » Tue Apr 17, 2007 9:54 pm

Ooo, never heard of Whalley Abbey. Are there any pics online?



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Postby Tuppence » Wed Apr 18, 2007 12:16 am

and finally (in a book on heraldry that nige got) found a picture of the whole of the syon cope today.

now that is stunning.


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Postby Neibelungen » Wed Apr 18, 2007 1:02 am

Tuppence,

If you get the chance the whole thing is on display in the V/A these days.

However it does look a little bit more shabby in the subdued lighting they keep it under than it does in books. I think they might fudge the colours a little to make up for age's fading.

http://medieval.webcon.net.au/extant_syon_cope.html Has some interesting notes on it plus some good bits on period needlework.

Coincidently the Syon cope was named after the abbey (now gone) at the bottom of my road, though it probably wasn't made there.



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Postby m300572 » Wed Apr 18, 2007 2:43 pm

Ooo, never heard of Whalley Abbey. Are there any pics online?


Whalley is in the Ribble Valley, about fifteen miles east of Preston. The abbey ruins and part of the abbey which were converted into a house after the dissolution are open to the public (the site is owned by the diocese of Blackburn and run as a conference and retreat centre). The last abbot was executed for his part in the Pilgrimage of Grace. Can't find any downloads of the vestments from Towneley Hall but its worth a visit to see them (the Hall is a 14th house with later extensive alterations). The Towneleys were a big local family and one of them raised a regiment for the Jacobites in the 1745 Rebellion.


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Postby Tuppence » Wed Apr 18, 2007 7:00 pm

If you get the chance the whole thing is on display in the V/A these days.


I know - went there, saw it and took pics last year during my eight hours at the v&a :D

http://medieval.webcon.net.au/extant_syon_cope.html Has some interesting notes on it plus some good bits on period needlework.


thanks - had the site bookmarked for ages, but for some reason the pics of the whole thing never show up properly in the syon cope section - can't make out the detail properly.


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Postby ViscontesseD'Asbeau » Sat Apr 28, 2007 11:20 pm

I am intrigued as to who or what you're portraying, to need gold thread? Been asked to be a royal, have you? Or the pope? :lol:

Puts me in mind of the Sealed Knot in the 1970s - enough lace on most of them to sink the average battleship but even a few inches of the stuff would have been beyond 99.9% of the population's budget, sadly.

The Soper Lane website has details of gold thread if I remember right. I think the last source of 'real' gold thread is that masonic shop somewhere on/near Drury Lane? A competent handspinner could do some for you but you'd need to take out a mortgage to afford it! Can't think of many living history scenarios where anyone would need to be gold encrusted. Pray tell! :lol:



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Postby Colin Middleton » Mon Apr 30, 2007 12:20 pm

ViscontesseD'Asbeau wrote:I am intrigued as to who or what you're portraying, to need gold thread? Been asked to be a royal, have you? Or the pope? :lol:

Puts me in mind of the Sealed Knot in the 1970s - enough lace on most of them to sink the average battleship but even a few inches of the stuff would have been beyond 99.9% of the population's budget, sadly.

The Soper Lane website has details of gold thread if I remember right. I think the last source of 'real' gold thread is that masonic shop somewhere on/near Drury Lane? A competent handspinner could do some for you but you'd need to take out a mortgage to afford it! Can't think of many living history scenarios where anyone would need to be gold encrusted. Pray tell! :lol:


Was gold thread that uncommon? I've been amazed at the number of knights an such who are given livery in cloth-of-gold. I agree that it's out of reach of the peasents, but what level of gentry/nobility would you need to be to wear such things?


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Postby Neibelungen » Mon Apr 30, 2007 12:37 pm

Gold thread itself isn't that expensive as weightwise it's only few percent actual gold content. Your average gold ring would have more gold than the average embroidery.

Price wise it's not that bad. about £20 for 25g of thread which will go a long way. Which on a gilt thread (1/2%) only adds to 0.25g which is only about £3.25 of gold content at today's prices.

Just as an aside makes you realise that what's defined as gold embroidery from Pakistan/India isn't actually gold. Washed copper is probably closer.

Post 1500 gold & silver prices take a dip with the influx from the America's, and the newer drawing technologies allow much finer thickness of gold on silver and copper bases.

From my own perspective, doing post 1700 the amount of gold thread used can increase alarmingly.

Socially, most of the population wouldn't have been able to afford gold thread, but re-enactment doesn't portray the masses who were agricultural. Soldiers and especially their officers would have had the means to purchase threads. When you consider the relative value of the armour, weapons and horses each would have owned, then thread itself is cheap.



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Postby ViscontesseD'Asbeau » Mon Apr 30, 2007 3:49 pm

Oh maybe I been around too long. Heard that kind of justification before. Smells of wang to me, got to admit. :D

The knight-iest knight with a big charger... well, possibly.

King, yes. Queen, yes. Pope, yes.

Otherwise the risk of straying into '1970s banquet costume' territory is just a bit great.... :lol:

My advice to anyone contemplating it (unless they're a Liberace re-enactor?) ...

*Step away from the gold thread!*



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Postby GinaB » Mon Apr 30, 2007 5:07 pm

The Pastons have references to purchasing/owning gold threads.

For instance, Agnes Paston requests
I prey yow do byen for me ij pypys of gold.


Pipes are rolls - this is description is sometimes seen for smaller quanities of gold threads - from what I can figure, similar to a spool. I haven't yet found anything to say how much was generally contained on a pipe, as gold threads are also purchased by weight. My assumption is that it is perhaps less than an ounce, as purchases by weight seem to start from an ounce. (Hope that makes sense)


Another -
re hosyn, a jakk, the polrondys of a payre bryganders of rede sateyn fugre. Item, a payre of large tabellys of box, price vj s. viij d.
Item, a staffe, price iij s. iiij d. Item, boke of Frensh, price iij s. iiij d. Gere taken a-way of Margeré Pastons
Item, an vnce of gold of Venyse, di. pype of gold Damask, di. vnce of gold of Gene, an vnce of sylk, a li. of threde, a close glasse of yvery, a grete combe of yueré, a fyne kerchy of fyne holond cloth, a quarter of blak velwet. Gere of Johan Gayns
Item, a ryng of gold wyth a dyamaunt, a typet of sarsenet, a nobyll of x s., a nobyll viij s. iiij d.


Venice and Gene (Genoa) gold were different qualities of gold threads, although I haven't yet discovered positively what the differences were. I suspect it will have to do with either gilding or core threads. Nor have I yet determined the pipe of gold Damask - although again, as the pipe is a roll generally, its just as likely to have been a roll of fabric?



I can't get the links to copy to here correctly, as they are based on a search, and rather too long! Instead, go to
http://etext.virginia.edu/collections/languages/english/mideng.browse.html and use the search facility.



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Postby Neibelungen » Mon Apr 30, 2007 5:31 pm

From Saint-Aubin (Art of the Embroiderer) he talks about threads being supplied in a 'torche' A roll of paper holding a sheaf of gold threads, slightly shorter than the threads and tied with a cord.

I'd suspect it's probably the same description as a pipe. The length is usually about the length of one arm as that's the practical size for working with.

Weight wise, the French were using a marc as a weight for gold and silver (approx 8 oz english) and the gross (1/8th oz english). Which is about 3 grams and 192 grams. Not sure how it will convert to troy ounces, but I suspect it's got a logical connection somewhere.

I seem to recall some mention of Venice and Milan in Jane Lemon's Book of goldwork, One was of a lesser quality, with Milan thread being mentioned as only having gold on one side rather than both ?



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Postby GinaB » Mon Apr 30, 2007 6:26 pm

Yes, there seems to be some differences in what is described as which type of gold. A little article I wrote for the Soper Lane site has some definitions, but subsquent research gives me other definitions! :)

One definition is that Venice gold is made from gilding skins (not wire). Certainly, it is this definition that the Royal School of Needlework occasionally used in the 70s.

Lucca thread was apparently wire-based. But then 'venice' gold has also been defined as this. Cyprus gold may by membrane based - animal gut, likewise Cologne gold - but I still haven't found anyone's definition of Genoa gold.

And, there is the possibility that it is simply named for the merchant - but they bought from other areas, so it might be called Venice gold because it was bought from a Venitian, but he may have bought it from Genoa. And then there's Milan and Florence gold.

Blasted nightmare, isn't it?!

Thank you so much for the torche explanation - this would make sense, wouldn't it. Similar to the smaller sheets when you buy gold leaf today which are separated by paper. Hmm, have to ask Jorge what type of paper he might think would be 'right' - there are references to 'silk paper'...



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Postby Frances Perry » Tue May 01, 2007 8:33 am

ViscontesseD'Asbeau wrote:I am intrigued as to who or what you're portraying, to need gold thread? Been asked to be a royal, have you? Or the pope? :lol:



Not sure if you are trying to be nasty and sarcastic or not - :(

I only asked the question to find out how it would have been made. It's just that there is a rather large amount of the said 'bling' that appears on 'historical' drama / period set pieces - My boyfriend asked me to make a surcoat for over his armour and mentioned gold thread, which made me start thinking about the enormous problems it would pose to make such a thread, and the vast expense it would have posed to anyone contemplating buying it!

Needless to say, I said 'no' to the possibility!


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Postby ViscontesseD'Asbeau » Wed May 02, 2007 1:32 pm

Oh I thought you was really doing it.

My first reaction was to just go out and buy ...


Is what made me think you were er - going out to buy.
:D

This, from Phillipa Scott's 'The Book of Silk':

Gold thread: Silk wrapped in a finely beaten-out gold foil. Pure gold was used in the early Middle Ages, but later silver-gilt replaced it. An alternative to gold thread was a fine gold leaf laid on thin animal membrane or paper... Also known as lamella.


As for gold cloth, Priscilla Lowry in her first silk book, The Secrets of Silk, says of Marco Polo:

...First he went to Gouza where gold tissue was manufactured, and then onto Cho-chau which produced cloths of silk and gold... Two days further... there was another silk manufacturing centre with many artisans' shops and factories producing silken cloth and gold tissue of every kind...


Later, discussing medieval nuns and their crafts:

...Handspinning gold thread and wrapping it round a core of yellow silk was a skilled occupation requiring a seven year apprenticeship. Poor quality gold tarnished and so its quality was highly regulated by the Guilds. Top quality Cyprus gold thread was used in the tenth century stole and maniple from St Cuthbert's tomb.....


She seems to put gold thread fairly firmly in the ecclesiastical world. The later stuff is no longer gold, or not so good but also, apparently, heavier. Silk dyed with bog standard weld would look 'gold enough' from a distance, if the silk was spun from filament so it reflected light to the maximum - and I suspect this might be what people are seeing, on the whole, on anything worn for a practical rather than ceremonial purpose.

If the boyfriend is a top ranking officer - might still be hokey but he could go for it. If not, nope. :D




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