Sunday, September 23, 2012

Coloured Gold

Yesterday was a somewhat productive day - well as productive as it can get with something as beautifully slow as Or Nué fitted in between loads of washing and the other usual weekend stuff. Looking at the three little samples on my desk, it is doesn't really look like two solid days of stitching.

I am preparing for a workshop at the Embroiderers' Guild of South Australia at the end of the month which is part of their Certificate Course and I am really looking forward to it. I have decided not to prepare kits for the workshop but will instead encourage the participants to stitch their own designs. I have done some Or Nué in the past, but not for a little while, so it is a fantastic opportunity for me to brush up on a really beautiful technique. Though I am not preparing a set design, I will be giving out notes to help get everyone on the right track and hopefully inspire them to practise and experiment with this beautiful type of embroidery.

In essence Or Nué, or shaded gold, is a style of embroidery where the ground fabric is completely covered in metallic thread (traditionally gold). The design itself is picked out by using coloured silks to couch the metal threads in place. It sounds simple enough and in many ways it is, it just takes lots of practise to get a really good result.

Hood of cope worked in Or Nue. ca.1900, depicting Pentecost. Owned by St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Philidelpia. Image by Davis D'Ambly. (wikimedia)

When I started flicking through my books, it quickly struck me how little is written about Or Nué. The most comprehensive piece I found was two pages in Ecclesiastical Embroidery  by Beryl Dean, in which she writes: "It [Or Nué] is the quintessence of all that is lovely in gold work. Colour and gold merge into each other with a unique richness. Unfortunately this technique is seldom practised now, partly because it is not only one of the most difficult, but the slowest of all methods; also its uses are limited and it calls for an exceptional creative and artistic understanding in the execution".
Apart from the bit about it beauty, it is hardly the kind of introduction that makes you think "yes, I really want to try that".
Large lily worked on the back of a chasuble.
Design by HM Queen Magarethe II. Design by Lilian Christiansen. Danish 1992.

This stunning lily was the first piece of Or Nué I ever saw - talk about inspiring and contemporary. Isn't it just amazing? Lilian Christiansen was my boss when I worked at the Society for Ecclesiastical Arts and Craft in Copenhagen while I was studying and her skills as an embroiderer, as you can see, are amazing.

In traditional Or Nué the gold threads are laid down in pairs in straight lines, back and forth across the shape as you can see in the Mary's robes in the depiction of the Pentecost. The shading and movement is achieved by the use of the coloured threads. What I find really interesting is what happens when you change the direction of the laid threads, like the lily above. Suddenly there is the additional dimension created by the reflection of the coloured threads.

For the workshop I have prepared the same little motif - a small leaf, all stitched with a single colour in three different ways: One with the metal laid in straight lines, one worked in a circle and finally following the contours of the shape. All three are embroidered in a similar way, with densely coloured lines along design lines and spaced stitches within the shape for shading. Because the motif is so small (2.5cm or 1"), I chose to couch over one thread only instead of a pair of threads as is more common in larger pieces. Pairing the threads would have caused too much detail to get lost in such a small design.
As you can see, the contoured method does not work well at all on such a small shape - the one worked in rows certainly results in the clearest motif.

I like working in circles and it is by fare the quickest (nothing quick about Or Nué at all) so just for fun and because I was enjoying the calm of working with metal I stitched the little swirly pattern and made it into a small brooch. It is a little wonky around the edges, and would need more couching stitches on the final round if I was to do it again.

I hope that by the end of next Saturday I have managed to spark the Or Nué curiosity in a few more dedicated stitchers. If you would like to read more about this technique and have a look at a multi coloured piece in pregress, have a go, have a look at Mary Corbet's Needle 'n Thread.

I have to run, need to help with the sheep. After that - I just had an idea for a larger piece of, yes your guessed it.... Or Nué, something a little more demanding.

Until next time.. happy stitching,
Anna x


  1. That lily is mindblowing! And I love the little brooch, too.

  2. I haven't looked into this type of embroidery at all - your introduction is inspiring!

  3. Hello again, Anna! You know you caught my attention with this post! Lovely stuff!

    I can't wait to see what you do with a "larger piece"!


  4. Welcome to the blogosphere, Anna! I look forward to reading your posts.=)

    BTW, I hope the CB newsletter will soon revive the blogs feature. There were only 5, then it fizzled out, leaving many of us disappointed! Surely there are more than 5 decent stitchery blogs??=)

    BW from the UK

    1. Thank you Elizabeth, it is fun to be here.

      I don't have a lot to do with the newsletter nor the blog feature, but I will most certainly pass it on to those who do.


    2. Wonderful! I did mail once or twice myself, but, sadly, got no reply...=(

  5. There are a few pages about or nue in several of my stash of embroidery books - that glorious lily is in at least two of them - but when I wanted to have a go I ended up referring to three books at once to get enough information to try.

    Maybe we need to persuade someone to write the book?

    1. Hi Rachel,
      After the last post I found a bit more information, which is really exciting. I am just about to test a few bits and pieces and will be sharing it shortly Anna

  6. Hi Anna,
    Welcome to the blog world!
    Or Nue, tending sheeping, AND editor of Inspirations, you are a busy woman.
    I will be a faithful reader.

    1. Hi Janet,
      Yes, I do have a few things on my plate but try and make the most of whatever time I have.

  7. Hello Anna,
    Welcome to blogging! I'm looking forward to reading about what you are doing, especially with goldwork.

  8. .....and so even a year later have caused another spark of or nue curiosity ! : ) Happy New Year to you !