The origins of goldwork embroidery are set deep in history and came rom many sources as silk travelled over the continents of Asia travelling through Beirut with the silk merchants, its use became widespread after the birth of Christ references to a cloth of gold are to be found in the bible, and was mentioned in the book of Exodus. It could be found on vestments and clothes in countries like in ancient Egypt (in the tombs of the pharaohs) Italy, Babylon, Greece, India, and Persia. It can be seen in the wonderful garments from Japan and China the emperors gowns were richly embroidered in gold, it’s part of their ancient history somewhat entwined in the making of the secret world that was silk making.
Throughout history gold has been a symbol of affluence and status. Goldwork embroidery is one of the oldest English embroidery techniques with records dating from before the 10 th century. Before that, little was documented and was mainly pictorial reference in the 7 th century, the actual embroidery has very ancient roots, two thousand years ago it was known of in the Middle East moving over the continents and established itself firmly in Europe. Traditionally goldwork embroidery was worn on ecclesiastical vestments and church trappings i.e. alter frontals, pulpitfalls etc. Also in Royal circles and rich aristocratic families, for them it was anostentatious display of wealth and power.
The goldwork threads used to be pure gold and were flattened and wound around strands of animal and human hair, but because the gold was so brittle they were later wrapped around materials such as silk, animal gut, paper, or parchment. In the early days this was all done by hand, which made the cost phenomenal. The most renowned examples of English embroidery are the beautifully preserved St Cuthberts Stole and maniple which was made at the behest of Queen Aelfflaed about 901AD, it is covered completely in gold laid work and couched thread, it is displayed in Durham Cathedral.