Our sampler of raised work is done in silk. Underlaying is more often used to raise work in gold, to which in most respects it is best suited. The methods shown in the sampler would answer almost equally well for gold, except that working in gold one would not at H (66) use bullion-stitch, but bullion, first covering the underlay of stitching with smoothly-laid yellow floss.
BULLION consists of closely coiled wire. It is made by winding fine wire tightly and closely round a core of stouter wire. When this central core of wire is withdrawn, you have a long hollow tube of spirally twisted wire. This the embroidress cuts into short lengths as required, and sews on to the silk - as she would a long bead or bugle. Its use is illustrated at A in Illustration 51 (A. Bullion. B. Couched Cord), where the stems of triple gold cord are clamped down at intervals with bullion, and the leaves, again, are filled in with the same.
It was the mediaeval fashion to encrust the robes of kings and pontiffs with pearls and precious stones mounted in gold : the early Byzantine form of crown was practically a velvet cap, on to which were sewn plaques of gorgeous enamel and mounted stones. When to such work embroidery was added, it was not unnatural that it should vie with the gold setting. As a matter of fact, its design was often only a translation into needlework of the forms proper to goldsmith's work.
Yet more openly in rivalry with the work of the goldsmith was some of the embroidery of the Renaissance, in which the idea - a most mistaken one, of course - seems to have been to imitate beaten metal. This led inevitably to excessively high relief in gold embroidery. You may see in seventeenth-century church work the height to which relief can be carried, and the depth to which ecclesiastical taste can sink.
The Spaniards were, perhaps, the greatest sinners in this respect, seeking, as they did, richness at all cost; but it must be confessed that, in the sixteenth century at least, they produced most gorgeous results: there is in the treasury of the cathedral at Toledo an altar frontal in gold, silver, and coral, and a yet more beautiful mantle of the Virgin in silver and pearls upon a gold ground, which make one loth to dogmatise about excessive richness.
The preciousness of gold and silver, points, in the nature of things, to their use for church vestments and the like; and high relief gives, no doubt, value to the metal; but the consideration of its
intrinsic value leads quickly to display. The artistic value of gold is not so much that it looks gorgeous as that it glorifies the colour caught, so to speak, in its meshes.
Admitting that there is reason for relief in gold embroidery - it catches the light as flat gold does not - one feels that the very slightest modelling is usually enough. Reference was made (page 136) to the effect of gilt gesso obtained in raised gold thread : that really is about the degree of relief it is safe to adopt in gold embroidery, the relief that is readily got by laying on gesso with a brush, not carving or modelling it; and the characteristically blunt forms got by that means repeat themselves when you work with the needle.
There is ample relief in the gold embroidery on Illustrations 68 and 86. The first of these shows both flat and raised work: the latter illustrates not only various degrees of relief, but several ways of underlaying. It scarcely needs pointing out that the flatter serrated leaves are worked over parchment or paper, and the puffy parts of the flowers over softer padding. Allusion has already been made (page 159) to the way the stalk is worked over twisted cords, as on the sampler, Illustration 66 (Raised Work Sampler. L). The patterns in which the gold is worked do not tell quite so plainly here as on Illustration 68 (Raised Gold), where the basket pattern is more pronounced. In the stalk there flat gold wire is used, and again in the broken surface towards the top of the plate.
SPANGLES of gold may be used with admirable effect, at the risk, perhaps, of a rather tinselly look ; but that has been often most skilfully avoided both in mediaeval work and in Oriental. In India great and very cunning use is made of spangles, by the Parsees in particular, who, by the way, embroider with gold wire.
Gold foil may be cut to any shape and sewn on to embroidery, but spangles take mainly one of two shapes, best distinguished as disc-like and ring-like. The discs are flat, pierced in the centre, and sewn down usually with two or three radiating stitches (A, Illustration 51 (A. Bullion. B. Couched Cord), and Illustration 67 (Raised Work Showing Underlay)). The rings may be attached by a single thread. They can easily be made to overlap like fish scales, and most elaborately embossed pictures have been worked in this way. There is a vestment in the cathedral at Granada which is a marvel to see ; but not the thing to do, surely.
Relief is easily overdone, in figure work so easily that one may say safety is to be found only in the most delicate relief. To make figures look round is to make them look stuffed. That stuffy images are to be found in mediaeval church work is only too true. In Gothic art one finds this quaint, perhaps, but it is perilously near the laughable. The point of the ridiculous is plainly overpassed in English work of the seventeenth century, which degenerates at last into mere doll work - the dolls duly stuffed and dressed in most childish fashion, their drapery, in actual folds, projecting. Some really admirable needlework was wasted upon this kind of thing, which has absolutely no value, except as an object-lesson in the frivolity of the Stuarts and their on-hangers.