Last week's blog post generated quite a bit of interest. Thank you very much for all your comments! And now on to the second part of the experiment: can you replicate the high goldthread count (30-70 threads per centimetre) seen on the imperial vestments with modern-day materials? Yes, we can :). Let me show you what I did.
As the Imperial Vestments have goldwork embroidery stitched on samite without a linen backing, I decided to use samite without a backing too. I used a reproduction 100% silk samite from Sartor. A piece of the original 8th-century Byzantine fabric is held at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. All my slate frames were already in use, so I used a 10 cm hoop with both rings taped. Using a small hoop ensures that I can still get quite a high tension (which is tricky with samite as it shreds easily on two of its sides due to the type of weave).
The goldthread used in the experiments, to my knowledge, is the thinnest passing thread that is commercially available: Stech 50/60 made by M.Maurer, Vienna, Austria. This gilt thread has a diameter of c. 0.15 mm. In an ideal world, you would thus be able to pack 66 threads parallel to each other to cover a centimetre.
For the first experiment, I used a #6 DeVere Yarns silk thread. I was able to stitch 33 parallel threads per centimetre. Not bad at all! However, I did notice that, although a #6 thread is rather fine, the silk was a bit bulky compared to the fine passing thread. When I looked at the detailed pictures in: Kaiser Gewänder im Wandel- goldgestickte Vergangenheitsinzenierung by Tanja Kohwagner-Nikolai, I noticed that the silk used was a bit finer.
For my next experiment, I used the same fine passing thread and historical samite reproduction fabric, but opted for a finer silk thread: Chinese flat silk split into 8 equal parts. I did the splitting of the silk filaments by eye and did not count them out. Some strands ended up a bit fatter than others which gave a pleasant liveliness to the hue of the gold and couching stitches. This time I was able to pack in 40 parallel goldthreads per centimetre. This is well within the range of 30-70 goldthreads. Getting to the top-end is not possible with this goldthread. It will only do a maximum of 66 threads without the bulk of the silk. In the two macro pictures below, you can clearly see that the bulk of the DeVere silk pushes the goldthreads slightly apart.
How fine does the goldthread need to be to get to 70 threads per centimetre? Well, I did 40 threads with a thread that can do 66 as its maximum. Apply simple maths and you arrive at a passing thread that needs to be about 0.087 mm thick. The vintage Japanese pure goldthread I have in my stash has a thickness of 0.08 mm. As it is so expensive and so rare, I am not quite ready to use it in an experiment :).
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