The term goldwork embroidery was originally used to describe a form of decorative embroidery that employed real gold threads in a mixture of surface applications and techniques that use both laid and stitched yarns. The term now is extended to goldwork and metallic thread embroidery and includes all metals: gold (though this proved costly for most industries and was not used much after the 10th century), silver gilt, silver, pewter and copper, and metallic (alloy or synthetic) colored threads and yarns.
Very few tools were necessary in goldwork embroidery, a frame, a bobbin, various needles, and a piercing tool; these combined with the experienced skills acquired in an apprenticeship of up to seven years, created consummate examples of opulent and extraordinary embroideries. There is no doubt that each culture that has worked with goldwork embroidery and stitched with metallic threads and yarns has incorporated unique, individual styles and techniques that have influenced its rich traditions.
The metallic threads and yarns essential to goldwork embroidery can be divided into four different categories: wrapped: both laid and stitched; purl; and plate. The collection of goldwork techniques employs two main applications: those that were attached to the surface and those that were stitched or pierced through the surface. The finished wrapped threads and yarns, purl or plate strips were available in a several sizes that were suitable for the broad assortment of goldwork techniques.
For further reading see my article The Glittering World of Metal thread embroidery March/ April 2008 issue of PieceWork Magazine and a project to make an embroidered bracelet or choker.