Whether in Seville, Andalusia, or elsewhere throughout Spain, the term “gold embroidery” refers to a technique that differs considerably from traditional embroidery. In these processes, the gold (or silver) thread is not woven through the fabric, but rather is said to be “stretched” or “placed” to cover the drawn pattern. Truly an embroidery in relief, it is a type of traditional artisanship that remains relatively unknown, with few artisans still practicing it today.
With yellow for gold and white for silver, the threads used are typically made from silk and must be durable enough to be solidly secured with the help of a needle. This technique greatly facilitates the creation of reliefs and volumes, offering a wide range of material points and combinations, thanks the combination of threads with varying brilliances.
The practice of this technique requires a certain physical strength, as the fabric must be extremely taut on the embroidery frame, which is generally square. A preparatory phase is required during which the motif to embroider is reproduced in chalk powder onto a felt-like fabric. This piece constitutes the draft of the volume, which can then be sewn onto the fabric on the embroidery frame; now, the work of embroidering can begin.
Originally, gold, silver and silk embroideries were ancestral techniques associated with Seville. There are doubts about their true origins, which many attribute to the Arab people because of the immense cultural heritage that they have bequeathed to Andalusia. One thing is certain: in the time of Al-Andalus, during Muslim rule of Andalusia, these artisan techniques already existed and their employment was not limited to religious fabrics.
Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza Virgin -Triana, Sevilla
In 1433, the Sevillan embroiderers decided to organize a guild. As a result, several inspectors began to review aspiring artisans and examine their work. Less than a century later in 1516, a mandatory exam was created for anybody who wished to launch an embroidery studio. In 1533, to protect local fabrication, embroidery masters were forbidden to order embroideries from external workshops or to sell embroideries to uncertified buyers.
The creation of the guild of master embroiders was the starting point for the development of several other enterprises associated with textile-weaving in the region: silk producers, dyers, linen and silk weavers, gold spinners…each of these worked primarily in the creation of liturgical vestments. During the sixteenth century, the base fabrics of wool and silk – the two most common fabrics, used in dark colors – were gradually replaced by velvet, and a wide variety of colors made their appearance by the mid-nineteenth century.
This sort of craft was associated with the creation of vestments worn mostly during exuberant religious ceremonies, such as those of Holy Week. However, the craft was not the exclusive preserve of the high ecclesiastical circles of the city; master embroiderers also worked on-demand in their workshops, creating special orders, some of which have been preserved to this day.