Thursday, February 26, 2009

Question from Jill - Cloth of Gold and Cloth of Silver

Hello, does anyone know if 'cloth of gold' and 'cloth of silver' were made from actual gold and silver back then? I assume it was.

I'm not a chemist or costume expert but how was it possible to turn ingots of gold or silver into fine thread? I know they can be beaten into fine sheets - but as thread too? It would have to be soft durable and flexible all at the same time.

Also, wouldn't cloth of silver tarnish relatively quickly?


Colleen Kelley said...

Jill, that's an interesting question! I went and Googled it and here's what I found, from a site called "":

"To answer this question simply, real cloth of gold consists of gold either beaten or worked into long strips and wound around a core (such as silk) and then this thread is used in weaving a very rich fabric, which is relatively stiff, heavy, and expensive. Today, we don't see "real" cloth of gold much, although there are some places where it can still be purchased. Unfortunately, we do see a lot of lamé fabrics, which are "gold" fabrics made out of synthetics, with a bright metallic sheen. There is also "cloth of gold" that's made from imitation gold."

It's mind-boggling (as I'm not a chemist either) to imagine how they could take real gold and beat it so thin and flexible that it could be wrapped around a strand of silk! And can you imagine how much it must have weighed?

Anonymous said...

If you ever want to see genuine cloth of gold, made from real gold in the way Defining Moments describes , go to the Tower of London and see the Supertunica of George IV on exhibition among the Crown Jewels. It was made in 1821 and used at the coronations of George V, George VI, and the present Queen. And yes, it is extremely heavy.

Anonymous said...

CLOTH OF GOLD was woven with a warp of pure gold threads and a weft of silk, or sometimes both the warp and weft were of gold. The same went for cloth of silver.

There was also TINSEL, which was finer and sometimes made from copper.

The finest quality of all was TISSUE, made of incredibly fine gold or silver threads.

Tudor Costume and Fashion
By Herbert Norris, Richard Martin
Published by Courier Dover Publications, 1997
832 pages

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing Catherine the Great's wedding dress in the Kremlin Museum some years ago. It was tarnished and metallic-looking and I assumed it was made of cloth of silver.

Anonymous said...

I can't find the citation to it at the moment, but I know I've seen pictures of a present Elizabeth did for Catherine Parr, a translation of Catherine's book(?) into various other languages. Elizabeth's resultant book is bound in Cloth of Gold.

Anonymous said...

The metal thread in cloth of gold could be thinly beaten gold would around a core fiber (as stated in the first response). It could also be an actual drawn wire (which would have created a much more expensive cloth). Regardless of content, the metal threads would be extra pattern wefts (either continuous or brocaded) over a foundation weave (usually of silk). I've been doing research on cloth of gold, concentrating on the 16th century. For more information on what I've found, check out my blog at And check out Lisa Monnas' book "Merchants, Princes and Painters". And yes, cloth of silver does tarnish easily.

Anonymous said...

the cloth of gold and silver were made out of real traces of the metal. they used tinsel and also tissue of gold and silver.

Iain's Opinion said...

gold when beaten between sheep skin will go to a few molecules of thickness. it is very 'sticky' and now is known as gold leaf. Artisans used alabaster wands or sticks if you will to press gold leaf to various objects which then were called gilt or gilded. Each pack of 500 leaves covers a surface area of 39.50 sq.ft. without waste or overlap. Each pack would weigh 9 - 12 grams (1/3 = 1/2 oz). Our ancestors may not have gotten it that fine but I'd bet they came close.