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The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts


Metal thread making


The making of metal threads for embroidery.


Status Critically endangered (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Craft category Precious metals
Historic area of significance
Area currently practised Bedworth, Warwickshire
Origin in the UK
Current no. of professionals (main income) 1-5
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Current no. of trainees 0
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required



Metallic embroidery threads are made using round or flattened wire, usually gold, silver or copper, which may or may not have a core of another material. Machines are used to plait and combine the wire. Metallic threads are used for embroidery, particularly in historical costumes, the theatre, and for insignia. The Royal School of Needlework’s training in gold thread embroidery also provides a big market.




Local forms




Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Training issues: there are no trainees in the craft.
  • Training issues/business issues: cost of training an apprentice and their wages, whilst also paying full time employees still have two full time people.
  • Market issues: competition from low-wage economies in Pakistan and India.


Support organisations


Craftspeople currently known

  • Benton & Johnson (part of Toye, Kenning and Spencer), Birmingham – 3 full-time staff, one of whom is due to retire
  • Golden Threads – This has been recently taken over by Alex Birdwood who has been trained in metal thread manufacture by William Kentish Barnes.


Other information

  • Status: Metal thread making has always been a very small industry, but while the numbers involved are small the two firms are both doing well.



Bevan, Katy, ‘Gold Standard’, Selvedge, 79, November/December 2017:  P30 – p33

Article on Toye, Kenning & Spencer: Wallop, Harry (8 April 2012). “A trip back in time to our industrial heritage at Toye, Kenning & Spencer”. The Daily Telegraph. London, UK.

A tour of the Benton & Johnson factory by Catherine of Hill View Embroidery

Video clip of the Toye, Kenning & Spencer Factory in 2014: From Hidden Histories. Britains oldest Family businesses. Episode 2 of 3:  Toye the Medal Maker. 2014. BBC.

Account of conservation of a piece of medieval goldwork, with great information about threads and techniques: Zenzie Tinker, 2016.