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Blackwork

History

 

Mary Tudor
Mary Tudor, c. 1556 1



Blackwork in period consisted of designs worked as a counted thread stitch on even weave linen. Black thread on white linen was most commonly used, but the designs were sometimes worked in red, green, gold, and even blue.2 It was often used to decorate the necks and cuffs of undershirts. There are many examples of it in paintings from the latter half of the 15th century and all of the 16th century.

The Elizabethans called it "Spanysshe Work." It's generally believed that blackwork existed in England prior to the 15th century (see Chaucer's description of the miller's wife), it was made popular by Catherine of Aragon, when she married Henry VIII in 1509.3 Once the Elizabethans got their hands on blackwork, they took it to extremes, decorating entire sleeves and skirts with it. The most typical use of blackwork in Elizabethan times involved outlining leaves, fruit, and flowers on linen, then filling these in with geometric patterns.



 

Mary Cornwallis
Mary Cornwallis, Countess of Bath,
by George Gower (c. 1575-1580) 4



One of the wonderful characteristics of blackwork is that it can be worked to look the same on both sides of the material. A ruffled cuff, such as the one at the left, would look beautiful whether viewed from the outside or inside. Some patterns do not lend themselves to this and should only be used in areas where they will be viewed from one side of the fabric, such as a sleeve, partlet, or forepart.





































Project

This project involves making a simple blackwork bookmark. This pattern would also make an excellent favor. Bookmarks in general are very handy for personal use, as gifts, or as contributions to gift baskets such as those given by TRM to visiting Royalty at Estrella War. The project does not take long to complete and would also make a good novice entry for an A & S competition.

Materials and Equipment Needed

You will need:

An embroidery hoop can be used but usually isn't necessary. The Aida cloth is fairly stiff and easy to handle without a hoop.

Step By Step Instructions

 

start
end

The basic stitch used is called the Holbein stitch because it was shown so clearly in the portraits painted by Hans Holbein the Younger. It is a running stitch, and at the end of the line of stitching you turn and do another running stitch to fill in the spots the first line missed. Like so:













 

Start
Bookmark Pattern

End

Single Repeat

For repeating patterns, look closely at the pattern and decide what makes a single pattern repeat.










 

Main line

Decide where your start and end points for each pattern should be so that you can flow from one pattern repeat to the next. Highlight every other stitch as far as you can go on the pattern without doubling back. This will be the main line of the pattern.



 

Step 2

Leave a tail about 3" long on the underside of your work and bring the needle up at the start point. Work the main line. At the end your needle should come up at the start point again.


 

Step 3
Step 4
Step 5

Start working back toward the start by making running stitches in the opposite direction around the circle. Don't go all the way back to the beginning though! Your needle should end on the wrong side of the material.










 

Step 6

Now you're going to work the inside of the flower. Most of the stitches on the inside are "circular": you work the stitch one side, then the same stitch on the other side, and your needle ends up right where it started.

 

Step 7

Work one diagonal stitch on the right side to get to the center of the flower. Your needle will be on the underside.


 

Step 8

Work a circular stitch towards the top of the flower.

 

Step 9

Work one diagonal stitch towards the outer edge of the flower. Your needle will be on the top side.


 

Step 10

Work a circular stitch to form one side of the box.


 

Step 11

Work a circular stitch for the other side of the box.


 

Step 12

Work one diagonal on the top side to bring the thread back to the center.


 

Step 13

Work the underside of the last diagonal.

At this point you can see very clearly which stitches have only been worked on one side. Work the opposite side of those stitches and you will end up right where you originally started.

To finish the threads, wrap the thread around several stitches, making sure to follow the line of stitching. Apply a drop of fray check or glue, and when it dries cut the excess thread away. Be sure to use the same method to finish the 3" tail you left hanging in the beginning! Finish the edges of the bookmark by turning under twice and stitching, or by zigzagging around the edge.















Additional Patterns

Patterns

References & Links

Footnotes

1: Mary Gostelow, Blackwork (Reinhold:New York, 1976) 52.

2: "Embroidered Accessories - Those Little Extras" [Online], available WWW:http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/textile_gallery/page3.html (8 November 1999).

3: "Elizabethan Blackwork Archives" [Online], available WWW:http://www.blackworkarchives.com/ (15 July 2002).

4: Gostelow, Color Plate 2.