A selection of craft information for artisans of the HFS.

    Blackwork Info

    Dame Katrin Karlsdottir
    Dame Katrin Karlsdottir

    Posts : 28
    Join date : 2011-06-02
    Age : 51

    Blackwork Info Empty Blackwork Info

    Post  Dame Katrin Karlsdottir on Thu Jun 02, 2011 6:58 pm

    Background Information

    "Blackwork is black, except when it’s not. Blackwork is
    reversible, except when it’s not. Blackwork is a counted thread technique,
    except when it’s not. Blackwork is called “blackwork,” except (you guessed it)
    when it’s not."

    Blackwork gets its name from the black silk thread traditionally used in
    this form of counted thread embroidery. When done in red thread it is
    Scarletwork, when in gold it is called clocking. Blackwork has been through many incarnations, but the most common
    types employ simple stitches to create complex scrolling or geometric
    patterns. The first such patterns were comprised of all horizontal and
    vertical stitches, without any diagonal lines to make shifts. All turns
    were at a forty-five degree angle which gave it a very square look.
    Today, virtually all Blackwork patterns employ diagonal stitched for style and
    design purposes. Because it is a counted method that requires
    precise geometric alignment, even weave (same number of warp and weft fibers
    per inch) fabric such as linen is the best choice. Blackwork employs just
    a few simple stitches to create complex designs with great eye appeal.
    Black on white embroidery dates back many centuries in various cultures all
    over the world, but what came to be know as Blackwork, the scrolling designs
    that adorned clothing, especially sleeves, cuffs and collars reached its peak
    during the reign of King Henry VIII. It is often said that Blackwork
    became so popular in Tudor England was because it was a less expensive alternative
    to lace, but more likely, it was popular due to the sumptuary laws that
    prevented anyone except for ranking nobility from wearing frivolous or
    excessive clothing.

    The introduction of this type of Blackwork to England is frequently
    attributed to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of
    Spain, who was sent to England at the tender age of sixteen to be wed to Prince
    Arthur, the eldest son of King Henry VII. She was young and pretty and
    well received among the English Court. Arthur died shortly after their
    marriage, which was never consummated. Catherine was caught in the middle
    of dramatic political wrangling between Henry and her father King
    Ferdinand. There was mutual attraction between Catherine and Prince Henry
    (younger brother to Arthur), despite their six year age difference, and
    Ferdinand wanted to negotiate a union, but things were not to proceed
    smoothly. It was not until after the death of Henry VII that the newly
    crowned Henry VIII was able to actually marry Catherine and she finally took
    her place as Queen of England.

    It was Catherine's love of lace and embroidery combined with keen fashion
    sense that appealed to the English people, even before she was Queen.
    Catherine was educated in many disciplines including the "wifely
    arts." She was an accomplished embroiderer and many people believe
    she herself embroidered some of the King Henry's tunics. The sudden rise
    in popularity of the reversible scrolling designs on collars and cuffs was
    certainly due in part to her influence. In the early 1500s, Blackwork had
    a distinctly Spanish feel, which explains why it was often referred to as
    Spanysshe Work. The black and white scrolling designs had an obvious
    Moorish influence, hence the term "arabesque" is often employed in
    the description of such designs. Since Catherine spent her formative
    years in Spain and was exposed to Moorish art, architecture and textiles, it is
    easy to see how the association between her and Blackwork would be made.
    However, it is important to note that she merely helped create fascination with
    this style of embroidery; she did not invent it. The Blackwork of this
    period, looked like lace and was reversible, since both sides would be subject
    to viewing if it adorned cuffs, coifs and collars. .

    It was Elizabeth who was responsible for the next shift in how Blackwork
    would be perceived. Like Catherine, she too was an accomplished
    embroiderer. Elizabeth brought a more traditional English design theme to
    this style, utilizing fruits, flowers and herbs as central design elements in
    her Blackwork. Each segment was outlined and then worked with complicated
    geometric designs, with contrasts of dark and light created by the different
    fill patterns. This type of Blackwork was not reversible and was no longer
    confined to cuffs and collars. The advent of printing presses offered
    Elizabethan embroiderers a wide variety of design ideas. Flora and fauna
    were common elements for black and white plates, which could then be used in
    embroidery designs. The very nature of black on white print made it an
    easy transition to black and white embroidery.

    Blackwork fell from favor as a fashion item in the Stuart period, but it
    persisted in samplers throughout the next two centuries. When Blackwork
    was revived, it was once again transformed. During the 19th and 20th
    centuries, in addition to the scrolling work and outlined objects filled in
    with geometric designs, Blackwork was often used to depict scenes, reminiscent
    of pen and ink drawings, a phenomenon closely related to the Elizabethan desire
    to recreate black and white plates from books. Some of the most
    interesting Blackwork I have seen are renditions of bridges and old homes, that
    look drawn more than stitched. Blackwork seems to be popular with more
    experienced stitchers, despite the fact that it is actually quite simple to
    master. It does not have the same broad appeal to novice stitchers that
    Cross Stitch and Scarletwork command. However, there is a group of people
    outside of the embroidery mainstream, who have contributed greatly to the
    documentation and current revival of more traditional Blackwork.
    Participants in Renaissance Fairs and the historical re-creation groups use
    Blackwork to create period costumes. It is very popular with them for the
    same reason it was popular in the past, it looks fabulous and rich, but is
    relatively easy and inexpensive to produce.

    Stitches Used

    Even though the over all effect of Blackwork is ornate, most of the stitches
    are simple, but they are worked in such a way that conveys

    Blackwork Info Clip_image001Double
    Running Stitch - The running stitch was often done in such a way that the work
    was reversible. This is also called the Holbein stitch, the Spanish stitch,
    line stitch and writing stitch. It gives a smoother line than backstitch
    and is easily worked on even weave fabric. If you do not have a stitch
    dictionary, click on the image to the right.

    Other stitches used are: Stem Stitch, Back Stitch, Split Stitch, Algerian
    Eye, Bosnia Stitch, Double Cross Stitch, running stitch, and the list goes
    on...because of its many incarnation, there are a variety of stitches that can
    be used to create the complex patterns or reversible scrolling designs.


    Any thread, in any color can be used. However, black silk embroidery thread
    or floss is my first choice. Today, it is common for people to
    use regular six-strand cotton embroidery floss (DMC 310) .


    A high thread count linen or cotton, preferably even weave. Usually
    worked on 18 count or higher, but many books recommend 22 (also known as
    Hardanger). Aida cloth is acceptable, but there is a wide range of linens
    available are reasonable cost.

    You can use any fabric, like silks and satins, if you employ waste canvas
    while working the design.


    Any fine needle with an eye big enough to accommodate the thread of your
    choice can be used, but I tend to prefer sharps and often use betweens in a
    size 10 or size 9. Since this is worked on even weave, you may prefer a
    size 24 or 26 blunt tapestry needle, like those used for cross stitch and
    needlepoint. The Holbein stitch will only really lay flat if you use a
    sharp and stab through the existing stitches on your way back across a
    shape. This is not an exact science, experiment with a few needle choices
    to see which works best for the technique you prefer.


    A hoop or frame is completely optional, but very helpful with this type of
    hand work.

    Design Transfer Methods

    Transferring a design for Blackwork is different, because this is a counted
    method, that utilizes charts.

    The easiest way to deal with a charted design is to find the middle of the
    chart and the middle of your fabric and begin from the inside out. If you
    start at an edge, you may waste fabric or fail to leave enough for a finished

    Remember that basting lines are sometimes called life lines for a
    reason! It helps to do some two over two or four over four running
    stitches before you start.

    If you are doing a complex geometric design, do a rough outline of where the
    design elements will be, then work each one as a separate entity, always
    starting in the middle.

    Tip and Tricks:

    • Use even weave fabric when
    • Mark the center of your
      fabric with a single strand of embroidery floss in long running stitches
      along both the vertical and horizontal axis.
    • Use waste canvas if you want
      to do Blackwork on fabric without a even weave.
    • If you are constructing a
      garment, wash the fabric and soak the thread prior to stitching. You
      would not want the designs to pucker if there is shrinkage.
    • Use a piece of graph paper to
      construct your own designs.
    • Collars and cuffs look
      especially good when embellished with Blackwork.
    • For scrolling designs, mark
      the center of the design with pins or loose running stitches before you
      begin work and work from the inside out.
    • For outlined shapes, filled
      with geometric designs, mark the center of each element and work it from
      the inside out. This will be necessary to make sure the patterns are
    • If you want your work to be
      reversible, make sure to use a waste knot or start with a running stitch,
      then reverse over it for a few stitches in order to secure it.
    • If want your work to be
      reversible, but are having trouble making it work, try this to help you
      map it out. First, make a photocopy, then take out a highlighter and
      trace a path without lifting your pen from the paper. It may mean you have
      to break it the design up into smaller pieces to do that. Once you have
      marked off part of the graph as a continuous line, take another color
      marker and mark every other stitch. That way, when you go to stitch it
      from the diagram, you will be ready to do the Holbein Stitch on any
      charted design. Just go one direction following every other stitch, then
      turn around and come back.
    • Because it can be stitched to
      be reversible, this is an excellent choice for decorating afghan
      cloth. Most afghan cloth is done in 5 inch even weave squares that
      would be well suited to Blackwork designs.

      Current date/time is Wed Apr 24, 2019 9:06 am