Blackwork, some facts

Blackwork classicaly is a counted technique, so as long as I have a pattern on paper I can just make sure I start in the centre and I will end up with a perfectly symmetrical piece of embroidery which appeals to my scientific mind.

There is some debate still on what exactly is the definition of blackwork and one of the oft quoted definitions goes:

Blackwork is black, except when it’s not.
Blackwork is counted, except when it’s not.
Blackwork is reversible, except when it’s not.

The times when blackwork isn’t black it can be red, or green or sometimes blue. It is non-counted in later examples where the patterns become more naturalistic, and stitches becomes stem or outline stitch rather than double running stitch. When you abandon double running stitch is when it becomes non-reversible, although there are examples of non-reversible patterns done with double running stitch as well. When I first started I used the definition presented at the Historical Needlework Resources, which gives examples and some interesting links.

Further links about blackwork

My own Blackwork Projects

Tudor Court Gown Embroidery

After the first handkerchief, it was time to apply blackwork to a project I was working on; namely my Tudor court gown. For that project I wanted blackwork on the cuffs of the chemise sleeves that are seen, so I looked for patterns in “German Renaissance patterns for embroidery: A facsimile copy of Nicolas Bassée’s New Modelbuch of 1568” where I found many nice things.

Cuff blackwork The cuffs were started and I discovered that I really liked this kind of counted work. I had already made up the sleeves, so what I did to get the embroidery even was start at the centre and work my way out to the edges. I ended up only a little off, but it can’t be seen in the end. Here is a mock-up of the finished sleeve showing the embroidery finished.

For the same project I also embroidered the neckline of my smock, to be shown above the edge of the dress itself. I chose a very narrow band of blackwork from the Nicolas Bassée book, which was quick to do, and produced a very pretty border. All in all, the embroidery on this outfit worked out gorgeously, as can be seen in this photo of me wearing it at an event, and inspired me to start on another, larger blackwork project, a shirt collar.

The Blackworked Sture Shirt –

For this project I took my love of planning to the nth degree. I charted the entire pattern for my collar on the computer, marking out top, bottom, middle, centreline and each stitch from one end of the collar to the other, starting by counting the threads I had in my fabric. The patterns were taken from Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d, by Janet Arnold. And then I got down to work.

CollarCollarCollar Collar

It took me quite a while to finish all the embroidery on this collar, but I didn’t get bored with it, despite the repetition. It is, as I said, a type of meditation. Once the embroidery was finished, I made it up and the finished collar became quite spiffy, if I may say so myself.

CollarFront collar attached.Close-up

July 2007: A suite of blackworked collar and cuffs –

Ingrid's collar and cuffsAs an encouragement and for some goal to work towards I offered to blackwork a set of collar and cuffs for a Lady whom I thought would look fantastic in 16th Century clothes. Said and done, I decided on a pattern and set to work.

Ingrid's collar and cuffs, right sideThe pattern was taken from the teaching material given out by Viscountess Helwig Ulfsdotter at one of her blackwork courses. She has cleaned up several blackwork designs from pictures in Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d by Janet Arnold and provided them for use through her classes. I chose a simple but pretty design and got to work.

Ingrid's collar and cuffs, left sideThe collar took most time, being twice as long as the cuffs, and worked in two rows. The cuffs are worked with the same design, but only one row. Using an even weave linen ground I worked up the pattern using Güterman’s black sewing silk thread, making each stitch over two threads of the ground fabric. Since I was sending this work through the mail I decided to leave the linen un-cut, the recipient can then cut the pieces out for attachment to a shirt when appropriate.

Blackworked tablecloth
Close-up of blackworked tablecloth
June 2011: Blackworked tablecloth for a Laurel vigil – In march I got the news that a good friend and personal hero in the SCA was going to be put on vigil and elevated to the Order of the Laurel at Double Wars XLIV this year. It has got drawn-thread hemstitch all around, and I started with just the blackwork border from page 64 of Paganino’s pattern-book “Il Burato” found at the University of Arizona. I chose long-armed cross-stitch to work this, so when I wanted to add more black to the tablecloth I continued with the same stitch and put a pelican in the centre. The pelican is taken from another book online at the Arizona University site, Frederico Vincolo’s “I Singolari e Nuovi Disegni”. The recipient, Meisterinne Katheryn Hebenstreitz was already a Pelican and she was being elevated to the Order of the Laurel, so once the pelican was on there I had to improvise a Laurel wreath around it. It worked surprisingly well.


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