Blackwork embroidery is, I like to think, the fabric and thread version of the art of Zillij, or Moroccan Mosaics. The author of the blog Moroccan Design says that once you’ve learned what zillij is and seen an example you will always recognize it. And I do. In blackwork embroidery. In particular in the linear model of blackwork that utilizes geometric design to create patterns, especially reversible patterns (same on the so-called right side and wrong side).
According to Muslim philosophy, life is ordered by a cosmic intelligence even though we humans may not always understand that intelligence and/or it’s message to us. The patterns that are created in Islamic art and architecture flows from the Muslim’s wish to understand this Creation. Meditating on the order and flow of the design, contemplating the meanings to be found in sacred geometry is the way to understanding. This is in comparison to other cultures’ method of representative art which in the Islamic view is a pathway to idolatry, but is is not so different from other cultures’ (i.e., Native American, Tibetan Buddhist) use of mandalas as a meditative tool.
To see how simple it is to create such a design visit the Crayola website for a lesson in zillij or check out the wonderful lesson provided by New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art on Islamic Art and Geometric Design. When you’ve played with these lessons, put your design to fabric and there you have it–you designed your first blackwork embroidery piece!