Blackwork Basics For the Beginning Stitcher

As scientists work to find the smallest elements of matter, stitchers have already found theirs  and it is the foundation of one of the most fascinating stitch genres I know.  Blackwork, or Spanish work, is the creation of some of the most intricate patterns and they all begin with one straight stitch.  That’s right—thread pulled up through one hole (or up through fabric) and down in the next.  Simple.  It really is!

 Stitch Basics  Blackwork Stitch Step Two - Down
Blackwork Stitch Step One – pull threaded needle up through fabric Blackwork Stitch Step Two – push threaded needle down through fabric

Can you see yourself stitching this?   I can see you stitching it!  I know you have! How about making a whole bunch of random lines, one stitch length at a time, or better yet, be a little random in length.  Think bits of pollen on a flower petal.  Hold your work up to the light now and then to see how the thread you’re using shows through, or if it shows through.

Congratulations!  You have just done a black work stitch technique called speckling (may also be called seed stitch).  You’ll see it and use it to add depth and shading, as seen in the image on the right (from Threads of History).  It’s especially effective in curving areas—around eyes, in the curve between leaf ribs, on the chest of a bird.  Check out this example in the leaf on the cover of Becky Hogg’s book on Blackwork.  (It’s a must have for anyone serious about blackwork.)

Covers shows speckling to shade leaf

Becky Hogg's leaf shows speckling in shading the leaf.

Now, how about adding another line—errr, stitch to that first one?

One stitch, two stitch

Come back up where you started then go down in a different place. Voila! Two stitches

Add a third line and you have a triangle or a blackwork motif.  Motifs are added together to create patterns.
Two triangles

More than one triangle makes a triangle scatter pattern. Used as you would speckling.

It’s that simple!  Pull out some even weave fabric and stitch some triangles.  All kinds of triangles.  After you have a nice little patch of triangles, hold that fabric up to the light again to watch how and when your thread shows through, if it does.  Before you move on pat yourself on the back because you’ve just completed the blackwork pattern called scattered triangle.  You’ll find times, as with the speckling, that you’ll want your triangles close together to suggest shading in comparison to spaced far apart giving a suggestion of light.

If you want to get really creative, do some speckling and scatter some triangles with one strand of fiber, then two strands.  Okay, try 3 and see what you think, too.  Again, when you hold the work to let the light shine through, what do you see?

Now, stitch the following shapes:


Squares, rectangles, stars, diamonds, and all sorts of polygons are good basic motifs for blackwork

Be brave, try to attach a few of these shapes together.  What happens?  What shape occurs when you stitch a few shapes together?  Try other shapes you might think off.  Can you see popping a bead in anywhere?  Do different shapes suggest specific colors to you?  Try to put what you imagine on the fabric with your needle and thread.  It’s just doodling.  Not right.  Not wrong.  Just thread doodles.  Do you see any of your doodles or the shapes above in this image?

Lots of triangles and diamonds

Look what you can do with just triangles and diamonds! Angle the curves and you'd have a wonderful design!

When you’re done with these doodles, be proud of yourself.  You have just created your first blackwork sampler!

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