Blackwork in the Back seat

Yup.  That’s where blackwork has been for me for a while.  Kind of like it’s in the incubator of my creative brain, waiting to hatch.  Soaking up all kinds of warmth and light, sounds and sensations.

And guess what?!  There’s activity in the “egg.”  It’s about to hatch!  And you get to watch. This is what candling has revealed.

I  transcribed this pattern from a DMC publication written by Thérèse de Dillmont.  I believe it was published in 1908 as it is the Second Book.   There was another published in 1890, the year of Thérèse de Dillmont’s death.  Her niece, also named Thérèse de Dillmont, continue writing for DMC after 1890.

The title of the publication is L’ Art Chrétien en Égypte:  Motifs de Broderie Copte, Deuxième Partie.  Translated:  Christian Art in Egypt:  Coptic Embroidery Motifs, Part Two.   This pattern is on page 9, Panel (Planche) 4 , Design (Dessin) 18.

I found my copy of this pattern book at the Antique Pattern Library.  If you have not checked this resource out yet, you are missing out on an incredible treasure, just like Project Gutenberg.  On the home page of the Pattern Library, click on the catalog tab.  Then click on the technique tab and choose the type of pattern you are looking for.  DO NOT let the fact that many of the pattern books are in non-English languages.  Find yourself a translation tool at Google and you are home—Free!

Yes these patterns are free for you to use as there are no longer copyright holders to the text.  However, you Do Not own the pattern.  The person who approved the scan owns the pattern, thus is technically the copyright holder according to the Creative Common Licensing regulations.  In this case that would be: s cans donated by Sytske Wijnsma, edited Judith Adele 2006.

Bottom line, if you decide to use this pattern, you MUST give the total reference including title of the work, original author, and the owner of the hard copy.  But is that really such a big deal?  I think not!  (Oh, yeah, ignore the arrows before you use this pattern, my software wouldn’t let me remove them.)

Since I had a Major allergic reaction today, I’m going to end this lesson for today. Tomorrow you’ll get to see what is going to happen to this little Coptic motif.

I Had An Accident…

Blackwork Bow Tie

Blackwork Bow Tie

…and designed something with blackwork in it!  It happened like this…

I’m participating in Sharron Boggon’s (AKA Mistress of Pin Tangle, Stitchin’ Fingers and some pretty amazing stitching) Take a Stitch Tuesday, the challenge for 2012.  During the 13th week there was a break to give busy stitchers a chance to catch up.  After all, if you get frustrated and so behind the challenge might just become another UFO!

For those who were up to date there were two bonus challenge offered.  One of them was to create some “Bling,” some eye candy to inspire others using from 3 to 6 of the stitches from the challenge list to date.  For some reason “Bling” hit me.  And when I think of Bling I think “Black Tie.”  And, with my interest in Blackwork, my mind obviously jumped to Blackwork Bow Tie.  Here is what I quickly stitched up (based upon a sketch in my Studio Journal.)

The details are as follows:

Design Size:  5.5 inches by 3 inches


And the stitches I used are:

So, do you like this pattern?  Would you like the pattern?  For free?  Sign up to follow this blog and leave a comment saying you want the pattern and I’ll email you the pattern!

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!

Gathering Mystery Blackwork Sampler I Materials

Blackwork Sampler Materials
Gathering the goods!

I was torn about what to post today.  It’s a nice feeling to have ideas flowing.  Someone said the other day they would love to learn how to do this.  I almost decided to post on a basic lesson, but I think I will save that for the next post.

I did say I would show you the lovely red silk I found to use in this sampler.   And here it is.  It is from ThreadWorx, Vineyard Silk number V140.  Not too clear in the photo is a packet of YLI black silk floss.  The red sequins are 5 mm and are a Darice product.  The red fabric I’ll be using is a 16 ct evenweave.  Not shown in the photo are the black 11° seed beads I plan to secure the sequins with.  I may use another black fiber.  Not sure yet–I’ll play with that as I go along with the project.  It would be just as easy to use more than one strand of the YLI silk.  We’ll see.

Next post I plan to share a pattern for a blackwork mitten  and discuss how to tackle a pattern that has no instructions with it.   I will probably address the project in two posts.  One that talks about the actually stitching basics.  And a second about the topic of “Journeys.”That way I can begin to answer the question, “how do you do that?”

Are you planning to work this sampler with me?  What materials do you plan to use?


Types of Blackwork Embroidery

I have mentioned before that there are more than one type of blackwork.  Perhaps you have wondered what I mean.  In examining the different pieces of blackwork embroidery one might find in, say Victoria and Albert Museum, you will see three pattern types:

  • Linear
  • Free form with geometric fill
  • Outlined free form

The popularity of each form had its own time in British history with blackwork falling mostly out of favor around the 18th century, however all were present in Islamic stitching prior to Katherine of Aragon’s marriage to Henry VIII and the introduction of “Spanishe Work” to the English Court.  Linear came first, then the free form with geometric fill, and, finally, the outlined free form.  How would you identify which is which?

Linear Blackwork:  Typically the double running or backstitch is the stitch of choice.  The work is most likely reversible and found on collars,  cuffs, and other smaller spaces.  While the double running stitch may be named for the painter Holbein, he most certainly did not create it.  His name is attached to it after he immortalized the embroidery method in his paintings of Henry the 8th and his family.  Holbein also designed much of Henry VIII’s wardrobe and linens for his home.  The following pic shows linear blackwork on the cuff.  (Click on photos for larger image.)

Blackwork as painted by Hans Holbein

Blackwork Cuff as Painted by Hans Holbein

Note the sleeve includes free form blackwork, but the fill is spangles.  This is perfectly acceptable and something you might like to try, too!  Or maybe some beads unless you can afford gemstones!

Blackwork in Free Form with Geometric Fill:  This second most popular form of blackwork was typically a larger design, perhaps a coif, sleeping cap, sleeve, or foreskirt.  The designs were most often flowers and leaves that would have a geometric fill.  The following photo is a nice example of this type of blackwork.

A variety of blackwork shapes enhanced with geometric fills

Blackwork stitching on sleeve

Outlined Free Form Blackwork Embroidery:  This is very similar to the free form with geometric fill.  However the free form patterns are scattered and rather stand alone in nature.  Stitches you are likely to see are stem and chain stitches.  It is also possible you will see “seed stitch.”  These are little straight stitches that reflect the markings found on patterns that are by now are printed!  In your own designs seed stitches are a good way to increase or decrease shading.  Notice them in the leaves in this picture of a period coif.

Period coif done in blackwork

Blackwork Coif

The other form of this style of blackwork is called strapwork.  Again you will see stem and chain stitch in the pattern.  This helps to outline the bands of repetitive pattern.  This pic of Hans Holbein’s portrait of Henry VIII is a nice example of this type of work.

Blackwork strapwork

I’ll bet you’ve noticed, especially in this image, that the threads used are not always black.  You’re right, they weren’t, but that’s a discussion for another day!

Hey?!  Are you learning anything yet?

Blackwork Embroidery and Moroccan Mosaics

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!