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?


2012: The Year of the Blog

It’s been too long!  Jeff and I made it to Mississippi where he promptly had to undergo unplanned surgery, then six weeks plus of recuperation.  Then the Holidays.  But it’s a new year and with it comes fresh comittment.  I declare this the Year of the Blog–for me anyway!

I have four blogs.  That’s too many.  But each is important to me for different reasons so I can’t give any of them up.  I will remain comitted to a post a day, but the posts will rotate between four blogs:  The Shop Sampler, Relatively Ryan, Sight Sniffing, and, of course, Blackwork Lessons.

News on The Mystery Blackwork Sampler—I have picked patterns for the blackwork squares.  I have tentatively picked out a needlepoint stitch for the inner border as well as some patterns for the needlepoint squares.  I decided to add another color to the black silk.    I’ll pull it out and share that with you Thursday when my daily post returns to Blackwork Lessons.  Until then think about a second color you might add to your Mystery Blackwork Sampler.

Write and tell me what color background you are using and what your second color will be!  Tomorrow I’ll be posting at The Shop Sampler.