Monday, 28 April 2008

The Crafters' Way 47 - Blackwork

Each week I write a Craft Column for a local paper, I post it here for bloggers.

Blackwork is one of the most popular forms of embroidery. Worked with black thread on white evenweave fabric it also one of the most striking. The popularity of Blackwork can be traced back to the reign of Henry VIII. Henry’s wife, Catherine of Aragon (the first wife) was an accomplished embroiderer and is believed to have embellished her clothes with this work.

Blackwork is a counted method of embroidery using geometric alignment of stitches to create the pattern. It is considered a forerunner to cross-stitch. The use of Aida cloth is an ideal evenweave fabric for a beginner. Traditionally Holbein Stitch was used to create straight lines. Holbein stitch is a double running stitch similar to back stitch. In this case the needle is brought up between the previously stitched thread to ensure that finished stitch lies flat. Today most Blackwork stitches use backstitch. Other stitches were used to create shading. They include Split Stitch, Stem Stitch, Chain Stitch and Coral Stitch.

Three styles of Blackwork developed. Linear, Reversible Blackwork, this is the style most of us associate with Blackwork. Traditionally worked on collars and cuffs this style was worked in bands to looks the same from the front and back. The Holbein Stitch was used to create this style due to its flatness and ability to hide the starting and finishing thread.

This image is of one of Trishalan Designs Blackwork Designs on Aida Cloth.

The second style was Free Form with Geometric Fill patterns. This style developed a little later and incorporated shapes resembling leaves, flowers, etc. The fill patterns were stitched with chain stitch, coral stitch and stem stitch. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st this style of Blackwork was found on household items and the large billowy sleeves favoured at this time. The last style was the use of Outlined Motifs. The outlined motifs were found stitched in a random manner and also within a lattice pattern.

In my opinion, Blackwork is a little more challenging than cross stitch and a little less time consuming than fancywork. Start with a simple pattern and have a go, you will be very happy with the result.

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