is black, except when it isn't. Blackwork is reversible, except when it isn't. Blackwork is a counted
thread technique, except when it isn't..."
Lady Roxanne's "Blackwork Article"
|Detail, Jane Bostocke sampler, English,16th cent
|Victoria and Albert Museum, London
What does THAT mean? The simplest definition of "blackwork" is monochrome
embroidery on linen, but's it is more than that - there are many traditional monochrome-on-linen embroideries that
are most certainly NOT blackwork. And so, rather than trying to define with rules, we define with STYLE - whether counted,
scrollwork, or strapwork, in any color, "blackwork" has a look all its own.
|sampler detail, egyptian, 15th century
|Victoria &Albert Museum, London
of blackwork embroidery seem to be in the Middle East - some of the earliest recognizeable finds are pieces from 14th-15th
century Coptic tombs (see the photo above). The technique journeyed into Europe - in the baggage of Crusaders or pilgrims? along
the trade routes? - and made its way to every western country, but seemed to find its most welcoming home in the fertile soil
Legend has it that Katherine of Aragon brought blackwork to England. It was most
likely there well before, but surely fastination with the young Spanish princess added to the popularity of
"Spanisshe Stitche", while at the same time a new fashion for showing more of one's body linen
From the earliest painted evidence - around the 1470s in Spain - to the new fashion
for polychrome embroideries and lace that appeared around the turn of the 17th century, blackwork's heyday lasted
a little more than a hundred years. It's come round again, in the hands of history buffs and modern stitchers
all creating - and re-creating-Beautiful Things.
|"The Young Virgin", 1632 de Zurbaran
|Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
Hi! My name is Liadain, and I am a blackwork geek. I design it, stitch
it, research it, collect it, teach it
(At least as well as I can from my hermitage here in The Wildernesse), and I'm
happy to say that this site (and Practical Blackwork patterns) are turning three years old - the site is still growing,
and I still get excited about every new reference or link I find! Hope new blackworkers find the encouragement and information
here they need to get started, and that experienced stitchers find a new twist for fresh inspiration.
| 16th-cent. blackwork fragment
| private collection
Blackwork ? Because it IS, when you discard all the Victorian Ruuuules
(see the introductory quote above) and look at it from an historic point of view. Blackwork can be -
and often was, in "period" - as simple as Holbein and back stitches on linen, or as fabulously fancy as the
coifs and nightcaps preserved today in museums, but either extreme had some things in common - mostly short, hard-wearing
stitches, a visual impact that could help disguise dirt and stains in an age before "Spray and Wash", a simplicity
of materials needed. Blackwork was the perfect amateur technique - a young lady wishing to make a gift for her beloved could
adapt an image from one of the herbals, bestiaries, or other printed books then coming into widespread use, even if she'd
never seen a pattern book, or copy the pattern from another embroidered article, and create something beautiful
with little more than needle and thread.
Don't let the "YouGotta" folks scare you! Historic
blackwork was counted or uncounted, reversible or sloppy-backsided, black or blue or green or red or purple... You don't
need fancy equipment or expensive materials - you can use anything from the finest silk threads and heirloom lawn all the
way up to burlap and knitting worsteds to create your own Beautiful Things. I hope you find the right inspiration somewhere
in these pages!