HNW - Blackwork One Person's Opinion - Long

Jacquie Samples jacquie-samples at
Thu Aug 6 06:59:39 PDT 1998


Thank you for your succinct summary of what Blackwork is today and has
been in the Historic Period. I have just begun my research into
historical blackwork, and your post is a very good summary of the
information that I have gleaned from the several books I have read.  It
would be nice to have summaries of other techniques/design styles in the
manner which you have written about Blackwork.  Perhaps we (the list) can
work on a summary for each of the styles we work in?  I'll see what I can
do for Reticella and pulled thread embroidery.

Jacquie Samples

At 08:34 PM 8/5/98 -0700, Linn Skinner wrote:



Fellow enthusiasts, I see we are again discussing "blackwork".  This is a
theory I use to start discussion when I teach blackwork as a technique.


I have tried to carefully define my personal theory of this catchall sort
of phrase .... I agree with some people on some aspects and not on
others. Some of my opinions have been garnered from classes or from
reading and others from personal observation. Like anyone else who has a
theory, mine is just that, a collection of opinions. I do urge everyone
to look at every example they see labeled as "blackwork" and at
embroidery in general and to develop their own personal theories. I'll be
interested in hearing them all. My opinions are seldom carved in stone,
they are prone to change if a better opinion comes along.


There have been two distinct periods when embroidery identified as
'blackwork" has been popular. First in the 16th/17th century or the
Historic Period and secondly in the 20th century Revival or Modern
Period. One must define a period before one can talk about the design
elements appropriate to this sort of embroidery.


Two sorts of design elements are commonly used in all periods: outlining
or defining elements and filling elements.


Outlining elements are either curvilinear or geometric in nature.
Curvilinear elements are found in both historic and modern periods but
most predominately in the historic period. Geometric outlining elements
are most favored in the modern period. However, examples of both sorts of
elements are found in historic pieces and in revival period pieces.


Filling elements can be random, diaper, repeat or linear. Random elements
are found in the Historic Period exclusively (in my experience to date).
These are the seeding or speckling stitches done to imitate shading of
engravings used in Historic Period embroidery.

Areas may also be filled in a solid fashion by various stitches such as
stem, braid, chain or other stitches or couched metallic threads.

Diaper elements are those patterns in which one sees horizontal, vertical
and true diagonal lines, when turned from the original position to
90&deg; or 45&deg;. When turned 90 degrees, the original pattern does not

Repeat elements are those where the motifs are separated, but repeated,
making a diaper br or an offset repeat.

Linear elements are patterns in which one sees horizontal, vertical,
diagonal or oblique stripes.



In the 16th/17th century blackwork designs would most likely have been
executed on either silk or linen fabric with black silk and metallic
threads although designs are found in reds, blues and greens.  Although
designs were well and carefully stitched, they were not always executed
in a counted technique.

On clothing items, the favored color was black on white. When the same
designs were executed on samplers or household linens, they may be found
in pastels or other colors (green, red, etc.).


Today blackwork designs are found in all sorts of colors and executed
with many different fibers. It is great fun to experiment with various
fibers and fabrics. If geometric designs are to be executed, a fabric in
which the threads (evenweaves or linens) or the elements (Aida or
Hardanger) can be counted is utilized so the designs are executed in a
precise manner.



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