HNW - Blackwork - Backstitch vs. DRunning - Long EowynA at
Mon Aug 10 00:05:03 PDT 1998

Dear Linn,

Thank you, thank you for your specifics.  I shall indeed be following up these
leads.   :-) 

In a message dated 8/7/98 11:37:07 PM, you wrote:

<<>and on samplers> Then I assume you are talking about soft furnishings such
as cushions, etc? >>

Actually, I'm talking about the filling stitches (also called diaper patterns
- -- though not all are "true diapers") used in filling the leaves and flower
motifs that are part of the (usually) scrolling stems designs used to decorate
coifs, nightcaps, stomachers, and sleeves, as well as furnishings such as the
Falkland cushions. 

<<  On those I don't have to look at the backs, I can

see the compensating stitches from the front with a good magnifier and I've

seen some backs as well, to get the general concept.  <snip>  The pull on the
textile is quite different in double running and backstitch.  They also age
differently.  >>

I agree, one does not need to see the back, many times, to determine the
stitch used.  But most of what I am using for research are photographs, as
published in reference books.  This is unsatisfactory, at best.  When I was in
the V&A textile study room in 1988, I wasn't particularly interested in
embroidery, so I just took photos of things at random, and did not look at
anything in detail.  (alas!  A time machine would be a wonderful thing!)

<< I am more interested in the travel of the design motifs

themselves from culture to culture, period to period.  Sorry. >>
That, too, sounds fascinating.  I hope your work is published somewhere ....?
I'd love to read it. 

<<I'm not certain what you are calling "bands" or "Spanish Stitch". >>  I am
using  "band" as a means of referring to a line of one design in a band
sampler  (which is often/usually done in double running stitch), and "Spanish
Stitch" in the manner discussed in Kathleen Epstein's books and articles.
(i.e., again, double-running stitch used to create a band of decoration such
as that found on the ruffle of a chemise, or along the neckline of a smock).
True, we do not know for certain that what the people of the 16th century
called "Spanish Stitch" as in fact what we today term "double-running", but
from Ms. Epstein's books, it seems quite likely. 

<< a coif  V&A T12 1948 (Frame G15A) has many common filling motifs which are
obviously done in a combination of techniques (some double running, some
backstitch and some plain old jumping about) >>
Thank you, thank you!  I will see if I can at least order the picture, and ask
a needleworking friend who is visiting the V&A next week to look it up and get
what pictures she can get..... 

<<I've had my nose right up to one of the most famous pieces of "blackwork" -

the Falkland Cushion (V&A T.81 1924)  It is obviously stitched in backstitch

and not in a counted technique. >>  
I had long suspected from the published photos that it was not counted, and am
quite pleased to see that suspicion confirmed.  

<<Lest you think the V&A textile dept. doesn't know the difference between

back and double running. ...>>
Actually, I suspect that they are rather good at distinguishing. :-)   But not
all authors citing items in the V&A's collection provide the complete
information that is available to them. 

<<I hope some of these observations may be helpful...>>
Most helpful indeed.  :-)  I am utterly delighted, in fact.  

Most modern blackwork teachers teach double-running as the primary stitch for
fillings, though that appears to be a modern convention, not an historical
At least one teacher maintains that only backstitch was used for creating the
fillings.   My working hypothesis is that the bands (on samplers, and on the
edges of smocks and ruffles) are most commonly executed in double-running
stitch, and that the fillings (diaper patterns) are most commonly done in
backstitch.  But any time I hear positive assertions such as "fillings were
_always_ done in backstitch," I start looking for counterexamples.  You have
given me a valuable lead to such a counterexample.    My purpose is not to
challenge anyone, but rather to seek out the true answer. 

Thank you again for your well-documented, informative answer.


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