HNW - Blackwork - Backstitch vs. DRunning - Long

Linn Skinner skinner02 at
Mon Aug 10 10:00:19 PDT 1998

>Actually, I'm talking about the filling stitches (also called diaper
>-- 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
>coifs, nightcaps, stomachers, and sleeves, as well as furnishings such as
>Falkland cushions.

Actually I find most of these motifs (diapers, random motifs, etc) on
samplers as well.  Often a sampler has a section with these worked in a
random way to preserve the designs for other uses.  Likewise, samplers often
have a section that is different motifs worked in metal threads.
> But most of what I am using for research are photographs, as
>published in reference books.  This is unsatisfactory, at best.>

Best photo of a blackwork piece, if you are relying on published sources -
Textiles by The Art Institute of Chicago ISBN 0 86559 094 (softcover).

>  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.>

We all get overwhelmed on our first visit, don't we?  I didn't even take
photos, I just said "I'm coming back" and now manage to make it there at
least 4 times a year.

>That, too, sounds fascinating.  I hope your work is published somewhere
>I'd love to read it. >

At the moment, I just lecture.  I've put 200 of the blackwork motifs in
little booklets for people to use, but it's going to take a good deal more
time at the British Library for me to publish anything really useful.  I
tend to plod through original sources rather than rely on published works.

>called "Spanish Stitch" as in fact what we today term "double-running", but
>from Ms. Epstein's books, it seems quite likely.

Much as I admire Epstein's work, I sometimes tend to travel in a different
direction.  I'm coming to the conclusion that most of what was done in this
period was simply known as embroidery.  I tend to look only at original
textiles and form some opinions of my own before I start reading other's
opinions.  Then I go to the modern literature, and back to the original
textiles.  People weren't so determined to categorize much then (when you
look at inventories, etc.)  They used stitch names to define things, and I
have an assumption that many of the motifs that are "Moorish" in feeling
might fall under the Spanish stitch sort of designation but trade was so
international in those days that pattern books and textiles travelled long
distances and had done so since the time of the Crusades.  But terms like
Blackwork, Assissi Work, Richelieu Embroidery, etc. really only surfaced in
the 19th Century when publishers wanted a term to sell their wares.
>Thank you, thank you!  I will see if I can at least order the picture<
There are pictures at the V&A picture library of the coif, but keep in mind
that the negative numbers and accession numbers are not usually the same
number.  They will look them up for you however, with the accession number,
or your friend can go to the library, look it up and order the print for
you.  I have seen this coif in books, but the plates are not ususally very
satisfactory.  I've traced the design and charted all the fillings from it.
It has some nice ones.

>I had long suspected from the published photos that it was not counted, and
>quite pleased to see that suspicion confirmed.
> But not all authors citing items in the V&A's collection provide the
>information that is available to them. >>  That can be frustrating when you
are trying to work from published sources, can't it?.  Curatorial labels are
often not terribly revealing, (although the new labels the V&A is writing
for textiles are much improved) but they are important in their own way.
When I try to determine how things were stitched through the ages, I often
use plain common sense.  How would I stitch them today?  When it comes to
the designs we call "blackwork" it tends to be a combination of stitches,
sometimes double running, sometimes backstitch, depending on the use and my
mood and the time available.  In historic pieces (particularly metal
embroidery, my real love) it depended mostly on where the pieces were
stitched.  In workshops, where speed was essential, you see very messy
backsides, in home stitched pieces or religious house stitched pieces, time
was not so much a factor and greater care was used.

I can usually figure out how to do most filling motifs so that they are
reversable, if I spend enough time on it.  If you want to be able to do most
things reversable, get a copy of Ilse Althur's books, she is the Queen of
Reversable <G>

I wish you luck in following your theory.



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