HNW - Blackwork

Reid, Andrew (MED_GEN) reida at
Mon Jul 26 16:50:08 PDT 1999

Kayta wrote:
"Blackwork, to my mind, is that Elizabethan stuff with the counted thread
patterns filling in leaf and flower and shapes (with the occasional pea pod
and bug thrown in).  What I am doing is for a German Ren. shirt yoke panel.
I don't think of what I am doing as blackwork, tho mine is entirely black
stitching on white.  So am I really doing blackwork or not?

(Yippee, one of my favourite topics!!)
As with many things in costume research, nomenclature can be a problem!  I
agree that what you are doing sounds like a form of blackwork.  Even in
period the use of the various names for 'blackwork' were frequently
interchanged and confused, so I wouldn't worry to much about a specific
name, blackwork sounds like it would be fine.

The 'Elizabethan' style of blackwork you are probably thinking of is the
style often seen, most visibly anyway, on the fine blackworked sleeves worn
by many ladies in portraiture, or on things such as coifs.  Large stylised
flowers, vines, pomegranates etc outlined in a variety of stitches such as
stem or chain stitch, and then filled with little counted thread filling
patterns or semi-random 'speckling' stitches.  The complexity and variety of
the filling stitches was enormous, and the different patterns when seen from
a distance gave different degrees of darkness, so the design 'read' from a
distance as being made up of different shades.  Quite often gold thread was
also introduced into the pattern, or as outlining, to 'liven' things up.

When used as a band on collars and cuffs 'blackwork' was usually a repeating
pattern of some kind, not just a band of filling stitches.  Sometimes these
patterns were purely geometric in nature, and other times represented little
floral patterns and such.  I'm just finishing a band of Pomegranates for
myself, and have nearly finished a set of cuffs done with Artichokes for the
Baron of my SCA Barony, Innilgard.  BTW there is a great blackwork website
of new designs by a lady called Drea Lead, The Elizabethan Blackwork
Archives.  I don't have the URL to hand (sorry!), but if you search on
'blackwork' she should be way up there near the top of your resluts.  If you
can't get to it let me know and I'll hunt it out for you.

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