HNW - Blackwork

Carolyn Kayta Barrows kayta at
Mon Jul 26 07:41:02 PDT 1999

>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.


>So, is your cross-stitch blackwork?  I would say not.  The one common
>characteristic of the 3 (and a half) techniques which are commonly called
>blackwork is that they are made up of simple running stitches.  This is
>arguable in the case of the geometric infil variety, where stitches do
>indeed cross over each other, but it seems that in most cases this is
>achieved by stitching a pass or several passes of running stitches all in
>one direction, and then later passes crossing them in different directions.
> The tendency in the few pieces of sixteenth century cross stitch I have
>been able to examine is to form each cross individually, and in any case
>there is a shift in direction between stitches if you use the tent stitch
>method.  (i.e. your stitches are in parallel rather than continuous
>lines.)Cross stitch is however, appropriate for the sort of garment and
>time you describe.

My Faire and SCA characters are German.  I 'always' do cross stitch because
the usual blackwork styles 'read' English not German.  I usually work in
red so it 'reads' more peasanty and Eastern European, even tho that's more
a 19th-century look than a 16th-century one.  This is the first black and
white cross stitch piece I have ever done.  So suddenly people have started
asking me if I am doing blackwork and I don't know what to tell them.  I
knew what I was doing wasn't English Blackwork.  So how should I answer
when people ask me if it's 'blackwork'?  Yes because it's black, but no
because it isn't in the traditional English style?

BTW, Mr. Holbein (from Basel, Switzerland) mostly painted/drew English
sitters, because he was Henry VIII's court painter.  That's where most
people get the idea 'Holbein stitch' work is English (and why we call it by
that name).  So when the tourists at Faire see this kind of blackwork, they
think English.  Holbein's German sitters never wear 'Holbein stitch' work,
with the exception of the painting somebody mentioned which includes Jacob
Meyer's daughter Anna.  The Germans wear smocking instead.  The best
example of this is in an eariler Holbein painting of Jacob Meyer's second
wife Dorothea Kannengiesser (she also appears in front of his first wife in
the painting with daughter Anna in it).  The smocking on her shirt is

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