HNW - Re: Blackwork article in progress

Chris Laning claning at
Tue Mar 20 10:28:08 PST 2001

Well, on the (not too common) occasions when I teach beginning 
blackwork, I'm fond of explaining to the students that blackwork is 
always black, except when it isn't <g>.

The problem is, of course, that there are a number of embroidery 
styles that are at one time or another called "blackwork." Eowyn 
Amberdrake has written a very fine article disentangling them and 
explaining how each one is done -- I think she eventually lists 
something like thirteen different styles.

Further confusing the issue is the very popular *modern* style of 
blackwork, which is usually what people start out thinking of, and 
which doesn't necessarily have the same definitions as the period 

That said, the way I usually explain it is this:

1. There are several different styles of embroidery that are 
collectively referred to as "blackwork." They are all *normally* (but 
not invariably) done in black silk on white linen in period.

2. The style *we* usually think of as "blackwork" is more properly 
called counted-thread double-running stitch. In period, it was 
usually done in black, but we have examples of the exact same style 
done in red, or in black *and* red for different parts of the design, 
and there's even one example worked in a lovely shade of lilac. These 
are also usually referred to as "blackwork" even though they aren't 

3. Other common styles of blackwork that are *not* counted thread 
include embroideries worked entirely in stem stitch, in chain or 
buttonhole stitch (the ugliest piece of blackwork I've ever seen is 
done mostly in buttonhole stitch), in "speckling" (small single 
stitches scattered to give the effect of shading) and in combinations 
of any or all of these. Basically, these are only called "blackwork" 
if they are all black or black with gold thread. If they are done in 
other colors they are usually called something else.

Once I'm sure the people in the class have assimilated all *that*, 
then I go on to add that period concepts even of "counted-thread 
double running stitch" don't seem to have been as rigid as modern 
concepts. Not all such embroidery in period was actually worked by 
counting threads -- some of it was clearly done "by eye" and was not 
exact. Not all such embroidery in period was reversible; in fact, 
some of it was done in backstitch rather than double-running stitch, 
or has "skips" on the back going from one part of the design to 
another. Not all such embroidery was worked on even-weave linen, 
either -- some was worked to counted threads on fabric that clearly 
had more threads to the inch one way than the other, and in period, 
people didn't seem to think this was as vitally important as we do. 
And most important, not all period blackwork has impeccably neat 
O    (Lady) Christian de Holacombe
|     Chris Laning  <CLaning at>
+    Shire of Windy Meads  -  Davis, California
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