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Blackwork embroidery – A beginner’s guide

Learn about the black work embroidery, the counted thread embroidery which creates beautiful geometric patterns
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Blackwork embroidery is a type of counted thread embroidery with geometric-looking patterns done with Holbein stitch or double running stitch; as the name suggests, it is mostly done on white even-weave linen with black silk thread in a Double Running or Holbein Stitch. Occasionally couching or stitching in red was added.

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The geometric patterns of blackwork gave a beautiful symmetry to blackwork designs.

In counted thread embroidery, stitches are worked over a counted number of threads. This will create uniformity in stitches which is very appealing. Other counted thread embroideries are cross stitchherringbone stitch, queen stitch, etc.  

The stitch used in this work is known as the Holbein stitch. This stitch is named after the painter Hans Holbein, whose painting this work is seen a lot. His paintings had characters wearing gowns with this embroidery, and it seemed to look like lace.

Other than the double running stitch, some other stitches are also used in Blackwork embroidery- All kinds of Chain stitch, split stitch, and variations of stem stitches

The peculiarity of the Holbein stitch is that it is reversible. You can work the blackwork embroidery from the front of the fabric or the back, and it will look the same.

You can use blackwork embroidery patterns to Embellish and decorate your home accessories and garments; you can also frame this work for hanging, just like you do the cross stitch embroidery works.

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Which thread and how many strands?

Thread a tapestry needle with embroidery floss; “How many strands?” will depend on what effect you want. You can use silk, cotton, and metallic threads.

Color of the thread to be used with blackwork embroidery

Earlier, only black thread was used, but you can use any thread you want. One solid bright-colored thread against a pale-colored fabric is preferred for a vivid look to the design.

Other than the black-colored thread, blackwork is done with a single bright-coloured thread as well. Red, blue green are popularly used to do blackwork designs.

How to do Blackwork embroidery

You need an even weave fabric to do this embroidery work. Aida works really well, and so does Linen. It should be cut with at least 3-inch margin all around. Use any of the fabric edge finishes outlined here to prevent fraying. 

You can do this work on uneven weave fabrics also, provided you use waste canvas on top of the fabric. Waste canvas dissolves in water and can be taken off after the work is done.

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Stretch your fabric on a hoop ( You can skip this)

You can make the outline of the design in back stitch and then fill the inside with the Holbein stitch. The work is done over two threads on even weave fabric.

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Start the filling work from the center of the fabric. To find the center, you can fold it crosswise and lengthwise by half and mark the center point.
In case you are working on premade clothing ( like a napkin or baby bib), ensure that you do not have knots in the back of the fabric; You can finish the work by stitching small straight stitches in between the work and the fabric several times before the thread is cut. 

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Check outfor some free printable designs of blackwork embroidery.

More reading : Rosemary Drysdale, The Art of Blackwork Embroidery.  

Elisabeth and McNeill Geddes  Blackwork Embroidery.  

Historical backdrop of blackwork

This work dates back centuries but became very popular when Catherine of Aragon, the Queen of England, brought this beautiful work to England from Spain, and it caught the fancy of the aristocratic ladies in England.( It is also called Spanish work) The geometric designs of the blackwork fascinated the ladies of the times, and they used it to embellish their elaborate gowns – especially the sleeves, collars, and bodices.


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Author: Sarina Tariq
Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
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