Blackwork is traditionally worked with black silk
thread on ecru-colored linen. A thick free-form stitch is used
to outline the motif. A thinner stitch worked in geometric patterns
using the weave of the linen is used to fill in the outline. When
the design is meant to be seen on both sides of the fabric such
as on collars and ruffled blouse cuffs, blackwork is stitched
No one knows when or where blackwork originated. There are 14th
century historical references to a form of embroidery that may
be blackwork. From existing protraits, it is known that blackwork
was very popular during the 16th and early 17th century. It is
believed that when the Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon,
married England's King Henry VIII in 1509, she renewed the interest
in blackwork. Blackwork was mainly used for clothing although
some bed linens, wall hangings, and pillow shams also incorporated
Modern designs use a wide range of colors, and all types of thread
and evenweave fabrics. Reversible stitching is not usually done
for modern pictures and clothing since the reverse side does not
show. Instead of using a free-form outline, Joan Beiriger uses
a chain stitch that follows the weave of the fabric. This produces
a more evenly spaced outline stitch and is easier for stitchers
to get beautiful results.
* Rosemary Drysdale and Ilse Altherr
both teach blackwork throughout the United States at various needlework
shows. Ilse Altherr has several blackwork books
(including reversible) that she has self-published, "Reversible
Blackwork," and "Blackwork & Holbein Embroidery."
Rosemary Drysdale's book "The Art of Blackwork Embroidery"
is out of print but may still be located in used and online bookstores
such as amazon.com.