Wednesday, February 16, 2011


I am a craft enthusiast. If it involves a needle (or pair of needles), I love it. I do beadwork, cross stitch, and knitting. Crochet confuses me, though I am working to correct that. I have yet to try quilting or applique, but I'm sure I'll get around to them eventually.

I am also an avid supporter of the library system. Especially in a recession when spare money for non-essentials like books on crafts doesn't come easily in my family. A library comes in handy - plus when perusing the craft book section, I occasionally come upon new sub-genres in my current favorite craft genres.

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon a book that described Blackwork, a history that goes back to the Moorish occupation of Spain, and perhaps even further. If you look at the original blackwork designs (or what remains in portraits) you will find a lot of them look like the geometric patterns of the Moorish architecture. It wasn't until Queen Elizabeth changed the patterns to a more 'English aesthetic' with fruits, flowers, and herbs that we saw changes to how blackwork was used.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

What is blackwork?

Blackwork is a form of counted thread embroidery that traditionally used black thread (I bet you guessed) in geometric patterns. Originally used for cuffs and simple decoration, this reversible style of stitching was hardly simple. It was also originally used with silk thread on expensive fabrics.

It reached England in the 1500's and possibly earlier (Chaucer included a description in the Canterbury Tales), but it is Catherine of Aragon who is attributed to bringing it over to England from Spain, which led to it being called Blackwork or 'Spanish work'. But trying to find a portrait of Catherine that has blackwork in it has been difficult. This is the best I could find. I'm sure the patterns on the sleeves and bodice are actually brocade or damask fabric (I could be wrong), but if you look around the cuffs you'll see a painter's hint at what could have been blackwork.

Can you only imagine the work that has to go in to such a piece? Since this isn't the greatest of blackwork portrait examples, I give you -
Jane Seymour - If you look at the cuffs you'll see beautiful black designs lovingly detailed by the painter.

Mary Cornwalis - This blackwork is showing Queen Elizabethan influence with the motifs being floral, and not on the cuffs (since there are none to speak of) but on the collar, sleeves and bodice as well. Since the sleeves and bodice were not meant to be seen from both sides, this type of blackwork was not reversible, and more of shapes outlined and then filled with the goemetric blackwork patterns which give it a shaded appearance.

And now for the Queen Elizabeth I herself - Beautiful blackwork covering sleeves and skirt. (I can only imagine the hours it took. @_@) Despite an unfortunate interest in the funky collars, Queen Elizabeth I was a fashionable gal. The portraits I have seen of her are amazing. This is the best I found with blackwork on it.

Sadly blackwork saw a decline after Queen Elizabeth I, but like all great crafts, never went away completely. Happily with the resurgence of interest in the 'old arts' blackwork, like many other crafts, are coming out of obscurity. And modern blackwork is no longer completely black. With the many colored threads available to us,it would be foolish not to branch out and use colors.

The more I discover about needle arts amaze me. Yet my abilities with the needle are still small - so I have designed a project more to my tastes, which I hope to finish in a couple of days. I am supposed to be working on a trade with a friend from Sprite Stitch but my q-frame hasn't arrived yet, I am fidgety.

Made by Faewren ^_^

I present blackwork Pikachu! I am a Pokefan and have been since 1999 when I first went to college. So a Pokemon felt like a good place to start. I designed him in the Elizabethan style with an outline first, then with filler. I used extra shading, and left in the facial details and the arms. I think he came out splendidly.

If anyone wants the pattern you can use it, but since it was designed by me I'd appreciate credit if you plan on posting this anywhere.

There are a LOT of awesome blackwork examples out there. And not all of them are from portraits of Medieval women. I leave it to you to look up the pretties.

I'll end with a quote that I found that seems to sum up blackwork adequately.

"Blackwork is black, except when it’s not. Blackwork is reversible, except when it’s not. Blackwork is a counted thread technique, except when it’s not. Blackwork is called “blackwork,” except (you guessed it) when it’s not."


  1. Never heard of blackwork. Interesting. Good luck on the Pikachu stitch.

  2. Hello there!

    I just found your blog through Sprite Stitch and when I saw this article I had to post.

    I am a huge fan of blackwork myself and have been converting video-game designs into blackwork patterns for the last few months.

    I have to confess to being rather ambitious with my designs though.

    If you are interseted you can see my designs over in my deviant art Gallery:

    I also blog: and have my own website:

    It would certainly be nice to hear from you!

  3. Hey people check out Gatchacaz's DA page - or indeed any of her pages - the art is wonderful! You are a talented stitcher and artist Gatchacaz!

  4. Nice post, Faewren. I've been into black/white/scarlet work recently and the patterns and geometry are amazing, and sometimes mind blowing!
    I have often wondered how I might incorporate it into video game patterns, so seeing your Pikachu pattern and Gatchacaz's work has really inspired me! ^^

  5. Thankies for your kind comments 'Feawren' and even to you 'blackmageheart'. It's always nice to have your talent appreciated and to be an inspiration to others! *hugs* xxx