Thursday, January 14, 2016

Month of Mending: Blackwork Embroidery

As it turns out, I really didn't know that much about blackwork embroidery until this week, but I found an excellent history (with citations!) here. The most interesting tidbits that I learned from the aforelinked history were that blackwork likely originated in Egypt and that the painter, Holbein the Younger, depicted royal garments in such detail that the stitches could be seen. His portrait of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII's third wife, shows a particularly good example of blackwork on the cuffs of her dress, though Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife, was an accomplished needlework artist and brought blackwork with her from Spain. The double running stitch used in blackwork is called Holbein stitch after the artist.

Those cuffs, tho'
For mending, we break all the rules of blackwork embroidery. Blackwork is generally done as a counted-thread embroidery on evenweave fabric, traditionally in black silk thread on cotton or linen.


I use blackwork designs to reinforce weak fabric, such as the area just below the pocket here. It was used in much the same way in the 16th century, but mainly, it's a decorative art. In mending, it both adds a layer of thread to the front and back of a piece that may see a little bit of abrasion and it binds the ground fabric, preventing raveling or fraying.


Stitching that is denser provides a little more reinforcement, but is difficult to do on fabric that is very weak or thin. Less dense stitching doesn't reinforce as well, but can be used on slightly thinner fabric. Here I've used a blue that closely matches the jeans for a subtler, textured effect.


Since I'm not using an evenweave fabric as a ground fabric, you can see on the right where I've hand-drawn a grid to follow. Mine is a little wonky, but yours doesn't have to be. I'm told there are these things called "rulers," but I think they're a fairy tale.


"Black"work doesn't have to be black, either. You can use any color that pleases you.

Finally, you can add a blackwork pattern to a patch to secure it. If you wanted to be super fancy, you could use an evenweave fabric as your patch to keep your stitches from being quite so wonky.

Here, I've used a heavy twill and the pattern isn't quite as even as I'd like, but I'm pleased with how it turned out.
Now I'm going to try it for real. Now that I've broken all the rules, I'm going to learn how to follow them. The back of the work doesn't look nearly as nice as Jane Seymour's cuffs, but that's something I want to work toward. 

Next week, I'll talk about sashiko and patching holes.


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