If there’s one thing to love about embroidery, it’s that there are a ton of different forms at your disposal. Stumpwork, goldwork and whitework are all traditional techniques still popular today, but there’s another that’s quickly re-emerging: blackwork.
Blackwork embroidery is recognized by its geometric designs that often use repeating floral, star and lattice patterns to fill the inside of a larger shape. While traditional blackwork involves a black thread being stitched onto a white linen or cotton (which may or may not feature accent colors or tones), today the term “blackwork” is more commonly used to describe the technique rather than the use of black thread — so it still uses the delicate, geometric designs, but can be stitched in any color.
Good to Know: Here’s a quick history lesson: blackwork dates back to before the 16th century, and was popularized in England by Henry VII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, who brought blackwork clothing with her from Spain. This is why blackwork is sometimes known as Spanish blackwork.
The primary stitches used in blackwork embroidery are backstitch and double running stitch (also called Holbein stitch), which give the patterns their iconic crisp lines. Other stitches can be used as well, from surface stitches like stem stitch or couching to counted stitches like cross-stitch.
Good to Know: Traditionally, blackwork was used on garments, particularly collars and cuffs. Because these stitches would be seen from both sides, double running stitch was often used so it looked the same. But if only one side was visible, backstitch was a common replacement.
Today, blackwork is often worked on an even-weave cloth — either linen, Aida cloth, Hardanger fabric or cotton/rayon blends. Like counted cross-stitch, blackwork can be worked over one or two threads of fabric. For finer, detailed blackwork, fabrics with higher thread counts work well. For bold patterns, fabrics with a lower thread count are ideal, unless you want to stitch over two threads of fabric.
As for threads, twisted, silk or cotton embroidery floss all work well for blackwork embroidery. You can vary the weight by adding or subtracting different strands, but generally a thinner thread yields a neat, crisp look for this style.
One key difference between blackwork and other forms of embroidery is the needle. Instead of embroidery needles with sharp tips, blackwork is done with tapestry needles. This makes it easier to work the backstich or double running stitch in the holes of fabric.
Types of Patterns
Blackwork embroidery patterns are often charted on a grid, just like cross-stitch, so it’s a great place for beginners to start. But when blackwork is used for filling a larger design (its most common use), a grid isn’t necessary. This can make blackwork challenging, yet at the same time allows a lot of room for interpretation. Once you understand the sequence of the filling pattern, it’s just a matter of applying that sequence repeatedly in the area to be filled.
Another common use for blackwork: shading. The weight of threads and the filling patterns are adjusted to provide realistic degrees of shading, which can produce beautiful, realistic images of people, animals and scenes in thread. Try this method after you’ve mastered a few basic blackwork embroidery patterns, as this use case is more of a challenge.
I would be interested in this course, I am not an experienced embroiderer but I can count stitches.
Would love to see a class by a Blackwory Embroidery specialist. What are you waiting for Craftsy? 🥰
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I would really love a blackwork class
I would love a course in blackwork. Also I would like to have a course in traditional dress making with blackwork.
I would like to see a blackwork class. Was surprised there wasn’t one already, but I hope to see one soon.
I would like a blackwork class added.
Do you have a Blackwork class?
I had done Blackwork some 40+ years ago. I too would love o see a class done on this interesting art.
I think blackwork is beautiful and would love to learn the technique. I have watched classes on YouTube, but they don’t cover the subject nearly as well as Craftsy classes do.
It is also called Holbein Stitch because it was often worn by the subjects of the portraits painted by Holbein.
Catherine of Aragon was married to Henry VIII not Henry VII.
Actually she married both of them. She married Henry VIII after Henry VII died, and they received a papal dispensation on the claim the marriage to Henry VII was never consumated.
Actually Catherine of Argon was first married to HenryVIII
older brother Arther who died around 3 months after they were married. HenryVII thought about marrying his son’s wife but decided against it and Catherine was then wed to Arthur’s younger brother HenryVIII.
I take that back! She first married Arthur, Henry VIII eldest brother. Henry VII was their father who was married to Elizabeth of York.
I’m glad you corrected that! 😉 My father was a British historian by profession. And yes, it was Arthur, Prince of Wales to whom she was first wed. (Henry VIII’s older brother.)
A class on this would be awesome for historical costumers….
I would love a class!
I also would love a class on this!!
Would love a class too!
I would as well.
I would also love a class please!
Yes please – we need to master this challenging form of embroidery