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Beginner's Guide to Blackwork


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Table of Contents

Materials & equipment
Using charts
Getting started
Flowers and plants
Figures, birds and animals
Fill-in patterns
Mounting your work

About the Author

Lesley Wilkins discovered blackwork samplers on a school visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London when she was only ten, and has been hooked ever since. Her fascination with the craft has led her to become not only an embroiderer of extraordinary skill, but also an expert in the history of blackwork. She has collected thousands of patterns from all over the world, and her own work is inspired by historical motifs, patterns and borders. Her designs have appeared in Needlecraft and Needlework magazines, and also edited her own embroidered sampler magazine Antique Samplerstitcher for nine years which contained many blackwork designs.

Now that she has retired early from local government, Lesley continues to self-publish a variety of embroidered projects online.


Search Press is celebrating fifty years in print and has reissued selected titles from their back list. Each of these is considered a classic of its kind, and this book on blackwork for beginners is among the fortunate few. Learn how to do this Moorish style of embroidery which came to Britain with Katherine of Aragon, originally published in 2002.

You don't need much equipment or even much embroidery experience to master blackwork. The first chapter shows you what tools and materials you require; your choice of even-weave fabric and the usual basics for embroidery as well as plenty of black a few colours as well to update it to the 21st century. It doesn't take long to learn the few simple stitches, shown here in large easy to read photographs and there are also tips on choosing fabric, good working conditions and reading a chart. The book features quite a few pages of fill-in patterns to inspire, alphabets, ideas for traditional animals and figures, how to fill outlined shapes like leaves, create borders and more. At the back you can find out how to mount your work and there are a couple of samplers to try. You won't find any actual staged projects and I would have liked to have seen a couple for the benefit of newcomers to embroidery but if you read the book carefully from cover to cover (it won't take long) you will soon be a pro. Easy to see why this user-friendly book became a classic.

If you cannot find a good range of embroidery and needlecraft materials locally try for a list of suppliers.

-- Rachel A Hyde * *

I adore the look of Blackwork but have never practiced it. I like the imagery, I like the variation of tone that you can achieve with different patterns and thread, I find it very beautiful and I like the way that any creations are crisp and precise. The crispness and the preciseness are the reason that I don't do Blackwork. I find it impossible to create anything that is precise; even if I were to use evenweave fabric, I would end up with stitches of differing tension and I would be forever undoing it and the fabric would get more and more ragged as time went on!

So, you may ask, why do I have a book about Blackwork? Personally, I prefer to use my own designs and I was attracted to the book because it encourages you to create your own designs. I wanted to use the information in the book to create Blackwork designs for my digital embroidery sewing machine. Traditionalists will probably shudder. The other reason for wanting a book about Blackwork is that I wanted to learn about different Blackwork motifs because I want to use them with different styles of embroidery. As the back cover of the book says "Lesley Wilkins shows how to create traditional blackwork embroideries using simple stitches on evenweave fabric. Step-by-step photographs and a wealth of charts illustrate how traditional motifs, patterns and borders can be combined to create stunning designs."

This book is an excellent book for Blackwork beginners. The first section is an introduction which explains what Blackwork is and gives a brief history. The next chapter describes the materials and equipment required. I like the advice to use a rectangular frame rather than a hoop. Using such a frame might resolve my tidiness issues.

Next is the chapter on design (the main reason for purchasing the book), followed by information on how to use charts, essential knowledge for somebody who wants to do their own designs. Blackwork doesn't lend itself to making it up as you go along! Lesley Wilkins describes how to get started, how to choose the correct size of fabric and how to fix the fabric to the frame.

Coming after this, the book describes the three most used stitches, double running stitch, back stitch and cross stitch. "Double running stitch, or Holbein stitch ... gives a smoother effect than back stitch". This surprised me until I worked out that they are different on the underside. Back stitch has two layers of thread on the underside, whilst double running stitch only has one.

The last half of the book shows stitched examples and charts for flowers and plants, figures, birds and animals, fill-in patterns and borders. The final chapter shows how to mount your work.

As a result of reviewing my designs for this book review, I fancy changing the larger bird design so that there is more stitching between the birds. When talking about the history, the author mentions that borders of Blackwork were used on cuffs to reinforce them. I fancy doing the border from the first design around the cuffs of a jacket.

In conclusion, I recommend this book for anybody who is a Blackwork beginner. It shows you how to get started, gives plenty of examples and helps you to create your own designs.

By Julie Stenning for the Embroiderers' Guild ThreadIT community

-- Julie Stenning * The Embroiders' Guild ThreadIT Community *

Blackwork embroidery gives such a stunning effect and can be used to embellish a specific piece by choosing particular motifs or you can make cushions, wall hangings and samplers.

With this kind of embroidery, the trick is to get the back looking identical to the front. Although this is not a necessary requirement, I do think it gives an extra sense of achievement if it can be done.

The designs in this book are amazing, some are very simple and others have a look of intricacy in them. There are figures, flowers, borders and much much more, this gives a lot of inspiration if you want to design your own piece. I loved the alphabet designs and the idea of adding colour to the blackwork gives an elegant feel.

Fabric choices are aida, renewable and hardanger and a selection of threads are recommended.

This is a craft for every level of expertise, the author gives a very comprehensive lesson in the art. From choosing and placing your designs to framing your finished piece, you are guided step-by-step through the process.

-- Tracy Shephard * Amazon *

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