So What is Blackwork Embroidery?

My love for blackwork embroidery began at school. I noticed a friend creating a stunning frog using black and gold thread.

Ever since, my love for this needlework technique has grown. After 50 years of stitching, I am so excited to share it with you!

I'll begin with a little about it's history.

Already a fan of blackwork? Check out my downloadable patterns

An Introduction to Blackwork

Although blackwork dates back to Tudor times, its style and materials have evolved over the years.

Originally stitched with black silk thread on white fabric, today it is common to see blackwork done in any colour. Metallic threads and beads are also often used.

Blackwork embroidery enables you to stitch natural elements such as flowers, leaves, fruits, and animals as well as intricate geometric designs.

Many stitchers enjoy the challenge of creating reversible blackwork. This involves stitching every other stitch in one journey and then going back to fill in the missing stitches.

This isn’t possible if you include isolated stitches in your design, so keep that in mind when picking patterns if you want your work to look the same on both sides.

To make sure everything goes smoothly, seasoned stitchers like to map out their projects on paper. They make copies of the pattern and mark the different stitches with colors or highlights, making it simple to spot any potential roadblocks along the way.

The stitch used for this is the double running stitch, also known as the Holbein stitch. It gained its name from the artist Hans Holbein, who often painted his subjects wearing clothes decorated in this manner.

His portrait of Simon George shows both sides of an open collar decorated with blackwork stitching, illustrating its reversible nature. He also painted a portrait of Jane Seymour, the 3rd wife of Henry VIII. In the painting, her cuffs have a wide stitched border.

The beauty of this technique lies in its simplicity, yet it requires some forethought when planning the route to take. I prefer to plan my project on paper. I make copies of the pattern and highlight different stitches with a highlighter or coloured pencil. This way I can discover any dead ends along the route. 

blackwork embroidery kit flower

It was quicker to stitch lace-like patterns than to make real lace. Therefore, this type of embroidery was often referred to as "poor man's lace." Reversing the colors can make blackwork embroidery look like lace. This is particularly true for this calla lily design, which uses white thread on a dark background. 

Today finished pieces can be framed or made into various household items, such as pillows, bookmarks, coasters or table coverings. Of course you can still embroider on your clothing if you wish.

Free blackwork patterns to get you started

My simple blackwork patterns will teach you the basics. Once you have mastered them, you can move on to more advanced techniques, like shading.

I have listed the lessons in the same order as I teach my live classes. I would suggest you start with lesson one, rather than jumping in at the deep end. Put aside around two hours for each lesson, but don't worry if you take longer to begin with.

You can use either Aida or an evenweave linen or cotton fabric for this technique. Choose the embroidery floss colour of your choice. You will also need a tapestry needle with a blunt tip. An embroidery hoop is optional. 

free blackwork chart
  • Lesson 1 - Start with a simple flower and two double running stitch fill patterns

free blackwork motif
  • Lesson 2 - Stitch a reversible motif for a coaster

darning coaster stitched
  • Lesson 3 - Try pattern darning to create a border 

celtic blackwork bookmark
  • Lesson 4 - Create a bookmark with a Celtic design and fringed edge

blackwork pears
  • Lesson 5 - Learn how to add shading to your project

Learn how to do blackwork embroidery

Patterns for you to Download and Stitch

Click the images below. They will take you to sections in my online store. Here, you can purchase and download patterns directly to your computer. Instantly!

Blackwork patterns for beginners
Weekenders range of blackwork designs
Blackwork windmill patterns
Blackwork sampler patterns
Blackwork flower patterns
1920s figures in blackwork
Mischief range of blackwork designs
Medieval blackwork designs
Oriental blackwork designs
Lacemakers and stitchers in blackwork
Christmas blackwork designs
Blackwork animal patterns
Assisi style blackwork patterns
Fleur de lis blackwork patterns

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