Blackwork fill patterns give the impression that they are complex and difficult to stitch. In fact, if you approach them in the right way they can actually be simple.
But, as with other needlework techniques, it is easier if you are shown how to do it, rather than jumping in and getting in a muddle. I can't be there with you in person to help you, but hope to be able to guide you through the pages of this web site.
Taking time to study the pattern before you even thread your needle is well worth while. After all you wouldn't get in your car and start driving until you knew where you were going, would you?
Stitching a blackwork pattern in double running stitch is a bit like taking a journey. The aim is to get from point A to point B, and back again, maybe taking a side road or two occasionally, but never ending up stuck in a blind alley.
Not all fill patterns can be worked in this manner...for some you may need to use back stitch. But when you can, it is possible to end up with a piece of work that looks as good on the back as it does on the front.
When faced with a new pattern, try to work out where the vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines go. See if there are any isolated stitches which can't be worked at the same time as the rest of the pattern. A little planning goes a long way to making blackwork simple and relaxing to stitch.
I will take you through a few different patterns here on the site so that you can see how they can be stitched.
So are you ready to have a go?
The following two patterns are simple to stitch ...
Sometimes you reach the outline of a shape and cannot complete a whole repeat of the fill pattern. Don't worry. Just stitch as far as you can and then return along the row.
The part patterns use what we call compensating stitches. You can see them inside the outlines of the little owl design above.
It is best to start stitching across the widest or longest part of a design so that you can get into a rhythm before reaching an outline that disrupts the pattern.
I frequently leave these compensating stitches until later, preferring to continue the pattern sequence without interruption.
As most blackwork tends to be monochromatic, tonal contrast is essential. Using the right tones can make or break a design.
You could compare blackwork with a pen and ink drawing, where tones are built up with lines and cross-hatching.
The darkest areas of a drawing may even be solidly inked in; an effect that can be imitated in a blackwork design by using cross stitch. The lightest areas, by comparison, can be left completely empty, as I have done for the tusks on my blackwork elephant, which you can view by clicking on the image in the right column of this page.
Generally if the stitches in a pattern are closer together it will appear darker than one where the stitches are spaced apart.
Some patterns need to be used in a large area for the full effect to be seen, whilst others would take a long time to stitch if used for anything other than a small section of a design.
It is also a good idea to use fill patterns that are in keeping with the subject matter being stitched. For example a pattern that looks like leaves would look as strange on a fish as scales would on a tree!
Good blackwork designs take this into account and even if you are not aware of it, the patterns do not look out of place.
I hope these tips will help you when working blackwork fill patterns.