Blackwork Embroidery - Shire Project

One of my local Shire of Roxbury Mill's projects was to focus on Shire beautification; items that would enhance the Shire's presence at events. Many projects were taken on in this name, but one idea presented to the group was to complete a group weaving and embroidery project to create a Shire tablerunner in response to a challenge by kingdom minister of arts & sciences to complete a group project in under a year. This project was completed entirely by Shire members, and was a real work of love. Mistress Ysabeau ferch Gwalchaved wove the fabric of the table runner itself. Lady Clara Brauer embroidered the outlines of five crossed millrinds, the device of the Shire of Roxbury Mill, in white silk. After a meeting of all embroidery volunteers, the choice was made to decorate the millrinds with five different blackwork patterns, each being done by a different Shire member. The different patterns would mean that there would not be the concern of trying to copy the embroidery style of another, and would lead to a more interesting final product that showcased the different skills and personalities that make up the whole.

I had limited embroidery experience prior to this project, and what little embroidery I had undertaken had all been simple outline and fill projects, primarily for embellishment of items. This being a project for my beloved Shire, I did not want to look a fool and took advantage of a test piece of fabric wove by Mistress Ysabeau to practice my stitch prior to my turn embroidering. I selected a counted stitch pattern that looked roughly like addition signs.

Each embroiderer had a month of time to complete their section of the project. I was ready to go after trying my hand at the practice material. When complete, I handed off the table runner to the next embroiderer.

Stock image of a counted stitch blackwork embroidery pattern.

Blackwork is readily associated with the Tudor period, England, and found typically as embellishment on cuffs and collars. The term 'blackwork' refers to the traditional use of black thread on white material, but can be accomplished with any color thread or material. In this case, a green material with white silk thread. It is a counted thread style of embroidery, focusing on creating a tight, uniform pattern on an even-weave fabric. Patterns often feature nature motifs, such as flowers or leaves, but can also be geometric or even free stitched.

Queen Elizabeth I in 1590, with blackwork evident on sleeves and collar.

Juan de Borgunya's Lady with Hare demonstrates an early Spanish example of blackwork. 1505, Toledo.

You can see a period example of an English blackwork embroidered smock here, held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England. This example is particularly well preserved, which has led curators to believe that the black silk thread used for the embroidery may have been Spanish in origin. Black coloring of silk threads was dyed with iron in England, and this iron oxidizes over time, denigrating the thread and the fabric.

Counting Stitches

First practice attempts. I began trying to do the pattern on a one-grid one-stitch system, but, I found this looked crowded and the hand woven nature made the pattern look warped. I changed and doubled the size of the pattern, evident in the upper half of the image. I found this easier to reliably reproduce and decided to use this pattern for the Shire project. Once I had some practice under my belt, I began the pattern on the table runner. I found a dedicated lamp helped to illuminate the project and make counting my stitches easier on the eyes.

I chose a relatively simple pattern, but the key to blackwork is consistency. I worked slowly, so that whenever I noted that I had missed a stitch, or that my spacing was off, I could go back, take out the stitches, and redo the work.

Roughly halfway complete! Getting spacing down.

My completed millrind.

I was the third out of five embroiders on this project. Pictured is the table runner after I completed my section.

Lady with Hare: By Creator:Juan de Borgunya - Web Gallery of Art: Public Domain,