This is the documentation for a blackwork embroidery entry I did for my Sargent Trials as a Courtier.
Blackwork embroidery is common on all classes of undergarments. It is seen on hem lines, collars and cuffs. Periodically, blackwork is displayed as trim on an article of clothing, as seen in Hans Holbein the Youngers Darmstdat Madonna c. 1528 (above). Depending on the wealth of the owner, different materials and colours could have been used for the stitches. Embroidery is almost invariably done on a linen base. It is thought the lower classes may have used blackwork to emulate the much more expensive lace trimming. Blackwork is often done as silk thread on a linen base, but the upper class may have used silk thread on a silk base. Blackwork was common on both male and female undergarments.
The stitch type I have used is modernly called “Double Back” the style is often referred to as “Spanish Work”, presumably after Catherine of Aragorn who popularized it in Tudor England, it is documented much earlier as shown in Chaucer’s “Cantebury Tales” of the Miller:
|52||White was her smock, embroidered all before|
|53||And even behind, her collar round about,|
|54||Of coal-black silk, on both sides, in and out;|
It is also called the “Holbien Stitch” due to its regular occurrence on the garments of Holbien’s subjects. It is generally accepted that the style of small straight stitches on evenweave fabric, often counted, was brought to mainland Europe in the 14th century from the Moors and Arabs after the crusades.
Patterns were often geometric or floral in design and until the influence of the printing press, they were often guarded and treasured passed through generations of women. Samplers exist of these designs, showing various motif and fill patterns in different colours and stitches.
Ground fabric would be stretched on a wooden frame, and a design could be counted, traced or prick & pounced onto it. The design could then be stitched onto the ground fabric with an even tension. There were ordinances in some cities that embroidery could only be worked during daylight hours as this type of fine work would damage the eyes. Blackwork was likely a woman’s craft done by the ladies of a household, but men of the embroiders guild could be commissioned.
This piece of blackwork embroidery will become the waist band of a pair of fitted drawers.
5.3oz 100% linen – white
100% silk Gutterman sewing thread
Wooden stretcher frame
Small embroidery needle
The pattern is from Zimmerman, Jane D. The Art of English Blackwork. Zimmerman: USA, 1996. Print. It has 2 elements, the larger and small flowers connected by a straight base line. I have attempted to design a stitch pattern below for one arm of the large flower and the small flower. The alternating colours denote different directions. I teach a class on the doubleback or Holbein stitch and will post the handout in another blog article.
I cut the linen 4” wide and 49.5” long. The linen strip was zig-zagged on a sewing machine to keep it from fraying during the embroidery process.
Period Practice: In period the edges would have either been selvage because the fabric was woven to width, or possibly waxed to prevent fraying. Most often embroidery was done on a larger piece of fabric with selvages intact and then cut out and used in its final garment.
I then sewed the linen with a whip stitch onto a stretcher frame and tensioned it by wrapping the long ends around the stretcher bars until I had a taught working surface.
Beginning with an away knot, I began working the design with a double thread of black silk and weaving the working end back under the pattern at the end of a thread.
As the pattern moved to the edge of the frame, I loosened it off and rolled it to the next un-worked section to make a continuous design.
When the design is complete, I will go back through the away knots and weave them back under the pattern.
Note: This item has been in progress for a number of years and recently through a drastic weight change. I now have sufficient embroidery to complete the drawers, which will be another post at another date.
 Zimmerman, J. 2
 Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales. The Miller, http://www.canterburytales.org/canterbury_tales.html
 De Holacombe, C. 1-3
 Mikhaila & Malcolm-Davies, N & J. 43
 Arnold, J. 5
 Watt, M. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/broi/hd_broi.htm
 Arnold, J. 51
Victoria & Albert Museum. 29 July 2014. South Kensington, London, England (http://www.vam.ac.uk/)
Watt, Melinda. English Emberoidery of the Late Tudor and Stuart Eras. Met Museum http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/broi/hd_broi.htm
Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 4: The Cut and Construction of linen shirts, smocks, neckwear, headwear and accessories for men and women c. 1540 – 1660. London: Macmilan, 2008. Print
Mikhaila, Ninya & Jane Malcolm-Davies. The Tudor Tailor. London: B T Batsford Ltd, 2006. Print
Wilkins, Lesley. Beginners Guide to Blackwork. Search Press Limited: Kent, 2002. Print
Zimmerman, Jane D. The Art of English Blackwork. Zimmerman: USA, 1996. Print
Web Gallery of Art. 29 July 2014 <http://www.wga.hu/welcome.html
De Halcombe, Christian. “The Roots of Blackwork Embroidery” Filum Aureum, Spring 2008, Electronic