Blackwork Embroidery

Blackwork embroidery is a popular needlework style developed in ancient times for purposes of adorning costumes. Originally, it was done only on black and folks were rather conservative about the technique, however, over time, the technique has changed and now involves different approaches and styles. Despite the name ‘Blackwork,’ it is now done in green, blue, silver or gold. Originally, cotton or linen was the primary fabric, but any fabric can do, nowadays.

Today, blackwork embroidery is usually a combination of surface embroidery featuring some geometric, counted fillings. And because the patterns are geometric, the fabric needs to have a precise even weave.

What you need for a blackwork embroidery


Blackwork, as already stated, needs to be worked on an even-weave cloth such as the Aida cloth, Hardanger fabric, or linen. It can also be done on blends such as Jobelan and Lugan, which are rayon/cotton blends. Hardanger fabric is much more preferable as it is firm and easy to count.


Unlike in the past when people used to confine blackwork to black threads, nowadays, the blackwork involves color. Therefore, you can get creative with your choice of thread colors in your embroidery.

The best threads for the purpose are twisted threads such as cotton or silk embroidery floss in varying weights. For novices in the world of blackwork embroidery, simple stranded cotton is a good place to start. And to vary the weight of the stitches, add more strands of floss. As you become more adept in embroidery, you can incorporate other cotton threads such as Perle cotton and cloche.


Blackwork embroidery needs a blunt-tipped tapestry needle so that it is easier to work the back stitch or double-running stitch in the fabric’s holes. You need to have a number of tapestry needles when pursuing blackwork.

Hoops or Frames

In order to create straight, neat lines, you need to keep the ground fabric taut, and a hoop or frame will come in handy here.

Blackwork Embroidery Patterns

When blackwork embroidery patterns are charted on a grid, they are very easy to follow, and they are ideal for stitchers who are starting out on blackwork embroidery. However, a grid is not very necessary when the main work of a blackwork in a design is only for filling purposes. That is because once a stitcher understands the sequence of the filling pattern, he’ll only need to repeatedly apply the sequence in the area to be filled. That is why you can find some blackwork designs aren’t entirely gridded. What these designs are presented with, instead, are outlines for major elements in the design. The designer will then indicate the type of filling pattern to work in each area.

How to do it

One beautiful thing with blackwork embroidery is that there is no right or wrong way to do it- you may decide to work left to right or right to left or bottom to top or top to bottom- whichever fashion you want to work. However, most people start in the center of the chart.

To make the stitches more consistent, work the piece using Stab and Stitch. When doing the Holbein stitch, there are a few other methods you may use depending on the look you prefer, and each method has its look- so, ensure that if you start working the piece in one method, finish it in the same method.

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