Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Blackwork Embroidery – the Grid Bug Strikes Again!


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In the 80’s, when I first learned to embroider, I learned counted cross-stitch. My mom, aunts, sisters, and cousins were all into counted cross stitch, so I jumped on the bandwagon. I never did anything too exciting with it – some Christmas ornaments, a few self-designed little gifts, and stuff like that. I grew weary of it quickly – and then chucked it. I became, I must admit with shame, an “embroidery snob.” If it wasn’t surface embroidery – free-style, hand embroidery – I wasn’t interested. I swore off all even-weave and counted techniques in general.

I didn’t know much when I took the oath, and I have no idea why I reacted so violently against counted cross-stitch. It wasn’t until my sister on the East Coast showed me a sampler she did on even-weave linen, using some counted cross stitch embellished with a bunch of other stitches, that I realized that one doesn’t have to pursue “exclusive” interests.

I’ve grown up a bit since then and realized that every technique has its place, and within techniques there are myriad styles that can appeal to every taste.

Certainly, now, we have a greater variety in available goods for counted techniques. In the 80’s, I wasn’t in control of my own pocket-book, so I only saw what a kid would see at a local shop. And we didn’t have the internet, so it was hard to know what was actually available, if it didn’t show up in a local shop.

While I don’t spend a lot of time on counted cross stitch myself, I do have friends who create beautiful pieces and who love it. They find it relaxing and theraputic. In the last few years especially, a “new” old technique resurfaced, and I find that I have the grid bug – and it’s all because of blackwork.

Blackwork is really stunning stuff! It’s relatively simple to execute, as it relies on few stitches – though the finished product generally looks pretty complex. Despite it’s name, blackwork isn’t necessarily always done in black – today, you can find kits and patterns for blackwork in all kinds of colors, depicting rural scenes, animals, people – you name it. In the more traditional styles, it employs not only the Holbein stitch (double running stitch), but plenty of other stitches as well to add a “curvilinear” element to the design.

Squizzing around the internet, I’ve found some links for blackwork that are helpful.

At The Blackwork Embroidery Archives, you can find a heap of really nice patterns by Paula Kate Marmor. She also has a neat gallery.

A Blackwork Embroidery Primer by Rissa Peace Root gives a nice, readable history of blackwork. She also includes information on how to get started with blackwork, and a good links directory.

An Introduction to Blackworkby the American Needlework Guild is a great page for pictures, if you want to get an idea of what blackwork can look like and how it can be used.

Tanja Berlin has several blackwork kits available, and, as usual, her stuff is exquisite. Check out her blackwork etui box – what a great Christmas present that would make!

Hey, the grid bug’s not such a bad thing! I’ll have some samples of Holbein stitch up soon…



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(2) Comments

  1. superb! we in india call this karnataki kashida and have small to large motifs. i myself did a repeat pattern on one of my salwar khamiz. i am unable to send a photo right now but will try to do so when possible. thanks for such wonderful information.

  2. Hi Mary, just an FYI. Several of your links no longer work. The websites have been removed.
    I love your website! Thanks for doing all of this.

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