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