As you can see, progress on the first blackwork forehead cloth has been quite swift:


I have just two corners left.  Although I have been using my sit-upon tambour (round) frame for this project, I will now switch to a hand-held hoop.  That’s because it’s significantly smaller, and better able to get close to the edge of the cloth.

On thread consumption – I started out with a 100-yard skein of the hand-dyed filament silk.  What you see here is the entire thing.  Every inch.  Luckily, I have another and will use a bit of it to complete.

Here are some more answers to questions posted here and other places where I’ve shown this piece.

What does the back look like?

Pretty much the same as the front:


That’s because I’m primarily working this in double running stitch, which the assiduous can make entirely double sided.  I am not bothering (note the presence of Evil Knots) because this cloth will be lined.

How do you keep your knots from pulling through?

I never just make a knot, then push my needle up through the ground cloth, trusting entirely on the bulk of the knot to keep the stitch in place.  I either knot around a bit of established work, or if no previous stitch is handy, I make a knot at the end of my thread, stitch up, then down again leaving about an inch not pulled through to the front.  Then I use my needle to pierce the working thread.  I gently pull the thread into place, snicking up that inch of extra, and manipulating the just-made noose-join so that the knot isn’t in peril of being pulled forward.  Yes, I could make a waste knot on the front, then trim the thread back in a more traditional method, but in this case at least, the thread is prone to shedding color, and I prefer not to make a mark “outside the lines.”

On the terminal knots, I run the thread under an established stitch and do what amounts to a double hitch knot, then use my needle to pierce the newly made knot, pulling the thread tight.  This acts as a second lock and prevents unraveling or pop-through.

How do you determine your double-running baseline in a complex design like this?

I know I’ve written extensively about finding the baseline, but in this case, there isn’t just one stitching logic.  There are many, and they are all situational.  Do I want to go “out and back again” so that the active end of my line of stitching ends up near the point of origin?  Do I want to just head out in one direction until I run out of thread, then follow up with a second strand, filling in my every-other-stitch?  Do I want to establish the location of a design element, then go back and fill in detail later; or do I want to do every detour and departure on the first pass, leaving only a minimal amount of work for the second pass?  How much thread is left in my working strand?  Lots?  Just a little?  All of these thoughts combine and influence my path planning.  I can say that the stitching logic in no two of these repeats was identical – it was all done to optimize the remaining thread, cover the design without omissions, and to make counting and alignment as easy as possible; and the mix of those factors at any one time varied wildly.

However there is one thing that ended up being of great help in keeping everything properly lined up and accurately on-count. When I have a T-intersection, on the first pass I include the “attachment stitch,” so that when I come back and link up to that segment, the exact spot is easy to find.  Otherwise, if I continued straight along the top of the T, when I came back later and had to add the vertical, it would be harder to know if my alignment was correct; if the new addition had synched up correctly to the prior work.


You can see this in several places on the snippet above.  Look at the heavy stacked diagonal at 1:00. On its base, where it joins the circular plume-flower medallion, I’ve left a little vertical hanging off the foundation 1×3 rectangle.  That’s an attachment point.  As I near it on my next stitching pass, I can cue off it to proof my work as I go, and know that I am on target for an absolutely aligned attachment point.  That’s also why I have those little barbs sticking out on the base of the as-yet-to-be-stitched diagonal at 5:00.

What are you going to do with the rest of the cloth?

It would be a shame to cut out my completed triangle, leaving a difficult to handle remnant.  So I am going to stitch a second, smaller triangle opposite this one, leaving cutting room between them. After I’ve finished #2, I’ll assemble both forehead cloths.  Not sure what motif to use on the second one, but likely it will be less dense, because I have less thread.

What are you using for the ground?  Do you like it?

I’ve had this piece of MCG Textiles even weave in my stash for at least a year, maybe two.  It was the last bit of 32-count linen ground on the shelf at a local JoAnn’s big-box crafts store.  I do not recommend it.

I have to say that I’m spoiled by higher quality linens at this point.  I am finding too many irregularities – thick/thin threads, slubs, surface matting, and the like, that are affecting the look of the finished project.  There’s one area in particular that drove me crazy – a segment of a few inches in which every other thread was super narrow.  Countwork there was not fun at all.  In addition, it’s not really an even weave.  There’s a distortion if you compare north-south to east-west.  (I can’t tell which is warp and which is woof because the bagged segment had no selvedge on it).  I grabbed it off the top of the stash when I started this because it was a nice coarse count, the size of the piece was suitable (minimal waste), and I wanted to begin quickly, without ordering or hunting for materials.

7 responses

  1. Astonishing! Beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing this journey.

  2. I am saving this post as I am hoping to make a blackwork project similar to this and I liked you info on knots. Your work is absolutely beautiful.

  3. Elaine Cochrane | Reply

    This really is lovely. Thanks for the tips on starting and ending threads – for some reason that worries me far more than the actual stitching.

    1. Back from Paris and responding more: I know that not everyone likes doing this, but there’s an even better way to start a thread. If you are using say, two plies of floss, instead of cutting two to length, use one twice as long as you normally do. Fold it in half, and thread the free ends through the needle, leaving the loop at the other end. Start your first stitch up through the cloth but don’t pull the thread all the way through. Go back down through the cloth to complete the first visible stitch and pass the needle THROUGH the loop at the end of your thread. Pull gently to snick up any excess. Voila! An invisible start. This works for two sided work, but really shines when used for double sided. That’s two fewer strands to end off when the time comes!

      1. Thanks, Kim – my cross-stitch has certainly improved since I started doing that. A question. I love the inhabited blackwork on the cover of Ensamplario. What did you do for the outlines? The same thread as the fillings, or thicker thread? Chain stitch, or other stitches? How did you work the stems and trails?

        1. I’ve used several methods for this. In some cases, I have done the outlines using a heavier thread (or a larger number of plies of the same thread) than the fillings, working it in chain, back, or outline stitch. In some cases, I have used the same thickness thread, relying on the double width of chain stitch to stand out against the fillings. In other cases for really prominent outlines, I’ve actually done my outlining in cross stitch, THEN worked a raised chain over the cross stitches. And tendrils and stems are either worked the same as the outlines, or if a more delicate look is required for the tendrils, in simple split or outline stitch.

          For most outlines, I work them after the fillings that touch them have been completed. The exception is the raised chain on cross stitch. In that case, I mark the outline of my shapes first, using the cross stitch,then work my fillings, and finally complete by working the raised chain layer.

          I’m “training up” for my next piece of inhabited blackwork. I want to incorporate raised metal thread embroidery, using a passing thread and one of the plaited stitch variants.

          Hope this helps. I’ve got the Robinson book buried in my library at home. If you like, I can look up his recommended methods and get back to you.

          1. Thanks, Kim! I’m working on a small test piece using one strand of floss for the fillings and two for the outlines. I made a bit of a mess with Hungarian braided chain (does make a nice solid line) so have reverted to chain stitch. I’ll try stem, back and outline on some of the smaller elements and the raised chain for some of the thicker stems – that’s one I hadn’t thought of trying.

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