Category Archives: Embroidery


Today’s my birthday, and needlework friend Barbara posted a snippet to my Facebook feed of a voided panel showing couples dancing. That bit of fun led to more digging on my part. I knew of similar panels in a couple of places, so I decided to do another of these posts that only a needlework geek could love.

First, here’s the one that was most prominent in my notes. It’s in the collection of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), accession 47.199. They attribute it as Italian, circa 1600, and cite both the ground and the stitching as being cotton. I have some doubts about the materials citation, but I’m not an expert and haven’t seen the piece up close and personal. I do note however that it would be one of the two easiest examples of this family to chart.

It’s hard to see, but the ground appears to be in that tightly pulled Meshy stitch I’ve written about before. I do not know if the foreground and outlines are done in double running or back stitch. There’s no other info on working method or object purpose. But I sort of suspect that this might have been part of household decor – possibly a bed valence or decorative cover sheet, remotely possible – a tablecloth, but for that I would expect to see a butted corner, and not the arbitrary unworked bit at the extreme right of the stitching. It is interesting to see the tease that confirms my working method – there’s a tiny bit of the foliage on the “room divider” at the right edge that was outlined, but the voiding wasn’t worked up and around that little bit of outline, leaving it orphaned and alone. More argument for this having been displayed with that selvedge bit tucked away and unseen, as I would expect for the upper hanging around a bed.

In any case, here are some relatives. First a piece from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, accession 38.1104. They cite it as 16th century, and Italian, worked in red silk on linen. Looks like the Meshy background to me.

You can see that the design is very close, but isn’t spot on exact. There is a different treatment of detail in both the foliage divider and the castle tower divider. The border (if there was one) is also gone, but we can’t judge that in absentia. There are also lots more small bits and bobs surrounding the dancers and the little guy in the RISD sample. The male figure has traded his crowned turban-line hat for a lush head of hair. And the little guy looks to be better dressed. I’d be tempted to call him a page in this version and possibly a cupid or eros figure in the RISD piece, due to the bit of arrow fletching? sticking up over his shoulder. And although I haven’t counted the units, or investigated closely enough to see if the thread count of the two grounds are even, the MFA’s snippet does seem to be a bit compressed north-south, compared to the RISD one. But not uniformly so. The upper bodies appear to be less squished than their lower halves.

And the third – this one from the Cleveland Museum of Art, Accession 1929.840. They note their piece as being done in silk on linen. It’s pretty clear that this one is in Meshy, too.

Based on very strong similarity between this piece and the MFA holding, I suspect these might have been true siblings, pieces from the same original, cut apart and sold to two separate collectors, which then ended up in two different museum collections. In fact if you compare the right edge of the MFA piece, and the left edge of this one we can see a bifurcated page boy – it is pretty likely that we are looking at the exact snip line where they were separated. As an aside, I like the little unfinished bit underneath the lower left leaf of the foliage divider, at the left edge of the piece. Again, confirmation that outlines were laid down first, then the background was worked.

This one is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, accession 47.40. They call it “Border” and cite it as being Italian, and 17th century, worked in silk on linen.

Their original photo is a bit fuzzy, but it’s pretty clear that this piece is possibly another section of the same original that furnished the RISD snippet. Not only are the borders and proportions intact, but the small details of crown/hat, arrow, interior detail on the dividing motifs, and even the dress border of the woman dancer is identical.

And to wrap up, I have one more snippet in my notes. This is also from the MET collection, accession 07.62.58. They cite it as Italian or Greek, 17th century, and note that it’s silk on linen. They rightly describe the meshy ground as drawnwork.

By now you should be familiar with the details of this design. Yes – it looks closer to the CMA and MFA snippets than it does to the RISD and the other MET holding. But there are some subtle differences. The ground line is most obvious. In the other two non-bordered bits of this variant, the stitchers have taken more pains to keep a stable bottom edge of the stitching. That’s not to say there aren’t deviations from that on both pieces, but on this one is is far more evident. There are also some other minor differences in detail on the dividers and on the dancers’ outfits. Now I suspect that it was not uncommon for a very large project like a set of bed hangings to be worked by multiple stitchers. Even if a master laid down the outlines and had a crew working “clean-up” behind, filling in background and detail, a large team working quickly might make these minor copyist errors. I don’t think that there is enough difference here to clearly claim that this has no chance of being a piece of the same original as the CMA and MFA fragments.

So to sum up, I do think that two original artifacts furnished all of these bits. And I would go further to posit that the unbordered one might have even been unfinished prior to its dismemberment. I thank the collectors of the “Indiana Jones” era for heading off on their Grand Tours, and bringing back these pieces. I thank the museums for hanging onto these rarely studied snippets, and for posting photos of them on line, so we can speculate about their origin. And I thank Barbara for flagging the dancers for my birthday.

I return you now to regularly scheduled, non-boring Internet content. 🙂


Blackwork embroidery seems to be having an Official Moment right now, with tons of new interest. I’ve got a lot of resources here that might be useful to folk beginning or continuing their journeys, but it’s not well indexed. So I post this round-up of on site resources in the hope of lending a hand. And to be able to point to the whole set if asked. Image at the end for the eye candy effect. List below has been updated since it was originally posted.


  • Double Running Stitch Logic. One of many times I’ve tried to explain double running stitch and two-sided work. This post led to the tutorial series listed below.
  • Assorted Blackwork Hints. Answers to questions about my working methods. Making mistakes; guidelines; where to start; simple tracing using “the poor person’s light box”; multicolor; equipment hints (frames, needles, wax); and a list of tricks for path planning in double running logic.
  • Blackwork Thread Thickness and Grounds. One strand or two for double running? Why is it sometimes hard to keep your lines straight and even.
  • Blackwork Heresy. Back stitch, double running, and the hybrid that floats between them, which I nicknamed “Heresy Stitch.” Useful but not something I’ve documented in historical works. Can be easier for people who get lost when working double running, and saves thread when compared to back stitch.
  • What Makes a Blackwork Pattern Difficult? Cautions and mitigations for three challenges, that might help simplify those trouble spots.
  • On Charting. How to look at a photo and then translate the design to paper.
  • Determining the Thread Count of Small-Gauge Linens. How to use a penny (or other tiny thing with a known and stable diameter) plus a cell phone camera to figure out the count of a hard-to-see ground.
  • Cornered Again. One way to handle placement of bands on a band sampler and a wrap around frame edging, with minimal advanced planning.
  • Filling In. More questions from the mailbag, including some unusual names for stitch techniques that appear in museum annotations.
  • Proofing. How I check alignment as I stitch, to make sure I’m not wandering off count.
  • Turning a Strip Repeat into an All-over. This one also belongs under the free linear stitch patterns heading below. A couple of ways to make a single width strip into a double, and how I ended up turning it into a Green Man square.
  • Travel Cover for a Flat Frame. How I made mine, and how you can make one, too.


Voided Works

  • Voided Grounds. A roundup of various treatments for voided work, where the background is overstitched but the foreground remains (mostly) unworked. This is the style that was reborn in the 1800s as Assisi work, and is also known as reserva stitching.
  • Voided Pieces and Outlines. Do historical voided pieces always sport outlines? Were they done first? Were they always on the count?
  • Voided Narrative Panels. A style cluster of voided works probably done by drawing the foreground designs freehand, then working the background up to those lines.
  • Meshy! Working that hard-pulled mesh like voided style that totally encapsulates the ground fabric’s threads.

History, Speculation, Pattern Clusters, Printing Block Migrations and Other Musings

  • The Twain do Meet. Introduction to Kasuthi Kashida. Blackwork’s Indian cousin
  • Looking East Again. Double running stitch pieces from the Wardak Hazara people of Pakistan. Another example of a South Asian stitching tradition that may be one of blackwork’s lesser known Eastern cousins.
  • A Missing Link? A curious family of Egyptian Islamic artifacts of the 10th to 15th centuries, that have no proven relationship to inhabited blackwork (the kind with hard outlines and geometric fills), yet presage its aesthetic.
  • The Azemmour Cluster. A group of patterns that in the time I’ve been paying attention has had their commonality and point of origin increasingly recognized, moving them from late 19th century source annotations that identified them as Renaissance era products made everywhere from Greece to Spain, and placing them in Morocco.
  • The Spider Flower. A design that is probably part of the Azemmour Cluster
  • Revisiting the Stupid Cupids – Multiple versions of the cupid and oak leaf meander.
  • A Pattern’s Pedigree. Random thoughts about a specific family of patterns that shows up both voided and unvoided.
  • The Leafy Family. A wide leaf-bearing meander that shows up multiple times in artifact inventories.
  • More Cousins. The Leafy Bricks group.
  • Cornered! Possible working direction and four different corner treatments of a famous, oft photographed handkerchief in the V&A.
  • Italian Leafy, Occasionally Multicolor. Another design family of large panels and edgings that have curiously similar design elements, and a direct association of one example with the Jewish community of Rome, hard dated to 1582/1583.
  • Long Lost Twins, Part I. That ubiquitous urns and piping harpies design. (I revisited this one in Part V, below)
  • Long Lost Twins, Part II. Oak branch, leaf and acorn design, executed in both monochrome and polychrome, multiple versions.
  • Long Lost Twins, Part III. Another very common pattern with multiple iterations, in multiple museums, two instances of which may have been cut from one original piece.
  • Long Lost Twins, Part IV. Multiple instances of a simple Y and wrap meander.
  • Long Lost Twins, Part V. Lots more on that harpies/urns design; found in many museums, many iterations, and even multiple stitching modalities.
  • Long Lost Twins, Part VI. Two instances of a column design, very probably once cut from the same artifact. Fragments of which are held in two museums
  • Long Lost Siblings? Another case of a single source artifact probably cut in two, now held by two different museums.
  • Repeating On and On on Repeats. A summary of the types of rotations and mirrorings commonly seen in long strip patterns
  • Ocular Proof? My argument that Othello’s strawberry speckled handkerchief used in the play to implicate Desdemona might have been conceived of by Shakespeare as a countwork piece.
  • A Curious Applique Technique. Not embroidery, but often appearing in modelbooks alongside it. Take a strip of leather or cloth, cut it with precision into a pattern that duplicates itself on either side of the bisecting line. Twice the yardage and no waste. Wildly clever.

Talks and Classes

The Stitches Speak

These are the slides from a round-up of historical counted styles I presented at a Society for Creative Anachronism needlework and textiles gathering in 2012. Mostly eye candy, and divided for ease of posting, not by subject area. However sources are listed.

Workshop Handout

This is the broadside I hand out when I teach workshops on double running stitch. It’s pretty much a self-paced tutorial, with the simplest designs at the upper left, and progressing in difficulty to the lower right. If you work these at your own speed as a band or jumble sampler, by the time you’ve done them all you can tackle just about any linear design. And although I do use this to teach double running stitch logic, no one will say you sinned if you decide to complete it in back stitch.



Linear Units (Line Segments)

  • Ensamplario Atlantio. A collection of blackwork fills from my doodle notebooks, some my own, some from artifacts, but when I started this I didn’t intend to publish, so I didn’t keep track. Some of the larger ones work well as all-over designs, or for small projects like biscornus or holiday ornaments. Presented in four chunks because at the time I issued it people had bandwidth usage limitations, and preferred smaller bites of content.
  • Ensamplario Atlantio Volume II. More fills, plus some strip designs and yokes. 90% original (exceptions are footnoted). In one file this time, as technology marched on since publication of the first.
  • My Embroidery Patterns tab. Most but not all of the designs below also appear there, plus more.
  • Rose Chart. Outline for a heraldic style rose
  • Ganesh Project. How to replicate my blackwork method Lord Ganesh, done as a present for a family friend in India.
  • Crowdsourced simple diamond interlace, with small motif fills provided by String’s followers. Use some or all. (Also on the Embroidery Patterns tab).
  • Dancing Pirate Octopodes. The design that led to the crowdsourced project. (Also on the Embroidery Patterns tab)
  • Leopards. (Also on the Embroidery Patterns tab)
  • The Epic Fandom Stitch-Along. 19 bands, 9 of which are quasi-traditional, 10 of which are wildly anachronistic, with spaceships, dinosaurs, pirates, references to Star Trek, Star Wars, and Dr. Who. Guidance for the whole project is included.
  • Cat and Mouse. A large panel with Art Deco style cats, mice, and yarn balls. (Also on the Embroidery Patterns tab).
  • Bands from a 16th century Camica. Hem, collar, seam bands, and striping. (Also on the Embroidery Patterns tab)
  • Those Snails. They crawl all over my work. I share some.
  • Jesters at the Fence. A snippet from TNCM (see below).
  • Bead border. (Also available on the Embroidery Patterns tab)
  • Ring of Rats. Another Art Deco style chart (also available on the Embroidery Patterns tab)

Box Units (squares)

  • Unicorn. Box unit (not linear) chart for a unicorn, courtesy of Elder Offspring.
  • Castles and Caravels. Box unit design featuring a three-towered castle, and its relationship of that motif to some Spanish pieces.
  • Knot More Knots! Simple interlaces in box units (Also on the Embroidery Patterns tab)
  • Simple Geometric from 1546. This one is also box units, and works well for stitching, knitting, and crochet.
  • Da Sera Bud Interlace. Another box unit pattern. (Also available on the Embroidery Patterns tab)
  • Fun with Odonata. Another box unit design, this one for dragonflies. Note that they can be used for knitting, too. (Also on the Embroidery Patterns tab)
  • Fun with Lagomorphs. A box unit design for a leaping rabbit. (Also on the Embroidery Patterns tab)
  • A Simple Interlace. I lost the source annotation for this box unit design aeons ago.

Not Free

  • The New Carolingian Modelbook: Counted Patterns from Before 1600. Also known as TNCM. Sadly out of print. It’s in queue for update as scholarship has advanced in the years since it came out. There are corrections aplenty! You might be able to find it on the used market, but at a wildly inflated price.
  • The Second Carolingian Modelbook: A Collection of Charted Patterns for Needleworkers and Artisans. Also known as T2CM Link to Amazon page is on the indicated post.


These are also accessible via the Tutorials tab at the top of every page here. but below they are listed in the correct chronological order

Double Running Stitch Logic

Charting Linear Designs using GIMP Drafting Software

I found commercial charting software treats linear charts as an afterthought, so with help, I invented my own graphing method which I have used for all of my books. This series is for folk who want to move on to designing and drawing their own charts, and doing so using the dot and bar method I invented. GIMP is freeware, and if you’ve ever used Photoshop or Illustrator, and are familiar with layer-based drawing logic, the learning on-ramp for this method will be familiar. Although this was prepared for an earlier version of GIMP, these instructions are still relevant, although the GIMP menu screens now look slightly different.

Just Bragging

  • My big underskirt forepart. Why I stitched it
  • Forehead cloths for modern wear. Kind of like a kerchief, works well and keeps the hair out of my eyes in seaside winds, adapted from the companion piece often seen with a matching coif.
  • Trifles wall hanging. Made as a “mom nag” for my younger spawn, done using blackwork techniques and fills.
  • Blackwork sampler done in 1983. Musings on why this piece is not entirely successful in terms of stitching density distribution.
  • Two Fish. No astrological connection, just two koi circling on couched gold water. Indigo and deep green silk on 40 count linen
  • Fangirl Sampler – A key phrase from the science fiction series by my Resident Male, in an off-world language. It translates to “Life’ll kill you”. I am after all his fangirl army of one. Alphabet from an old Sajou leaflet, but the rest is all my design. The dancing skeletons border is available on the Embroidery Patterns tab.
  • Grape Sideboard Scarf. An artifact-based main field with a self-designed companion border.
  • Blackwork sampler done as the cover for T2CM, finished in 2012. Below.


In the last post I started a method description on working a large project without having to do a full chart of the entire design. I’ve now finished the first end and am starting on the second, so I continue the discussion.

I worked both the top and bottom borders to the same logical stopping point. Since I had begun both of them aligned to the exact center of my piece and was careful to follow the design exactly, the ends of both lined up. More or less. There’s actually one FEWER unit one one end of the top of the end strip than there is at the bottom. But I also bet that without knowing it was there, zooming in and looking for it, you would never have noticed. Again, a variance but not a fatal error, and far less egregious than the errors I’ve spotted on historical pieces.

There’s a lot of “white space” to the right of the stitching, but bear in mind that the opposite side is the one with the wonky end has less free space to play around in (it’s not just photo foreshortening, it’s really not parallel to the edge line I based on the true grain of the fabric). So in order to leave enough room even at the narrowest point, I have allowed for more “waste ground” on the more generous edges. I also am not sure exactly what I will be doing for the border yet. I was thinking a simple hem and some needle lace (picking up something I haven’t done in decades), but there’s also the temptation of a withdrawn element Italian style hemmed edge. And I may just leave all such elaborations off for a bit, to mull it over some more and possibly rehearse those very rusty techniques.

Anyway, back to the stitching at hand. Note also that in the shot above, I was working the bottom border out to the left, to the exact same stopping point as the edge on the right. I continued and finished both long side borders. So it was on to the second short side.

In the photo below the piece has been flipped so that the bottom in the shot below is now at the top. But where to place that second border?

Since the left and right ends of both long side strips end in exactly the same place, it’s easy. I went over to the finished work, determined that the “collision line” where the border meets the field pattern aligns with the curly end of one of the little sprigs that grows up from it. So I found the corresponding point on the second side and began the first pass of double running down it. I didn’t do the whole side, because I know I’ll be working those curls and sprigs eventually, and rather than risk a massive miscount due to the long run between those sets, I would prefer to work the larger floral border, then fill in the little secondary one once that’s been finished. But I DO need to know where the collision line is so I can fill out the truncated edges of my main field design.

I will probably begin the large border again from the center, although since the end points of my other short side border are known, I could just mirror those. We will see where whim and fancy take me. At this point, all of the known issues have been worked out, mitigated, or blissfully ignored. It’s just dogged completion of the motifs and borders from now on.


Last year I mentioned using a retractable badge holder to help corral my scissors at the beach.

I clipped it onto the straps of the drink holder of my beach chair. That worked so well, I’ve been looking for ways to do something similar at home. I tried clipping the things to me or wearing my old work lanyards. Too fussy. My favorite stitching chair is wood and leather, with no good clipping spots on it. But I’ve been working this current project on my Hardwicke Manor sit-upon hoop/stand combo. It has a nice, long screw clamp. The clip jaws of one of my badge holders fits exactly on the exposed screw.

While I’m showing the thing holding my favorite scissors and laying tool, with both lapped in front of the work, in actual play the angle of the badge head suspends them behind and away from the fabric, so catching isn’t a hazard. I love the convenience of not fishing around for often-used tools, and the fun of repurposing these tiny work albatrosses for greater ease.

Oh, and on my big flat scrolling frame, remember those penny size strong magnets I glued to the uprights? They hold the badge leashes quite securely, too. So I have the advantage of tools-to-hand on my flat frames, too.


A couple of people have sent me private notes asking about how I go about designing a larger project without graphing the entire thing. I attempt to answer, using the current Dizzy Grapes sideboard scarf/placemat as a possible approach.

It’s true I didn’t know how I was going to proceed when I began this project. I had a graph for the main field repeat, but only one iteration of the design, but not a chart for the entire area that design would inhabit. I didn’t have a border (yet). I had a piece of cloth of dubious cut and unknown count, and I had picked a thread well represented in my stash, with known easy-care laundry properties. I knew I wanted to make a large placemat type sideboard scarf, as big as attainable given the materials on hand.

The first thing to do was to figure out the largest possible area I could stitch on my unevenly hemmed ground. Leaving a bit of a margin around for easy hooping, I took plain old sewing thread and basted in a to-stitch area, with a bit of a margin. In doing this I discovered that the person who had reclaimed this bit of antique linen and done the crocheted edge treatments had a rather liberal interpretation of rectangles in general. Once my edges were basted in, I used simple measure/fold to determine the center lines, both north/south and east/west. Those were basted, too. Here’s that first step:

I also determined the thread count of this well washed, buttery soft vintage linen. It averages about 32 threads per inch, but is quite uneven, ranging from 28 to 34 in places, but didn’t dwell on that beyond satisfying myself that there was enough “real estate” inside my designated area to accommodate at least two full repeats of my chosen design across the narrow dimension.

Having the dead center of the piece determined, I chose a center point on the field design. I could have used the center of the smaller motif. That would probably have been easier, but I wanted the large rotating floral shapes to dominate instead of the largely unworked area surrounding the smaller motif. That was a bit tricky because the motif has a square unit in the dead-center, but I worked that straddling my basted center mark. Then I began working, snipping back my basted center guides as I went. (From here on the piece is shown rotated, with the narrow dimension north/south and the wide one east/west).

The shot above shows that first center motif in process, with the center guides being snipped back as the work encroached.

From there it was a simple matter of adding more floral motifs and the smaller X motifs they spiral around. Then after a group of four florals were complete, defining the space between them, centering the free-floating X in that area. Here are shots of those two processes. Note that as a Lazy Person, instead of tedious counting in from the established stitching, I used temporary basting to determine the centerpoint for the free-floating X motifs.

How did I know where to stop? No clue initially. I figured I’d get as close to the edge of my defined real estate as I could with full motifs, then pause to assess. It’s clear in the left photo that another full cycle of the repeat would not fit neatly between the established work and the basted guideline. But that area is also a bit wide to be entirely border. The proportions would be off. Plus that small X motif in the center bottom looks odd without at least a partial snippet of the floral motif spinning off its bottom leg.

So I did a rough count of the width left and decided I wanted a border that was about two inches wide at its widest (about 5 cm). Back to the drawing board to draft out something that complemented the design, and was somewhere around 30 units tall. I doodled up a couple of possibilities before settling on one. One strong consideration was the use of an inner line to contain the field pattern, so it had something even against which to truncate.

Once I had my border in hand, I decided that a bit of the center flower in its repeat could scallop below the basted edge line, so allowing for those 6 units, I counted up from my basted edge guide, and beginning at the center point I started the border of the first side. Then I worked right and left until I got to the edge of the “uncertainty zone” – the area as yet unworked at the left and right of the piece. Here’s the first side’s border in process.

As I established the border’s top edge (that field containment line), I went back to the main field, and worked the truncated snippet of the floral motif to fit. You can see that first snippet in the photo above.

Now on to that second side. But I had a cheat! Instead of starting it by counting down, I looked at that center floral snippet on the first side. Then I worked the floral snippet on the opposite side to the same point. That established the containment line on the second side, and I began the border at the center of the second side, working out to the left and right.

Now on to the ends. You can see now that I’m making these decisions on the fly. When I started I had no clear idea of what I was going to do beyond “Field. Border. Big.” I’m handling the problems and decisions as they are encountered, with minimal fretting about perfection along the way.

I chose to do butted borders on this piece. Neatly mitered, squared, or fudged border corners do exist on historical pieces, but they are in the minority. Even though my self-designed border isn’t particularly period representative (those repeating centered units with their own bounce repeat, as opposed to simple twigs all marching it the same direction), I wanted to use a non-mitered corner. I could have ended each off, designed a separate corner square, but I didn’t want to introduce another design variant – the border was already too busy.

Where to start that side border? What happens to the longer top and bottom borders? Do they just end or should I try to end at a visually logical place? Well, I chose the latter. I kept going on the bottom border to the right until I ended at the center of the bounce repeat. It’s just a few units shy of my designated basted edge. Not a lot of waste there. And knowing the height of the border, I established my north-south containment line.

You can see that I’m working on the first of the two spin-off floral sprigs along this side. When that’s done I will go to the centerpoint of the right hand edge and begin working the border from there, headed back to the corner shown. The side borders will end where they end. They will truncate oddly for sure, but having made the bottom and top congruent, what is on the sides, will be what it is. The side as a whole however should truncate in the same spot where it meets up to the border on the top. But no one is perfect. If it’s off by a unit or two, I will have accomplished the same degree of precision as most of the Ancients. They weren’t perfect either.

Stay tuned! The Grand Excitement of seeing the final product remains; and with it how things meet up, how close to symmetry I achieve, and how any as yet unknown problems are solved. And that’s before I decide how I’m going to edge and trim the piece out. Needle lace and/or a withdrawn/pulled element hem are both possibilities I haven’t yet ruled out.

So there you have it. Another adventure in bungee-jump stitching – starting a project with little or no detailed planning, no full project chart (just a partial chart showing the minimum needed), and no clear idea at outset on handling challenges encountered en route. I hope sharing this process inspires folk to take up their own self-composed projects.


Back when we were doing the expat stint in Pune, India, I wrote about Kasuthi (aka Kasuti, Kashida), a blackwork cousin that deserves to be better known by Western double running stich aficionados. I recently stumbled across another sample of related stitching, this time from a bit further north.

The Hazara people, mostly in Afghanistan, but also present in Pakistan practice an interesting and related form of linear geometric stitchery. It’s hard to date beyond “traditional,” and given current geopolitics, deeper investigations are unlikely. But here is the limited info I’ve found, plus some examples, and some sources of additional information.

The Hazara are known for several forms of stitching, mostly but not exclusively counted styles using satin stitch, straight stitch, double running stitch and cross stitch, and is better known for phulkaris (large shawls often worked in geometric, counted straight stitches). These double running stitch pieces in particular are probably made by women of the Wardak Hazaras, who live mostly southwest of Kabul. This style is usually worked in cotton or silk on linen or cotton grounds. These double running stitch pieces are often finished out as small mats, bags, shawls, prayer cloths, and other covers.

First is the artifact that piqued my interest.

This is piece in the collection of the George Washington University Museum, Accession T-1240. They note it’s provenance as being Hazara from Afghanistan, probably sometime between 1880-1920. That mushy date range is the earliest and although it’s only semi-hard, is the only date I’ve seen for this style. Note the fields of diapered patterns stitched on the count on a not-so-evenweave ground. The designs skew east-west compared to north-south due to there being more ground fabric threads per unit measurement in one direction than the other. But skew or not I love the repetition and color usage. So I went looking for more.

This artifact is probably the best represented on line for the style, and shows up in most on-line photo collections of Afghan embroidery, although not always with attribution. It is nicknamed “The Snowflake Shawl” and was collected by Jania Mishra, the author of the art blog/sales gallery Woven Souls. She places it as Hazara, but does not opine a date. Still it’s clearly antique/vintage. Her write-up includes lots of close-up photos, and notes the relationship of this style of stitching to mathematical theory. Pop by her blog to truly admire the diverse detail of this piece.

More examples. On the left is a bandanna size prayer cloth that was sold by a textile/rug auction dealer, and on the right is what’s described as a Hazara napkin in the Galerie Ariana ethnic textiles sales site. (No affiliation with/endorsement of these sellers – I find dealers’ on-line photos and attributions an occasionally useful research supplement, although not all dealers’ listing data are of the same quality.)

What can we conclude about dissemination and influences?

Very little.

Double running is one of the simplest, oldest and most ubiquitous of stitches. The scholars of Kasuthi posit a vague “Persian origin” before adoption, mention of in literature, and refinement of the style in the Deccan area Chalukya dynasty courts of the mid 500s to mid 700s, and that dynasty’s later resurgences through the end of the 1100s, culminating in the disciplined style and vocabulary of traditional motifs that are known today through surviving examples dating to the 19th century. Overland trade routes have connected Northern India and Afghanistan and beyond going back to antiquity. The the flow of both peaceful and aggressive contact is also well known, as is historical trade that connected the northeastern African coast with India. Egypt’s Fustat region is another area where visually similar double running stitch artifacts from the Mamluk era (1200s-1500s) are found.

Is this another survival of some sort of time-lost tradition that also gave rise to Kasuthi, the Mamluk works, and by extension over time and geography (and by direct quotation noted by others as well as myself), the stepwise and geometric designs found in early European modelbooks at the dawn of the popular print era (early 1500s), and on to early European blackwork and strapwork? It’s tempting to speculate so, but we have absolutely no proof.

These Afghani pieces could also have been a product of later cultural influences, as waves of association washed back and forth along time’s shores. But the clear correspondences, whether they can be affixed to defined family tree, or are just casual correlations due to the limits of geometry and the simple stitching style itself, are to me are a source of endless fascination.

Here are a couple of sites with additional information on Hazara embroidery in general:

Source material for the Mamluk styles mentioned

And there are more traditional regional counted styles to explore in this area of cultural confluence. I promise to keep digging.


Sometimes it feels like everything I see is fraught with stitching purpose.

Yesterday Younger Spawn and I went to the local Burlington, MA H-Mart, for a general restock of kimchi, various sauces, and condiments since the options in Troy, NY for such things are less abundant and can pose a logistic challenge in an area with so little public transportation.

While we were shopping we wandered the housewares aisle. I’ve found all sorts of useful stuff in there, including the hand sickle we use to keep our giant grass in check. This time was no different.

I stumbled across a display of small mesh cloths of various sizes. If it is to be believed, Google Translate tells me this stuff is called Isambe Bozagi or Bojagi (various transliteration/translation platforms render it differently), and then translate it variously to hemp cloth (middle), and burlap (Chinese). But it’s clearly marked as cotton, and of domestic Korean manufacture.

Product information says that it’s about 33 x 34 cm and hemmed. That it’s food-safe, essential for steaming (especially dumplings, and sweet potatoes), can be used to cover food in the summer, and is used to strain soy products (possibly making tofu), and soups. It also says to wash separately and dry thoroughly before use.

All well and good. I do steam things on occasion and it might come in handy. But what caught my eye was the weave. I think it’s sideways in my penny photo, but note the doubled thread in one direction (probably the weft). That’s not unlike the woven ground used for Buratto embroidery – a stitched and darned form popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, stretching on to the 18th century. It’s a cousin to other better known darned mesh works done on knotted netting grounds or on withdrawn thread scaffoldings, but in Buratto’s case the ground was purpose woven as a mesh.

Here’s a bit in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection (Accession 076261 in case the link breaks) – 16th century, Italian. The ground is linen, not cotton, and the stitching is silk. The piece is about 13×4 inches (33×10 cm).

My Korean kitchen cloth’s mesh count is roughly 16.5 x 15 meshes per inch. Just a little bit finer than this, which is about 14 meshes per inch (counting height of the snippet and dividing by 4). And although it’s hard to make out, the structure can be seen in this ultra close-up.

There are places you can find buratto style grounds to stitch. Those resources are usually quite a bit more expensive. If you happen to have an H-Mart in your area (and they are a national chain here in the US, with more popping up every year), you may be able to luck into this wildly inexpensive cloth. It’s not perfect, but at the price it’s a wonderful tool for experimentation. I’m penciling playing with this stuff into my dance card, probably for some time next year, and may go back and get more.

Bonus Eye Candy and Background

Just for fun, here are some more examples so you can see the breadth of expression of this stitching family. There is a lot of variety in works done on buratto. Monochrome was common. Polychrome was common. Dyed grounds were common. Geometrics and florals were both common. Also the style went through several revivals, and was particularly prized during the “Indiana Jones” era of textile collecting. Many museums collections are based around those gleanings, and haven’t been revisited since their donation before WWI. As a result, many attributions are a bit “mushy” – there are certainly revival pieces marked as pre-1700s originals, and even the real experts (of which I am not one) have problems determining age without extensive forensic testing.

The one above is also Italian, 16th-17th century, and is in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, accession 1971-50.198. No information on the museum’s page though as to size or scale.

The one above looks to have an indigo-dyed ground, stitched in white. Italian, 16th century, from the Met’s collection, accession 08.180.448. This one is about 3.75 inches tall, which makes its scale very close to the 14 meshes per inch of the Korean steaming cloth.

And a wild multicolor one 17th century Italian, also from the Met, accession 12.9.3. Many of these pieces just said “embroidered on net” or were lumped in with lacis, but lately there has been a move to divide those done on true knotted net (lacis) from those done on woven buratto fabric. The on-line descriptions are slowly being updated accordingly.

Although I can’t declare for certain, looking at the dates of the more elaborate, especially the ones with patterned infills, the style appears to have evolved in that direction over time. Here is a piece typical of that group. This 18th century piece is another gem of the Met, accession 12.8.3 in case the link breaks. But do note that multicolor is documented back to the 1500s.

And here are some links on the history of the style; some discussing its link to early modelbooks. Buratto was one of the stitching styles specifically named in modelbook prefaces as a suitable art for the designs they presented.

So there we are. A chance encounter in the housewares aisle turned into a rabbit hole of exploding possibilities. Good thing I’m retired. I might actually find the time to dance with all of these charming partners lined up on my card. 🙂


First, progress on my Dizzy Grapes sideboard scarf. I’ve doodled up a companion border that I like, and I’ve begun working it. Now you can see what I meant when I said the field design would truncate where it intersects the border, rather than floating inside it.

The border is Italian Renaissance in feel, but with significant stylistic departures from standard borders as seen on museum artifacts. For one, there are mirrored bounces in the repeat. That’s not uncommon for main field designs, but not something I’ve encountered before in the companion borders. Usually the motifs in those repeat, all with the same directionality, as if they were all marching in precision following an unseen leader. The heavy reuse of design elements from the main field is a second departure. It’s not uncommon for borders to repeat bits of the design from the main field, and sometimes they do quote sections verbatim, but it’s relatively uncommon for those elements to be recomposed in this manner. Still, I’m not planning on entering this in any competitions where my usage and adaptation are judged.

Old Linens

I’ve gotten a couple question about the linen piece I used – where stuff like this can be found and the like. It so happens I lucked into a couple more old needlework and linen pieces yesterday. Younger Spawn was describing the treasure-hunt fun that can be had at estate sales, so we zipped off to one nearby. We both found goodies.

Among my discoveries were two darned net bridge cloths (small square table spreads). The substrate is hand knotted, in cotton, as is the darning and embroidered embellishments on top. I’m not good at dating/sourcing these pieces, but I suspect these are Sicilian Modano work, not earlier than 1920. Both are in very good condition with a couple of tiny brown “age spots” – probably the legacy of old spills. I don’t know enough to differentiate the earlier pieces of Modano from those of its 1980s revival. In the detail shot you can see the two weights of threads used for the darned fills, plus the long attached woven bullion style “picots” – not exactly sure what that stitch is called, plus a bit of straight stitch outlining.
Both are of exactly the same design, but one looks to have been savagely washed with bleach – it’s much whiter and about 20% smaller. One thing that does make me think they might be earlier is their size. By the 1980s bridge cloths were not exactly in style.

I’m not sure what I will do with these, but I couldn’t leave them there balled up, unloved and tagged at $1.00 each.

Lovely, but not actually linen. Moving on.

This is a tablecloth. The main body is twill weave linen, not suitable for counted stitching, but fantastic for surface embroidery. The hand-done withdrawn thread edgings are mostly intact, although the rondels in the corners are all slightly damaged. The main body of the cloth though is stain and damage-free. I won’t be using it at table – it’s too small for my dining room, but again the price was right, and the right person might be able to make a wonderful 16th/17th century Italian underdress/smock from it. $2.00 for about two yards of 60-inch wide linen? Not a bad price.

And at last – that upon which I will be stitching. I have some specific ideas for these twelve machine finished napkins. They are not uniform in size – some have shrunk significantly. A couple have stains that must be worked around.

The thread count on the one I’ve “penny-ed” is representative – roughly 38 x 38 threads per inch. Some variation and slubbing, and some of the napkins are a bit more worn, but 12 roughly 14″ (about 36 cm) squares of evenweave for $6.00? That’s a good deal.

So there you have it. Yard sales. Consignment stores. Estate sales. Look for the hamper of neglected household linens. Sort past the old sheets and cafe curtains, maneuver around the ladies looking for interesting souvenir tea towels, and wadded up in the bottom of the bin may be treasure to appreciate, to re-use, or to stitch upon.


I continue along with what has been nicknamed The Dizzy Grapes sideboard scarf. I successfully rounded the second group of main motifs, and am up to working the small one in the center of the field.

As you can see, there’s plenty more to stitch, including the border. And you can also see the slow rise problem I described earlier. The cloth is flipped from the last set of photos, but the repeat on the right is one unit skew to the one on the left – an inevitable complication of this design.

So. That center unit. Given that it doesn’t align perfectly with the previous one, how to go about placing it. The most obvious way is to pick an easy to spot point on the established stitching, and now that I’ve done one, just count over the same number of stitches to a similarly distinctive spot on the motif to be stitched, then just start in.

But I’m lazy, know that long stretches of counting blank linen are one of my weaknesses, and given the long span, extreme variation in the thickness of this linen’s threads, and frustration after several false starts, I decided to try something different.

Its easy to determine the center point of the large floral motifs. It’s the centermost stitch in the dark center “knot” around which the branches are symmetrically inverted. That aligns with the dark stripe in the grape motif that’s closest to its stem. But those centers are all offset from each other, so just using a simple ruler or single straight edge is problematic. Instead I picked the same spot on each of the four motifs that bordered the field in which I wanted the smaller X pattern to appear, and quick basted a line across that field. One basted line for each big floral produced a 3×3 area. The center unit of that 3×3 area became the center of the large dark spot in the middle of the X pattern. (Yes, if you zoom all the way in you’ll see that one of my basted lines was off by one thread, but I compensated).

You don’t see the basted lines on the full piece, above because once I did that centermost stitch, I removed them. I never stitch over my guidelines, I always snip them away from the work as I approach.

I did this for the other placement of that center X, too, but I didn’t think to document the process. I did try the count in and start method for the second one. You may be able to see the remains where I picked out my three false starts, but the basted line method turns out to be vastly quicker, less fraught, and more accurate.

I am still aiming for full coverage – not just these two repeats centered on the otherwise bare cloth. Now its time to go into hypergear and finish designing the companion border. Once I’ve got that and have my distance from repeat worked for the long sides, I can establish that line and then work my field up to it with confidence.


Back from my first in-person SCA event in a long time. I went to “Aisles of March” – what can be best described as a historical-recreation-item “craft fair” for those unfamiliar with the organization. It was a group-specific gathering at which dozens of merchants displayed wares, selling everything from whole garments of historical design and cut; to accessories, jewelry, jewelry findings/stones; the components to make clothing (including hand-dyed yarns and yardage); armor; wooden and metal table implements and specialty crafting tools (embroidery frames, weaving looms and the like); camping implements (open hearth cooking tripods and accessories); research and how-to books; and even spices and fragrances. There was also a certain amount of ceremony including SCA royal presence, and awards given out for mastery of specific arts, or for service to the organization and its constituent groups.

But I wasn’t there to attend court, or to shop. I was there to help The Apprentice and household sell their products – brilliantly hued hand-dyed silk and wool threads and yardage prepared with researched, historical recipes; bead jewelry reproductions of various eras (Viking age, late Roman Empire, Venetian), and sturdy linen by the yard. Some of this is also available on Etsy. Obvious affiliation disclosure – The apprentice is the proprietor of that Etsy shop.

While I was helping out I also had an opportunity to sell a few copies of The Second Carolingian Modelbook in person. And that gave me a chance to chat with folk interested in counted embroidery, and blackwork in specific. One thing several people mentioned was the difficulty of drafting out the freehand patterns for inhabited blackwork – the Elizabethan style characterized by heavy outlines filled in with counted or freehand stitched fills, usually in black but occasionally embellished with metal threads.

I understand that challenge. My ancient underskirt was an exercise in freehand pencil drawing, modeling flowers and foliage after group of historical artifacts including a cushion cover repurposed from a dress in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, Accession 1955.1221; and a panel from an embroidered sleeve held by the National Museum of Scotland, Accession A.1929.152 (other fragments of the same work exist in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other institutions). Not everyone has the patience or confidence to do that kind of freehand drawing.

So, I set to thinking about what pre-drawn resources might be available.

Spoonflower and other print-to-order textile/wallpaper houses offer designers the chance to get their patterns printed on a variety of media, and sold by the yard. I had ordered wallpaper from them a while back.

There are thousands of prints in Spoonflower’s active catalog – among them several adapted from Elizabethan embroidery. Note that these are NOT my offerings, I have nothing posted there. I just went browsing among their current listings and picked two that were likely candidates – the ones with the most historically representative designs at offered at the largest scale. Then I went to the fabric choice area and picked two different fabrics, both possible choices for counted or surface work, and ordered two eight-inch swatches. This is what I received:

The design on the left is shown in several reference books, and is one I included a thumbnail of in my very first hand-drawn booklet on blackwork, issued in 1978. It’s vaguely similar to one in Trevelyon’s Miscelleny, but as soon as I find my now-packed-away booklet, I’ll insert the specific source. The one on the right is a simplified and very recognizable version of a standard Elizabethan scrolling floral design, of the type rendered in blackwork or polychrome stitching, often with metal thread embellishments.

I requested my sample of the one on the left (the darker one) be printed on what Spoonflower sells under the name Cypress Cotton Canvas. The one on the right was printed on their Belgian Linen. Here are zooms, with a penny for ease of thread count calculation:

Note that the cotton canvas (left) isn’t really countable, but it has a dense weave structure that might be amenable to surface work. However I am not a textile history expert, and I don’t know if fabric of that structure, even if it were not cotton would be appropriate to the period of the design. The linen however is plain tabby weave. By counting threads occluded by the penny I get 17 horizontal threads x 21 vertical threads. Factoring in the penny’s standard width of 0.75 inch, we can compute a thread count of approximately 21 x 26 threads, but I can’t tell which is warp and which is weft due to the lack of selvedges. Skew but easily counted and stitched.


My first reaction to both of these samples is that the motifs on them are quite small in scale for easy stitching. Even on the uncountable canvas, I would have preferred that design be imaged about a quarter to third again bigger to make it easier to work. This is also very true for the scrolling flower design printed on linen. It might do for non-counted polychrome treatment with a very simple stitch used for the stem; or for speckled freehand blackwork, again simple outlines and a scattered stitch, shaded infilling. But for fancy counted, geometric, diapered fills, there just isn’t enough real estate inside most of the flower and leaf motif segments to make such stitching worthwhile.

The next step of course is hands-on. It won’t be any time soon (I have a massive to-do queue), but I do intend to secure the edges, launder, iron and give both a try anyway, to see how the fabrics and printing perform. If the stitching goes well I might finish them out into small sweet bags. Or not. This is just an idle experiment.

Again, I am not endorsing or promoting the source, the products, or the designers who offer their patterns at the source. I paid full price for my swatches. But I am trying to help out those who are looking for some sort of assistance in starting their own blackwork projects. While these items are not exactly optimal, they or similar pieces might be learning tools that could jumpstart creativity, and help someone reach towards a previously unattainable goal of making something visually period-appropriate. And that in turn might help them advance towards less “factory-modern” ways of getting there.

Stay tuned. Eventually I will cycle back to this experiment, do the wash test, and play with these some more.


First, thanks to Callie of NotAnotherCostumingBlog for this question, which takes me tumbling down another chasm, dragging all of you along with me. Callie asks,

“…do you have any tips for converting patterns charted for LACS to charts for double running? I seem to have a bit of a mental block about it and the best idea I’ve got is to print them out, estimate where the lines would be instead of blocks, draw those on, and then transfer them to clean graph paper. I have a lot of patterns that I would really prefer to work linearly because it is so much faster but I’m not yet at the point where I can look at a block chart and just mentally convert it.”

I break down the answer into several parts, and try to respond to each.

Outlines in historical examples of voided stitching

Were historical voided pieces worked with or without outlines? The answer is “Yes.” There are some with stitched outlines and some without, and the presence of stitched outlines does not correlate neatly to the technique used to fill in the background. In addition, there look to have been voided pieces that used drawings as their “outlines” – working the fill right up to and sometimes over those markings, which seem to have (mostly) been stitched.

The one thing about outlines in these pieces that is different from their use in modern needle-painting style cross stitch is that in the historical works, close inspection shows the dense coverage stitching (of whatever type) encroaching on the linear stitching. This says to me that the lines were worked in one of two manners:

  • laid down first, and the background filled in later (the most common approach, especially for meshy or long-arm cross stitch fills; also logically on the pieces where the fill leaves a unworked “halo” around the linear stitched foreground, as in the lowermost right example of the first group below)
  • Stitched at the same time as the ground behind (more usual for square fill as in the lowermost left example of the first group below)

Modern cross stitch pieces generally direct the stitcher to finish the ground areas, then go back and work the linear bits on top of them.

Historical examples of voided work with counted outlines:

Historical examples of voided work without counted outlines:

Historical examples of voided work with (probable) outlines drawn freehand, then stitched.

Another thing that can’t be determined is whether the historical embroiderers finished ALL of the outlines first, then went back and did the fills; did them section by section; or if in fact the SAME stitcher did both. I can well envision a large group project like a set of bed hangings, where someone proficient in laying down the outlines did that, copying from a chart or a previously stitched piece; with a team following on behind filling in the voiding.

Being a team of one myself, I tend to work section by section, defining my outlines, proofing them, and filling in the voiding – then leapfrogging on to the next bit.

Representing outlines in modern charting

In my own work, if I’m redacting or adapting from a piece that has evident outlines, I use a specific convention for charting. I employ the same dot-and-line method I use for plain un-voided linear work, but flood-fill a portion of the background to indicate the areas to be filled in with stitching after the outlines are completed. The sample bit I worked up for a previous discussion on charting methods (derived Kathryn Goodwyn’s redaction) illustrates this method (left). If the piece had no outlines or was charted from a graphed original or a historical piece in a medium that did not show outlines (some lacis, buratto or other darned-mesh type pieces), then I use the standard square in box technique (right) although usually without the red line 5-unit notation and count, which I tend to do mostly for use for knitting. Both my The New Carolingian Modelbook and its forthcoming sequel The Second Carolingian Modelbook include linear unit and block unit sections.

There’s one other style I use on rare occasion, mostly for linear pieces that include large, dark areas, and whose edges are defined not by prior outlines, but by half cross stitches worked at the same time as the fully covered internal areas. This spider panel from Ensamplario Atlantio II is an example – note that the ultra-dense spider is done in boxed cross stitch (aka 4-sided cross stitch), with half cross stitches to smooth out the outlines.

Conversion from voided chart to a linear chart

This is something I hadn’t considered doing before. It presupposes a finished chart in the block unit style.

First, I have to apologize. I don’t use commercial charting software, relying instead on a homegrown solution based on the freeware drafting program, GIMP. (I offer a free tutorial and templates for my method elsewhere on this blog.) You could do this with a photocopying machine and a pencil, but please bear with me.

Let’s use the bunny seen above, which I previously charted and made available for free download as a PDF.

The approach is pretty straightforward, but there are no shortcuts. Take the chart you want to convert, photocopy it, and pencil in your adaptation over the established boxes. Or regraph it as I did, then use an outlining tool manually, box by box, to smooth the edges until you get a look you like. You will want to take liberties with the diagonals, instead of outlining every 90-degree intersection (although that’s a clear alternative). You may also wish to add details, like the toes, nose, eyeball, and ear openings. That’s also a design choice and up to you.

Finally, please note that I do not use “knight’s move” stitches (two units over, one unit up, to make a 30/60-degree angle). That’s a conscious design decision on my part. They are absent from 16th and 17th century artifacts with the rare exception of when they are used to form eyelets, or in later 18th century works – solid blocks of stitching radiating from a central point. I’ve not yet found a single 16th or 17th century voided or linear work artifact that employs knight’s move angles. They are a great addition to the charter’s tool set for sure and can be used to expand the stitcher’s design vocabulary. But they are also a clear indication of modern design aesthetic, so I leave them to other modern blackwork designers, and limit myself to 90 and 45-degree angles exclusively, even in my contemporary “nerd-culture” pieces.

So there’s the long answer for Callie. She is absolutely right. The solution is as she suggested in her question. If you need to draw it out before hand rather than adapt on the fly, you will need pencil and paper (or a charting design drafting solution) and I know of no shortcuts.

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