Category Archives: Blackwork Sampler


What have I been up to while posting the informational notes last week?

Fighting a long-standing battle – and at long last – conquering my nemesis.

I’m not sure if this is a dragon, or a lion, or some other beastie, but whatever it is, I’ve made failed attempts to graph it from its original source. I’ve gotten close a couple of times, but never close enough to do the panel justice. I think I’ve hit it this time – fifth time’s the charm!

I’ve paired it with a border from the same source, but not shown in association with the dragon on the original sampler. Like most of the other strip patterns I’ve stitched over the past 18 months both of these will be in my Second Carolingian Modelbook (TNCM2).

How did the bottom panel turn out?

and how is the piece as a whole coming along?

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Incremental progress here must be excruciatingly boring to read about. But undaunted, I continue to post:

You can see that I continue to work the current Y strip across the bottom of the piece.

Now one of the few remaining readers here has asked about the narrow slice left bare – indicated above by the yellow arrow. It’s not a mistake. It is an artifact of squaring out the repeats, but I intend to put it to good use. That will be the last little bit I stitch on the piece, and will be the spot where I sign or initial the work, along with a date of completion.

Still working on the graph for the next slice…

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More progress!

The new band is marching across the bottom nicely, bringing a dark footing to the thing. Here you can see that I outline first, then fill in the voided long-armed cross stitch (LACS) background:

Trust me, it’s MUCH easier to work LACS inside an outline. I did it “feral,” (without outlines) on the large dark panel in the center of the left edge. Plain old cross stitch is easier to count than LACS with its braided surface texture. That one panel probably took twice as long to do in LACS as a result. This band is moving along much faster. Another two weeks tops, and I should have the entire bottom edge finished. An aside – there’s a mistake in the current strip. Pat yourself on the back if you can spot it!

In other news, The Resident Male has a project to showcase this week. In the spring we finally replaced our Carter-era washer and dryer with ones that work. Because we had to fit them into an existing alcove, and I wanted efficient front loaders, that took a bit of shopping around. Most front loaders on display in this area are giant capacity/top of the line units or are mini capacity apartment size stackers. Big ones wouldn’t fit in the space we had available, and with kids, we wanted more capacity than the smaller, stackable models. We finally tracked down some mid-size GE units, well reviewed with good repair records, and ordered them.

Now one problem with these front loaders is that the openings are knee height, and users have to stoop to put the laundry in. This is why the makers offer height-raising pedestals as options. Unfortunately, pedestals for our smaller size units are not offered in the US. So the Resident Male, freshly inspired by countless evenings of home improvement TV, tackled the project himself:

We now have two drawers for storage of once-a-year type kitchen impedimenta – like the big turkey roasting pan. And no more reaching in for that last sock on hands and knees! I declare this project a success. Now how does the new washer perform? It cleans much more thoroughly than my late 1970s/early 1980s vintage Kenmore did, even removing stains I thought were lost causes. The washer/dryer pair sip water, detergent, and energy, noticeably decreasing our consumption of each. And they’re quiet. We can now sit in the kitchen (behind the photographer) and have a conversation while the machines are running. But there are also a couple of minor drawbacks. Cycles take twice as long to complete; the mid-capacity model holds less than the old top loader, so there is one more wash per week; and for some reasons, sheets twist themselves into Gordian knots in the dryer, and do not dry well, unless I take the time to re-assort them several times mid cycle. Drawbacks aside, the new set-up is far superior to the old one, and the raised platform is the icing on the cake.

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More progress on the big sampler:

I’ve finished out the excerpt from the big Lipperheide repeat and started another. This pattern appears on the same plate as the one I just finished. Like it, this one was originally worked voided. It turns out to have the exact north-south stitch count I need to eke out the horizontal row, getting ready for a darker, wider strip at the project’s bottom edge. It’s also an extremely quick one to stitch up. The bit above only took about an hour or so.

Anna asked me what kind of hoop I’m using, and whether or not I’ve padded it. I reply:

It’s a 7-inch Hardwicke Manor hoop I bought from Hedgehog Handworks, about 10 years ago, but didn’t use until recently. In part because I’d been on an extended vacation from stitching, and in part because I didn’t like the way it tensioned the fabric. At 5/8″ wide it grabbed nicely, but never maintained the tightness I prefer for double running stitch. So finally tiring of my ancient dime store bamboo hoop last month, I got some standard fabric store issue half-inch white twill tape and carefully wrapped the bottom of my Hardwicke frame. It’s hard to see, but the tape is angled at 45-degrees, and overlaps by roughly half a width on each wrapping. The end is tucked underneath and stitched to the bottom hoop’s inside (left on the image, where the lump is), to keep the outside perimeter bump-free. The hoop’s screw closure is long enough to handle the extra diameter of the wrapping. About six turns of the screw’s threading are visible, and I had just popped the thing off the work for the photo.

I now love this hoop. The twill tape cushions the work and minimizes crush and holds the ground cloth drum tight. However wrapping the bottom hoop does reduce the effective stitching area by decreasing the inside diameter. Even with cushioning I would not recommend using a hoop for anything other than flat surface stitching using cottons. When I stitch with silk, metallics, or use any sort of raised or heavily textured stitch I pull out a flat frame.

Where is the crowdsourced pattern of the week? I’ve got a very nifty motif queued ready to go, but it’s only one panel. I’m hoping for at least one more before I post the next update.(Hint, hint…)

Aside: Hoping all on the East coast were spared overly much grief with Irene. Only minor damage here in the leafy close-in suburbs outside of Boston:

Half a tree down, blocking our street, and another big limb in our back yard. Thankfully both fell with surgical precision, missing every structure, vehicle, power line and comms wire. I bow to the courtesy of my neighborhood vegetable friends. Also to the amazingly diligent Arlington, MA DPW crew, that had this cut up and hauled away within 45 minutes of the tree’s fall!

Finally, for folk who landed here looking for Ensamplario Atlantio. (Word is still spreading about it.) It’s here.

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First, thanks this week to our crowdsource design contributors – the patient Jane Wyant, and (as always) Long Time Needlework Pal Kathryn Goodwyn:

  • #25 – Grapes – Kathryn’s own needlework sigil, offered up to our collection. (Kathryn’s deep love of grape motifs is legendary).
  • #26 – TARDIS – From Jane Wyant, a Whovian tiny inter-dimensional call box should we wish to stitch in two places at the same time.

We’ve still got a few open diamonds. With some repositioning I think I can fit in seven more motifs. Feel free to send yours along.

On my own blackwork sampler, progress is being made. My Lipperheide panel is proceeding apace.

I am not going to have room for the entire repeat. There’s a head of one of the four winds (possibly Boreas), and a horn tooting satyr that will have to wait their turn on a future piece. Unless Kathryn gets there first. 🙂

After I finish out this strip to the left hand edge of the stitched area I will fill in a narrower band below the sprigged chimney pots. Then I’ll edge across the entire bottom with something nice and dark – probably worked voided style. I haven’t picked out the designs for either of those strips yet, but as folk following here know, I enjoy bungee jump style stitching. Once the dark area is done that will leave only the top. Believe it or not, the part you see stitched here is only about 65% of my total piece. I’m not sure what I’ll do up there, but that’s still down the road.

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A break from the crowdsource project this week. No new designs came in, so unless I cheat and post more myself, there’s no update. Feeling shy about submitting a design – please don’t be! We’re delighted to see your efforts, whether it’s your first venture into drawing a pattern, or if you’re an old pro.

Instead I share progress on my own sampler. As you can see, I finished the last band, described as “sprouting chimney pots” by Long Time Needlework Pal Kathryn:

And Kathryn is also to blame for the new band. She was gracious enough to lend me Kathleen Epstein’s Old Italian Patterns for Linen Embroidery – a redaction of one of the legendary Lipperheide volumes. This is the only design on the sampler that will not be offered in my upcoming sequel to TNCM because it’s in that book. If you’re familiar with the original you’ll see that I have adapted slightly:

My variation differs in the way that the background’s handled. I won’t be working this one voided like the original. I also tinkered a bit with some of the interior elements, the banding for example right under the central cherub. In the original the darker little vertical elements are filled in with cross stitches. Mine uses plain ladder like elements, which I repeat elsewhere in the piece. Thanks, Kathryn! You remain my chief enabler, even after all these years. 🙂

Now where do spaniels and sunsets come in? For spaniels, that’s easy to see: the odd little critter in the lower right hand corner. He’s got a spaniel-like fluffy tail, foot feathers, and floppy ears. Even the stylized dark area on his middle is reminiscent of the classic saddle-area markings on a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (a breed that was fashionable at in the 1500s-1600s.) As I worked him I could almost hear him barking at the cherub that will stand to his right (you can see the cherub’s hand and lower face at the edge of the stitched area). And if you’re eagle-eyed you’ll see the two mini-mistakes at the left hand edge of the completed work. Hint: I’ll be picking out the left hand lady’s upper arm and the hairline of the central angel-face.

Sunsets? That’s implied. This week’s vast amount of progress is brought to you by an impromptu mini-vacation the Resident Male and I took for part of last week – sans children, the youngest being in summer camp and the oldest being trusty enough to leave on her own. Three blissful days of embroidering while watching the tide roll in and out, basking in Outer Cape sunsets, wiggling toes in hot sand, snarfing up some fine food, and enjoying a production of A Winter’s Tale. I am now armed against the inexorable slide back to fall, school, heavy deadlines, December, and snow.

Finally, for folk who landed here looking for Ensamplario Atlantio. (Word is still spreading about it.) It’s here.

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Back from vacation! A week of Cape Cod sun, sand, salt water and doing as little as possible except enjoying those things.

This year my mom came with us and we had a great time. We spent most of our time on the sands right at our hotel, sitting, swimming, kayaking, even watching Provincetown fireworks from our room’s deck. We did our now traditional beach paella, salmon teriyaki on the grill, and flank steak kabobs. I am rested but could be easily persuaded to do a wash-rinse-repeat of the whole week’s experience. Seven days is not enough.

Arriving back home, I checked gMail to see if anyone had volunteered a graphed pattern for the crowdsource project. Lo and behold! There was one:


I present Design #1 – Twerp’s StarBee. The first design in the series. Red lines indicate straight lines “off the grid” or not at 180/90/45-degree angles. I like this cheeky little fellow. A nice one, Twerp!

If you want to draw up one of your own to be posted here, please feel free to download the JPG at the project’s kickoff page, then draw on it by hand or using any graphics program. You can email the resulting file, a photo or a scan of your design to me at kbsalazar (at) gmail (dot) com. Let me know whether or not you want your name or a link posted with your offering. I do reserve the right to do light editorial selection (this is a family-rated website).

Now, what progress have I made on my own stitching?

Some, mostly prior to our departure. I concentrated on two pairs of socks while we were on the beach.

I knit a pair of guy socks, with a simple broken rib ankle and k1p1 ribbing to finish. There is only one in this picture. The other is now at parts unknown. At best guess, I dropped it at dusk on the beach and didn’t notice that it was gone. Either seagulls or the sea made off with it. Somewhere there is either a lobster or a tern sporting a new brown habitat. And I need to get another ball of the same yarn and knit a third to make a pair. (Grrrr.) The other pair has a lacy pattern in the ankle. More on that another day.

And here’s the latest strip on my sampler:

To which I will return once the socks are done.

One last note – to date (using the click-through count of the fourth part) – over 1,000 people have downloaded the complete Ensamplario Atlantio since I posted it two weeks ago. If you are looking for it, it’s here. It’s a PDF file – you need a recent version Acrobat Reader to open it. You can get Reader for free, for both Mac and Windows. Although I’ve gotten some thank-you posts and a couple of questions from people unfamiliar with Acrobat, I’ve had very little other feedback, and only one bug report – of fonts not displaying properly on an iPad II running the latest version of Safari. I’m looking into that problem and may repost the files later this week.

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As you can see, I’ve finished out the dark, narrow strip on the right of the oak leaves. (I put a US penny on the frame for scale.)

It was a quick one, especially compared to the extra wide bands of long-armed cross stitch I’ve been working since March.

I like this design quite a bit, and I think it would be an exceptional choice for the top edge of a chemise (undergown), just barely peeking out at the neckline, as in Bronzino’s famous portrait of Eleanora of Toledo. Eleanora had a killer wardrobe and sat for many paintings. I’m hard pressed to choose a favorite because each one is spectacular. (Thanks to the Elizabethan Portraits website for collecting these links.)

Now I’m filling in the strip on the left. You can’t make out the design here, but it’s already clear that I’m mirroring along a horizontal axis.

Now, how did I know to leave enough room for these strips? I didn’t. I’m building this piece as I go, with little or no forethought on pattern choice other than a general idea of where darker and lighter strips should go. I still don’t know which way is up. To date all of the designs are non-directional, with neither up nor down. That will change soon. I’d like to include some patterns that feature mythical beasts, but I haven’t chosen them yet, and I haven’t figured out where they will go. But my fave beast strips are not up-down agnostic, so once I’ve picked one and stitched it, my up/down decision will be final.

Back to shoehorning designs in. To fill in these odd spaces, the first thing I had to do was to determine their width. Easy. I counted the stitches available in the target space. That’s design height, not length. I am not going to worry about centering these fill-in strips left-right. The just-finished area turned out to be 26 stitches tall. I had the center double bud design in the upcoming book. I also had a different pattern that used the little wiggle ancillary frame. I decided to use them together. However, each wiggle in its original form is 6 units tall. The center strip was 16 units tall – 28 stitches. Too many. I decided on a gambit often used in these period strips when borders are married to a main design. I stripped out a solid row of stitches between the wiggle and the main pattern but kept it at the outermost edges. This reduced the count to my target. An easy fix.

For this current strip, I’ve got a space that’s 27 stitches tall. But I don’t want to do another dark strip here. Something a bit less dense is in order. So instead of looking for (or drafting up) a single 27-stitch-tall pattern, I decided to take a 13 stitch tall meander from my first book and mirror it. (TNCM Plate 27:3). I’ll write more about this one as more stitching gets done. Mirroring in this manner is another perfectly common way 16th and 17th century stitchers used to to build wider repeats from narrower ones. I may play a bit though. There are a couple of bits where I could work in a gratuitous interlace to join the two mirrored repeats. We’ll see if that happens as I go along.

The blackwork fillings book…

I haven’t forgotten. I’m putting the finishing touches on it right now. I’ve asked some native Italian speakers for advice on the proper form for the name. Some say that Ensamplario Atlantio is the correct form. Others say it should be Ensamplario Atlantico. I’m leaning towards the former because the latter looks to be a form of Atlantic, not Altantia, and the book isn’t going to be named after the ocean. If you’re knowledgeable on proper Italian (especially Renaissance Italian), please feel free to chime in. It’s now up to 35 plates of designs, plus five pages of intro material. Ten of those pattern pages have NOT been previously posted here. So even if you’ve been downloading over the winter, there are ample new goodies for you in the final collection.

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Steady progress on the latest strip:

Now that life is beginning to get back to normal (or what passes for normal in this house) I can also report progress on the book front(s).

First, on the PDF collection of blackwork filling patterns, to be named Ensamplio Atlantaea, I apologize for the delay. This one will include all of the filling patterns published here over this winter past. And as an extra bonus for everyone’s patience, I will toss in several more pages of additional patterns, not seen here before. It will be free, and will be available for download here at this site. Right now I have 27 pages of patterns (the original 150, plus a dozen more), and hope to make it an even 30. Plus cover and some sort of intro essay. It will NOT include free drawn outline patterns for use with these fillings, nor will it include detailed working methods, although I may abstract some of the double running stitch guidance previously posted here. I hope to have this one up and ready sometime in the coming month.

On the big book – my sequel, to be named A Second Carolingian Modelbook: More Counted Patterns from Historical Sources, I’ve got about 45 pages of patterns drafted out in whole or in part. Each pattern has annotation, noting its origin artifact or source, or if it’s one of the few originals, that attribution. That’s about 100 individual patterns, some of which are main strip plus accompanying border. I also have all over patterns suitable for cushions and body linen, narrow strips for cuffs and collars or seam decoration, and wide pieces that would make nifty tablecloth, sheet or towel borders. Right now about 2/3 of the patterns are for double running stitch, although there are some that are good for Italian two-sided cross stitch, long armed cross stitch, lacis, or other square-unit styles. There are also quite a few that were worked voided, some with straight or double running stitch defining the foreground from the background, and some not. Working methods/colors of the originals are also described, and full sources are provided for all graphs, so stitchers can look them up. I do not anticipate finishing this one any time soon. Feedback is that readers want essays on techniques, materials, and methods of employ. All that will take time. As will figuring out how to do the actual publication. (Right now an on demand service like Lulu or one of its competitors looks most likely). This book will not be free, but I am hoping to keep it affordable.

And in other news, it’s the beginning of Birthday Season here at String. A much recuperated Smaller Daughter celebrated her 13th last Saturday, mostly by laughing with evil intent at the thought that others had decided that her becoming a teen was the cause of the end-of-the-world predictions for that date. Larger Daughter is now back from college for the summer, and celebrates mid-week. I note the passing of yet another anniversary of my 21st birthday at the end of this month. Today’s home-cooked lobster feast was in recognition of all three fetes. The Resident Male, the odd man out in so many respects, does not have to share his natal day with adjoining festivities. We will recognize that occasion later in the summer.

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Thanks to everyone who sent get well wishes to Younger Daughter. I can report that each day she feels a bit better, but it will take a while.

This weekend’s kid recuperation gave me ample time to work on my stitching:

I’ve got the repeat established now, and all mistakes have been corrected. Now it’s just a matter of finishing out this strip.

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