Tag Archives: blackwork embroidery


Folk have asked me how I can redact designs from photos. I try to reply, with specific examples from a new-to-me design I just charted up this morning.

First credit where credit is due. This artifact is a work bag in the collection of the Boston Museum of Fine arts, accession number 12.52. Below is their photo of the thing from the page linked in the last sentence.

The museum’s attribution is Italian or English, from around 1600. It’s part of the Denman Waldo Ross Collection, which means it was probably collected before 1900. The description further says it’s done in red silk on white plain weave linen, but does not say if it was done in double running or back stitch. No photos of the stitching’s reverse are shown, although there is a note that implies that when the piece was made up into a bag, a coarser grade of linen was used for the presumably unstitched back side.

The regularity and angles immediately signal to me that is was done on the count. Also that the ground cloth’s weave is not quite even, with a few more threads in the horizontal-appearing direction, than in the vertical. I can tell that from the large center flowers, which although they are quadrilaterally symmetrical, appear to be a bit squished side to side.

First, some base assumptions.

  • Modern blackwork and its expanded vocabulary aside, historical examples employ only straight lines, right angles, and 45-degree angles.
  • Stitch length units are regular, and are constrained to multiples of a single whole unit, either on edge or on the diagonal. Yes, there are some artifacts with instances of half-unit stitches, but for the most part they are extremely infrequent in foreground design. They do appear sometimes in voided work, to help the stitcher cozy up to the outlines of their previously laid down foreground design.
  • Gaps between stitches in a continuously linked design will be the same multiple of the base unit. There are no “floating islands” in this piece. Every bit is straight-line attached to every other bit, and therefore must be on the same base grid.
  • Not every iteration of the original is assumed to be spot on accurate. Imperfections in cloth, and stitchers who let mistakes remain or improvise their way out of a mistake can make the creation of a final normed chart a matter of adjudicated compromise, comparing as many of the iterations of the pattern as appear on the piece and deducing the most likely original pattern drafter’s intent.

It’s pretty clear that this photo, while quite good, isn’t the best. Individual stitches blur together. Angles are not always crisp, and the threads have aged over the centuries. Still the base logic and standard shapes that can be formed using the assumptions above remain. I’ve charted hundreds of these, and have a pretty good grasp of what can be done with those shapes, but even if you have fresh eyes and haven’t done this before it’s not impossible. Think Logic.

So. Where to start? That’s easy. At the center.

That big rosette must start at the center with a square of four units. We know that from the little Y units that grow out of it. Heart shape units are pretty common in this work, and it’s also easy to deduce that these must be an extra unit tall so that the center vertical of each ends up one unit above those same Ys. That makes the diagonals linking the center square to the edges of the centermost heart flower two units long.

(An aside: the distortion produced by the less than even ground is evident when you compare the original and my true-square chart.)

The next thing I added was the simple hearts that grow out of the four cardinal directions. That establishes the height and width of that motif. I decided these hearts had flat rather than pointed top corners after looking at several spots on the original, and seeing that to achieve the height as seen, pointy corners would have been too tall – the divot at the center of the heart would not be in proper proportion otherwise. After that I played with the surrounding petal shapes, noting which straight lines were preserved, and noting the parallel size of the right angle juncture where the center heart petals meet with the size of the elongated diamonds that link the center rosette to the smaller flowers. Those have to be two units at each end. And so I filled in the rest of the rosette and those connecting links.

The only thing remaining to create the flower framing motif was to graph out the little blossom. Comparing the corners of those petals it was pretty clear that they WOULD have to be pointy to make the motif congruent with its own center square, which is clearly the same size as the larger rosette. Easy. So is chaining two together to make the inter-rosette connections. The only thing I had to watch for was the direction of those little leaves sprouting on the side. Those had to mirror around the center. A simple matter of copying and pasting, with flips as needed.

The chart at right is pretty much the entire logical repeat for the floral frame (click on it if it truncates on your device). Now for the harder part. The stemmed sprig of hops? grapes? whatever? is NOT symmetrical at the bottom. For that we have to rely on alignment with the wonderfully and conveniently regular floral frame.

Yes, this part is harder, and sometimes takes quite a few trial-and-error iterations before I hit on the logic of the original. In this case it wasn’t that difficult. Although it’s not possible to count stitches in the photo, our base assumptions and our clearly defined frame made it rather easy. I look for alignments and spacing when compared with the frame. For example, if you compare the red alignment lines on the photo of the original to my chart, you see I hit all the bases. There are lots more points of alignment and extrapolation than just my few red marks. And yes, long familiarity with the shapes and curves possible does make it a bit easier.

You can also see in the original that the curlicues do not always “lay flat.” Some have fallen victim to age and loose stitching. In most cases I had to sift through multiple instances of the repeat and come up with a best guess. And in this photo is one thing I often add – a deliberate interpretation that’s a tell-tale, so that I can spot unauthorized reproductions of my charting, even when others claim to have charted the same original on their own. (Don’t laugh, this does happen. Mapmakers still do this to spot knockoffs, too.)

Thankfully the upper part of the sprig is symmetrical. I use the same alignment and spacing methods to fill in the tightly packed flower/fruit shape and the lily-like finial on the top. The best part of that is once I’ve got a good stab at half, I can cut and paste with mirroring, rather than doodling in every line segment.

And the whole thing together – click here for an easy to download, save and print PDF. Note that a full size page version of this design is also available in the permanent free embroidery patterns collection tab, scroll down to the linear patterns section.

As with all my charts, I copyright my own graphed interpretation, with no claim on the parent object that inspired it. I make this chart freely available for your own personal use. If you intend to incorporate my charting into your own design, and especially if you intend to sell that design OR if you wish to use this to produce items for sale or fundraising purposes – you are requested to contact me before doing so.


My quick project gets off to a flying start. I’m about 20% done already. I started out with my hand-held 6 inch hoop to get close to the irregular corner of my linen scrap, but now have moved back to the larger 8 inch sit-upon.

The pattern itself is an original doodle destined for the next volume of Ensamplario Atlantio (as usual, no ETA on its release yet, but I’ve got the first 8 pages done). It requires a bit of attention, the diagonal columns connecting the saltire flowers carry twists in various directions, depending on where in the design they are, but overall the pattern itself is more repetitive than difficult. So to up the interest factor, I’ve transformed my original strip/border/edging layout into large, interlocking hashmark-shaped motifs, and am working each one in a different color. The final will have a patchwork meets jigsaw puzzle effect, kind of like a kid’s puzzle mat.

The other item of interest in this one is the thread. After reading about how others were using Sulky, a single ply hard twist thread intended for both hand and machine embroidery, I decided to give it a try. The ground is roughly 32 threads per inch linen, give or take. I am using a double strand of Sulky 30 weight.

First impressions are quite good. The 500 yard spool put-up is very convenient, as is not having to separate plies as with floss. It works up very quickly in linear stitching – the hard twist, firm nature of the thread eliminating the occasional snags and catches that can slow down softer, more friable floss and silk, when stitching with one hand above and one below. It also is amenable to being used in much longer lengths than regular embroidery floss. Longer thread length means fewer stops to end and begin new threads, so that speeds up stitching a bit. And it makes very crisp lines and corners. The hard twist paired with a blunt point needle makes the junctions where stitches cohabit easier to keep clean. There’s far less chance of a split stitch when stitching back up or down through a hole that is already used by a previous stitch, even when using (near) evenweave linen. I also like the way the dense, round thread keeps its “height,” with the stitches standing proud of the surface, rather than splaying out like floss strands do. Of course that means that floss strands provide better coverage for other types of stitches, but for linear work, clean lines and sharp corners take precedence. I try to capture the “depth” of the stitches below.

On the down side, I do note that colors do crock a bit onto the ground cloth even though the thread is not fuzzy. This is mostly evident when mistakes are picked out. Hints of the previously stitched color remain. To be fair, floss does this too, with the added annoyance of more stray fibers. My Silly Putty kludge works well enough on the color halo left when picking out Sulky, though.

So in my opinion Sulky 30 (double stranded) on 32 count linen is a good pairing. I will continue to explore its use, and report back on wash properties and durability. I would even go so far as to recommend it for folk who are interested in trying double running stitch on medium to high count evenweave. I think the properties outlined above would make it easier for those just starting out on their own blackwork journeys to achieve superior results.

Please note that I pay full retail for the materials I use. I do not accept freebies in exchange for reviews, nor does String participate in product placement schemes. Opinions here are entirely my own.


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.



You’ve stuck with this for a good long while now, and we’re almost done. Just one more strip after this. So please excuse me for inserting a bit of serious into all this silly.

Greater Fandom as a whole depends on the output of creative professionals. These range from big-money movie studios, highly paid actors and other high-impact performers/public personalities and well known/successful writers; to small one-person artisan shops selling on Etsy and other venues, authors struggling to get a toehold in the market, and independent musicians, artists, designers, costumers, actors, craftspeople, and artisans. Times have been tough for us all, and things have been especially hard for the creative community who depend on in-person consumption of their content, either in theaters or arenas, on screen, or interaction with their books or other publications. Many creative folk have just barely eked by for the past two years, and are hoping against hope that this year is an improvement.

If you have the means, please consider paying forward the time and attention invested in this free group project by purchasing something – it could be something as small as a 99-cent short story on Kindle – or otherwise offering support and acknowledgement. If you are hurting, too, consider leaving an honest review for a maker/writer/performer whose wares you might have bought and enjoyed in better times. The arts, especially those that feed the imagination, are what keep us human when all else conspires to strip back mutual respect, compassion, and empathy. Let’s work together to preserve them.

Time Factor 3, mostly for size. The over/under crosses can be a bit tricky, however, the repeat isn’t very long, and being quite symmetrical is quick to memorize, and is an easy field in which to spot errors.

Use one color, multiple colors, or variegated threads, as you prefer.  As with the rest of Epic, there are no rules or must-do approaches.

As usual this band plus working notes and hints has been appended to the bottom of the write-up on the SAL page, accessible via this link or via the tab at the top of every page here on String-or-Nothing.

If you are working our Epic Fandom SAL either as a whole or as a strip excerpt, please let me know. It gives me great joy to see how my “pattern children” fare out in the wide, wide world, especially when they meet up with creative, playful people. And if you give permission, I’d be happy to share your pix of this developing sampler, it in its finished state, or derivative projects including one or more of the Epic bands here on String, in a gallery post, with full credit to you as interpretive artist.

Band 18 debuted on he Facebook Enablers group on 2 August. Band 19 was posted there today, and will be echoed here on 30 August.



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’m working along happily on my grapes wine-opening placemat, using the motif I redacted from the 17th century Hermitage artifact.

One big problem with my graphing of the design is that the original doesn’t stick to count on the placement of the individual large and small motifs. While each motif is worked true to count, their scattering across the piece is a series of eyeballed guesses, with no two offset by the same spacing. Here are a couple of enlarged snippets from the museum original that showcase the variance:

However, when I graph up a design I try to “regularize” it – often averaging the deviations among many repeats to create an easy to replicate canonical version of the design. In T2CM I note the degree to which I normed the repeat in each redacted design, so those who are interested in total veracity know that I’ve done a bit of tinkering, and can refer back to the original and determine if that level of deviation complies with their intent.

I played with the two main elements of this all-over repeat until I hit upon something that was regular and that accommodated the use of the smaller motif both as the “pinwheel” spinning off the larger grape/floral motif, and to occupy the center of the circle formed by the grape/florals. And I began stitching.

Now the placement I ended up using does have a flaw. The march of the grape/florals is offset one unit each iteration by the pinwheeling. That means that in the sample above, the right-most grape/floral presents one unit ABOVE the line established by the one immediately to its left. This is the problem that the original stitcher tried (with limited success) to combat by eyeballing placement rather than sticking to the count. Even with their best effort, the original artifact’s overall design does migrate a bit in the same way, like a time lapse photo of a rising sun, each pattern repeat appears ever so slightly above the one to its left.

This isn’t much of a problem for a large field design with no edges that matter, but for a smaller work the migration does become evident. Especially if an edging or hard border is used.

And I want to use a hard border. I’ve designed a companion border for this field, to be worked in the same color as the rest of the piece. Or I should say I’m still in the process of designing one because I haven’t settled on exactly the **right thing** yet. But this is getting close. I’m using the cinched rope visual trope contemporary with the field design, and incorporating elements of the grape/floral with it.

Yes, it’s blurry. It’s not ready for prime time yet, but you can squint and make out the basics – the rope, the pendant flowers borrowed from the field, and the line above running parallel to the rope. That line will save me, and whatever variant of this edging I end up using will include it. I will work the edging in strips, butting the corners instead of mitering them (a very historically accurate way of dealing with pesky corners), doing it in the neighborhood of the basted black guideline threads. Then I will work the field pattern up to and touching the edge line.

The rising sun anomaly will still be there, but the piece as a whole should be both bound and defined by the border. Or so I hope. Stay tuned! It’s going to be a while before I get to actually stitching that part. All the more time to refine my edging graph. 🙂


Fueled by a week at the beach; hot, dry, and windy weather; paella, sufficient wine, and other indulgences, my grape-adorned sideboard placemat grows.

First an observation on the ground cloth itself. I had intended to preserve the simple crocheted edging that this piece of well worn linen came with. But as you can see – “loving hands at home” were at work when this remnant was rescued from a larger prior incarnation, and the edges of the cloth are far from parallel. The thin black lines are my basted guidelines, done on the weave to mark the absolute center, and also about 1.5 inches in from the edges. Obviously they are not parallel to the edges. The short sides are especially skew:

Eventually I will have to trim off the edges and hem. Then possibly finish with a bit of simple needle lace. I haven’t done that in a while, so it should be an interesting adventure. But for now, I will stick to the inside of the designated rectangle. I’m still contemplating designing a companion edge pattern to the field of the original artifact, so I won’t get too close to those basted lines, just to make sure I have ample room for both the edging and the field.

So, that being said, I started in the center. Note that I don’t stitch over my basted guidelines – I snip them out as I come close.

You can really see the even/uneven nature of the ancient linen in the shot above. Yes, I am working it in a hand-held hoop (although I’ll probably switch to my sit-upon later tonight). I’m using plain old DMC six-strand floss, color #615. This piece will become a placemat on my sideboard, where wines are generally opened. The grape motif is fitting, but there is ample chance for spills, and washability is my prime concern. The linen itself is already far from pristine, so a few more stains won’t make much difference, but I didn’t want to use silk or faux silk (rayon), to make care less complicated.

According to the updated notes on the museum photo, the stitches used are double running and an Italian double sided cross stitch. The original has a design that’s truncated around the outer edge, and might have been cut down from a larger work. I do believe that The Ancients were just as practical as we are today. If something wasn’t going to be seen flipped over, it didn’t merit the additional work of making it perfect on both front and back. A bold leap of surmise on my part, but since I have no earlier larger work to repurpose into this sideboard mat, I’m comfortable with not extending the extra effort. Plus, I am doing this entirely for me. I have no intention on documenting it and entering it in any historical needlework exhibit or arts competition.

The variant of the two-sided cross stitch I’m using produces a boxed cross stitch on the front and a square grid on the back. If you zoom in on the original the scrum of stitches does look like a cross in a box. I could have used meshy, either pulled tight or relaxed to go double-sided, or long armed cross stitch (another historically congruent approach), or even satin stitch, but I wanted to try something new. Here’s the back. You can see the little grids where on the front the presentation is solid color.

And of course, since nothing can be perfect, especially after all the wine referenced above – this particular iteration of the secondary motif was in the wrong place. I haven’t done it yet, but the whole square has to be picked out. But I made progress none the less. The offending misplaced robot-headed square is mostly unseen over my knee in the general progress shot below. The other two secondary motifs are correctly placed.

I will continue on with this cloth, filling in the additional iterations of the main and companion motifs. Still thinking of doing a companion edging, but treating it as they most often did contemporary with the design, by using butted rather than mitered corners. We’ll see what I come up with…

I’m “off paper” now, mentally rotating/flipping as needed, hence the dizzy title of this post. I like that extra challenge, too.

This design may end up being in The Third Carolingian Modelbook, a project I’ve already begun. But frankly there has been very little uptake of either of my two earlier citation rich for-sale books, and only marginally more from my free releases of mostly original material or from the free pattern broadsides or the SAL on this website. Sales and downloads, yes – but very little actual stitching from any them. It’s disappointing, and I am not sure I want to take the time if folk are just looking for shelf fodder and not actual stitching inspiration.

Have you done something from my pages? Please let me see it. If you give permission I would be happy to post your work here on String under a gallery tag, either with your name or anonymously as you prefer.



Our salute to Retro-Futurism! Slap wings on that SUV and take to the skies. I am dating myself, but I can confess that we kids of the late 1950s/early 1960s were convinced we’d have flying cars by the time we had our own kids, and would be vacationing in orbit or on the moon. But the whole personal computer and Internet revolution, and the phone-in-every-pocket transformation weren’t even on our radar. Just as well. Computer/phone crashes are far less painful than having one’s flying car fall out of the sky.

Time Factor 2, mostly for height and discontinuity (the motifs are separated, and the wind/speed lines present lots of annoying little “orphan islands” to stitch).

134 stitches wide x 15 stitches tall. 2 blank rows left between this and the following strip. If worked as a stand-alone continuous band, one full repeat in 28 units. Note that this strip isn’t exactly centered. I moved the placement in order to squeeze three whole autos into our allotted area.

Use one color, multiple colors, or variegated threads, as you prefer.  As with the rest of Epic, there are no rules or must-do approaches.

As usual this band plus working notes and hints has been appended to the bottom of the write-up on the SAL page, accessible via this link or via the tab at the top of every page here on String-or-Nothing.

If you are working our Epic Fandom SAL either as a whole or as a strip excerpt, please let me know. It gives me great joy to see how my “pattern children” fare out in the wide, wide world, especially when they meet up with creative, playful people. And if you give permission, I’d be happy to share your pix of this developing sampler, it in its finished state, or derivative projects including one or more of the Epic bands here on String, in a gallery post, with full credit to you as interpretive artist.

Band 13 debuted on the Facebook Enablers group on 12 April. Band 14 will premiere there on 10 May, and be echoed here on 24 May 2022.



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.


On to one of our heavily themed strips – WHERE NO STITCHER HAS GONE BEFORE.

I know you’ve been waiting for this one. Our voyage continues. To seek out new worlds, new civ… Well, to possibly to try new techniques and have fun along the way.

This is another chance to attempt voiding – filing in the background for dramatic effect (in this case, The Final Frontier). I suggest long-armed cross stitch, plain old cross stitch, but you can see in the examples that one of the more open fills also works nicely. The stars really pop against any of the backgrounds. But even without voiding the piece presents well, so if you prefer not to do it, don’t feel pressured.

Time Factor 4 for height and complexity. Time Factor 5 if you choose to work the background, too.  Use one color, multiple colors, or variegated threads, as you prefer.  As with the rest of Epic, there are no rules or must-do approaches.  Use one color, multiple colors, or variegated threads, as you prefer.  As with the rest of Epic, there are no rules or must-do approaches

134 stitches wide x 26 stitches tall. 2 blank rows left between this and the following strip.  If worked as a continuous band, one full repeat in 93 units.

As usual this band plus working notes and hints has been appended to the bottom of the write-up on the SAL page, accessible via this link or via the tab at the top of every page here on String-or-Nothing.

If you are working our Epic Fandom SAL either as a whole or as a strip excerpt, please let me know. It gives me great joy to see how my “pattern children” fare out in the wide, wide world, especially when they meet up with creative, playful people. And if you give permission, I’d be happy to share your pix of this developing sampler, it in its finished state, or derivative projects including one or more of the Epic bands here on String, in a gallery post, with full credit to you as interpretive artist.

Band 12 will debut on the Facebook Enablers group on 29 March, and be echoed here on 4 April 2022.


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