Richelieu Cutwork Embroidery Apron and Tutorial

11 January 2016

CutworkTutorialThis weekend my mentor and friend Mistress Crespine de la Vallée was to become a member of the Order of the Pelican, the Society’s highest service award. To celebrate this auspicious occasion, Crespine’s mentor Master Philip White (also my mentor and friend), asked if I would make her an apron. When I queried him as to what sort of apron he envisioned, as there are many fine aprons one could make, he said he once saw an apron with piece work, white embroidery, and a laurel wreath with the pelican inside of it. He told me to let my creative license go. So after some research and consideration to Crespine’s persona of a 16th c. French noblewoman, I decided to make a fine white apron with a cutwork motif.

There was just one hitch—I’d not done cutwork before. I was familiar with the concept and I’ve done drawn thread work, but this was a step beyond. Nevertheless, I love to learn new fabric manipulation and embroidery techniques, so this wasn’t deterring me. Looking online, I could find examples of 16th century cutwork, but no comprehensive tutorials on how to actually reproduce it. I pieced bits together from two web sites (needlework-tips-and-techniques.com and NeedlenThread.com), which introduced the concept but did not go into great detail. I later found a few pages in Encyclopedia of Needlework by Donna Kooler (Leisure Arts, Inc., 2000). The book that really helped me was a 100-year-old book, The Priscilla Hedebo and Cutwork Book by Lilian Barton Wilson (1916), which is reprinted in the Cutwork, Hedebo, & Broderie Anglaise book edited by Jules & Kaethe Kliot (Lacis, 1992). The Cutwork book didn’t have step-by-step instructions, but it had plenty of notes that lead me in the right direction. After that, I learned by doing, which means trying, failing, and trying again until it worked and looked right.

The style of cutwork I learned is typically called French Richelieu cutwork, named after Cardinal Richelieu, who imposed a duty on all Italian imports and then brought lacemakers to France to teach the locals how to do it themselves. Cardinal Richelieu post-dates the Society’s time period by a few decades, but we know the technique existed in the 16th century and was in employ in Italy, France, and the Netherlands, among others. Cutwork pieces were highly prized amongst the royals and nobles throughout Western Europe—Mary Queen of Scots received cutwork as a New Years gift in 1556 and then later made her own “cutit out work” while she was imprisoned. England has sumptuary laws that restricted cutwork clothing and accessories to the rank of baron and above only. (For more historical information, see Needlework Through History: An Encyclopedia by Catherine Amoroso Leslie, 2007). Richelieu cutwork is characterized by freeform designs with buttonhole stitch bars the stabilize the areas of removed fabric.

Here are photos of the cutwork apron I made, and below them is a tutorial on how to create your own Richelieu cutwork piece.


The cutwork apron as may be worn


The laurel-pelican cutwork motif


The belt and the drawnwork hems of the apron

Mistress Crespine wearing her apron

Mistress Crespine wearing her apron


Richelieu Cutwork Tutorial


High quality linen, the tighter the weave the better (Note: I used 2 oz. white handkerchief linen [WLG 109] from Wm. Booth, Draper @ $32/yard. It is their finest linen, very tightly woven with tiny threads, and is not often in stock, so if you find it, get it. If you can’t get it, go for the 2.8 oz linen.)

White Linen thread 80/3 (available at http://www.wmboothdraper.com/Thread/thread_main.htm)

White silk thread (I used 1 strand of the 12 ply Splendor silk available at http://www.needleworkdiscount.com/product/S — I used cool white) -OR- white coton a border #25 (available at http://www.hedgehoghandworks.com/catalog/FBRDMC107CLRS.php)

A word about the threads—it is important to use the right kind. You need linen thread for the buttonhole bars—they must be strong and durable (cotton will fuzz and look messy). You could use the same linen thread for the buttonhole stitching around the motif, but it looks a bit rough. I preferred either the silk or the coton a border, with a slight preference for the coton a border.


Embroidery frame (I used a circular frame because it’s easier to hold in my hands, but you could also use a slate frame)

Small, sharp embroidery scissors (for example: http://www.joann.com/gingher-epaulette-3-1-2in-embroidery-scissors/4655338.html)

Small curved blade scissors (for example: http://www.allstitch.net/product/gingher-312-curved-blade-embroidery-scissors-4718.cfm)

Water soluble pen

Good lighting and maybe magnifier glasses (if you are like me)


1. Iron your fabric. You’ll want to start with it as smooth as possible.

2. Create a pattern and trace it onto your fabric with the water soluble pen (test that pen first to make sure it comes off easily). DO NOT use a pattern printed on an inkjet printer and water soluble pen to trace over it — the liquid in the pen will cause some of the ink to come off onto your fabric. Go on, ask me how I know this. (I had to scrap my first yard of fabric because of this mistake.)


My pelican-in-a-laurel-wreath pattern

3. Put your marked fabric in a frame — pay attention to the tension of the fabric. Tight, but not too tight.

4. Outline your pattern using parallel running stitches set 1/8″ apart — I liked to sew along the inside edge of my markings and then along outside edge, and that usually put my two lines of stitching at about 1/8″ apart. Be careful not to pull these stitches tight, as that would pucker the fabric.


5. As you are outlining your pattern, whenever you reach a point where your pattern calls for a buttonhole bar, you should stitch the bar. To do this, bring your needle up between your parallel lines of running stitches and take it across to the parallel stitching on other side, over where the cutout area will be. Do this three times (so you have three threads going across) and then begin the detached buttonhole stitching over these three threads until you get back to your original side. It’s crucial to keep the buttonhole bar from twisting as you work it — I found the best way to do this was to work the buttonhole stitching toward me in a consistent manner, pulling the stitching tight as I went along. This video shows the stitch orientation/direction that I refer to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9r637AfscS8


6. Once your pattern is outlined and all your buttonhole bars in in place, you need to stitch around each element that will NOT be cut out. Stitch over the two parallel lines, usually you can align the bottom of your stitch with the bottom running stitch and the top of your stitch with the top running stitch. You’ll use the buttonhole stitch again for this, but in this case it is not detached and it’s important that the flat, corded edge of the buttonhole stitch is against the edge that will be cut out. Do not yet cut out any material — that will be done after you complete the buttonhole stitching. Again, do not pull too tightly — just pull enough to get clean, neat stitching. Do not be tempted to cut out material first thinking that will make for a cleaner edge — while the edge will be cleaner, but your stitched edges will ruffle and pucker, rather than lay flat, and it won’t look as good.


7. After your buttonhole stitching is complete, it’s time to cut out the areas of fabric that are stabilized by the buttonhole bars you placed in step 5. Using the sharp, straight blade scissors, carefully cut a line down the center of an area you want to cut out. Then turn the fabric over and use the curved blade scissors to VERY CAREFULLY cut the fabric away right up to the edge of the stitching. I recommend you keep your fabric in your frame as you cut to provide tension and a better view of what you’re doing. If you cut too close, you’ll snip the buttonhole threads and you’ll need to go back and mend them, so cut carefully. I did have to mend in a couple spots — it’s not easy to cut close, but not too close, with such dense threads and fabric. In the photo below, you can see areas where I haven’t managed to cut away all the threads of the fabric yet.


8. When done, dampen your fabric to remove any trace of the water soluble pen, then wash your piece by hand. Allow it to air dry. Inspect your piece for any stray bits of threads at the cut edges and snip them off carefully. Iron flat.



When creating your pattern, you want to place buttonhole bars every 1/2″ or so, as well as at the tips of pointy bits (or they’ll just flap about). Avoid bars across too large of a cutout area; instead, keep a small bit of fabric there or even an eyelet to stabilize things and give your bars a midpoint to anchor in.

Your buttonhole stitching (step 6) does not need to be really close together, and in fact, if you get it too close it tends to look sloppy. Try leaving just a thread’s width of space in between each stitch and from 10″ away it looks neater and just as smooth.

Pay attention to the thread as you pull it off the spool or skein, and thread your needle with it the same each time. Remember, thread has a twist and you want consistent results.

In the same vein, be sure to do all your buttonhole stitching in the same direction for a consistent look. It really does make a difference.


Apron Construction Notes

I chose to create a flat rectangle style apron (rather than one gathered into the waistband) so that the cutwork would be displayed to its best advantage. I attached the top 2/3 of it to a simple band that served as the belt.

I hemmed the top and bottom edges with the drawn thread work hemstitch (see my tutorial here).

The right and left edges had threads drawn from them as well, but I did not do the same drawnwork hemstitch — I just kept it as drawn threads because I liked the look.


Creation Notes

I did not embroider the blood droplet on the pelican, but I bled on the apron while stitching — so I think that still counts. -grin-

The heart at the top of the motif is from my device (a winged heart).

My soundtrack while working on this was the radio station on Fallout 4 (Gregor got it for Christmas and I sat on the couch while he played each evening) and the entire audiobook of The Martian.

I estimate this project took 110 hours. (I  Mistress Crespine.)


I would love to see anything you make — please share! I’m always happy to answer questions. Feel free to e-mail me at genoveva.von.lubeck (at) gmail [dot] com

14th c. Embriodered Bycocket Cap of Maintenance (with a Split Loop Seam Tutorial)

6 September 2015

Yesterday I presented a 14th c. embroidered bycocket cap of maintenance for Master Gregoire de Lyon on the occasion of his elevation to the Order of the Pelican. I am pleased with how the cap turned out and thus thought it would be a good idea to document it in my blog for future reference (both mine and possibly yours!). In particular, I learned a new seam technique and I want to record it here so I do not forget it. Here’s the completed cap of maintenance (or cap of high maintenance, as Master Gregoire calls it):


bycocket-Decretals-of-Gregory-IX-40vResearch: The bycocket, or chapel à bec as it was known in France, was all the rage in the 14th and 15th centuries in northwestern Europe, but it did continue on sporadically into the 16th century. The bycocket shows up frequently in imagery of the time period, but my favorite image is found in margin of The Decretals of Gregory IX c. 1300-1340 written in Southern France (page 40v). In the image, a man wears a red bycocket with a white lining. Another favored image with the same hat style and coloring appears in the 1344 painting “The Effects of Good Government in the Countryside” by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (rider on the left, note that her brim may be decorated).

Construction: The shape of the bycocket looks more complicated than it is. It’s really just a bowl-shaped hat with the brim turned up at an angle. I used a wool felt bycocket that Gregoire already owned to fine-tune the size and shape, as that was his preference. The resulting pattern looks something like this:

bycocket-hat-patternMaterials: Dark red velvet (outside layer), white linen (inside layer), white linen canvas (interlining, for stiffness), wool batting (interlining, for shape), and white silk taffeta (outside brim layer). I used the canvas and wool batting to give the hat some solidity and structure. The order of layers from the outside to the inside is as follows: velvet, wool, canvas, linen. The silk taffeta was whip stitched onto the brim and only the brim in order to leave the white linen as the layer next to the hair (at Gregoire’s request), the thought being that it would be a touch cooler and easier to clean. Additional materials included silk embroidery floss (12 ply Splendor thread), silk sewing thread (Gutermann), and freshwater pearls.

Embroidery: Inspiration for the embroidered pelican came from the Pienza Cope, a richly-embroidered cape worn by Pope Pius II and currently housed in the Diocesan Museum in Pienza. The cope dates to 1310-1340 and features a beautifully embroidered orphrey (medieval pelican). Like the original inspiration, I used split stitch and couched silk in my embroidery, which are some of the stitches used in opus anglicanum style embroidery. And as I wanted the embroidery to feel fine and regal, I used just one ply of the 12-ply silk to work the stitches. This was time consuming (altogether the hat’s embroidery took about 40 hours), but the result was very rich looking. The overall design, with the three ermines and the lines that connect them came from Mistress Melisant, who quickly sketched it on a piece of scratch paper and it was — of course — perfect!!

pienza-cope-orphrey pelican-embroidery

Split Loop Stitch: Once the embroidery was completed on the silk taffeta, I had to attach it to the brim of the hat and I began considering a decorative stitch or trim along the top edge of the brim. Initially I planned to do a fingerloop braid, but I didn’t find a huge amount of evidence for it in the 14th century. But this lead to a seam technique used on 14th century bags that turned out to be perfect for this project. I found the stitching on an embroidered bag currently housed in the Victoria & Albert Museum (8313-1863). Master Richard studied this bag in person and notes this about the seam on his website: “The seams at the sides and around the mouth of the bag are covered/decorated with a double split stitch of dark red or purple silk and what appears to have been gilt floss … This decorative stitching is composed of two sections, each running up one side seam and around one edge of the opening. This can be seen illustrated in the second pattern sheet. How this decorative stitch was done is unknown.”

I recreated this decorative stitch using two long loops of silk thread and a single length of silk sewing thread, and the end result looks very much like the purse’s stitch. The resulting seam is practical and pretty. Here’s how I did it:

Step 1: Create two loops of silk thread in contrasting colors. The loops should be at least as long as the seam you wish to stitch, plus a little extra. For example, the brim length was 33″, so I cut silk thread lengths of 80″ to fold in half and knot, producing 40″ loops.

Step 2: Put the knots of the two loops between the two fabric sides where you wish to begin the seam. I sandwiched the knots in between the fabric, hiding them. Make sure your loops are not tangled in each other — you need the loops to move freely. Stitch the knots into place with a single length of silk sewing thread.


Step 3: Pull loop 2 through loop 1 and stitch loop 2 down, across the top of the loop 2.


Step 4: Repeat step 3, but this time pull loop 1 through loop 2 and then stitch down loop 1. Repeat steps 3-4 until you are done!

loop-stitch-step-fourHere’s a 14th century bag with this seam:

bag-seam From Victoria & Albert Museum (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O115592/bag-unknown/)

Here’s my recreated split loop seam:


Finally, freshwater pearls were added on the top of the hat, inspired by this image of a beautiful recreation of 14th century bycocket.

And here is a photo by the talented Lady Daeg (called “Daye”) of Master Gregoire in his new cap of maintenance:


The gold silk cote was made by Mistress Giovanna, by the way — isn’t it beautiful?

If you have questions, please post them here or e-mail me at genoveva.von.lubeck@gmail.com.

Call for Cynnabar Members to Make Favors for Pennsic!

16 March 2015


[As my Barony’s A&S Champion, I have been asked to coordinate the making of at least 25 favors for this year’s Pennsic War. Below is my call to action for my fellow members of Cynnabar!]

Pay heed, good gentles of the Barony of Cynnabar, for we have been charged with a task by Princess Arabella. Her Highness requests that we make 25 favors for the coming war at Pennsic. The design, pictured here, symbolizes the joining of forces between the Midrealm and the East to take over Aethelmearc. To help our populace answer Her Highness’ call, I have prepared kits with the right size linen, good amounts of floss, and an embroidery needle. I also have embroidery hoops for anyone who needs one. Favor Kits will be available at the weekly business meetings starting tonight, as well as at Sunday practices and our Spring Revel. To encourage the productivity of the favors, I will reward the Cynnabar member who makes the most favors by the day of Coronation (May 2) with a hat or cap of their choosing, made by me. If you are new to embroidery, this is a simple piece and I am happy to teach you how to do it. Any straight stitch, such as outline, stem, or chain, works well. I made this first favor with an outline stitch with just one evening’s work. Please let me know are able to help by posting here, emailing me, or speaking to me at one of the above-mentioned places.

Here is the instruction sheet I am including with the favor kits: favor-kit-directions


How to Embroider the Favors

For those who are new to embroidery, here is a step-by-step photo tutorial on how to embroider these:

1. Take your kit and a pair of scissors to a comfortable spot with good light. If you don’t have a kit, check the favor-kit-directions for the list of items you need.


2. Put your material in the embroidery frame. First loosen the thumbscrew on the outer circle. Then push the inner circle out of the frame and put it under your design, centered. Then place the outer circle of the frame on top of your material, centered over the bottom circle, and push them together. Tighten the thumbscrew.




3. Take your embroidery floss and cut off a length about 18″ long. Note that you can use ALL six strands of the floss together, or you can divide the strands so that it is thinner (as shown in the photo below). I personally like how bold it looks with the full floss (all six strands) and I have NOT divided mine into fewer strands for this tutorial. You may do as you please.


4. Thread your embroidery needle, pulling about 5″ of the floss through the thread. Tie a knot at the end.



5. Now let’s learn a simple, period embroidery stitch: the Back Stitch. Hold your embroidery frame in one hand, and, with your dominant hand, push the needle up from the back of the material to the front so that it comes out on the outline of your traced pattern on the fabric (as shown in the photo below).


6. Push the needle up and out and pull the thread through the material until it is stopped by the knot.


7. Push your needle back down into the fabric about 1/8″1-/4″ away.


8. Pull the thread down through the fabric until your thread lies flat. Do not over pull, as that will place too much tension on the fabric.


9. Push your needle up from the back of the material to the front about 1/8″-1/4″ ahead of the stitch you just made.


10. Push your needle down into the material back at the very same point you came up in step 6. This is the back stitch, which is ideal for following both smooth and complicated outlines like those in our pattern.


11. Continue like this along the line of your pattern. Once you feel comfortable, you can simplify and speed up the stitching by doing both the pushing in and out of the needle through the fabric at the same time, as shown in the photo below. As you can see, I pushed the needle in at the end of the preceding stitch and immediately came back up along my pattern line ahead of the thread.


12. You can do the back stitch around corners easily — just make the corner the start/stop of your stitch, as I’ve done in my next stitch here:


13. Keep going until you have only a few inches of thread left. Push your needle in and pull it through to the back of the fabric.



14. Flip your frame over and weave the needle (with the floss still threaded in its eye) through the stitches nearby. You want to go between the stitched floss and the fabric. Do this several times.



15. Once your floss is securely woven into the stitches on the back, unthread your needle and cut off the tail. Go ahead and cut off the tail of the knot on the other end of stitching, too.


When you’re done, the photo below shows what it looks like on the back of your fabric. Simple, neat, and secure.


16. Now just go back to step 5 and repeat until you’ve stitched along all the lines in your pattern! There are two other stitches that I think work well for this pattern: outline stitch and chain stitch — if you want to learn how to do these, let me know and I’ll take photos for you. When you are all done, mist your fabric with water or dampen it slightly to remove the blue pen lines.

17. With your blue lines gone, iron your embroidered fabric until it is nice and flat.  The material can now go back in the bag and you can give it to me (Genoveva) for sewing!


How to Sew the Favors

If you are finishing these favors yourself, here’s what you do:

1. Fold the fabric in half along the vertical center line, wrong side out.

2. Sew 1⁄2” seam down and press open so that the seam is centered.

3. Sew a 1⁄2” seam along the bottom edge.

4. Sew the seams a second time to reinforce edges.

5. Clip corners and turn right side out.

6. Iron flat. The image should now sit 1” above the bottom hem and 1⁄2” from each side.

7. Fold the top SA inside and stitch closed. You should now have a 5” x 12” rectangle.

8. Fold 3” down the back and stitch, forming the belt loop.


If you have any questions at all, do not hesitate to ask.

Fun with Norse/Viking Embroidery

6 September 2013

I’m preparing to attend Vikings Come Home on September 14 and we’re making our first, non-German garb. So what did I start with? The hat, of course! But just sewing stuff isn’t enough for me, oh no. I had to go and embroidery it, too. It’s so FUN to embroidery these stitches like herringbone, stem stitch, and chain stitch (all stitches known to exist on Norse era clothing). I have more to do, but I wanted to record my work so far:

Double herringbone stitch on a linen cap

The first image shows a double herringbone stitch, which I made using plain old DMC cotton floss (size 5). I’ve never worked with thread so large before (most of my blackwork is a single silk thread), so it goes very fast and is very satisfying.

Sleipner Norse Horse in Stem Stitch and Chain Stitch

This is Sleipner, Odin’s eight-legged horse done in stem stitch (horse body) and chain stitch (insides of the tail). Same color threads as the cap. Lovely autumn colors. The horse motif will go around the color of Gregor’s tunic, which is a dark red color that matches the dark red embroidery thread.

How to do the stem stitch

How to do the chain stitch

It goes really quite quick. I did the horse and the tail you see in a day and a half.

Blackwork Embroidery Booklet Updated: Bigger, Better Stitch Diagrams and Photos!

13 February 2012

A student reading my booklet during court at Val Day

Based on feedback from one of my first students (Erica), I’ve updated my Blackwork Embroidery booklet to show stitches from the previous stages on the patterns. While I was at it, I made the patterns larger and added several photos of things like needles, hoops/frames, and various accoutrements useful in blackwork embroidery. This added four pages to the little booklet, bringing it to a grand total of 20. The booklet is completely free and you can download it at:


Please note that I retain copyright. You may print it out for personal use. If you want to make multiple copies, please contact me for permission. All I ask in return is if you make something from the booklet, please share a photo of it with me!

Suggestions, comments, and all feedback always welcome!

Update: Many thanks to Jackie for noticing a couple of mistakes which have now been corrected!


Period Embroidery Pattern Books and Modelbuchs: References and Links

7 February 2012

I find it fascinating that there are still copies and facsimiles of embroidery pattern books from the 16th century. I know that those pattern books were used by embroiderers, needleworkers, and ladies alike, so to be able to refer and use them myself really strikes a chord with me. But, because these pattern books are scattered about, I keep losing track of them. Some of these books are just illustrations, but were also used as inspirations for embroidery work (such as emblem books), so I’m including them here as well. I’m also listing books just a bit into the 17th century because I’ve seen the designs in them on late 16th century artifacts — often these books may have been assembled or printed earlier, and additional printings were made at the later date. So here, for my references and yours, is a list of 16th century pattern books for needlework:

Modelbuch aller art Nehewercks und Stickens – George Gilbers, reprint of 1527 book

Punti Tagliati – Giardineto Novo, 1921 reprint of a 1550 book

A Scholehouse for the Needle – Richard Schorleyker, 1632

Les Singvliers Et Novveaux Povrtraicts – Federic Vinciolo, first printed in 1587, French

New Modelbuch – Federico di Vinciolo, 1594

Schön Neues Modelbuch – Johann Siebmacher, 1597

Patrons de broderie et de lingerie du XVle siecle – Hippolyte Cocheris, Bibliothèque Mazarine

La Vera Perfezione del Disegno – Giovanni Ostaus, 1561

Musterbuch für Stickereien und Spitzen – Ernst Wasmuth, 1616 (and here is part 2)

Needlework Patterns from Renaissance Germany: Designs recharted by Baroness Kathryn Goodwyn, OL from Schon Neues Modelbuch, 1597

Flowers of the Needle: A compendium of seven Italian needlework pattern books of the 16th century, from 1531 to 1567 by Baroness Kathryn Goodwyn, OL

I will update this list as I find more. If you know of more, please post a comment!



Blackwork and Plaited Braid Caul: 16th. Century Embroidered Headgear

9 January 2012

My Embroidered Caul

I’m pleased to report that I have finished my blackworked and plaited braid caul. I had the pleasure of displaying and wearing the caul the first time two days ago at 12th Night! It looks really lovely and I’m very pleased with it. Many thanks to Countess Ianthe d’Averoigne, author of The New Carolingian Modelbook and member of the Order of the Laurel, for the use of two of her charted botanicals which appear as fills in my design. I charted the rest of the fills from various period extant pieces, which you can read all about in my documentation below! If you’re interested in making your own caul, cap, or other blackwork/braided item, I refer you to my tutorial booklets on Blackwork Embroidery and the Elizabethan Plaited Braid Stitch. All I ask in return is that if you make something that was inspired by something I did or wrote about, please send me a note and a photo!

Photos of my blackwork and plaited braid caul, both in progress and completed:

Documentation for my blackwork and plaited braid caul:

Blackwork and Plaited Braid Caul

by Genoveva von Lübeck

Documentation Summary
Linen coifs and cauls were de rigueur attire for most women in 16th century N. Europe. I had already created several simple linen cauls, but wished for a more sophisticated, decorative head covering. My research showed that coifs and cauls could be elaborately embroidered, and blackwork and plaited braid stitches were employed. After studying examples in the Victoria and Albert Museum, I used the backstitch and Holbein stitch in green silk thread, as well as the plaited braid stitch in gold metallic thread, on 32-count linen. All of my blackwork fill patterns are based on historical sources found in th Victoria and Albert Museum, photos of extant pieces in Patterns of Fashion 4 by Janet Arnold, and historically-based patterns in The New Carolinginan Modelbook.

Blackwork Embroidery Primer Booklet: Learn Counted Blackwork in Four Phases!

8 January 2012

Blackwork Embroidery Booklet

I’ve written a 16-page booklet on Blackwork Embroidery for those interested in learning how to do it. The booklet introduces blackwork, offers a brief history, illustrates the two main stitches (double running, or Holbien, and backstitch), and offers hands-on practice in four phases of increasing difficulty with a pattern based on a period design. Included are photos, stitch diagrams, and color-coded patterns. This is the same booklet I handed out during my Blackwork Embroidery class at 12th Night in the Canton of Ealdnordwuda, with a few minor updates based on questions asked during class. The booklet is current available as a PDF file, and I will put it online as a web-based booklet in the future as well.

Click Here to Download My Blackwork Embroidery Booklet

The booklet is completely free, though please note that I am retaining the copyright. The only thing I ask in return is that if you do any of the hands-on activities, and are pleased with your progress, please send me a photo! Any and all feedback is welcome, as are questions!

One of my students at my first blackwork class!

By the way, my Blackwork Embroidery class was a success! The tiny classroom I was in had only 10 chairs, but 13 people showed up and were willing to crowd around the table to learn about blackwork! Everyone managed to complete phases 1 and 2 in the short time we were there (everyone!) and several people started phase 3. I was so happy to see everyone embroidering and making progress. I used a pegboard painted white and black yarn to show how blackwork stitches work on a larger scale, and that seemed to help everyone. I am just hoping someone finishes the project and sends me a photo. In fact, I am going to issue a challenge — anyone who takes one of my blackwork classes (as I will definitely be doing more) and completes their project gets a little reward from me. Just show me your completed blackwork at a future event/class to redeem your reward!

Blackwork Embroidery Make-and-Take Needlebook Class

31 December 2011

I am teaching my first class in blackwork embroidery at Twelfth Night in the Canton of Ealdonordwuda on at 2:00 pm on January 7th, 2012, and my next class will be at Val Day on February 11 in the Canton of Three Hills! The class is an introduction to the beautiful blackwork embroidery popular during the 16th century. Students will receive a small kit with everything they need to make a simple needlebook case, including:

Blackwork Embroidery Kit

  • 10 yards of black silk thread
  • One #24 tapestry needle
  • One 3″ x 4″ piece of 18-count Aida cloth
  • One 3″ x 4″ piece of 32-count linen cloth
  • Two 3″ x 4″ pieces of black wool
  • Beeswax
  • A Little Black Book of Blackwork (16-page booklet with instructions and pattern)
  • Wooden box
  • Students will have the choice to use either the Aida cloth or the linen cloth (it’s easier to see the threads on the Aids cloth, but the linen cloth is actually period-appropriate) as well as the choice to make a small design or a more elaborate one. It’s possible to start with the simple design and move to the more elaborate design if it’s appealing. Here is the simple design on Aida cloth, which I anticipate can be completed within the space of my class:

    A Simple Blackwork Needlebook

    The blackwork design on my needlebook is based on the blackwork collar seen in the miniature of Mrs Jane Small by Hans Holbein in 1536. I did alter the pattern very slightly to depict a small heart rather than a cross inside the diamond, but otherwise I believe it appears very similar.

    Jane Small and her blackwork (red and gold line = original; blue line = my modifications)

    I’ve charted the pattern out so that it can be stitched to appear the same on the reverse side of the fabric, too! Here is the reverse of the simple diamond-and-heart design:

    Blackwork can be reversible!

    When the needlebook is complete, it fits neatly inside the lid of the wooden box, which an in turn be used as a small sewing kit!

    Needlebook inside box

    Concepts that will be taught during the class and/or covered in the booklet:

    • Brief history of blackwork
    • Stitches employed in blackwork embroidery (backstitch, Holbein, etc.)
    • Materials required (fabric, thread, needle, etc.)
    • How to count threads in fabric
    • How to wax and thread the needle
    • How to start with a “waste knot” and how to finish to minimize knots and tails
    • How to stitch a reversible design
    • Tips and tricks (lighting, posture, untwisting thread, pattern marking, etc.)

    There is no fee for the blackwork kit. Students should bring a pair of scissors and reading glasses if they need help to see small things up close. There is a limit of 12 kits (first come, first serve), but observers are welcome. This is the actual class description as it appears on the Class Schedule:

    Blackwork Embroidery Make-and-Take
    Instructor: Lady Genoveva von Lübeck
    Ever been curious about the stunningly detailed blackwork embroidery popular during the later periods? In this class you will learn the basic techniques of blackwork, including the Holbein (double running) stitch and backstitch, and tips on preparing your ground cloth, starting and stopping stitches, and using beeswax to strengthen and aid stitching. No embroidery experience necessary! Also covered will be a brief history and ideas on finding historically-based patterns. Participants will receive a “make-and-take” blackwork kit that includes everything you need to make a small needlebook with a blackworked embroidery cover (thread, needle, cloth, and instructional booklet). Please bring a pair of scissors and magnifying glasses if you have any difficulties seeing up close (I will have a couple of these on hand if necessary, too).
    Class limit: 12 for hands-on and kits, but watchers are always welcome.

    I’m really excited about teaching this class, and I hope I get to pass on what I’ve learned to others.

    Update: My first class was a success! So far I have seen evidence that four of my students completed their blackwork kits at home, which thrills me to no end! Read about it here.

    Elizabethan Double Plaited Braid Stitch: A Step-By-Step Tutorial in Photos

    30 September 2011

    The Elizabethan Double Plaited Braid Stitch is a very lovely, intricate embroidery stitch that was used on coifs, sweet bags (purses), samplers in the 16th century. The braid stitch was usually done in gilt or silver-gilt thread. Examples can be found in the Victoria & Albert Museum (see examples: coif, sweet bag, sampler).

    I tried for several weeks to master this braid stitch. My early attempts were close, but not quite right. Finally, after just keeping after it for a while, watching videos, studying photos of braid stitches, and scouring the web for ideas and tips, I finally figured it out. Here I present my method of working the Elizabethan double plaited braid stitch:



    • Fabric (I’m using 32-count evenweave linen)
    • Thread (I’m using DMC Gold Metallic)
    • Blunt end needle (you want a blunt-end needle, NOT a sharp, so that the needle does not catch or pierce other threads — I’m using a tapestry needle)
    • Stick pin

    Starting the Stitch – Step by Step:

    1. First we need to get the stitch started. Thread your needle and mark your fabric with two parallel lines in some fashion, either by stitching it with thread (as I have done with the green in the photo below) or with a water-soluble marking pen. Bring your needle up at point A, as shown below on my fabric (you can click the image to see it larger):


    Step 1; Bring Your Needle Up at Point A

    If you’re having problems figuring out where each of these points are in your own fabric, here is a simpler chart of points A-F:


    Point Chart

    Step 2: Go down with your needle at point B, as shown below. Pull taut enough so the thread lies flat. (Sorry for the blurry photo!)

    Step 2: Go down at point B.

    Step 3: Come up with your needle at point C. Again, pull taut.

    Step 3: Come up at point C.

    Step 4: Go down with your needle at point D.

    Step 4: Go down at point D.

    Step 5: Come up with your needle at point B (yes, you’ve already got thread in this hole, but you need to go back in here), as shown:

    Step 5: Come up at point B.

    Step 6: Go down with your needle at point E. Pull taut.

    Step 6: Go down at point E.

    Step 7: Come up with your needle at point F. Pull taut. All threads should lie flat, though you don’t want anything TOO tight, as that will make it hard to braid and pucker your fabric.

    Step 7: Go down at point F.

    Step 8. Now, identify the the TWO crossed threads at the top of your stitch shown in this photo:

    Identify your top cross

    Now slide your needle under this cross, going under both threads, from bottom to top as shown below:

    Step 8: Slide your needle under this cross.

    Step 9: Next, identify the the THREE crossed threads at the bottom of your stitch shown in the photo below and slide your needle through. The three threads are the very first one you created in steps 1 and 2 above, the one you made in steps 4 and 5, and the one you just made in step 8. It can be tricky to locate these three threads — you may need to move your threads around a bit with your needle. But it’s important to go under all three threads, or your stitch won’t properly braid.

    Step 9: Slide under the three threads at the bottom.

    Important Tip: See the straight pin sticking out in the above photo? I put that there, just ahead of my stitching, to keep the loop I create in step 9 large enough for future steps. This was the key for making my braid look good. I highly recommend using a pin when you’re getting started.


    The Four Main Stitches – Step by Step

    At this point, you’ve started your stitch! Now I will explain the four steps you will do immedately fter this point, over and over, to continue stitching your braid. To differentiate from the above steps, I will use roman numerals. Step X: Bring your needle down at the top left. Keep your needle in place if you’re using one. You should pull taut, though not so tight that you strain your loop.

    Step X: Go down at the top left.

    Step XI: Come up with your needle at the bottom left, as shown below:

    Step XI: Come up at the bottom left.

    Step XII: Slide your needle through the THREE crossed threads at the top of your stitch, as shown below. To help you identify these three threads (it can be tricky until you know what to look for), I’ve colored them in the photo below (click to see it larger).

    Step XII: Slide your thread under the three top crossed threads

    Step XIII: Bring your thread around in a loop to the right and slide your needle up under the THREE cross threads at the bottom. Again, it’s hard to identify before you get practised, and I’ve colored the three threads again. (Note: My photo came out blurry, so I’m showing you two images — one with the threads before the needle goes through, to help you find them, and one with the needle sliding through.) If you’re using a pin to keep your loop in place, you can now move it over to the left in preparation for the new loop you’ll be making in this step.

    Identify your three bottom crossed threads

    Step XIII: Slide your needle through the bottom three crossed threads

    That’s it’. Now you just repeat steps X-XIII until you’re done! This is how it looks after several stitches:

    A plaited braid!


    • Different threads will produce different results. The thin thread used here gives a looser looking braid — the metallic thread I’m using is pretty stiff. I like this. A thicker or fluffier thread would fill the braid in more (see photo lower on this page). I have ordered more thread and will experiment with different types! A thicker, yet more flexible, metallic thread would be nice!
    • As you go along, you may notice that your most recent stitches don’t look like the older stitches, but don’t worry. They aren’t being pulled in the same manner because you haven’t braided them yet. As you continue stitching, you’ll see that things fall into place.
    • If you don’t want to use a pin (it can be cumbersome — I like to hold it with the thumb and forefinger of my left hand, under my fabric, as I stitch), you could try using your right thumb to hold it in place and to stitch with your left hand. Or reverse the stitches and go in the other direction if you’re right-handed.
    • If you run out of thread, stop after step X, knot your thread under your fabric, and slide your needle through the stitches in the back, like this:

      Secure your thread underneath

    Here is what the stitch looks like when done in a thicker thread:

    Plaited braid stitch in thick thread

    In the thicker thread, it’s easier to see that the stitch matches the one in this extant coif from the 16th century:

    Coif with Gold Braid Stitching

    And here is some of my plaited braid stitching on my current project:

    Plaited braids on embroidered caul

    Web links I found helpful while learning this stitch:

    I hope this is helpful! Please let me know if you have any questions!

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