Posts Tagged blackwork

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!


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.

    Blackwork Needle Book: Adapted from a Pattern from Ensamplario Antlantio by Countess Ianthe d’Averoigne

    27 September 2011

    My First Blackwork Embroidery

    Over the last few weeks, I’ve really been enjoying blackwork embroidery. It all started when I attempted to embroider a smock in a 16th century painting, and in researching it, decided that it must be blackwork. (It turns out I was wrong — it’s goldwork.) My first completed project was a little winged heart that I stitched onto the canvas cover of my packbasket. Then I moved on to the blackwork favor for Gregor. Still not satiated, I created a tiny wool-and-linen needlecase. And now I’m working on a full-blown caul with traditional blackwork and Elizabethan plaited braid stitching. I’m just loving this!

    My Little Needle Book

    But today I want to talk about that little needle book I made. I love this thing. It was so simply to make — it took just a few hours — and it sits on my desk everyday, looking all cheerful and cute. All it took was a bit of leftover wool, some counted linen, some suitable thread, and a needle. All of these were just hanging about the studio, which made it very easy to make.

    The design on the front of the needle book is adapted from Ensamplario Atlantio by Countess Ianthe d’Averoigne. Specifically, I was inspired by plate 19 (pattern 114) because, with a little modification, the center design could form four hearts. (Remember, I am using a winged heart for my device.) It was a joy to stitch!

    The book I mention, Ensamplario Atlantio , is actually freely available online as a PDF at the author’s web site, The book is 40 pages long, with 35 plates of designs — over 220 or so individual all-over or filling patterns for double running stitch embroidery. The author is a Mistress of the Laurel for her blackwork embroidery. Her web site is FULL of wonderful ideas, projects, and musings on the subject. She is a real treasure, and I am grateful she’s chosen to share her passion with us through her web site and this book. Now if only I could get my hands on a copy of The New Carolingian Modelbook, but alas it goes for over $100 on the used book market now. I wish she could offer that book as a PDF — I would happily pay $20 or more for it. I wonder if she retained the rights to it, or can get them. Hmm, I should ask her! (Edited: Done!)

    Anyway, I’m now looking for historically accurate patterns to put into the squares I’ve stitched on my caul, such as flowers, animals, or other things embroidered in the 16th century.

    My First SCA A&S Display Experience at Vikings Come Home

    19 September 2011

    I had a great time at Vikings Come Home XX (20) in Traverse City, MI this weekend. For the first time, I brought along a finished project (the blackwork favor I made for Gregor) to include in the A&S display at this event. I had a reasonable idea of what to expect, having read a lot of things online, though firsthand experience is always most helpful.

    I arrived later than nearly everyone (a 4-hour drive on the morning of the event will do that) and was both the last pre-registered person to show up and the last person to set out their project in the A&S display. When I arrived at the display, I discovered that they were having a Jewel Competition for any project that had documentation — the idea is that folks could pick up a jewel from a pile and place them in little cups in front of a project if they liked it. I think this is called a populace bean count vote. I wasn’t aware they were doing this — I was just intending to put my project on display. So after I set up my favor on the table, I did not put out a cup. Besides, nearly all the jewels from the main pile were gone at this point — I saw only a few left to give out. No one was really around at this point, so I left to find my friends from Cynnabar.

    My Blackwork Project at the A&S Display

    When I came back by the A&S display about 30 minutes later, I discovered someone had put out a cup in front of my project and there were now two jewels in it. That made me feel really great! Someone liked my work! I wandered off, but later was nearby again for a demonstration of glass beadmaking (really excellent and fun!) and saw another person taking several photos of my work. Cool! I wish I could have spoken to people to see what they thought, but I’d never approach anyone. I was hoping to have the chance to talk about the project, and discuss the projects of other people, but I just arrived too late. I think at Pennsic you had the opportunity to sit down with your work and talk to folks who came by … I’ll definitely have to do that next year. I love talking to others — I learn so much from them.

    By this point, it was almost time for court, so I came back to the display to collect it. As I approached the building, Lady Helena mentioned that Donnershafen’s Minister of Arts and Sciences, Lady Diamante da Berra, was looking for me. ‘Oops, I must be late picking up my project,’ I thought. But when I got to the display, I found her standing in front of my project, reading my documentation. She said she was really impressed with both my work and my documentation, and asked if she could keep the documentation, or if I could e-mail it to her. I gave it to her, of course. She also said that my project had collected five jewels, and that she wished she had more time to look closer at it. That was very kind of her! She indicated a red ribbon with a bead on it that she’d placed there as a token — how cool was that? That ribbon is going with my other SCA treasures.

    All in all, it was a very positive experience, and I am eager to enter an A&S display again. The only thing I regret is not putting it out earlier, as I don’t think any of my friends of Cynnabar had a chance to see it (they’d visited the display earlier in the day), and I value their feedback highly. I would enjoy the opportunity to talk A&S more! That just means I need to go to more events, now doesn’t it?

    Here is my A&S Documentation as a PDF (or, if you don’t want to view a PDF, look here) — I’d REALLY love any feedback anyone has to give on it, as I want to be sure I am doing it right. Thank you!

    A Favor for My Champion: Blackwork Embroidery of Chivalric Virtues

    16 September 2011

    I have someone who champions my causes, fights for me, supports me completely. He is Gregor. He is my personal champion. So I have made him a token to wear into battle. The token embodies five important chivalric virtues, with related emblems and personal symbolism. Here is a photo of the favor:

    An embroidered blackwork favor for Gregor

    The favor measures about 5″ x 7″, and is designed for Gregor to wear on his belt. I was inspired by historical embroidery. I intend to display it at Vikings Come Home tomorrow as my first A&S project, so I wrote up some documentation to explain it.


    Blackwork Embroidered Favor

    silk and metallic threads on linen

    by Genoveva von Lübeck

    Documentation Summary
    Inspired by the embroidered linens of the 16th century, I created a favor for my fighter to wear to tournaments. The favor employs “blackwork” (Holbein stitch in repeating geometric patterns) with both silk green thread and metallic gold thread, as well as period-appropriate pictographic representations copied directly from 16th c. emblem books, just as embroiderers did at that time. I closely studied high-quality photos of extant embroidery work at the Victoria and Albert Museum and borrowed patterns and techniques used during this time period. All stitches used in this piece (Holbein, backstitch, speckle, chain, and stem) were also used in period embroidery work. The ground material is a 32-thread Belgian linen, which was worked in 1 or 2 thread sections with single strands of silk or metallic thread.

    Why a Favor?
    I wish to encourage my fighter, Gregor Reinhardt von Holstein, in the chivalric values by presenting him with a token. For historical evidence of favors, I offer this passage from The Treasure of the City of Ladies, a book written in 1405 by Christine de Pisan:

    “If this lady sees any gentleman, be he knight or squire, of good courage who has a desire to increase his honor but does not have much money to outfit himself properly, and if she sees that it is worth while to help him, the gentle lady will do so, for she has within her all good impulses for honor and gentility and for always encouraging noble and valiant actions. And thus in various situations that may arise this lady will extend wise and well-considered largesse.”

    Why The Pictograms?
    I was inspired by a 1570 embroidered work I found in the Victoria & Albert Museum (T.219-1953). This piece has a large center illustration of a shepherd, surrounded by unusual emblems and mottoes, worked in the characteristic blackwork of the period. I was curious about the emblems, and quite by chance, discovered that many of the emblems in this piece were clearly copied directly from The Heroicall Devises of M. Claudius Paradin, translated from Latin into English by P.S. William Kearney (London, 1591). The book illustrations of the emblems and the embroidered emblems are nearly exact! A knowledge of emblems and their use in art was part of the intellectual climate of Elizabethan life—the images represented important allegories.
    What Do the Emblems Mean?

    I chose emblems that represented the chivalric values I wish to encourage, as follows:

    Page 311 of Heroicall Devises

    Honor: The emblem of a crown of grass (not a laurel) is from page 312 of The Heroicall Devises. The motto is “Merces sublimis honorum” (the reward of honor is great). The crown was awarded to those that had valiantly subdued their enemies and, while it was only made of grass, flowers and herbs found at the place of battle, it was thought to be the most honorable of all and held in the greatest estimation. This emblem represents honor and encourages my fighter to seek great stature of character by holding to the virtues and duties of a knight (though he is not one), and realizing that though the ideals cannot be reached, the quality of striving towards them ennobles the spirit. View the page of the book at

    Prowess: The emblem of the sword is from page 218 of The Heroicall Devises. This emblem depicts the hand of Marcus Sergius, who famously fought in Gaul with an artificial iron hand—he is a symbol of prowess and manhood, overcoming personal obstacles to attend to duty. I encourage my fighter to  seek prowess and excellence in all endeavors expected of a knight, martial and otherwise, seeking strength to be used in the service of justice, rather than in personal aggrandizement. View the page of the book at

    Humility: This emblem carries the motto “sic terras turbine perflat” on page 166 of The Heroicall Devises, which translates to something lile “so he troubles the earth with whirlwinds.” The descriptive text warns that “God our creator doth resist the proud, the high minded, lovers of themselves, and the arrogant, but giveth grace to the humble and the lowly.” This emblem represents humility, inspiring one to refrain from boasting one’s your own accomplishments, and instead tell the deeds of others before one’s own. View the page of the book at

    Page 32 of Heroicall Devises

    Courage: The emblem of two pillars appears on page 32 of The Heroicall Devises, depicting the Pillars of Hercules which mark the edge of the then known world. According to mythology the pillars bore the warning “Nec plus ultra” (nothing further beyond). These pillars represent the courage to go beyond what is known, choosing a more difficult path. View the page in the book at

    Loyalty: The central element is a personal image, combining symbolism of my own and my fighter, and thus I will not go into detail about it here. It is still inspired by an illustration from an emblem book, however. The image of the King of Lycia on Pegasus from Les emblemes by Andrea Alciato provided the image for me (view at This image represents loyalty, the cornerstone of all virtues. I encourage my fighter to continue to be known for his unwavering commitment to the people and ideals he chooses to live by. There are many places where compromise is expected; loyalty is not amongst them.




    Page 150 of Les Emblemes

    Why Blackwork?

    Blackwork in silk on linen was the most common domestic embroidery technique for clothing and household items throughout the reign of Elizabeth I. Blackwork is a counted-thread embroidery which is usually stitched on even-weave fabric. Traditionally blackwork is stitched in silk thread on white or off-white linen or cotton fabric. Sometimes metallic threads or colored threads are used for accents. In the earliest blackwork, counted stitches are worked to make a geometric or small floral pattern. Historical stitches for blackwork primarily used the Holbein stitch (double running) and the backstitch, as I have done in my work, but also employed other stitches such as stem, chain, ladder, couching, coral, speckling, and others. Evidence of this can be seen in extant embroidery pieces, such as the 1598 sampler by Jane Bostocke in the Victoria and Albert Museum (T.190-1960).


    “The Shepherd’s Buss.” 16th century embroidery by Unknown. Housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Textiles and Fashion Collection, British Galleries, room 58c, case 6. Item T.219-1953. View at

    Sampler. Jane Bostocke in 1598. Housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Textiles and Fashion Collection. Item T.219-1953. View at

    The Heroicall Devises of M. Claudius Paradin, Whereunto are added the Lord Gabriel Symeons and others. Claude Paradin. Translated out of our Latin into English by P.S. William Kearney (London, 1591). In the collection of the Penn State University Libraries Rare Books Room. View at

    Les emblemes. Andrea Alciato. 1615 (translated from earlier work). In the collection of the Glagow University Library (SMAdd32). View at

    Treasure of the City of Ladies. Christine de Pisan. 1405. Translated with an introduction and notes by Sarah Lawson (Penguin classics). Rev. ed.London: Penguin, 2003.

    Blackwork and Goldwork Embroidery

    3 September 2011

    Five days ago I came across a painting of a German woman from the early 16th century. I was instantly drawn to her smock, and I decided I wanted to make it — and likely her gown, or something like it, as well. Here is the painting of Dorothea Meyer by Hans Holbein the Younger:

    Dorothea Meyer (1516) by Hans Holbein

    The smock has hearts and trellises embroidered around the collar, with actual smocking in the very front below that. I think it is just gorgeous!

    So, having some linen and yellow thread handy, I thought I would try my hand at embroidery the design. I looked up embroidery techniques and learned about blackwork and the Holbein stitch, called that because you can see it in so many of his paintings. Then I dove right in and embroidered this:

    Original painting on left, trellis embroidered with the Holbein stitch on the right

    My stitches weren’t terribly even (it’s been like decades since I did any embroidery), but I was still encouraged by how it looked so I kept at it. I discovered that I should probably be counting my stitches based on the threads in the linen itself. So I counted how many threads were in my linen, and came up with 44. Yikes. Most linen that you would embroider on with counted stitches would be in the 22-28 range. I couldn’t see the holes well enough in my linen and I kept losing my place. So I went out and go some 14 thread waste canvas to put over my linen — this would be the size equivalent of a 28 thread linen embroidery as typically you would skip every other thread anyway. Then I tried again and got this:

    Original painting on top; my embroidered heart and trellis pattern on the bottom

    My stitches are much straighter now. And I was happy with this and ready to continue on to embroider the rest. But the next morning I was thinking about it, and how the stitches in my hearts were so obvious in comparison to the hearts in the painting. Then I began to think … what if this was blackwork-style embroidery with the Holbein stitch but rather actual goldwork?! Specifically the type of goldwork that uses small lenths of gold coils that are stitched (couched) onto the fabric. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that must be it. Dorothea was the wife of a bargomaster, a member of the Patriarch, and as such the sumptuary laws of the time would have allowed her to have gold on her clothing. A chat with Mistress Melisant confirmed my suspicions. So I ordered a book on embroidery, Royal School of Needlwork Embroidery Techniques, which has a chapter on goldwork. Once that arrives and I learn more, I will order some gold and couching thread and try again. I want to eventually enter this smock into an A&S competition, so I want to do it right!

    After all this, I found I was still in the mood to embroider something. All my research into blackwork made me curious to try my hand at that. So I got out some green silk thread, some waste canvas, and the canvas cover of my packbasket from Pennsic. I drew a heart onto the canvas and jumped into the project. As I went along, I added some blackwork patterns from the 16th century — a sort of three-dimensional wall along the bottom of the heart (like the embroidery on Mrs. Pemberton’s collar, another 16th c. painting also by Holbein) and a flower motif above. Then I added on wings, basing their design off a 16th century pilgrim badge. The lettering is just block letters, and I don’t think it’s period — but I wanted my name on my basket cover, so there it is. Here is the finished embroidery:

    My First Blackwork Project: A Winged Heart

    By no means perfect, but I really like it! I definitely got better as I went along. Putting beeswax on my thread, which I did about halfway through, made a huge difference in how often my threads got knots. Here is the basket so you can see the size of the heart on it:

    My packbasket with the embroidered canvas cover

    It took me about a day to embroider this. And now I want to do more. I bought some 28 thread count linen at Michaels today, and if I used that I wouldn’t need the waste canvas and I believe I could make straighter lines. Perhaps I could make an embroidered coif!