blackwork pomegranate infill

DSCF2666.JPGHaving carefully removed the tissue paper to reveal the tacking outline its then just a question of selecting the in-fill patterns.  I must admit that I usually start in the middle of a section to ensure that I get the whole pattern in.

The other thing to remember that no matter how complicated the pattern its made from lines on the horizontal and vertical.  Sometimes it helps to use a piece of graph paper to work out how the pattern is created but that might just be me.


Work the infill patterns before the outer edges of the design.  dscf2711


In Tudor times blackwork was often embellished with gold thread, beads or spangles.  For that reason I like to try to incorporate some highlighting element of gold.  In this case some of the leaves but having completed it I’m not so sure.

Once the in fill is completed with the outer edge in backstitch or stem stitch.  Use two threads of stranded cotton or perle a cotton.

I also realise that the images would look better if I’d ironed the fabric!


I think I will probably work the design again replacing the gold leaves with plain black ones. If I feel sufficiently enthusiastic I may try a third version using the gold for the upper leaves of the pomegranate.



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Transferring a pattern using tacking stitches and tissue paper.

blackwork-pomegraniteMy mother used to have a folder full of blue transfer patterns that she’d collected over the years. Most of them were free gifts that came with the Needlewoman Magazine.  Some transfers even came with boxes of chocolate would you believe.  All you had to do was iron the patterns onto your fabric and away you went.  Transfers are harder to find these days and the pattern you want isn’t necessarily one that’s available in any case.

The first pattern transfer I ever completed using  the tacking method was from a copy of The People’s Friend for the knight and his lady shown in the image beneath this paragraph but there were no instructions about making the transfer and this was in the days before the Internet.  I was also miles away from the nearest needlecraft shop.  Ultimately I used tracing paper and then tacked the design onto the fabric – which was the right idea but not exactly malleable and it took ages to get all the little bits of tracing paper out from under the tacking stitches! To add insult to injury it was only when I’d finished the embroidery that my step-son calmly announced that it was very nice but why had I embroidered swastikas? Up until that moment I hadn’t seen any dodgy far right symbols in my handiwork.  From that moment onwards they were all that I could see.  Needless to say it didn’t end up in a frame because even if I’d unpicked the offending infill pattern the thread would have marked the cloth.


My Tudor pomegranate is  based on pomegranates I have seen on Tudor textiles.  You will need reasonable quality tissue paper with a smooth and shiny side, a soft pencil or felt pen that doesn’t bleed into the tissue,  black tacking thread and a needle.  You may also find masking tape helpful. Obviously you will also require fabric with a visible warp and weft or an Aida.  I used 16 count on this occasion.

  1. Draw the outline of the design you wish to embroider.blackwork-pomegranite-1
  2. Trace over the design using tissue paper and a soft pencil such as a 2b.   I guess white tissue paper would be better but the pink paper shown in the images, but it’s what I had in the drawer.  I used masking tape to anchor the tissue in place having selected the smooth shiny side as the side I would draw on.  Be careful. If you press too hard with the pencil you will tear the paper.
  3. Find the middle of your fabric and carefully tack the tissue paper into place using a running stitch. The fiddlier the design is then the smaller the tacking stitches need to be. I used black tacking thread so that if I can’t get it out at the end it won’t show.blackwork-pomegranite-2
  4. Remove the tissue paper by pulling gently away from the stitches.  Don’t pull the paper up from the fabric as this will pull you stitches out of place.  It’s better to find perforations and work the tissue free gently.  Use a pair of tweezers to remove any tricksy little bits of tissue.blackwork-pomegranite-4

Et voila – a design ready to be embroidered. Keep the original drawing at hand for reference when it comes to the fiddly bits if there are any.


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Blackwork embroidery – my starting point

Catherine_of_Aragon.pngI love blackwork embroidery.  It satisfies my desire for history, my love of pattern and my need to do something creative.

Blackwork embroidery has been around for a very long time.  Chaucer mentions it in the Canterbury Tales but it was the arrival of Catherine of Aragon in England in 1501, as the bride of Henry VII’s son, Prince Arthur that set in motion a timeline that would see blackwork or ‘Spanishwork’ become one of the period’s most popular forms of needlework.

Prince Arthur died in 1502 and Catherine found herself being used as a diplomatic pawn by her father Ferdinand of  Aragon and her father-in-law Henry VII.  She became a penniless princess but in 1509 upon the death of Henry VII she married Arthur’s younger brother who had just turned eighteen King Henry VIII.  For a time theirs was a love match and like her mother, Isabella of Castile, Catherine made Henry’s shirts.  She embroidered the neck and cuffs with symmetrical patterns in black thread and before long everyone was doing it.

The style leant itself to borders on cushions and pillows as well as collars, cuffs and hems. Gradually the embroidery spread until it covered curtains, bed spreads, night caps, doublets and dresses.  It was such a fashionable style that one of the stitches that embroiderers use in the creation of  blackwork embroidery was eventually dubbed Holbein stitch after the fact that many of the ladies and gentlemen depicted in the portraits of Henry VIII’s court painter Hans Holbein feature blackwork.


henry-viiiCatherine continued to stitch Henry’s shirts throughout her married life. Unfortunately the fairy tale romance of the princess who had married Prince Charming came to a sad conclusion.  By 1525 Henry had stopped sleeping with his wife and in 1527 Ann Boleyn came upon the scene.  Before long Henry would declare that Catherine’s marriage was not a true one and the King’s Great Matter would result in her increasing isolation, the bastardisation of their only child, the Princess Mary and then Catherine’s death at Kimbolton Castle in Cambridgeshire in January 1536.

Blackwork embroidery on the other hand would go from strength to strength in a more secular society surviving the Tudors and into the Stuart period before fading from fashion with the advent of printed fabrics imported from Asia.

catherine-of-aragon-emblemSo, for the first project of The Sewing Jar I am going to tackle a blackwork embroidery project with a link to Catherine.  Her motto was ‘humble and loyal’ and her insignia was a pomegranate.  She chose this because she spent many of her formative years in Grenada. The city’s symbol is a pomegranate because it looks a bit like a grenade.  A pomegranate is also symbolic of fertility.  Catherine’s role as queen was to provide sons for Henry VIII.  It was her failure to do this that sealed her fate.  At the time of her marriage to Henry, the Tudor rose could often be seen linked or even merged with the pomegranate. To this day people leave pomegranates on Catherine of Aragon’s tomb in Peterborough Cathedral.

The pomegranate was popular as a device to stitch throughout the period – and so for these reasons and the fact that the pomegranate has a simple shape useful to free form embroidery techniques, the pomegranate will be my first venture.


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