How to Cheat at Blackwork

Blackwork embroidery is amazing. Popular in Elizabethan fashion, black, blue, or multi-colored embroidery patterns invaded nearly every white surface they could find, most popularly hats, gloves, and shirts/smocks. There’s a really excellent overview of Elizabethan blackwork and how it was used by Lauren Oz over at Knol.

I decided to create a smock with an allover laticework pattern filled in with spot motifs in the openings, with the spot motifs designed after symbols used in pirate heraldry rather than the acorns and sparrows favored by most of my Elizabethan contemporaries. For a visual, this is how much embroidery that would end up being:

I was clearly out of my mind. I began my herculean effort with the front center of the front panel. And it went… pretty badly. I started working on the lattice first, doing two knots and the connections going out from the first knot to the top and center seams. The first knot (on the right) looks great, and the second one (on the left) looks like I did it in the dark.

The above section took a while, and doesn’t look good enough to make me happy. I could maybe get away with not taking the second knot out, if I make this the back instead of the front, and if everything else looks amazing, and if I can pretend it never happened…

But I’m investigating solutions that might make this process a little bit faster so that if I do make a mistake, taking the stitches back out doesn’t feel like a late-term abortion. I don’t have an embroidery sewing machine, but I do have a regular sewing machine, so I’m thinking the next step is to sketch out the pattern of the lattice on a scrap of extra fabric and see if I can guide the regular sewing machine along the pattern. Either it’ll save me from sore wrists and allow me to get the lattice done more quickly, OR it’ll be a complete train wreck, but I expect it’ll take me less than ten minutes to find out, so that’s what I’m going to do today.


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