Wanderings into Blackwork

After discovering that blackwork embroidery isn’t just embroidery done with black thread on a white background, I’ve been trying to learn how to do it. My goal is to hand-make an Elizabethan smock (under-dress) complete with Holbein stitched cuffs and collar (or neck-line depending on the style).

One would think that a stitch that is simply in and out would be simple – very simple. But with this bugger it matters exactly where the in’s and out’s are placed. Holbein embroidery is supposed to look the same on the front and the back. That means that the stitches you don’t do with the first pass, on both the front AND the back, you get with the second (or third pass) with no extraneous stitches. In other words, the order of all of the stitches on both sides should be planned out ahead of time. It’s like trying to solve two similar, but not identical, mazes, one on each side of the page, simultaneously making one small pencil mark at a time.

There are plenty of Holbein stitch patterns from the 16th century in books and on-line, but they only show what the result should look like and not the path it takes. Everyone probably has their own style to these patterns, but I don’t intuitively know how to do it – I’m just not catching on. It seems like it should be simple, but I feel like there is some concept that has thus far  eluded me.

It’s a simple pattern that I’m starting with, one that for the most part has been diagrammed out already: http://germanrenaissance.net/. Here’s my first attempt:

It’s just the center portion of the design, but I used too much thread and it’s chunky. The back is a bit sloppy.

And my second:

The center portion is fine. Since it’s really just a complex circle, the stitch order makes sense.
Now my trellis work is abysmal. It’s not so bad on the front, but really, really bad on the back.
I also learned that I need to take care of my threads then and there. Waiting to finish the loose threads at the end did not work out.

And my third:

I’ve finally caught on to the pattern on the front, and my back side is looking better, but still not right.

My current attempt – still in progress:

Finally I’m catching on. I’m not going to say how long this little bit of the design took me to get right, but there was many side-trips which involved ripping out stitches.

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