Needlecase and Side-laced Cote Update

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about my blackwork needle-case. I took a small break while I was doing the research on the cotte project. After picking it back up a few days ago, I’m almost half done with the cover. Doesn’t sound like much, but let me give you some perspective.

Each repeat is about 1 cm squared. Yep, one cm. Each one takes me 30 to 45 minutes to complete. If I over or under stitch by even one thread, I have to rip out back to the point where I digressed. I admit that I am pretty slow, but my work has less and less mistakes as I go along, which means less and less ripping out. I’m hoping that as I practice, I’ll be able to go faster – or at least I’m still holding out hope.

At this moment I’ve made it this far:

The red solid lines are the outline, and the dashed one is the middle. It’s coming along, and it helps make watching “Supernatural” less scary.

On to the side-laced cotehardie.

I’m picking out the color for my fabric, and I’m leaning towards a bluish-green.  I test dyed two different colors of linen. Both of these linens I have  used to make several items, and I’m pretty tired of the colors. It was on sale for a really good price, so I bought way too much.

I’ve been into tie-dying for the last couple of years. It started out as a fun thing to do at a non-traditional baby shower, and it stuck. I’ve moved on from using Rit dye. Please, please, please, please never use Rit dye to dye nice linen.  Don’t even use it to dye not so nice linen. Dharma Trading Company sells the best fiber reactive dyes that don’t fade and don’t bleed. This is what I use I have a bunch of odds and ends left from tie-dying, and I’m trying to find a good mix to make a nice color.  Of course I do promise my good friend E that I’ll replace anything I use up.

Today’s mix was brilliant blue and emerald green, about half and half.  I mixed a very small amount and let it soak for a couple of hours.

Recycled containers are great for this kind of work.

The fabrics under each swatch are the base colors. The swatches are what the fabric looked like after dying. With this mix, I like the green one better. A bit darker would be nice, but the tone is good. Tomorrow I’ll try a bit more blue.

More 16th Century Blackwork Fill-in Pattern Analysis

Oh my, I haven’t posted in a few days. It’s nearly Halloween – my favorite time of year. I’ve been, among other things, having fun with the kids. We were invited to one of their teen friend’s Halloween themed birthday party, and so I decided it would be the perfect occasion to go as something really scary. Unfortunately, I didn’t count on a side-trip to Walmart  for the friend I was riding with to pick something up. Let’s just sum it up and say that children screamed, I felt bad, and you may see me on the People of Walmart page.

Now on to the other fun stuff.

I’ve been continuing work on my needle case. It’s slow going, but my repeats are more consistent and I am picking up a bit of speed.

Blackwork Needle-case as of 10-21

The ruler should give some perspective on the size. Each repeat is about 1 cm by 1 cm. That’s a-lot of tiny stitches. It’s based off a pattern I analyzed here:

I’ve also been analyzing other blackwork fill-in patterns from 16th century pieces. I have two more from the same piece as pattern #1 (see needle-case above). It’s an English 16th century pillow-cover  from the Falkland Collection at  Victoria & Albert Museum

16th century pillow-cover from the Falkland Collection at Victoria & Albert Museum.

This little piece here:

16th Century Blackwork Fill-i9n Pattern 2

can be done in either direction.  It’s a really easy pattern, but the simplicity doesn’t mean that it isn’t very nice when used. It reminds me of seeds on a strawberry. The pattern itself is simple to recreate – alternating dashes.

Blackwork Fill-in Pattern #2

My third fill-in pattern is the last one from the same pillow-cover. It’s more complex than the one above, but it’s still fairly simple – diamonds and stars.

16th Century Blackwork Fill-in Pattern #3

My analysis may have an error, but I like it my way. If you look near the upper right corner, you can see that the diamond has a vertical line going through it connecting the center to the stars above and below, but I like it better with the space open.

16th Century Blackwork Fill-in Pattern #3

I’m hoping to finish up my the embroidery on my needlecase this week. I clamor about the time it is taking, but I need to realize that it’s not the project I’m working on but learning the art. Learning a new art does take time.

Needle Case – 6th Time’s a Charm

Started working on my needle case. To give myself more practice with working this blackwork fill-in pattern,  my needle case cover will be made up entirely of the pattern. To add an extra degree of difficulty (as if that was necessary), I’m using linen that isn’t an even count weave. The first six repeats of the pattern are all flawed. Some more than others. Mostly because I miscounted a thread or didn’t see a thread. But the 6th one, that is perfect – or at least as perfect as an uneven weave will allow.

My perfect repeat is on the bottom right. It’s so pretty!!!

Being so happy about finally stitching the perfect repeat, I tried another repeat from this same fill-in patter. It came out flawless too. I am possibly catching on!!

My perfect little dude and its mate. (Yes, I’m personifying my embroidery. It gets me through a-lot of stitches.)

There was a point in time when I thought, “Blackwork looks easy enough. It’s just black thread on white fabric” and “Counted stitch embroidery is a joke! I mean, how difficult is it to count threads.”  As it turns out, it’s pretty damn difficult. I have a whole new appreciation for you cross-stitchers! And I have certainly said a few choice words to the past me that had such thoughts.

Analyzing and Recreating Blackwork Fill-In Patterns . . .

. . . are not easy!!!!

I’m working on 3 blackwork projects simultaneously. Or, more correctly, I am starting 3 blackwork projects simultaneously. It sounds like I have another case of “biting off more than I can chew,” but it’s not as insane as it seems and  actually makes a bit of sense.

The projects I’m working on are:

  1. Late 16th century English blackwork coif
  2. Blackwork cuffs, for an English chemise, using a counted stitch pattern, probably similar to Jane Seymour’s cuffs
  3. Late 16th century blackwork sampler, trying to incorporate a good diversity of stitches actually used

Right now, I’m in the research and documentation phase. Since all 3 projects overlap to some degree, I generally keep all three files open and go from one to the other as needed. I am planning to focus on one at a time when I’m in the creation phase of the projects.

Mostly, I had been working on my sampler research. I’ve reached a pause in that project since I need to decide whether or not to focus on the English sampler, of which there is more published research, or focus on the one Italian sampler that I really like but has nearly nothing published on it. The smart choice is the English, but since I’m still resisting it, I’m taking a break.

Switching gears, I’m heading back to my coif project. It’s a project I started back in June, but I haven’t made much headway on. Most of the problem is that I can’t decide what decorative pattern to use. Finally, I chose a pattern that took my fancy and I’m just going forward with it, no take-backs.

This is the coif design I’m basing my coif off of:

Late 16th Century English Coif

A basic hourglass shaped coif with bobbin lace edges, free-hand flowers, insects and leaves and scrolling vines. The vines and lace I’m keeping, but I’m using designs for the flowers, leaves and insects that come from other blackwork pieces from that time. I am, however, sticking with the idea of filling the flowers, leaves and insects with different counted stitch patterns. These will come from this coif and other blackwork pieces contemporary to the coif.

My first attempt at analyzing a fill-in pattern

I collected a few hi-res pics of fill-in patterns.

From a 16thC English pillow cover

After several attempts of freehand drawing the pattern (on graph paper, of course), I decided that a systematic approach was better.  This pattern has 3 main figures:

  1. The four-leaf flower
  2. “Snowflake” pattern
  3. Small geometric shapes that connect the flowers

One at a time, I isolated and analyzed each type of figure. There are quite a few dots left where stitches used to be. These dots help me figure out the grid of the pattern. First horizontally:

Flower from upper right corner

Then vertically:

Same upper right flower

The once seemingly curved, indistinguishable form now starts to look like a pattern of connected straight lines:

Same flower

I compared this plotted flower to the other ones on this piece (4 pictures above this one) to see if there are any discrepancies that would make my design flawed. I couldn’t find any, but if anyone sees them, please let me know. I repeated this process with the snowflake and the small geometric shape. My final pattern came out to be this:

My interpretation of the above pattern

I think, I think, I think that this is correct, but never having done this before, I feel like I’m missing something. Even if I am, I’m pretty happy with this fill-in pattern. It’s very pretty. Now on to the next fill-in designs, and then to start picking the actual flowers and plotting the coif! Exciting stuff!!!

Blackwork Attempt #5

I’m still working on learning the Holbein stitch. Whatever little rule of thumb that one needs to know in order to do the Holbein stitch automatically, I have yet to learn.  Instead, I’m just patterning the heck out of anything I want to Holbein stitch.

Attempt #5

Left front. Right back.

I found an English pattern from someone’s cuff – appropriately from a Holbein painting. I took the acorn and leaf motif, sketched it on some graph paper and spent a couple of hours figuring out the exact order of the stitches from start to finish.  I can’t decide if I like it better done with one or two threads.

It’s nearly exactly like one of those matchstick games from grade school. The teacher gives you 5 matchsticks and tells you to make some nearly impossible shape with them. You sit there for an hour arranging them this way and that way, until *bang* the solution seems too simple and obvious to be right.  But there it is.

Once I figured out the stitch order, it seemed so “duh, of course,” but that was only after I spent a considerable amount of time erasing failed attempts.


My finished charted pattern. To be certain that each stitch was done on both the front and the back sides, I used a normal pencil to designate the front and an orange one to designate the back. Yes, it would be easier just to use the back stitch, but then the back would have twice as much thread on it than the front and look bulky. Once each stitch has been marked with both normal and orange pencil markings, then I knew the charting was done.

Eventually I had to start over on the acorn (thus the crossed out version attached to the vine).  The cross work on the acorn was a major PITA. But it’s done.  I don’t know if I’m going to use it, but I learned a good deal about plotting stitches.

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: 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.