Black work is steeped in History. The arrival of Blackwork to Europe is believed to have begun in Spain during the 14th-15th centuries; Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII, is widely credited by experts for introducing it to England, as she was a skilled embroiderer herself. It remained popular throughout the reign of Henry VIII, being fashionable on a variety of linen garments from Jackets and Smocks to being on the collars, Cuffs and ruffs on Men’s and women’s clothing.
Blackwork is a counted thread technique which is traditionally stitched on an evenweave fabric like cambric, using black silk threads. Gold and other metallic threads are used for outlining the pattern or adding detail to contrast with the monochrome effect. There are several methods can be used within blackwork including double running stitch, the diaper pattern, and the speckling style, these methods have adapted and evolved since the 16th century. Popular designs were trailing stem designs around flowers, fruits, birds and inspects, although any design can be stitched in Blackwork as long as it includes areas of shading/tonal contrast.
Many examples of blackwork can be seen in paintings, especially by the artist Hans Holbein, Holbein was the court painter during the reign of Henry VIII. Blackwork became very fashionable during this time and was on many different garmenting, Holbein’s paintings depicted a double running stitch which is named after Hans Holbein. The Holbein stitch is a double stitch where the reverse of the fabric is as neat as the front and as a result the fabric is reversible.
Blackwork has also been known to be stitched in colours such as red blue and green. The most common being Red and known as scarletwork.