Ten tips for designing blackwork

If you become as enthusiastic about this form of needlework as I did, then you might want to have a go at designing blackwork yourself.

It's not that difficult but as with most things it's advisable to start with a fairly simple project first and develop from there.

The following tips were largely gathered from the colleagues who were kind enough to share the experience learned by their mistakes. I knew I was doing it right when I proceeded to go on and make a few more of my own. A word here about helpful comments from friends and family, criticism is always subjective – not everyone likes the same thing. However, when they all point out that you have put a right hand on a left arm it might pay to listen.

quiet-moment-blackwork (35K)

  1. When designing blackwork start with a clear and simple shape for your outline. Although this is usually in back stitch to achieve a thicker line you can use stem stitch or for an even thicker outline chain stitch.

  2. Digital cameras and photocopiers can be essential design tools in obtaining that outline for those of us not naturally gifted with drawing skills. A good print shop will blow up the image to a size you want to stitch and the outline can be then traced onto charting paper or using a special water soluble craft pen onto your fabric.

  3. Use an appropriate infill pattern. There are no "right" infill patterns as such, but experimentation will show that some are more appropriate than others for the effect you wish to achieve. For example I had the idea for A Quiet Moment (right) for some time but it was only when I found an infill pattern for the jumper and the laundry basket that it came together.

  4. You can make up your own infill patterns but you may want to buy one of the specialist books on blackwork that include a range of them. Alternatively some charting software programs cover blackwork and will have a library of infill patterns.

  5. Blackwork uses a contrasting colour thread to the fabric underneath. This does not have to be black on white but could be a light colour on black.

  6. You do not have to use just one colour but too many contrasting colours can be confusing in this medium. One way around this is to use one predominant colour in varying shades.

  7. Light infill patterns will stand out against darker ones. You can achieve a darker effect by the use of a darker colour, by complexity of infill pattern used or by using more than 1 strand for the infill pattern.

  8. If your design just isn't working as well as you'd like remember that it could be that designing blackwork is not necessarily the best medium for what you are trying to achieve but if you still want to use it, try simplifying it. Work on the contrasts such as changing colour or pattern of your infill pattern. Possibly make your main object of interest clearer or give it a more defined boundary outline. Most designers will tell you that, even when your design is finished, it pays to live with it for a few days to see if minor alterations or additions will improve it.

  9. If your design has stuck - this is the time to go out and play with and around it. Just doodle or experiment with threads. Solutions most often present themselves when you have stopped remembering there is a problem.

  10. Most important, enjoy! If you enjoy stitching it the odds are someone else will too.