Blackwork for CQ

Jacqui Mulcahy 2006

Home - Articles  - Readers' Showcase  - Novices - Search-

While working on Sharon Boggon's All That Jazz project, I found that blackwork allowed me to add really striking motifs to my CQ.

Blackwork is an Elizabethan technique used to decorate linen and other even weave fabrics. In keeping with tradition, blackwork, despite it's name, is often worked in a variety of colours depending on the individual's preference. It does look particularly striking in black, but it is the contrast in the colours of thread and background which produces the strong effect.

The following instructions describe how I went about adding the blackwork design to my All that Jazz block. Materials required are minimal - just the block you want to work onto, black stranded embroidery floss and waste canvas. Waste canvas is really easy to use, so don't be put off if you haven't used it before. The stitches are worked through the holes in the canvas, using it as a guide for fabrics which are not evenweave. Usually used for cross stitch, the method can also be used to apply other counted thread embroidery techniques to materials it would otherwise be difficult to produce even stitches on.

Step One.
I started by using this cross stitch pattern chart of a crinoline lady design posted by Linda of as part of the All that Jazz group. I used an ordinary ball point pen to draw the outline and main features onto a piece of waste canvas (14 count).The marks will be removed easily at the end of the stitching when you pull the waste canvas threads out. If you are stitching in a light colour it is a better idea to use a waterproof pen.  

Step Two.
Once you have drawn the outline onto the waste canvas, tack the canvas over the area on your CQ block where you want to stitch the blackwork. I find it easier to work with a hoop but because the waste canvas is fairly rigid, you can work the stitching without a hoop if you wish.  

Step Three.
Using backstitch and one strand of Anchor stranded thread I stitched around the design over the lines marked on the canvas. At this stage I decided to omit a couple of the lines across the centre of her skirt in order to leave larger areas to fill with the patterns.
You can use more strands of thread to make a darker and stronger motif.  

Step Four.
Once this outline was complete, using the patterns from my book 'Blackwork Embroidery' by Elisabeth Geddes and Moyra McNeil (ISBN 0-486-23245-X) and a couple of simple patterns I made up as I went along, I filled in the areas inside the outlines. I like to use very dense close stitch patterns to provide good coverage of the background fabric. I have also found that if you use too open a stitch on small areas it is quite difficult to visualize the pattern onto the waste canvas and to know where to sew. On quite a large motif like the crinoline lady I used several different patterns to fill the shape, but on other smaller motifs it is a good idea to keep things simpler and just use one pattern. All the blackwork patterns are stitched in simple backstitch (or Holbine stitch) through all layers of the fabric, using the grid provided by the waste canvas as a guide. Nothing difficult, just time consuming. 

Step Five.
Once all the backstitch was finished, I dampened the waste canvas with a wrung out cloth soaked in tap water, be careful with delicate fabrics as water marks can stain. The waste canvas threads can then be pulled out (you may find tweezers helpful) and the embroidery is left behind. The threads of the waste canvas are held together with starch and when you moisten them the 'glue' dissolves and they pull out from between the stitches easily. As these CQ motifs are relatively small, the threads are straight forward to remove but you do need to do them one at a time, so it does take a while.  
This picture of the whole block gives you an idea of the overall effect  

Here are some more examples of my blackwork on CQ. Many of these patterns have been adapted from cross stitch designs, but it is just as easy to draw up your own outlines for motifs and use any of the many blackwork patterns to fill them in.

A little hand  
seam treatment in white 
There are possibilities for decorating seams and motifs with beads and other additional embellishments in association with blackwork. If you want to try out some filling stitches or to experiment with seam treatments then a sampler is the ideal place to do that. 
Blackwork sampler  

Sources for patterns


Blackwork is just one technique which enables you to add motifs to CQ. I hope you will enjoy experimenting and seeing what you can do with it, check out your library or book seller for more titles on Blackwork.

Fill-in Patterns from Sixteenth Century Blackwork Embroideries
Elizabethan Blackwork

One of the most wonderful things about learning to CQ is the friends I have made via the internet, without whom my day would now not be complete. Special thanks for her support, encouragement, and invaluable advice in writing this article, go to Belle Gilbert, without whom none of this would have been nearly so much fun, (nor so well phrased, punctuated and spelt).

Jacqui Mulcahy is 41 and lives in the north East of England. With a mother and grandmother who are keen needlewomen, Jacqui has been sewing since she was a young child but only started doing CQ in April '05 as the result of a round robin on an internet craft forum. Since then all other craft work has taken a back seat and there aren't enough hours in the day.

Home - Articles  - Readers' Showcase  - Novices - Search-

Copyright 2002 - 2011, All Rights Reserved
Editor: Published by: Pretty Impressive Stuff