Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Holbein Embroidery - Blackwork in Colors!

"Unicorn", Holbein embroidery on checked gingham
"Unicorn", Holbein embroidery on checked gingham
I've been showing some Spanish blackwork, redwork, and Holbein embroidery at outdoor craft shows this summer. I find that these techniques are unfamiliar to many people; nevertheless, people find them fascinating. Their first impulse is to touch the embroidery. I seldom frame this type of embroidery under glass for just this reason. If people want to touch the stitches, I like to give them the opportunity to do so. I'm very tactile, myself, so I understand the impulse. Because it is white with a delicate gold-foil wrapped thread in it, I did frame this one, Unicorn,”  under glass because it might suffer from a lot of touching.

A Holbein embroidery version of "Onion Domes"
A Holbein embroidery version of  "Onion Domes"
Holbein embroidery is a special case of Spanish blackwork, so popular in the 15th and 16th centuries. The name is sometimes used interchangeably with “blackwork”. I've taken the position that, as I use the term “Holbein embroidery”, it differs from the traditional blackwork or redwork in two ways: it is done in multicolor, rather than solid black or red; and, it can be done on canvas as well as fabric. (Blackwork and redwork are traditionally done on linen, but that's a “rule” I break a lot!) Besides, I find “Holbein embroidery” a term less confusing than “blackwork done in color”. Our purpose here is to bring these Renaissance techniques into the 21st Century to use on contemporary projects. For example, here are the onion domes, previously done in blackwork (see my Feb 27, 2014 post), done in Holbein embroidery. I seldom do the same design more than once and never in the exact same way but it seemed worthwhile to repeat this in order to let you compare and contrast the two techniques.

Detail of blackwork from Simon George, by Hans Holbein the Younger.jpg
Detail from "Simon George", by Hans Holbein the Younger
The style of needlework is named in honor of Hans Holbein the Younger, who was the official court painter for King Henry VIII of England from 1537 to 1543, and who painted detailed renderings of the fancy embroidery on royal attire. (See the post for January 29, 2014 for another example of his work.) Until now we have concentrated on cross-stitch and other short, straight stitches, as well as edging stitches like back-stitch, stem stitch, outline stitch or chain stitch. Now we need to add the Holbein stitch, a double-running stitch used widely in Holbein embroidery. Its virtue is that it covers both sides of the fabric. When it is done skillfully, there is no “right” or “wrong” side to the piece. The double-running is a versatile stitch, especially for borders, and we will return to it later this year when we discuss folk embroidery. Once a couple of lines of Holbein stitches are laid in parallel to each other, they can be whipped, couched, threaded. laced, back-stitched, interlaced, made into Pekinese stitch, etc.

Holbein stitch sampler
Holbein stitch sampler
Holbein stitch is made up of evenly-spaced running stitches worked in one direction, then worked in the reverse direction to fill the spaces between the stitches, using the same needle holes that were used the first time. The running stitches may be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. I've tried to simplify the process by stitching on checked gingham so the stitches are of uniform lengths, and by using different colors for the forward and backward stitches. Traditionally, the first stitches go from right to left. If you are left-handed, however, you may find it easier to work from left to right. You can turn your fabric at the end of each stitch row if you like, so that you are always stitching in the same direction. Check your practice work from time to time to see that the stitches are uniform on both sides of the fabric. This takes some practice, especially to avoid splitting stitches. On the stitch sampler we have: 1) double-running stitch, 2) a Greek Key design, 3) a stepped design, 4) the stepped design reversed, 5) a design using Holbein stitch vertically, 6) a pattern with diagonal stitches and 7) the last reversed. Combine 3 and 4 to get a border with plenty of space for another design in cross-stitch, star stitch, lazy daisy, etc., inside each outlined space. Combining 6 and 7 gives you a smaller border, but still has room for an extra motif inside.

Holbein embroidery fill patterns
Downloadable Holbein embroidery fill patterns
Holbein embroidery uses the same filling designs and diaper patterns that we have used before (see the posts for October 6, 2013 and February 27, 2014), as well as more elaborate leaf, flower, fruit and insect designs. I've prepared a sheet of those that you can download by clicking on the picture. The patterns inside frames are all-over filling designs. Some of these are larger than the ones we've been using, so they will require patterns with larger spaces to fill or smaller-scale background fabric. The next (unframed) patterns may stand alone (as snowflakes perhaps), be joined together to make borders, or be expanded to make all-over fillings. Finally, there are some narrow border designs which can be used vertically or horizontally or both.

Holbein embroidery "doodles"
Holbein embroidery "doodles" (Downloadable)
Here are some of the designs I've been playing around with as fillers or for use on small projects. If you like to “doodle” and make little drawings while you talk on the phone or wait at the doctor's office, you should try making small motifs like these of your own. The stylized flowers are easy. They can be used in closely arranged rows as filling in a design, in single rows as a border, or broken apart to scatter and repeat over a larger area. The little “bugs” were fun to do, as was the snail. Designing them is something enjoyable you can do with your children or grandchildren, too. Some of the larger separate designs are attractive additions to babies' or children's clothing. You can apply these by using a chart and counting threads, by making your own transfer pattern (see the posts for October 6, 2013 and/or April 30, 2014), or by embroidering through waste canvas a removable needlepoint canvas that isn't interlocked. You pin or baste a piece of the waste canvas, somewhat larger then your design, loosely in the desired spot on the garment. Embroider the design as you usually would, not pulling your stitches too tight. When the design is finished, gently pull out each of the canvas threads. I like to steam-press the design afterward.

Have fun with Holbein!




"Unicorn", Holbein embroidery on gingham, framed under glass
"Unicorn", Holbein embroidery on gingham, framed under glass


 Creative Commons LicenseThis post by Annake's Garden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Roses Redux and Colorful 4-ways – Recent Questions


I loved the “Big Bouquet of Roses” post, but I wonder why you haven't done a picture of a red rose? They are my favorites.

Preliminary sketch for red rose needlepoint
Preliminary sketch for red rose needlepoint
I'm so glad you enjoyed the post (July 7, 2014). I have indeed made a red rose. Our jewelry-maker gave me some leftover yarn that was variegated in red-violet, red, and red-orange. I wondered if I could make a realistic rose using only those three colors. I also had some variegated green yarn left over from a past project. I cut the variegated reds into separate pieces so I could control exactly where they appeared on the rose, but I used the variegated greens just as they came off the skein to make the leaves. As usual, I started with a sample on plastic canvas. I had just completed the rose and leaves on a white background when a dear friend arrived for a visit. She loved the sample and said that she had just the place for it on a wall at home. So J.D. framed it for her in a simple black frame. She has written that it has “place of honor” on her wall.

Finished red rose needlepoint
Finished red rose needlepoint
I was happy with the sample experiment, so I traced my original sketch onto needlepoint canvas. Because the mesh was so much smaller, I needed to split the yarn and use three strands instead of four. I rearranged the leaves and added a partially opened bud. This time I used a black background. Unfortunately, I was far from done when the time came to post the “Big Bouquet of Roses” post, so the red rose was not on it. It is now completed. J.D. matted it with a burgundy mat that matches the deepest tones in the rose and framed it under glass in a gold frame. We showed it at an outdoor event last weekend. In the sunlight, it really glows! Here is “Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose”, before framing, so that you can see the detail. Enjoy your red rose.


You made a comment some time ago that I don't understand. It was about color schemes completely changing the way a four-way bargello looks. I can see that they make a difference, but not how it could be that big a difference. Can you show me what you meant?

"Midwinter Blues" Four-way bargello needlepoint
"Midwinter Blues" Four-way bargello needlepoint
Traditional four-way bargello starts with a pattern worked identically in each of the four corners of the canvas. Usually the baseline of the pattern is laid in a small distance from the center of the canvas and is then worked in rows of stitches of (mostly) equal length outwards to the edges of the canvas. Shorter stitches are needed along the diagonals. The pattern may be worked inwards toward the center of the canvas in the same way (see the July 20, 2014 post), using partial stitches where necessary. Or the center can be worked all in one color and perhaps in a different filling stitch. The outer edges and corners can also be worked in a solid-color filling stitch, leaving the pattern as a medallion shape in the center.

Four-way bargello sampler with broken spirals
Four-way bargello sampler with broken spirals
Color schemes may vary from closely related shades of the same color (pink, rose, burgundy), to closely related colors (red, red-orange, orange), to contrasting or complementary colors (black/white, red/green, blue/orange), to the whole color spectrum. The same basic pattern can be worked in all of these ways, producing a series of vastly different effects ranging from subtle to “WOW!” For example, this is the same pattern I used to make Midwinter Blues(see above) worked in red-orange, yellow-green, blue-green and blue-violet, with the colors of the pattern rotating 90 degrees each time. We no longer have diamond shapes, but rather broken spirals.

Four-way bargello sampler with 'fantasy chessboard'
Four-way bargello sampler with 'fantasy chessboard'
Here's another swatch worked in the same stitch pattern, but with only two colors, which alternate for each row. This effect reminded me of a chessboard, so I back-stitched it in gold. If I ever do it full-sized, I'll present it as a fantasy chessboard. While it is not as extreme as the sample above, it certainly differs from “Midwinter Blues”. I could do any number of additional examples. As we explore more complex patterns, I'll try to show alternate color schemes for at least some of them so that you can see a range of possibilities.

Vintage four-way bargello pillow
Vintage four-way bargello pillow
This is another argument for doing sample “swatches” on plastic canvas. Colors that look good together when you are holding skeins next to each other do not always work as well together in a pattern. Some may turn out to be too strong for the pattern, while others are too weak. In addition, effects change – sometimes greatly – as a centered pattern expands outward toward the edges of the canvas. A good example of that is this vintage pillow I made in the 1970's. See how much more complex the pattern becomes? Note how a solid-color border contains and emphasizes the pattern. Don't be afraid to experiment and to discard patterns and/or colors that don't please you. (This is much easier to do with a small plastic sample than with a project on needlepoint canvas!)

I'm always glad to answer questions, particularly ones that help me make or clarify a point. Keep those questions coming!






Finished and framed needlepoint "Love is Like a Red, Red Rose"
Finished and framed needlepoint "Love is Like a Red, Red Rose"


 Creative Commons LicenseThis post by Annake's Garden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.