Thursday, February 27, 2014

Better Blackwork — a Project on Monk’s Cloth

blackwork embroidery on monk's cloth of onion domes
Blackwork embroidery on monk's cloth "Onion Domes"
Are you ready for a more challenging blackwork project? Since there was so much interest in Spanish blackwork (see my January 29, 2014 blog post), we are going to “take off the training wheels” and “cash in the checks. Now that you have had some experience doing blackwork on checked gingham, where the spaces for your stitches are easy to see and count, it is time to be a little more adventurous. We will use the same techniques on a slightly more demanding fabric: monk’s cloth. I think you will like monk's cloth. It is a sturdy cloth woven so that it is made up of small, even squares, each with tiny openings at all four corners. You will use the little holes for the ends of your stitches, just as you used the corners of the gingham checks. First, though, we need a design.

onion domes on the Kremlin in Moscow
Fancy "onion domes" on the Kremlin in Moscow
I've always loved the “onion” domes on the old Russian churches, so I decided to base a blackwork pattern on them. I did a very stylized design, rather than drawing the domes realistically. I made my chart on 1/4-inch graph paper so the designs would be easy to see. I used a straight-edged, clear plastic ruler to draw all the lines, a medium-hard drawing pencil to establish the design, and a Pilot Precise View 7 fine-point rolling ball pen to re-draw the lines in ink. Then I cleaned away all visible pencil marks with an art gum eraser. The lines marking the horizontal and vertical centers of the design were drawn in a contrasting color. The solid features, like doors and windows are meant to be done in satin stitch.

full chart for onion domes blackwork emboidery
Full chart for "Onion Domes"
You can fill in the outlined areas with the previous set of downloadable diaper patterns (Oct 6, 2013 post), use the ones below, or make up your own. You might observe that there are differences between the original drawing and the simplified one, and between both of them and the finished project. This is typically what happens, as my work changes and evolves while it is in progress.

To download a simplified version of the outline drawing, click on the small picture below and to the right.

simple outline for onion domes blackwork embroidery
Downloadable outline
For this project you will need a piece of monk's cloth, backing fabric, several skeins of black embroidery floss, scissors (preferably small embroidery scissors as well as cutting shears), and crewel or tapestry needles. I prefer the blunt-pointed tapestry needles because they do less damage to the fabric, but you may prefer the sharper crewel or chenille needles. I do use a crewel needle for outlining a motif in any stitch other than back-stitch.

closeup of monk's cloth
Closeup of monk's cloth
I buy monk's cloth locally at a variety store, but you may have to explore craft stores like Michaels or JoAnns, or catalog outlets like Herrschners. The cloth retails for about $13.00 a yard, but it is 45 to 60 inches wide, so even one-third of a yard is sufficient for several small projects. I commonly use white, ecru, or natural (a light tan), but the variety store also carries yellow, pink, lavender, light blue, light green, medium blue, brick red, dark green, maroon, navy and black. All of those up to and including medium blue are suitable for either blackwork or redwork. White stitching is beautiful on the darker shades, and silver and gold really show up on them. A word of caution, though: I have recently seen some poorly dyed, rather garish monk's cloth. If you buy some that doesn't look like it is dyed evenly, please wash a scrap of the fabric vigorously to make sure it is color-fast before you begin stitching.

monk's cloth with basting stitching
Monk's cloth with basting stitching
Press and baste the layers of monk's cloth and backing together with long basting stitches. (You can tape the edges, but I don't like working over tape or removing it, so I use it mostly on mono needlepoint canvas or quickpoint canvas.) I used embroidery floss for the basting so that it would show up in the photograph. Using a contrasting color, I ran basting stitches through the horizontal and vertical centers of the fabric so I could match them with the centering lines I had drawn on my chart. I put large knots in the ends of my basting threads so that I have something easy to grasp when I am ready to remove the basting threads. As I work away from the center of the design, I clip the marking threads at the center and pull them back towards the four edges of the design. All centering and basting threads are removed from the completed design. I believe that this technique works best for a beginner. If you have some experience, and no difficulty in following a chart, you may want to start at the bottom of the chart and work upward.

onion domes outlined in backstitch on monk's cloth
Onion domes outline backstitched on monk's cloth
I used an embroidery hoop to keep the fabric taut. Hoops or frames are not absolutely necessary, but I have found that they make for neater work and there will be less need for extensive blocking of the piece. The backing fabric (I used non-woven interfacing for this project) helps the work to hold its shape and keeps the stitches on the back of the work from showing through. For me, the only problem with monk's cloth is that it unravels at the edges. Both using backing fabric and a hoop or frame make this easier to overcome. Divide the 6 strands of black floss into two triple strands for this project. Because monk's cloth has approximately 7 squares to the inch (49 stitches per square inch), you will be using much shorter stitches than you used previously and your work will be much finer in texture and detail. Since you are using much smaller stitches, you need a finer thread for the work.

Framed finished onion domes blackwork embroidery
"Onion Domes," finished and framed
Starting as close as possible to the center of the design, I back-stitched around the outlines of all the sections. I could have chosen to use outline stitch, stem stitch, chain stitch, or couching: blackwork makes use of all these stitches. Back-stitching was easy for me to do, however: I just followed the chart, stitching horizontally, vertically, or diagonally along or across the squares and counting them as I went. Then I filled in each outlined section with a diaper pattern, running the ends of stitches under the back-stitching where I came to it. This is especially important wherever there are partial stitches. I begin with a waste knot and start and end all subsequent strands of floss by running them under, whipping them around, or weaving them back and forth through existing stitches on the back of the work. I use no strands that are more than 18 inches long. After the first pattern was filled in, I cut off the waste knot, pulled the floss to the back of the work, re-threaded it and wove it in under existing stitches. There is no need for further knots unless you want to use a new one for each pattern section. Do what feels most comfortable and secure for you. I want this to be a pleasant experience for you. I was really pleased by how quickly and neatly this pattern worked up on the monk's cloth.

comparison of the same blackwork motif done on monk's cloth and checked gingham
Same stitches on monk's cloth and checked gingham
The finished picture from my chart works nicely, with a clear margin all around, in an 8” x 10” frame or in a larger frame with a black mat. I cut my fabric so that I have at least a 1” margin all the way around the motif. If you enjoyed doing a blackwork design on quarter-inch gingham last time, you might want to try one on “baby check” before moving on to monk's cloth, aida cloth, or even-weave fabrics. This chart will work on other fabrics, but the sizes will not be the same. Done on “baby check” gingham, the design will be comparable to, but somewhat larger in size than, what I’ve done on the monk's cloth. On quarter-inch gingham, this design would be much larger, requiring at least an 11” x 14” frame. On #14 Aida cloth (a popular size for counted-thread work), the whole design would be much smaller. Big differences! Scale really matters in counted-thread work.

 Below are some more diaper patterns. Most of these are too open to depend upon for shading, but they are good for covering larger areas like the domed buildings. When filling in a shape, use as much of the pattern as you can, running the ends of your stitches under the outline stitching when you come to it.

Happy stitching!

Additional diaper pattern stitches
Some more diaper pattern stitches for you

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


  1. So much appreciation for your tutorial! Sweet post!

    1. Thank you. It's nice to know I'm reaching people who understand and appreciate what I'm trying to do. Come back and "visit" again. Annake

    2. I will and I'm:) Originally I'm from Russia , so this is very personal subject to me:)
      Thanks and see you soon!

  2. Amazing tutorial! I used to love cross stitch, now my eyes just can't get into it anymore.

    1. Glad you liked it. Some of the people I'm trying to reach are older women who have given up on needlepoint, cross-stitch, and other stitchery because of eye problems and arthritic hands. I'm in that bracket myself, so I try to show ways to keep working, but on a larger, easier scale --- hence the monk's cloth, checked gingham, #11 aida, and quickpoint canvas. the other group I want to reach are young women who have never learned the skills which are so likely to be lost when my generation is gone. Best of luck to you. Annake


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