Years ago, I found a blackwork kit at one of the big needlework shows in London. It was by a company called Needle Needs, and the design was a cat’s face, called ‘Tabatha’. It was beautiful, very detailed and delicately graduated to convey all the shading accurately. I no longer own the stitched piece, and although I once had a photo on my PC, several house moves & a PC change later, I can longer find that either. The company does not seem to existny longer, and on this vast world wide web, I can’t find any other images of the design, either. Oh, well.
It ruined me for blackwork. It was one of the first blackwork projects I stitched, after a couple that were much smaller. I loved the design too much to be daunted by its complexity. After that, though, I could never find another blackwork piece approaching the same level of design quality and moved on to her stitch techniques. The market has grown a little, since then – although graduate blackwork is still not exactly common – and there are some good designs about (Derwentwater to some interesting landscapes in blackwork using different colours; and Tanja Berlin has some stunning peacock & butterfly designs); but like I say – the stitching ship has sailed, for me.
What ‘Tabatha’ did do, was inspire me to experiment with graduated blackwork myself. I did a few small pattern studies, then leaped straight in to try charting my own cat, ‘Colin’. I’ve lost the original photo I worked from, but I’ve added a pixelated cross stitch chart version below, as well as one of the variations of a blackwork version (I did a few, using different filling patterns, as the patterns make quite a difference to the overall effect). I didn’t really pursue the idea any further. ‘Colin’ was no competition for ‘Tabatha’, and my own stitching was leading in different directions, anyway.
Recently, though, the subject of cats (and blackwork) came up with a couple of my model stitchers, so I sent through a couple of my old charts of ‘Colin’ – completely without instructions; I had had no thoughts or intention of kitting them at all. The charts were well-received by both stitchers – one of whom suggested an idea to me that had never crossed my mind, but actually, is very worthy of consideration.
She asked if I had thought about taking commissions and charting other people’s cats (/pets) for blackwork. Well no, I hadn’t! But actually, why not? The principle is fairly straightforward – a photo is cut down into it’s varying shades of light and dark, and then insead of cross stitch, blackwork filling patterns of varying density are applied, instead. I’m surprised that in these days where photo-charting computer programmes are commonplace, that no-one has invented a programme that will do it automatically. (But perhaps they have, and the news just hasn’t filtered through, yet…)
In the meantime, though, I’m going to give it a trial run, and see what happens. I don’t know that commission work is necessarily a direction I want to go in, but I’ll see if I can recreate the apparent success of ‘Colin’ before I need to think about making that decision.