Blackwork (3)

My reviews are listed below, but you can also click on these links to buy & find reviews of even more Blackwork Books

(Titles are listed A-Z by author. Check side bar for links to book reviews covering different stitch techniques. Please feel free to add comments if you agree or disagee with me!)

BLACKWORK (from Threads and Things) by KAREN R. BUELL

This is a great project book, a great introduction to blackwork as a technique.  It includes two small beginner’s projects (the second of which already introduces basic shading), then quickly progresses to larger, more complex patterns and techniques.  It is not the most comprehensive book available on blackwork (although it has a respectable library of filling patterns), but it is the ideal book to start out with, especially if you already have some background in counted thread work.  Many beginner’s guides begin basic, but remain basic.  This book assumes you have the capacity to move on.


How rare – a book whose title actually says exactly what it is!  If you’re looking for a how-to guide, this isn’t it.  If you are looking for a library of filling patterns, look elsewhere.  This is, in essence, an embroiderer’s sketchbook, full of ideas and inspiration.  There is a gallery of 20th century blackwork pieces with a brief commentary on each by the author, which in some cases is quite helpful in terms of design.  The next gallery explores blackwork combined with layering fabrics, in various contexts.  The commentaries here are in a little more depth.  This is followed by ‘other techniques’.  Some line drawings are included to trace, as well as instructions for making up some bags and boxes, but this is definitely not a project book in the traditional sense!

A large collection of line drawings demonstrates how to interpret images through blackwork (in a very free, unstructured manner), and how to adapt the light and dark tones of a photograph, but also the importance of ‘movement’.  There is lots of advice for developing your own designs.  More galleries, more commentaries.  A small directory of filling patterns is included, but really the emphasis is on creating your own.

The author aims to inspire the reader.  Through example, she shows how to collect ideas, and how to interpret and develop them.  A whole host of techniques are exposed, and show how your needlework can move beyond craft and become art.  Given that this is very much not a project book but more of an encouragement to experiment, the only thing I would change about this book is the number of finishing suggestions included with patterns.  This seems at odds with the otherwise very free style of the book.  On the other hand, perhaps there are some different techniques included here that other stitchers will find useful.  As someone whose pleasure is in the stitching rather than the ‘finishing’, I’m probably not best qualified to comment on this aspect…


In my opinion, this is the best book you can buy (that I have discovered so far) about blackwork design.  Langford’s book is great, but is primarily visual inspiration.  Pascoe’s book includes lots of pictures (a technique which for once possibly favours the black & white photography of older books!) which similarly provide lots of ideas and stimulation but these are accompanied by an in-depth text, analysing all different aspects of the design process.

The basic materials section is not irrelevant, but perhaps a little dated; the techniques, however, could not be more relevant.  Pascoe covers everything, from gathering ideas, to different methods of interpretation, to the practicalities of tonal graduation.  It is not possible to convey the full extent of material included by Pascoe without replicating the book, as the information is enmeshed together.

If you have any interest at all in blackwork (or general embroidery) design, read this book from cover to cover.  Okay, that may be difficult, as it will spark off new ideas at every turn.  All I’m saying is: buy it, read it.

Here are links to some more blackwork books that I don’t own, but you may find useful/interesting.  Although I don’t currently own them, I have acually owned most of them at some point in the past.  I don’t think this qualifies me to review them fully, as above, but I will add one or two notes that may or may not be useful to you, depending on what I remember of them:

THE NEW ANCHOR BOOK OF EMBROIDERY STITCHES: Techniques and Designs by JILL CATER NIXON– A very basic guide. Unlike the previous incarnations of Anchor embroidery stitch guides, this is not laid out like a reference dictionary, nor is it inclusive of inspirational stitched examples.  A matter of taste, of course, but I found the designs very simplistic, and it is really only any good as a first introduction to blackwork, as there is very little presented in terms of progressive techniques.

BLACKWORK by LESLEY BARNETT – One of the best books about contemporary blackwork, with photos of lots of inspirational examples included of what can be achieved.  I’m fairly certain the book is not project-based, but it’s a long time since I’ve seen it.  Actually, I really need to get hold of this book again, myself…

NEEDLECRAFT MAGAZINE’S COMPLETE GUIDE TO BLACKWORK by COX & PHILIPS – Not actually a guide at all, but a project book full of very uninspired projects.  Don’t waste your money.

BLACKWORK: A New Approach by BRENDA DAY – As I recall, a good progressive guide if you are new to blackwork, beginning with simpler patterns and working up to more complex techniques.  Not as aspirational as Barnett’s book, but as a project book, a great starting off point.  This is another book I’d like to take another look at, as I’ve recently been looking at the author’s bargello book, which I found quite refreshingly presented.

THE ART OF BLACKWORK EMBROIDERY by ROSEMARY DRYSDALE – I don’t remember this in detail at all.  Sorry.  That’s not much help.  I think it was more practical than historical.

BLACKWORK EMBROIDERY by ELISABETH GEDDES & MOYRA McNEILL – As I recall, a bit of a historical overview of traditional blackwork combined with some original design ideas; not at all prescriptive, instead aimed at developing creativity.  If you like everything clearly charted and planned for you, there are better books.

BLACKWORK by MARY GOSTELOW – More of an overview of blackwork from a historic perspective.  Not really my thing.  I’m more interested in contemporary blackwork design and creative possibilities so I was a bit disappointed wth it.

BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO BLACKWORK by LESLEY WILKINS – Not quite as simplistic as the Anchor book, and not a bad starting point but not especially progressive.  Not as good as other books in Search Press’s beginners guide series (eg Beginner’s Guide to Drawn Thread by Patricia Bage) but it does what it says on the tin.

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