Updated December 21, 2021.
Sashiko, a kind of Japanese quilting, is the source of the Blackwork patterns in this needlepoint Learn-a-Stitch Owl.
That makes him a double whammy; with both a new technique, Blackwork, and a new source of patterns. Today we’ll talk about the techniques and Friday we’ll have the instructions.
What Is Sashiko?
This form of quilting was originally used to make garments for Japanese fishermen. Then it was done with white threads on indigo fabric. Many of the designs are traditional.
Sashiko remains popular although today it is used mostly for decorative purposes, not for practical ones. You’ll also find it done in many colors, not just blue and white. However, Sashiko is generally done with one thread, even a variegated one, on a differently-colored solid fabric. This allows the quilting to really show up.
What Is Blackwork?
Blackwork is a form of counted embroidery that first became popular in Tudor England. Traditionally done in black, and sometimes gold, on white fabric, it often mimics lace.
There are basically two approaches to Blackwork designs. One approach outlines areas, in Tent Stitch here, and then fills in the area with a Blackwork pattern.
The other approach does not outline areas but allows the patterns to stand on their own. Really striking designs can be made this way. The different densities of the pattern make different shadings. There are lots of lovely Blackwork designs out there that are inspired by the traditional designs. If you’re looking for free blackwork designs to explore this technique, look on Pinterest, there are hundreds. Because the technique was popular during the Renaissance, you can often find Blackwork resources on SCA sites.
If you are thinking about a more modern approach to this technique, you can find lots of inspiring photos of projects, but there are fewer projects.
Although it’s usually done on fabrics, such as linen, you can also do this technique easily on needlepoint canvas.
When you stitch Blackwork on canvas you will need to make straight stitches over two canvas threads. That’s because straight stitches may disappear under the canvas threads if it goes over one thread only.
There are two methods to stitch Blackwork. One way, which I use most often, is to stitch in straight lines, using Backstitch, pictured above. Each stitch is made backwards, going from the newest end of the line to the oldest.
The other method is to use Double Running Stitch, pictured above. To use this stitch you’ll stitch each line twice. Every other stitch is skipped in the first pass (black stitches) and then filled in in the second pass (red stitches).
This method creates Reversible Blackwork so that the back also creates a pattern. To do this you need to plan your route, which can be complex. Ann Strite-Kurz’s book, The Heart of Blackwork, is an excellent resource on this method. This method can only be used with solid threads.
Blackwork Charts vs. Diagrams
A typical Blackwork chart looks like the one above. Straight lines run along grid lines, with only diagonal or oblique lines running through the squares. Doesn’t look much like a typical needlepoint diagram (see Backstitch above) does it?
That means you’ll need to translate the chart into needlepoint. It’s easier than it sounds. A straight line going from one grid line to another is one Blackwork stitch (i.e. two canvas threads). Diagonal lines, cover one intersection per grid square.
You can see how this works out by comparing the Blackwork chart, below top, with the same stitch as a needlepoint diagram, below bottom.
Come back Friday to get the instructions for stitching the owl.