Blackwork or Spanish Blackwork Embroidery


Blackwork is a form of embroidery that is sometimes known as Spanish Blackwork and most often uses black thread.

Today, it is usually counted-thread embroidery stitched on even-weave fabric made specifically for counted stitch work. However, traditionally it was done on white or off-white linen or cotton fabric using black silk thread.  

Sometimes colored threads or metallic threads are used to accent the stitches. There are several common stitches used in Blackwork, including the double running stitch, backstitch, buttonhole, chain, overcast and sometimes stem stitch.  

Another useful stitch for blackwork is our tutorial for cross stitch backstitch, follow the link.

History of Blackwork

Blackwork embroidery is often thought to have been brought to England from Spain when Catherine of Aragon arrived in England to marry King Henry VIII. This is where the name “Spanish Blackwork” originated, and it held this name for about 50 years. 

Only the upper class citizens were allowed to wear clothing decorated with Spanish Blackwork; In 1553 an Act of Parliament made it a crime for anyone under the level of knight to wear such clothing. 1553 also happens to be the year Catherine and Henry divorced; at that time the name "Spanish Blackwork" was changed to "Blackwork".Elizabeth I wearing free-stitched blackwork sleeves, stomacher, and collar (beneath a sheer linen ruff), c.1590.[6]

The garments were most often simple chemises, smocks or shirts, but the use of black silk thread, sometimes embellished with gold, made them elegant.

As a side note, the use of black silk thread reinforced and neatly covered soiled cuffs and hems!

Another theory is that Blackwork actually originated in Morocco, North Africa.  Research suggests that the Moors in Northern Africa decorated their clothing hems with colored threads in geometric designs, most often blue or tan on linen, centuries before it became known as Spanish Blackwork. 

This group may have moved into Spain in the 8th century, bringing this style of embroidery with them. 

The earliest Blackwork was made using counted stitches to create geometric patterns.  You will  see most of the current Blackwork is done in this style, especially in new patterns produced for crafty stitchers.English blackwork cushion cover, late 16th century. Linen embroidered with silk and metallic thread, in a mix of counted and free-stitched stitches, including buttonhole, chain, double running, overcast, plaited braid, and square open work stitches. Art Institute of Chicago textile collection. 

Later, Blackwork showed flowers in large outlined patterns that were filled in with geometric designs.  Another style of Blackwork has the outlined patterns shadowed with random seed stitches looking very much like etchings.

It is very rare to find well-preserved original Blackwork done in England.  The iron-based dye that was used there breaks down thread, and sadly, there are no current techniques to conserve any discovered English Blackwork.

Blackwork that was done in old-world Spain is better preserved since less iron was used to color the silk threads that were used there. 

Want some free blackwork projects? We have those too!

Look below for some great links that will help you find books, patterns, and images of Blackwork.  Check it out!Sample of a Kitchen Towel with Blackwork decoration

Blackwork or Spanish Blackwork Embroidery

Supporting Products and links: Some of the links below may be affiliate links. We make a small commission on sales through the affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance for your purchase and your support! Please see our full Affiliate Statement for more information.

 Beginner's Guide to Blackwork

Beginner's Guide to Blackwork #ad

This book has clear step-by-step photographs accompany the author's comprehensive instructions, and the motifs, borders, fill-in patterns and images are all charted designs. by Lesley Wilkins - Paperback - Published 2002 Affiliate Link to Amazon


Blackwork #ad

Essential Stitch guide. by Becky Hogg - Published 2011 Affiliate Link to Amazon

 Blackwork Embroidery

Blackwork Embroidery #ad

Stitches, techniques and 13 modern blackwork embroidery projects. by Bernadette Baldelli - Paperback - Published 2020 Affiliate Link to Amazon

 Blackwork Tudor Rose Blackwork Pattern

Blackwork Tudor Rose Blackwork Pattern #ad

A blackwork pattern of Blackwork Tudor Rose. by Jonathan Black - Kindle Book - Published 2020 Affiliate Link to Amazon

 Modern Blackwork Sampler

Modern Blackwork Sampler #ad

A blackwork pattern for making a modern blackwork sampler. by Jonathan Black - Kindle Book - Published 2020 Affiliate Link to Amazon

More Blackwork Books & Patterns

Want more blackwork embroidery ideas? Check out these books and patterns.

Backstitch (Video)

Backstitch (Video)

This video will show you how to hand embroider the backstitch which is a common outline stitch used in counted cross stitch and embroidery.

Basic Blackwork Instruction

Basic directions for doing blackwork. XYZZX Creations


An article on blackwork - the history, the technique, Wikipedia

Blackwork Designs

A few blackwork designs from 16th-century sources.

Blackwork Embroidery

Learn about blackwork embroidery. JMD Designs

Blackwork Embroidery Designs

Dianne Skinner blackwork embroidery board has hundreds of designs and patterns. Dianne Skinner Pinterest Board

Blackwork Embroidery Patterns and Projects (FREE)

Free... Blackwork patterns and projects.

Blackwork Embroidery Samples

This Pinterest board by Hillary Rose has many blackwork embroidery examples and patterns. Check them out. Hillary Rose Pinterest Board

Blackwork Embroidery Step-by-Step Guide

This post has some useful tips and some basic techniques to follow when stitching my blackwork designs. Ajisai Press

Blackwork Embroidery Tutorial

Learn a brief history of blackwork embroidery along with stitches and fabrics used. The Sewing Directory

Blackwork History

Learn about the origin of blackwork. XYZZX Creations

Blackwork Samplers

Blackwork patterns. Dragon Bear

Blackwork Samples

On this site, you will find more examples of blackwork. Lady Elisabeth Fairchild's Historical Collection

Couching Stitch

Couching Stitch #ad

Instructions, illustration and video teaching a great stitch for outlining or accenting work. Affiliate Link to Annie's Craft Store

Double Running Embroidery Stitch

Double Running Embroidery Stitch

This video will show you how to do the double running embroidery stitch which is also known as the Holbein stitch.

Elizabethan Freehand Blackwork Embroidery

Many wonderful examples of blackwork embroidery. Sidney Eileen

Filler Stitch - Pattern Darning

Learn about pattern darning when working a blackwork embroidery design. Needlework Tips and Techniques

Filler Stitch - Pattern Darning Tutorial #ad

Pattern darning can be used as a filler stitch or border stitch in blackwork embroidery. Affiliate Link to Sarah's Hand Embroidery Tutorials

Filling Patterns

Two examples of filling patterns used in blackwork embroidery. Elizabethan Blackwork

Stem Stitch

Stem Stitch #ad

Illustration, instructions and video describing how to make the common stitch primarily used for outlining. Affiliate Link to Annie's Craft Store

Tutorial - Blackwork Beginners Guide

Learn blackwork with this simple beginners pattern. Needlework Tips and Techniques

What is Blackwork Embroidery?

Explore the history and characteristics of this traditional English embroidery technique. Domestika

Profile Photo

Annette & Chris are a mother/daughter team. We've brought you craft projects and tutorials through this web site for over 20 years.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Needlework Shopping


Annies CrossStitch 300x250 DMC

Profile Photo

Annette & Chris are a mother/daughter team. We've brought you craft projects and tutorials through this web site for over 20 years.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Looking for something you cannot find on our site? Click here to e-mail the Needlepointers Information department.

Copyright ©2003 - 2019 All Rights Reserved. | Powered by w3.css

Secured by RapidSSL