Blackwork shade and shadows

Bleary eyed, I walked into my studio this morning and saw the blackwork Hearts and Flowers piece on the bed. Since I didn’t have my glasses on, what I saw was a group of lighter or darker shapes. Something that looked a bit like this:

No, my eyes aren’t really that bad but it serves to demonstrate what I noticed in the early morning hours of today – shade and shadow rather than design and texture.

It was a lucky thing that I “saw” the piece this way before I began to stitch the next heart in the circle. I hadn’t yet decided which pattern to use, but now I can see clearly (with my glasses on!) that I need to choose a pattern that produces a darker shape rather than a lighter shape. Look at the whole design and you can see that the center shape and the hearts at the top and right side are all three quite dark, while the flower shapes are lighter.

Shade and shadow are effects that are more pronounced in blackwork than in work stitched with colored threads. The density of the stitches determines how dark each shape will be. I hadn’t really considered the effect of the whole when I began the piece and, this morning, I saw what my random design choices had produced – a pattern of light and dark shapes on the outside of the circle and a dark center.

Here are enlarged photos of 4 of the shapes

The dark center

The lighter flower at about 2 o’clock in the circle…

The darker heart at 3 o’clock…

and the lighter flower at 5 o’clock.

When looking at all of these on paper, I couldn’t have imagined how different the strength of the color would be when stitched. It’s this play of shade and shadow that makes blackwork so interesting to look at and so changeable in different light.

As an experiment, this afternoon I took my hoop outside and photographed it in the fading sunlight at an angle. It’s funny, really, when you think about it: I work at tiny, intricate stitches, making sure each on is in the exactly correct place but what I see when I look at the whole aren’t those tiny stitches, but the overall effect of the pattern all those stitches make.

It’s one of things things I like best about embroidery: we work so closely stitching that we “see” our work, hour after hour, in a certain way and from a certain perspective. Then, when we step away from it, or come on it early in the morning with bleary eyes, it suddenly looks completely fresh and new!

7 thoughts on “Blackwork shade and shadows

  1. Sometimes I rely on my husband. No he is not a expert on embroidery, in fact he refers to it as sewing. But he does on occassion give a perspective on colors or design that improves my work. And many times just putting something aside for a time or looking at it in a different light will lead to ripping out stitches but almost always improves the project.

    • Hi all and thanks for the comments!
      Sharon, I, too, rely on my husband. His eyes are always seeing things I might miss. We’re lucky to have those extra eyes around the house aren’t we?
      kbsalazar – Wow! Thanks for all the info, ideas and link to a great article! You’re an inspiration!
      Liebe Grusse

  2. I’m delighted to see your explorations in this area!

    I agree. The values of the various patterns – their density and overall patterning – make huge differences in successful and less successful blackwork projects. I will sometimes take a page of my pattern printouts and look at it from all the way across the room to see if the value of a specific pattern is useful for a specific spot.

    Or I’ll print out a couple candidate patterns and cut them out, putting the cutouts next to each other to see if I like the contrast between them.

    Or I’ll plan the placement of a larger pattern in a smaller space, so that the filling design’s lines and internal shading accents the shape being filled. For example, a larger design of flowers between diagonals can be aligned with the diagonal lying along the center vein of an outlined leaf shape, so that the denser flower motif parts provide self-shading, lending texture to the leaf.

    Here’s a discussion of a project I did that was not entirely successful. But it’s a good illustration of values and balance on a larger strapwork style blackwork piece:

    Best wishes for continued project success! -kbsalazar

  3. I find that when I take my embroidery out of a hoop and look as it as part of the whole design (at a different angle) that it changes things and can sometimes lead to unpicking.

    Hav you seen the latest addition of ‘Inspirations’ magazine as there is a lovely blackwork feature in it.

    • Hi Debbie,
      I did see that article and just love the little doll shapes worked in blackwork. It’s a darling idea, isn’t it?
      Liebe Grusse,

  4. One of the first articles I read about designing blackwork suggested using newsprint in different print densities to help design where the tones would go – which is exactly what happened when you looked at the design without your glasses on!

  5. Pingback: Blackwork and Color Theory | enbrouderie

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