Blackwork-appropriate embroidery alphabet

Remember the blackwork map of my local area that I spent so much time designing and stitching last year? I’ve added to it.

annotated blackwork map

Title, compass rose, and attribution. Since I did the vast majority of the work last year I used that date. And since I am me, I designed the alphabet myself, all the letters in upper- and lowercase, and digits although I ultimately liked the look of the Roman numerals better.

Since blackwork was popular over a long stretch of time I had a lot of options for an era-appropriate script. I found a website called Medieval Writing with lots of examples of scripts and was able to observe my lowercase options pretty thoroughly. I decided to create a blend of 15th-16th century English chancery hand and 15th-16th century French and Italian humanistic minuscule, with an eye to legibility for modern readers. Well, it turned out more to be based on those scripts in the way that TV movies are based on true stories, but I think it has the right flavor. I made the uppercase and numbers by looking at assorted typefaces and online calligraphy lessons, and the ampersand right out of my head. My favorites are the old-looking a, dramatic d, and potbellied U.

I have for you a blackwork alphabet PDF that includes the laid-out text for the map (aside from my name, which I didn’t think would be of much use). I thought it would be useful as an example of kerning the letters even if you wanted to use this for a different project.

blackwork map drying

After stitching, I washed the map and hung it from a deck chair out back, before I remembered I needed to block it on the ironing board with six or seven hundred pins. Next stop: the frame shop. I’ve never had any of my embroidery framed, so this will be an adventure.

Blackwork embroidery

beginning of a blackwork map It was time for a tutorial on the local fibercraft blog I co-write, and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for a locally-themed project, the kind I would worry was uninteresting to most readers here. I settled on a map of the area in blackwork embroidery and set to work. Over there you’ll find information about blackwork and stitching this pattern; here I want to discuss the design process.

Originally I wanted to partition the map into what we really think of as towns, which are smaller, more numerous, and more irregular than what the state governments regard as towns. The large boxy shapes date back to at least 1860, though, and I determined it would take me months to draw other boundaries. Drawing my own borders would also result in many arbitrary decisions about what was in or out of town.

I also didn’t intend to include 46 towns in the final map, but again, restricting would have required arbitrary decisions. The towns I included comprise the beat of the local newspaper, so any arbitrariness to the boundary is well in the past now.

To make the town outlines I imported an area map into MacStitch (of which I still owe you a full review) and traced the edges with backstitch. Deleting the cross-stitches was easy since none of them were black, so I was able to simply remove each color and its stitches from the palette. I then adjusted a number of the edge lines so all town corners would be at grid corners, in case anyone wants to make their own arbitrary exclusions.

I asked for and was granted permission to use fillings from Kim Brody Salazar’s wonderful blackwork fillings collection, but between asking and receiving I had the idea to make fill patterns out of the initial(s) of each town, and couldn’t let go of it. That meant 46 different fill patterns, 7 of which had to be built from the letter C. That is not a letter that has much difference between upper- and lowercase, or print and cursive. Also difficult were 3 Ws plus WF and WW. Oddly enough, the solitary F and E gave me more trouble than, say, the 4 Ss. Many evenings of sketching while watching the hubs play Skyrim passed as I designed letter fills and then slotted them into their locations.

A few more evenings passed while I stitched the beginning of my sample, shown above. I don’t have time to continue to be so dogged about this, so it will be some months before I’m done, but you’ll see it again then. I’m working on 32-count linen (over 2, for an effective count of 16) with a single strand of black embroidery floss (DMC 310). The stitching I’ve done is all six strands of a 2–2.5 foot length of floss.

There are a few useful links in the pattern post that are also now on the ideas and inspiration embroidery page, halfway down, where I’ve added a blackwork entry to the slowly growing directory of embroidery techniques.

Stitching vistas

Through the Sew-Op, I had the chance to take a two-part course from one of my fellow teachers, Sally Munro, on landscape quilting. We used the method in the book Accidental Landscapes, by Karen Eckmeier. I chose a photo of sunset as seen from my grandparent’s backyard when I was growing up (appearing in speckly scan form below). See what you think of the interpretation:

Williams Bay sunset finished landscape quilt

I took a few progress photos to give you a sense of how it went together.

landscape materials

The sky and water were made from pieced fabric, through a technique called texturing where you cut a slightly wavy edge, press it down a quarter inch, and topstitch it to the layer above. After trimming the lower layer to a quarter inch below the stitching, you can add the next one. Cutting a wavy edge rather than a straight one gives a more organic feeling to the piece. The perfect colors miraculously came out of Sally’s fabric stash.

The tree was black fabric on Steam-A-Seam cut out by hand with a previous copy of the photo on top of the fabric. It is on top of the sky but extends below the top edge of the water, for extra security.

landscape unbound

The binding is one continuous strip, joined into a loop after being sewn on three sides and a couple of inches into the fourth on each side. It is turned to the back and hand-sewn down. I used corner pockets for a hanging rod; the binding is what’s called a French twist and is supposed to create its own rod casing, but the fabric I used was too narrow to accommodate anything but the tiniest of dowels, with virtually no overhang at the ends.

landscape quilt back

Unfortunately I basted by machine, which was not Sally’s intent, and couldn’t get the needle marks out. It’s a good thing I had basted with the direction of the design! I will know better next time. It was a wonderful learning experience, though, and I am more than happy with the way it came out.