A new term, new techniques, and finalising Blackwork

Keeping Busy

I do hope this post finds you keeping well and busy. I remind myself that what this situation gives us is time. Maybe for some of us it is the time and opportunity to be – or become – a better embroiderer? That’s what I hope to do with this gift of time, and I am really enjoying the many pictures of embroidered works that I have seen on social media, it looks like there are a lot of us keeping busy.

The Easter break went by so quickly for me as I spent most of the two weeks continuing to work on my Shaded Blackwork portrait. Stitching this piece has filled my days up nicely and certainly kept both my mind and hands busy during these interesting times. However, after more than 350 hours of stitching so far, I will admit to being a little relieved that it is nearly finished. I am calling time on this piece for now and it will remain stretched on the working frame until I can get back to face-to-face classes at Hampton Court to have it looked over by my wonderfully supportive Blackwork tutor, Kate.

I have learnt so much from stitching a Blackwork portrait, especially how even very small details – just a few stitches here or there or even a slight change of shade – can make such a difference to a face looking like the face it should be. There are so many choices to be made in shaded Blackwork – stitch and thread combinations that can influence the look and feel of any design you may choose to work, and some can even convey the texture and surface of skin or fabric so well that they can bring a portrait to life. Playing with light and shade, tone and texture, thick and thin, density and space, these are the magical elements of this technique. The most wonderful part about learning at the RSN is the supportive tutors who know their stuff, and are endlessly encouraging skilled problem solvers.

I did set myself a very big challenge with the Blackwork portrait I chose and I really should have finished it by the end of the 2nd term, but with the Carona lockdown interrupting my flow and then the move to online classes I just needed to take more time to get it right. So for now I am calling it finished, and it is wrapped up securely and is sitting in the corner waiting for real life to resume. Of course there is still the mounting to do, but this will have to wait a little bit longer. I don’t want to reveal it to you until the subject has seen her portrait – but I have included a few photos of some facial features along with the matching elements from the reference photo.

Moving forward

During this new Spring term I will stitching a major work in Botanical Silkshading and another Set of 3 pieces in the Whitework techniques of (1). Pulled and Drawn thread, (2) Eyelets and Richelieu cutwork, and (3) Shadow work. As usual this term there will also be classes in Art and Design and some technique Masterclasses interspersed into the teaching program. The most amazing part of all is that the Royal School of Needlework has moved to online classes and somehow – with good will and helpful technology – we are actually managing to continue with most of the planned classes so far.

Having chosen my botanical subject to Silk-shade – a Waterlily – I am now preparing all the drawings, sketches, shading, fabric and thread choices that need to be completed and documented before any actual stitching can begin. There probably was a time when I would have scoffed at this level of preparation, but I have come to realise the benefits of actually making coloured and shaded drawings of the image you want to stitch. It helps immensely with the many colour, stitch, and thread selections that you will make later in the process of embroidery.

I have nearly as much documentation to prepare for the Whitework classes as well, so for right now it is back to the drawing pad for me.

Sketching and colouring – preparation for Silkshading.

By Sally

Passionate embroiderer who loves to learn and pass on fine hand embroidery skills.


  1. Wonderful to read of your progress and learning Sally . It is very generous of you to share your work, knowledge and reflections. More importantly it is a relief to hear you are well and progressing with the course work. How lucky we are to have the technology that so often we curse! Your water lily is beautiful and so restful. It must be a massive change moving from your blackwork. With best wishes. Joanne x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s great to hear that you have been able to continue with your studies amongst everything else that has been going on. Your blackwork piece looks lovely. It’s the one technique I’m most afraid of I think! I’m looking forward to learning more about it, though it doesn’t sound easy. good luck with your next silk shading piece.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for the update on your course, now being conducted online. Your blackwork pictures look amazing, and I love the look and colours of your waterlily flower. How is Michael managing the lockdown as I guess he won’t be able to ride hid bike as much?
    Keep well and take care. Helen. xo

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Michael is doing well and has been able to get out for the occasional bike ride. His normal routes through the parks are shut because of the lockdown, however with a lot less traffic on the road he has been able to ride places that would normally be too busy. Things are still very locked down here!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for making time to share so much of the time consuming stitching and preparation you are doing! Absolutely amazing how little stitches in one colour can build up a whole face! Look forward to seeing the finished piece as a whole! Love your water lily and can’t wait to see your stitched version! So good that you can continue your course on line. Take my hat off to tutors who have had to change things and successfully teach such intricate stitching at a distance! We are fortunate to be able to communicate electronically!
    Keep well both of you! Cheers, Vanda.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hello Sally, great to hear you and Michael are safe and your stitching adventures continue, via technology. I love your shaded Blackwork – it’s an enormous challenge and the little sections look like you certainly have ‘nailed’ it. Looking forward to the final reveal. And your waterlily piece will be wonderful I am sure after all your preparation work. Such a challenge! Take care x Cheryl

    Liked by 1 person

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