16th-Century Sweete Bag – Start to Finish

Some time ago, I hinted at a surprise gift I was embroidering for a friend. Two months later, the mailman has done his job and it has finally reached its home overseas. Now I can show off the details to you all.

I made a crewelwork sweete bag, based on an extant original in the National Trust Collection (formerly British Library). The embroidery pattern came from the 16th-Century German Costuming blog. Here Amie provides some very lovely patterns, taken from 16th-c. purses and pincushions.

Sweete Bag, late 16th century (British Library c194c27).

Below I have put together some start-to-finish photos of the embroidery process. Since my yarn stash was overflowing, I worked the pattern in cotton floss and faux gold thread, instead of the period-correct crewel wool. The bag was my entry for the HSM 2017 “Go Wild” challenge as well. So I have put all the key facts into the challenge info at the end of this post.

The pattern outline. Gold vines worked in stem stitch.

Some leaves in satin stitch, worked over a stem stitch outline.

The first flower. I used seed stitch in the center. The big petals are done in satin stitch. All the pale yellow bits are stem stitched.

Grapes! Chain stitch outlines with satin stitch centers.

Another flower done. It is mostly regular satin stitch, with a row of long and short stitches towards the center.

The two shaded flowers are both worked in long and short stitch. The brown border at the bottom is chain stitched.

And we have a parrot. It is a mix of dense satin stitch and long and short stitch over a backstitch outline.

And done! Next I took it out of the hoop and stretched the wet fabric over some cardboard. Then all I had to do was sew it into a little drawstring bag. For the string and tassels I used no. 8 cotton purl yarn.

The finished sweete bag. *happy dance*

My friend and I are both very, very happy about the result. It has been my first big embroidery project in a long while. And now I am itching to start another… ;)

To finish off, here are the challenge facts with all the details:

The Challenge: “HSM #12 – Go Wild!”

How does the item fit the challenge?Wild and exotic animals were often featured in embroidery designs from this period. Parrots, like the one here, were especially popular. Plus, I have really “gone wild” with the embroidery on this project. Oof! ;)

Material: A 12″ x 6″ piece of linen, a scrap of cotton percale for lining.

Patterns: 16th-century purse pattern from “Patterns of Fashion 4”.

Embroidery pattern by Amie Sparrow from here.

Year: c. 1550-1610

Notions: Various yardages of cotton embroidery floss and faux gold thread; poly-cotton thread for sewing, no. 8 purl cotton for the drawstring.

How historically accurate is it? About 80%. The crewel embroidery stitches and sewing techniques are documented for this time but many of the materials I used are modern, except for the linen.

Hours to complete: About 120 hours for the embroidery and two for the sewing.

Total cost: Most materials came from my stash. So, about €7 at this time, for some extra embroidery floss.



A Herringbone Fichu

After the stays, I was itching to do a pretty project that would not take ages to finish. Thus I picked up a scrap of cotton voile and made another fichu. Like my previous one, I based it on this super handy fichu guide by the Oregon Regency Society. Only this time around, I made it rectangular in shape.

Here is what I did: I started by cutting two rectangles, each 28″ long and 12″ wide. After finishing the edges with 1/4″ hand-rolled hems, I joined up the pieces with an 8″ open herringbone seam. It now sits at the center back of the finished fichu. Finally I embroidered two more rows of herringbone stitch down center edges to match.

Creating the open herringbone stitch.

All herringboning was done is a blue no. 80 filet crochet cotton, which I use for anything but crochet. It works great for sturdy finishes or small embroidery designs like this one. Here is the finished item. Making it took about eight hours in all.

The front view.

A closer look at the herringbone finish.

The back view.

A close-up of the open-work seam.

This small project was much fun as I got to do two of my favorite sewing things… decorative stitching and rolled hems. After hand-rolling quite a few of those, the process has become a bit addictive. I think some of you can sympathize here, no? :)

Yours, Nessa

HSM #3: Ladylike Hand Protection

For me, embroidery is one of the best pastimes during exam season. It gives you something to pick up and work on when the paper writing muse is silent or when you simply need to take a little break. That is why I decided to do a small, handy  embroidery project for this month’s “Protection” challenge: A pair of early Regency mitts.

The main inspiration came from these two extant pairs from the Met and MFA collections. The mitts from the Met are an earlier pair from the latter half of the 18th century. At this time, a triangular flap, often with a contrasting piece of fabric sewn to its underside, was a common feature of mitts. Towards the Regency period, this flap slowly disappeared in favour of a straight top, as you can see in the early-19th-century pair from the MFA below.

18th-century mitts, in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

Mitts, late 18th – early 19th century, MFA Boston.

Since this has been my first glove-making adventure and I was feeling a little unsure about how to design a pattern, I went to search for resources and found a wonderful tutorial for making Colonial mitts. It uses a pattern based on an extant pair from the Colonial Williamsburg collection. I used it as a base for my own pattern, enlarging it to about 120% and taking off the flap to get a straight top edge.

Next I picked a floral embroidery pattern from Ackermann’s Repository to decorate the top. It is a bud and leaf design I outlined in stem stitch. To fill out the buds, I also used stem. The leaves are filled with alternating satin or fishbone stitch.
Since the fabric I used was a light cotton sateen, I added the embroidery before cutting out the mitts, to prevent fraying in the wrong places. ;) Here is how it all looked in progress:

The embroidery in progress.

Once the embroidery was finished, I cut out the gloves and found that embroidering had been the easy part of this project. So I will give you a brief walkthrough of how I made up my pair, for future reference, in case you are planning to make your own. :)

Gathering the materials.

The first thing I did was to get together my materials. I used sateen for the outer layer and a light cotton shirting from the stash for the lining. All pieces are cut on the bias, to allow for a snug but comfortable fit. In this picture, the thumb holes are already cut out. Before I did that, though, I took an extra step:

Tracing the shape for the thumb hole.

After backstitching and overcasting the thumb pieces’ 1/4″ side seam, I placed the underside of the piece on the right side of the mitt body and traced the shape. I then subtracted 1/4″ on the inside of the trace line for the seam allowance and cut the hole based on that. There was a thumb hole given on the original pattern, but after sewing a test piece, I found that it needed some improvement. And taking the time to re-trace it really did a lot for the fit. :)

The shell and lining, with the side seams sewn and pressed open.

Next I attached the bottom edge of the thumb to the holes, right sides facing and backstitched it in place. Afterwards I just sewed up both the outer and lining pieces at the side seams, taking a 3/8″ allowance. Once all the seams had been pressed open, I slipped the lining over the outer, so that the “clean” sides faced each other and the thumb peeked out of the hole in the lining like so:

The shell and lining matched up at the side seams.

To line the mitts, I sewed the pieces together at the top edge with a backstitch, taking up a 1/4″ seam. After I folding the lining into the mitts, I finger-pressed under about 1/4″ of fabric around the thumb hole and stitched it down, encasing the raw edges on the inside. As a final step, I folded and slip-stitched the bottom hems of the mitts. To keep the lining invisible, I created a slightly deeper fold, so that it came out about 1/8″ shorter than the outer layer.

Once everything was in place, I used a single strand of embroidery floss to create a herringbone borser along the thumb hole. It came out very pretty, but also served to reinforce the fabric against wear and tear.

The finished mitts. :)

Here is what the finished pair of mitts looked like after this final step. I am quite happy with how they came out. Finishing them was a very sweet treat at the end of the exam season. :)

Now the new (and final !) term is here for me. At the moment I am still very busy juicing all the lemons uni throws at me. Although, finally, things are starting to roll again in the sewing room. There are a few new projects coming up and I am much looking forward to sharing them with you.

Thank you all for your patience in bearing with me until now. I will do my best to stop being such a stranger and bring the blog back up to speed again soon.

Much love, Nessa

HSM “Brown”: The Finished Garters

One day before the end of study, the garters are finally complete. Yay! In this post, I will just give you a quick walk through the finished pair, since I am meaning to follow up with a longer tutorial on them in a little while. Here are some pictures for your viewing pleasure. By the way: did I ever mention that my left leg is skinnier than my right one? ;) You can see that quite nicely in the first photo, too…

The finished pair of embroidered early-Regency “elastic” garters.

A closer look at the embroidery.

The whole garter. The bar matching the double hook is hidden under the embroidered end.

If you compare my garter to an extant one from the early 1800s, you will see that the end which has been elasticized with steel springs is somewhat longer than the one I made using modern elastic cord. When worn, however, this difference is made up and the elastic end covers about half of the leg. This illustrates the difference between steel and rubber elastic rather well.

Extant early 19th-century garter, elasticized with steel wire coils (Source: mfa.org).

And here is a look at the challenge details, showing exactly which materials I have used to emulate the historical style. The base fabric itself is a study cotton, though, since this works best for embroidery. Other than that, it also holds on the the stockings very well. =)

The Challenge: #9 – “Brown”

Fabric: A 4″ wide scrap of white cotton canvas.

Pattern: My own, inspired by several extant garters at the MFA, Boston. The embroidery is based on an 1811 floral pattern from Ackermann’s Repository.

Year: ca. 1790s-1820s.

Notions: 2 ft. of brown 1/8″ elastic cord; 1 1/2 skeins of brown embroidery cotton; some orange embroidery cotton; 2 double hooks and bars.

How historically accurate is it? They are more historically inspired than accurate but emulate the period look very well when worn.

Total cost: €1.50 for the yarn; €1 for the elastic and €2 for the hooks = approx. €4.50. The fabric was “free” at this time.

Hours to complete: About 25-30 hours.

First worn: For the photos.

And that was it already. Once I have a little more time, I will write up a tutorial on how I made mine. They were a first try and may not be perfect. But I know what needs improving and will add these points, so you can profit from my little slip-ups and make your own, even better, pair. So please stay tuned. :)

All the best, Nessa

The Art Of Getting Side-Tracked

This September is being a really busy month around here. Since my last blog post, I have slithered from the holiday in France, straight into the new student job at uni and onward into studying for the second block of exams. And, during this whole time, I have really missed the blog and reading about all the wonderful things you have been up to.

In this post, I will play catch-up and give you a quick update on all the new things that have happened in and around my sewing room since the last blog update. Even though it has been a very full month already, there has been some room for sewing. In fact, there was enough time for me to start two new projects and to get side-tracked more than once. But let us start at the beginning:

The month began in France. It was my first time going there and I absolutely fell in love with French fabric stores and the small merceries where you can buy the loveliest lace, ribbons, buttons and all sorts of other notions. Here is my haul:

Fabrics and notions from France.

At “Toto”, a small chain store, I bought 2 yards of both cream and white voile, as well as a coupon of salmon muslin with nearly transparent woven stripes. All of these will most likely go into making Regency attire. I also found 2 1/2 yards of a very delicate cotton lace and an embossed button at a local mercerie. The button is made of pewter and just begs to be turned into a brooch or necklace. Finding all these wonderful things makes me wonder whether I might have time-travelled back into the Napoleonic era upon stumbling into these shops…

Back home, I set about starting a gown to go over the finished Regency undergarments. I got as far as assembling the e-pattern (I am using Sense & Sensibility’s Elegant Ladies’ Closet with some alteration) and cutting out a first mock-up:

The first stages of the new Regency day dress.

Then I became indecisive about the fabric choice. I wanted to use a sheer white muslin and embroider it with some florals to match the HSM’s upcoming “Brown” challenge. Then this chance find side-tracked me:

Another unexpected fabric find.

It is a sheer, white pima cotton with blue woven stripes and an light check pattern in the base fabric. And it settled my indecision about the dress the moment I picked up the bale. Since it is a leftover, there will not be quite enough to accommodate the sleeves. But I already have some ideas what to do about that.

But first, I had to find a new, quick project for the “Brown” challenge. And I finally got an idea while browsing Pinterest the other night: garters to hold up my stockings. There I ran into two ways of doing them. One was Liz’s tutorial for tied 18th-century garters and another was this post by Isobel Carr, detailing early 19th-century spring steel garters. So I went about patterning my own pair and putting together an embroidery design to match the challenge.

Here is a glimpse of the, thoroughly brown, notions and the embroidery patterns. Since it was customary to add a motto to garters in the period, I came up with one as well: Coeur ouvert – Âme honnête. It means “open heart – honest soul”. That is not quite as cheeky as some of the period inscriptions. Yet, as a good friend has put it: A gentleman “should bloody well have those qualities if he gets as far as your garters.”

The notions for the “Brown” project.

The embroidery patterns; adapted from Ackermann’s Repository, c.1811.

It already feels as though this project is going to be a lot of fun. The plan is to finish it in time, despite all the studying, and to, hopefully, have a tutorial up for you by next month. So it is about time I go on working on it. ;)

Conveniently, this concludes the stream of exciting updates so that I can continue doing just that and wish you all a good start into this week. It feels good to be back with you and I am hoping to write up another post on the garters very soon. I have missed you all a lot!

Much Love, Nessa

We Have A Dragon

Just before I got cracking on my corset mockup, I finally finished the embroidery project I have been working on since January: A dragon-themed wall hanging. It is for my special friend Lauren who has just moved house. Very recently, she has also started out as a self-published author of children’s books. She is a huge fan of dragons, so it was not hard to decide decide on an embroidery design: Naturally, it became a dragon. :)

I patterned the design onto a piece of green canvas. As a base, I used the line drawing of a baby dragon in a coloring book. When I last showed it to you, just after stitching the outlines, it looked like this:

The outlined baby dragon.

I filled out the shapes with different shades of green for the scales and some pink and purple highlights for the wings and tail. To make it all look a little scaly, like it is usual for dragons, I mainly worked with tiny satin stitches. It took ages, but worked out pretty well. The rest, like the wings and the edge of the ears, were worked in tight rows of stem stitch. I also added some writing, worked in stem stitch to complete the hanging.

When all the stitching was in place, I hemmed the edges and attached a piece of self-fabric for backing. As a finishing touch, I stitched a small heart to the bottom right corner, using red wax beads. Now here is the finished product. All it needs now, is a little ironing:

The finished wall hanging.

I am very glad it is finally done. Lauren has already had a glimpse at it and she liked it as well. Now I only need to wait for the mail carriers to end their strike, so I can send it to her, all the way across the big pond. Now I shall go back to corset-making and some Waterloo-related research. I will try and tell you some more about the latter bit very soon. Maybe it will even be just in time for the 200th anniversary on Thursday. We will see. ;)

All the best, Nessa

Whitework Tutorial II – Stem & Long-Short Stitch

As the internet will let me down here for at least another week here, I have decided not to leave you all hanging anymore and get back to blogging now. It is about time I share with you the long-promised embroidery tutorial, detailing the new stitches I used to embroider the reticule for the “Yellow” challenge. The two “new” stitches are the stem stitch and the long-short stitch. I used them in addition to the back and satin stitches introduced in the Whitework Primer.

When you look at the reticule again, you will find stem stitching on the veins of the leaves, the yellow seed pods and, as the name suggests, on the stems. The long-short stitch I used to fill and shade the small flower petals at the top.

Initially, the shading was not part of the plan, but then I took the embroidery on a journey to Sweden with me. Then, on a little shopping tour, I ran into a crafts store called “Panduro Hobby”. There I found many shades of shiny DMC floss and could not resist buying some skeins in lighter shades of pink and purple… And now you can see the outcome of that little splurge on the finished piece. ;) Anyway, here is a brief photo walk-through of the two stitches starting with a little background on the uses and historical usage.


Stem Stitch

The stem stitch is one of the most common whitework stitches. It has been around in period embroidery (Regency as well as the later eras) and is still in use today. If you take a look at the “White Embroidery” chapter in Thérèse de Dilmont’s Edwardian “Encyclopedia of Needlework”, you will find two types of stem stitch. Here, the “modern” version I am showing you today was called the “sloping stem stitch”.

Sloping Stem Stitch from “The Encyclopedia of Needlework”.

What makes stem stitching so popular is its very variable usability. It can be used for decorative outline, but is also a quick and neat fill-stitch, if used in tightly spaced rows or columns. Another nice property of the stem stitch is that it takes tight curves very well. Hence it can also sometimes be found in stitched cursive monograms on handkerchiefs or undergarments.

Finished line of stem stitching.

As you can see here, a finished line of stem stitches looks a bit like a woven rope. I also like to compare it to the underside of a back-stitch. So, if you turn over the loom to peek at it, you will find a very similar structure. When doing the stitch it also sort of imitates the motions happening when doing a reverse back-stitch of sorts. Okay, maybe that sounds a little complicated, but you will see that it is actually pretty straightforward once you got into it. Here are the four easy steps it takes:

Step 1: Take a stitch forward.

First, thread you needle with floss or purl yarn. Come up on the front of your fabric and take a stitch forward. Come out at the back but do not pull the stitch through entirely, yet.

Step 2: Come up in the middle.

Next, you come back up in the middle of the little loop you just created. Now you can pull it all the way through.

Step 3: Take another stitch forward.

Now take another stitch forward, just like you did in the first step.

Step 4: Come up at the end of the previous stitch.

When you come back up this time, take your needle towards the end point of the previous stitch. Repeat the last two steps for the remainder of your stitching. If you like you can also choose to come up in the middle of the loop again, just like before. It is another way of doing the stitch and entirely up to you. I prefer poking through at the end of the previous stitch and only come up in the middle once, to secure the very first stitch of the line. It is the only way to keep it from unpicking itself, just as it would with the back stitch.



Long-Short Stitch

As opposed to the versatile stem stitch, the long-short, or long-and-short, stitch is purely a fill stitch,. And, admittedly, I am not quite sure if it has ever been used for period whitework. Yet it is a nice, fuss-free way to add some shading to your embroidery that adds a nice, shaggy texture to your work, counter-balancing the very smooth satin stitches. Yes, shaggy… even though the long-short stitch is actually a variation of basic satin stitching. This also makes it useful for filling embroidered birds with ruffled feathers.

Finished long-short stitch.

In the sample you can see how that comes to be. Basically, it has to do with the lineup of short horizontal stitches. Here you can also see why one should not use purl yarn for this stitch like I did. Since it is thicker than floss, it is harder to space the stitching evenly and this will make the outcome look a bit crooked. So please, be smarter than me and use a few strands of floss instead. ;) But, all in all, the long-short stitch is easier than the stem stitch. And here is how you do it:

Step 1: Take a horizontal stitch.

To start, come up at the front and take a horizontal stitch backward from where your needle is.

Step 2: Alternate short and long stitches.

Start your second stitch right on top, or below, the first one. It should either be longer or shorter than your first one. Continue your first column, alternating the long and short stitches as you go.

Step 2 1/2: Finish the first column.

Once the first column is finished, you are also done with making long and short stitches. For the next columns to follow, you will simply continue the pattern you just started, using horizontal stitches of the same length. This will automatically continue the alternating pattern you just started.

Step 3: Continue the pattern with even stitches.

You can continue the long-short stitch with the same thread and work the next column back down to the starting point. But, if you are shading, you can continue with a different color thread. Then you will begin the new column right next to the very first stitch you took earlier.

And that was it already. I hope this tutorial had been useful to extend your, historical and modern, stitch repertoire a little. As my own embroidery learning curve continues, I will try and add more new stitches to the collection. Below I have also included two useful sources and links to accompany you on your embroidery journey in the meantime.

For now, I will return to sewing a few new items for the Regency wardrobe. As it is, there probably will be no second dress this year because my first pair of short stays has sort of handed in its notice and I will have to make a new pair first. I think this one will get a busk and proper steel boning for more durability. But, as fall is rushing in here now, it is time to get comfy and cozy. And so, the shenanigans will continue with a few comfy and cozy Regency garments for the long, cold evenings and the even longer Sunday mornings spent lounging in bed. Please stay tuned as the journey continues.

Warmly, Nessa



Useful links:

Needle N Thread : On this page you will find tips and video tutorials for nearly every classic and modern embroidery stitch, explained by Mary Corbett who has a huge wealth of embroidery knowledge and experience. Her video on the stem stitch also shows you a sewing method to speed up the stitching.

”The Encyclopedia of Needlework”: This 1900s publication by Thérèse de Dilmont has a whole lot of useful advice on period needlework stitches and techniques. This link will take you to the chapter on whitework, but the rest of the book is just as readable.


HSF # 17: An Embroidered Reticule

Even though it may look tedious, embroidery can be so relaxing. That is why I am glad I decided to make my embroidered reticule for the Yellow challenge. Because, right now, life is being a bit hectic again. When I got back from my merry journey to Sweden last week, I was told that I would be moving house in a week hence. So, here I am showing you the finished item from atop a pile of boxes. ;) I am really glad most of the embroidery was already done on the road and I only had to make up the reticule when I got back.

Here is how it all went along, from start to finish:

First, I picked a pattern that would go along well with the shape of reticule I wanted. I picked this one here from an 1821 issue of Ackermann’s Repository:

The 1821 needlework pattern.


Next, I transferred the pattern to the fabric and back-stitched the outlines. As the outer fabric was a wool blend it was not really co-operative when it came to tracing the pattern. So I had to resort to the paper-tracing method also used in my blackwork tutorial. It worked okay, but requires a lot of patience on loosely woven fabrics… Here is what the tracing process looked like. For this, I used a no. 3 fine crewel needle:

Paper-tracing and back-stitching the lines.

Then I carefully removed the paper with a pair of tweezers and started filling in using a no. 5 crewel. For the big petals, leaves and the garland I used two different satin stitches (split and regular). The smaller flowers were filled with long and short stitch to create some shading. it does not seem to be a 100% period stitch to do, but I wanted to try it. Everything else (stems, veins and the yellow buds) I filled in with stem stitch. Here is a picture of the finished embroidery:

The filled-in embroidery.


While I am not certain whether the long and short fill stitch was popular during the Regency period, the stem stitch was definitely a favourite for outlining and filling, in white as well as coloured work. By chance I found this wonderful embroidery detail in the Met collection, filled almost entirely with tiny rows of stem stitching. When this whole moving craze is done, I will try and give you a quick tutorial on this, very versatile, stitch.

An 1820s corset embroidery, filled in with stem and satin stitch.

Afterwards, it was time to make up the reticule. My pattern inspiration was a blend of the two reticule patterns that come with Sense & Sensibility’s “Elegant Lady’s Closet” pattern. Here is a picture of the lining, to give you a better idea of the shape:

A look at the lining.

At last, I joined the inner and outer fabric at the top hem and fed a yellow satin ribbon through the drawsting casing. Luckily, I remembered to attach the tassel before this, so I could bury the knot on the inside, never to be seen again. ;) Here is a picture of the finished reticule, along with the challenge details.


The finished reticule.

The Challenge: HSF #17 – Yellow

Fabric: Shell: Yellow silk-wool blend; Lining: Light blue cotton canvas

Pattern: Reticule: My take on the Sensibility reticule patterns (Elegant Lady’s Closet); Embroidery: 1821 Needlework pattern from Ackermann’s Repository.

Year: 1820s

Notions:9 skeins of cotton embroidery twist for the embroidery and the tassel; 20 inches of yellow satin ribbon

How historically accurate is it? The fabric and patterns are period-approriate and everything was stitched and finished by hand. So, rather accurate altogether.

Hours to complete:Embroidery: approx. 36 hours for I am a bit slow; Making up: 2 hours.

First worn: For the photos.

Total cost: € 14 for the yarn and shell fabric. The lining was made from a piece of scrap.

And that was it already. I shall see you with some catch-up posts on this project, and maybe also some new, exciting ones, after moving and regaining internet access in the new city. Until then, take good care.

Love, Nessa


Regency & Victorian White Work – A Primer

And finally, it is time for another embroidery tutorial.

In my previous post, about the Regency-era cap, I promised you to blog a bit about period white-work embroidery. So here goes a little primer / tutorial for you all to enjoy. First I will start you off with some hard facts about this nifty kind of embroidery. Then I will show you another quick way of tracing patterns, especially suitable for white, translucent fabrics. After that, we will go down to business with a few basic stitches. But not to worry, they are not that hard to do at all.

To show you, how white-work creates really pretty results with easy stitches, I would like to share a little picture with you. Here is the white embroidery work that will go on my Regency cap. I finished it the other day. Yay!

Finished Regency white-work.

What is White-Work Embroidery?

First of all, white-work is called white-work because it consists of white stitching, worked on white fabrics. Basically it is the direct precursor of the basic style of embroidery that is popular today. Only nowadays, we do the same stitches, only using lots and lots of colorful thread. Especially in the Regency and Victorian eras, it was all the rage in linen embroidery: It was used on handkerchiefs, underthings, caps, white muslin gowns and all the textiles up and down the trousseau, namely bed linens, tablecloths and towels.

As white thread is not exactly visible on white ground, white-work likes to use raised stitches of different kinds. This creates satiny, tangible patterns that stand out, in the sense of the word. Back in the day, it was also indispensable when it came to binding decorative eyelets and scalloped hems. Monograms of any kind where usually worked in this fashion, too. So, for historical costuming, it is an incredibly useful, and beautiful, technique to know.

When I first researched this kind of embroidery on-line, I came across the most awesome needlework book from the Victorian era: the “Encyclopedia of Needlework” by Thérèse de Dillmont. It contains  chapters on all kinds of period needlework with many drawings and practical tips. Here is a link to the chapter on white embroidery. If you would like to learn more about it beyond this post, it will teach you all you will ever need to know.

Tracing Patterns

When we talked about Elizabethan blackwork in the other tutorial, I showed you how to trace by simply basting the paper pattern to the fabric. This method is the most go-to when working with thicker and/or colorful fabrics. For tracing patterns onto thinner white cottons there is a different little trick, which, surprisingly, is period correct. When I read about it in the above-mentioned book I thought, “Man, Victorians were really practical.”

For it you will need: your fabric, your pattern traced onto a slightly transparent piece of paper, such as notebook paper, a pencil, a windowpane and daylight. So, all you do is put your fabric, right side up, on top of the sheet of paper. Make sure everything lies nice and smooth. Then pin the paper to the fabric, placing the pins around the pattern, rather than spearing through it. Now you place the two pieces against the windowpane and trace the pattern onto the fabric with your pencil. If you would rather not use a pencil on muslin, fabric marker or colored tailor’s chalk will work, too. And done. Below you can see how I did this with my muslin pattern:

Tracing a pattern onto white muslin.


The traced pattern, placed into the hoop.

Basic Stitches

Now that you know how much fun tracing can be, we will move on to learning some stitches. And I bet you will recall at least one, or two, from hand-sewing. To do white-work, I recommend you use 2-3 strands of white cotton embroidery floss. For the stitching above, I worked the yarn through the fabric with a very fine number 3 crewel needle. When embroidering light white cottons and muslins, fine needles really are the safest (and sanest) way to go, unless you like nasty poke-holes in the weave. ;)


All in all, the back-stitch is no different from the back-stitch you know from sewing. It is used to outline the pattern on the fabric. Additionally, it gives support and padding to all the raised stitches, which are worked over it. Use small, even stitches for your outlines. When you use it for padding, the stitches can be longer and messier, as nobody will see them when you are finished. A special variant is the “knot stitch” which is nothing else but two rows of back-stitch worked right next to each other with their stitch patterns matched up.

from “Encyclopedia of Needlework”.

Satin Stitch

Now, this one is probably new to you. It is the simplest filling stitch that is still used to date. I like it because it creates nice, smooth textures. On the downside, it also eats up a lot of thread. To work it, you first need to outline and pad the area you would like to fill with back-stitching. Otherwise, satin stitch has a habit of caving in. If you work very short satin stitches, you can forgo the padding.

To work it, you come up with the thread on one side of the outline. From there, you take it horizontally to the opposite outline and go back down. Repeat this on the underside of the fabric and come back up right next to your first stitch. Only pull the thread until it lies flat. Otherwise you will and up with something crooked. A variety I like it the split satin stitch, which consists of two columns of satin stitches: one goes from the first outline to the center of the filled area, the other from the center to the opposite outline.

Satin Stitch, source: Stitching Cow.


Overcasting, Button-Holing & Eyelet-Making

Now to the fun part of white-work: Eyelets and scallops. Those sound creepy in the beginning, but once you try them, you will love them on the spot. Both eyelets and hem scallops are raw when you cut them out, so they need to be bound, much like in regular sewing. The stitches used for this are also two old friends: the buttonhole, or blanket, stitch and the overcasting, or whip, stitch. You work them much like you would when hand-sewing a hem or buttonhole.

from “Encyclopedia of Needlework”.

A much-loved application of overcasting us the embroidered eyelet. At first, the thought of making these sort of crept me out. So I have decided to give you a little step-by-step guide on how I make them, to save you the trouble of getting all fretful yourselves. ;) First, you outline the uncut eyelet with a circle of back-stitching. You then poke a hole into the center with a fine tailor’s awl or thinnish knitting needle. For bigger holes, you would cut out the center with fine contour scissors. Sharp cuticle scissors work, too, by the way. ;) Then you bind the eyelet as follows:

Step 1. Come up right next to your outline and bring the needle towards the center of the eyelet.

Step 2. Move the needle through the hole in the center. Then go back into the fabric from underneath. Now you should come up right next to where you started out.

Step 3. Repeat until you have gone all the way around the eyelet, covering the whole inner edge with thread. After your last stitch, go back down in a slanting motion and secure your thread on the back.


Note that, with eyelets, it is perfectly fine to pull the stitching a little more tightly. This way, the hole will stay open. To get an idea of what you can create by using the different stitches in combination, here are two little WIP picture of my Regency pattern where you can see all the above-mentioned techniques in action:

Half-done embroidery with outline, padding and finished cover stitches.

Back-stitch in and split satin stitch progress.

And this concludes our little white-work primer. I hope it will be helpful to some of you and inspire some stunning new creations.

Love, Nessa

Useful links:

Encyclopedia of Needlework by Thérèse de Dillmont (1886).


An Elizabethan Blackwork Tutorial – Part Two: Stitching and Finishing Off

Hello again everyone!

After the first part of this tutorial and a little pile of coursework on my end it is now onto the second and final part. I was glad my last post was helpful to quite a few of you. I hope the second part will prove equally useful. :)

In Part One we talked about how to prep and trace your blackwork project. Now I will tell you a little about the basics of the double back-stitch, planning the stitching order of the embroidery pattern and finishing off the project. I hope it is okay I did not work with black thread but used my colourful Christmas leftovers instead. ;) Off we go:

The Double Back-Stitch

Although it is really pretty simple, the double back-stitch forms the heart of Elizabethan blackwork embroidery. It is a two-way stitch in a double sense: Firstly because it needs two trips along the same line, one forwards and one backwards, to be completed. Secondly, it “works both ways”, looking identical on the front and back of the fabric. Here is how you work it:

Insert your needle from the back of the fabric, leaving a tail of unknotted thread hanging out on the underside. You will use it to secure your stitching later.

The First Line

The First Line

Start the stitch by bringing up your needle from the back of the fabric, Working from left to right in a stabbing motion, make one stitch forward. You are now on the back of the fabric again. Here you make another stitch forward that is identical to the first in length, coming back up. Repeat this alternating stitching until your line is finished. This creates a dotted line, looking similar on the front and back of the fabric.

The Second Line

The Second Line

Now you have to go back, filling in the spaces. This works just the same as the first line of stitches, only into the opposite direction, from right to left. In my sample, the first line finishes on the front of the fabric (which it should not do). What you do now is to make a stitch to the back, filling in the blank.  On the backside, you take another stitch, just like before. It should come up again on the left of the visible stitch you made on the first go-round. From here you go back down, filling in the next blank.  Keep doing this until you have an unbroken line of stitches, front and back. Your last stitch should come out on the back of the fabric, next to where you started.

Finished Double Back-Stitch

Finished Double Back-Stitch

For a gapless line, you should work the second line by going into the same holes created by stitching the first line. However, this does not work for the very first stitch of the second line. Here you have to go in close to the last hole. Otherwise you would unpick the previous stitch. And that is your double back-stitch already. Easy, right? Now, to the slightly trickier part:

Planning the Pattern:
To cover the whole of your pattern with thread, you need to plan ahead when doing blackwork. To embroider all the little lines and corners without getting stuck somewhere in the pattern, unable to go back, you need to separate your pattern into different sections. There are a “main journey” and several “side trips” you finish off on the way. Sometimes this can be a bit like playing labyrinth games… But don’t fret, I will show you how it works:

The Main Journey

This line of stitching is your “lifeline” you use to “walk” into a section of the pattern and get back to the starting point, once this section is finished.

How to do that? Well, basically you only work the first line of stitches, as described above, until you reach an outlying section of the pattern. You then finish this section and “go back the way you came” afterwards, completing the second line of stitching on your main journey, until you reach the starting point. Once you reach it, you can embark on another main journey towards another end point of the pattern.

You can see what I mean in the two pics below. I basically finished one end of the leaf, leaving the main journey unfinished till then, so I can go back to my point of origin. With the acorn it is exactly the same.



Side and Round Trips

In the patterns you can see smaller lines and shapes branching off your main journey line. These are the so-called side trips. Sometimes I call them “round trips”, too, because it makes more sense.

These kinds of trips are little detours you take off the main journey. You finish them in one go. This means, you work the first-line of stitches, until you reach the end point of the side trip. There you reverse on the spot and go right back towards the main journey, finishing this side line as you go. Then you just move on with your main journey as described above.

In the picture below you can see my main journey in the center. The completed lines left and right of it are side trips I finished as I went by. Where my thread comes up is the end of the main journey. The tip of the leaf is what I would call a “round trip” as it will be worked in a circle, going one way and then right back to the main “lifeline”.

Main and Side Trips on the Leaf

Main and Side Trips on the Leaf

To make the whole planning process a bit clearer, here is a little example of how I have separated my two patterns into main and side trips. The main journey is red and the side trips are green:

Finishing Off

When you are done with your embroidery, you need to do two more things to finish off your project: neatening the loose thread ends at the back and removing your paper pattern.

Neatening Loose Ends:

Step One

Step One.

Thread the tails of thread hanging on the back of the fabric onto your needle.

Step Two.

Step Two.

Carefully weave the thread through the stitches on the back. Repeat with the other loose tail. Snip off the leftover thread.

And Finished.

And Finished.

Removing the Tissue Paper:

You will need:

  • Tweezers
  • A needle, pin or seam ripper (optional)
  • Some patience
Step One.

Step One.

Unpick the basting thread with your fingers or an aid of your choice.

Step Two.

Step Two.

Carefully tear off the tissue paper in smallish bits with your fingers. Use tweezers to wriggle free the tricky bits of paper in the centre. Caution: Try not to tug at your stitching as you do this! This takes some patience and practice, but you can do it. :)

All Done!

And All Done.

And, tadah, here is your finished piece of blackwork. Or red-and-gold work, in my case… ;)

I hope this tutorial was helpful to you all and will get you inspired for your own venture into historical embroidery.

Love, Nessa