A stitch in time

Don’t adjust your screens – this particular embroidery is multicoloured although we describe it as Blackwork. It is called Blackwork because traditionally a black thread was used to sew these designs. It is a type of counted embroidery sewn on even weave material such as linen. It uses simple stitches to form complex patterns.

The technique was traditionally believed to have come to England with Henry VIII’s Spanish wife Katherine of Aragon. Because of this connection another name for it was Spanishwork .There are earlier references to it in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales dating from 1380, over a hundred years before her arrival.

her smock was white and embroidered in front and  behind  with coal black silk and embroidered also on the inside and outside of the collar

When sewn correctly, it shows the same pattern on both sides of the material . The technique was used as an alternative to lace for trimming clothes, particularly in the Tudor and Stuart periods.

This particular sampler would be used as a reference piece. Each band is comprised of a different pattern or design. You can see roses, thistles, oak leaves and acorns. You can even spot some animals.

Before paper patterns became common or affordable, an embroiderer would use a piece of material on which to sew a record of stitches and designs. Creating these band samplers was a way of recording their own personal reference material.

Many of these designs would be inspired by nature and larger pieces often had stylised knot gardens or mazes as a framework.

This particular sampler dates from approximately 1650-1680 and is over 300 years old.

It is currently on display at the Manor House Museum and Art Gallery until the 22nd of January.

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