September’s issue had a fantastic design of blackwork fish on a cushion. Blackwork is a type of embroidery combining counted-thread patterns (the fillings) with regular crewel embroidery stitches for outlines and details. I loved the way it looked but had never tried it before, so this was another Stitchcraft Sixties debut.
It was hard to find a proper evenweave linen for the base. The fabric stores in my area only had either heavy, fairly rustic linen in white/natural or colours I didn’t want, or cross-stitch fabric which didn’t look right for a cushion. I ended up using the same linen-viscose mix that worked so well for the leaf cushion that I made in January and substituted a vibrant pink for the turquoise called for in the pattern. Not having a transfer, I used the same method as with the leaf cushion to pencil the lines onto the fabric (see that post for more detail).
I loved the fabric in itself, but the threads were really fine and close together, making the blackwork fillings time-consuming, difficult, and — I hate to say it — boring to do. At some point I stopped trying to count the threads and just tried to keep the filling pattern as even as possible without stressing over it. Of course, it was not perfectly even, but it’s amazing how the richness of the patterns draws the eye away from imperfections as soon as you move out to normal viewing distance.
One interesting detail: The pattern “plan” shows both the large fish in the middle and the small fish in the right-hand corner looking down to the left, and the small fish in the left-hand corner looking down to the right. That also reflects the directions, which refer to the “Fish above left” with buttonhole-stitch on its tail. But whoever worked the sample rotated the plan 90 degrees clockwise! The sample picture looks great and was obviously intended that way, i.e. I don’t think it’s an error in the photo set-up, but after some consideration, I decided to make the cushion according to the plan.
I ended up making some changes, especially on the big fish. I hadn’t left enough room for the black blanket-stitch edging inside the body, so I left that out, and the whole head-mouth area was tricky. The “lower lip” still looked wonky after ripping it out and redoing it twice, and I didn’t dare try a third time for fear of ripping though the fabric. White blanket-stitch or buttonhole-stitch around the eye looked weird and far too white, distracting from the rest of the picture, so I substituted some loose blanket-stitch in black. The seaweed is done in wheat-ear stitch, which was a new one for me, and easy and fun to do.
The pillow was easy to make up, as I didn’t use piping (I thought the design was bold enough that a plain edge would be nicer.) All in all, I love the look of blackwork but don’t like the effort. I guess it’s easier on a looser-weave fabric where you can really see the holes in the weave to count them. It was made as a gift for a friend who I think will really like and appreciate it, and I feel happy giving it to her, as I am quite satisfied with the final result.