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Before Christmas we quickly went through making a Tudor-style shirt using a commercial pattern with my variation to wear under a chain shirt as my current LARP character. I would like to show you today a way of creating an embroidered Tudor-style shirt with Elizabethan blackwork. This shirt also has a cartridge ruff collar which I’ll walk you through in the next walk-through.

But first, the inclusion of blackwork embroidery in your costume work.

For more tutorials/walk-throughs, go to Tutorials


A little bit of history

Blackwork embroidery is believed to have become popular in Britain during the early reign of Henry VIII as his first wife Queen Catherine is believed to have brought black and redwork with her from Spain. However, according to some sources, there are references to earlier blackwork-style decorated clothing. In Tudor times blackwork and redwork decorated collars, cuffs and sleeves of chemises, shirts and handkerchiefs and were considered a sign of wealth (because you could pay someone to do all the decoration on the garment).

Before starting this project I did a bit of research (can you tell?) and decided to work with basic embroidery stitches rather than attempt to learn the logic behind the Holbein Stitch. But as I wanted to apply the decorative panel to the collar and cuff of the shirt, I could hide the messy back of the cloth with the interfacing and facing, and therefore didn’t need to work out how the stitching would work or learn the different stitch. This isn’t to say I won’t attempt this another time, just not today.


Blackwork Embroidery

After discovering the Blackwork Embroidery Archive I found a set of embroidery designs I thought suited the person I was making the shirt for and offered up a selection before adapting the design to the space I had to use. Using Aida cloth as my working grid atop the pattern piece I was decorating I was able to create a version of blackwork embroidery to fit with the Tudor theme of the shirt, which translated well to the draft I prepared on graph paper. For this I purchased 14 Count Aida as it roughly correlated to my graph paper, though 18 Count Aida will create a finer piece as the squares are closer together.

Preparing to sew

Before I began I washed and cut my pattern pieces and put aside a piece of each collar and cuff, leaving the facing and interfacing to one side. Because these pieces were narrower than my smaller embroidery frame I stitched the two cuff pieces and the collar piece onto wider strips of scrap cloth which would provide the tension when stretched through the frame. I also stitched the Aida cloth on top that had been cut to the shape of the pattern pieces. I then found my centre line working down and in from the edge of the pattern that would be sewn into the shirt and loosely marked this with some red thread. I cut out the back of the scrap cloth down to the shirt cotton so that I would not have to unpick bits of scrap cloth from my work at a future stage.

Prep from the back

When working on the cuffs I had already prepared a template on my graph paper of the spacing required for the button and buttonhole. Originally I had intended to sew around these features to create a decorative border, but decided a simple decoration between these two features would have the effect I wanted. I marked the edges of these features on the cloth using red thread, measuring in the seam allowance and the dimensions. With the center marked on my pattern draft and my working piece, I put the cloth into my embroidery frame and began my work.

Embroidery cuff/collar

Working outwards from the centre sewed the pattern in stages – working the delicate outer first, then the basket weave on the inside last, leaving the ends open to add on the final sections as I moved the embroidery through the frame. Using two strands of embroidery floss twice as long as my thumb to my bent elbow I found after a few false starts I was able to make some significant progress over the course of a couple of evenings.

Once I had finished all the embroidery (and checked the distances for the buttonhole and button) I then prepared to remove my scrap cloth and waste Aida fabric.


Removing the scrap Interfacing and preparing to unpick the Aida

Using my seam ripper I tore away the remainder of the scrap fabric (which had already begun to pull away at the seams due to the tension and how close to the stitches I had cut initially) and pulled out all the red thread holding the sandwich together. Turning it over I pressed the back of the cloth, trimmed any loose embroidery threads and applied my interfacing to give me something firm to pull against as I drew out the waste Aida cloth.

Cutting the Aida

Turning the item back over, all that was left was to trim the Aida and start the long and tedious tasks of pulling out the Aida threads from your work. The Aida was cut to within a square of the embroidery and the long horizontal threads (the weft) teases out using my needle or the seam ripper. This can take a while and a lot of patience, and I found sitting on a chair using my ironing board as a shoulder height bench made things a little easier as I didn’t have to keep hold of everything all the time. I also had the first season of Vikings running in the background so I had something to focus on whilst pulling threads, which helped my sanity somewhat. If you can get your hands on proper waste cloth – the sort which is held together by starch and only needs a good soaking with water to loosen the threads, I would recommend it heartily.

Tweezing the Aida

Once most of the horizontal threads were pulled, cut and plucked, or eased out from between the stitches, I began to use my tweezers to pull out the vertical (or warp) threads. Try not to pinch your embroidery as you work as you might snap/pull/tear it out and it can make your stitching look uneven. At one point I sprayed the entire piece to try and aid my plucking, though I’m not entirely sure if that helped or made things worse as the threads swelled.

Aida free embroidery

Eventually you will have an Aida free piece of embroidery. If you have done your stitches nice and tight you shouldn’t have too many loose threads, though the embroidery will stand a little loosely against your base cloth due to being sewn through two layers to begin with.


Adding a bit of something special

The commercial pattern that I used as the basis of this shirt was Simplicity #4059, which includes a variant of the shirt which includes gathered lace at the shirt collar and sleeve cuffs. This required little adaptation to include flat lace at the cuff, which had been “salvaged” from another garment. I thought the lace, found amongst my sewing stash, an appropriate addition to this shirt.

The parts of the cuffDSC03908

So, having prepared the embroidered panels, what do you do with them? Because I had embroidered directly onto the outward facing pattern pieces I simply continued to sew the shirt following the instructions, treating my embroidered and interfaced pieces as normal, remembering that the embroidered side is the RIGHT way up. For this shirt the cuffs were trimmed with lace which was sewn into the cuff. The lace was sewn onto the embroidered side RIGHT sides together. The facing, the lower seam allowance having already been pressed was sewn on top, with RIGHT sides together.

Because the lace has been sewn inside the seam of the pretty embroidered cuff and its facing, when cuff is turned right way out the lace will hang free and will create that flamboyant touch you’ve all wanted for your manly shirts. Lace can be a simply delicate touch as a flat trim, gathered to create a little flourish or  be longer to drape over the wrist and hand. If you do decide to add lace to collar or cuffs of any garment, don’t forget to include the seam allowance when considering purchasing the trim at the Harbedashery department. Work out how long you want the visible lace to be and then include the seam allowance (plus a bit if you plan to gather the lace to allow for gathering). For example – you want about 3/8″ of lace visible for a garment with a cuff seam allowance of 5/8″. You should purchase a minimum of 1″ wide lace, ideally with a solid border that you can secure. You need to purchase enough lace to be sewn into the seams if you are using flat lace, but around more if you intend to gather it as gathering shortens the length of the lace block once it’s all ruffled up. Just something to consider if you decide to add a bit of dash to your hero.

Lace right side out

When the whole lot was turned out and sewn onto the gathered edge of the shirt sleeve as detailed in the pattern instructions.

Lacy cuffButton and button hole

The finishing touch was to add the button and sew the buttonhole, being careful not to sew into the embroidery with the machine stitches.
Next time we will look at adding a cartridge pleat ruff to this shirt and take a peek at the finished garment.