I wrote and illustrated this book as the course manual for teaching the key elements of whitework embroidery at the Royal School of Needlework. ‘Whitework’ is an umbrella term which encompasses an eclectic range of techniques, each with their own unique origins, history, materials and stitches. These are of course united by the use of white or neutral thread on a ground of the same.
I have developed a system for teaching whitework in which the key techniques which span this historical spectrum, are considered together as a ‘tonal scale’, looking at the level of ‘whiteness’ they either add to or take away from the ground fabric. The book is divided into five chapters: Sculptured, Translucent, Filigree, Fretted and Voided; these lead the learner through the ‘whitework tonal scale’. We begin by adding whiteness to the fabric through all the various forms of padded and counted satin stitches, then adding delicate whiteness with the use of shadow work and shadow appliqué progressing on to pulled thread work and related stitches, where we begin to open the ground fabric, taking whiteness away. This is followed by drawn thread work where threads of the ground fabric’s warp and weft are extracted and then embellished, revealing more of the colour seen through the fabric. Culminating in cutwork and eyelets where whole sections of the ground fabric are removed allowing a window to the world beyond.
Considering the techniques of whitework in this way provides an understanding of how to design effectively with this captivating technique, to produce pieces with great depth and richness of texture. Whitework embroidery does not only embellish the surface of cloth but truly exploits the nature of thread and the structure of fabric in its most elemental form, without the distraction of colour. Whitework stitches require clarity and precision of workmanship to show them at their best, since there is no colour to distract from uneven stitches. This book demonstrates key tips and includes practice shapes which allow students to develop this level of precision. It also includes my unique methods developed for the effective working of padded satin stitch, a beautiful technique but notoriously tricky to master.