I was taught Fine Whitework as part of my Apprenticeship at the Royal School of Needlework when I was just 20, by the wonderful Sally Saunders. Sally retired from RSN teaching a few years later and, knowing my great passion for the subject, she asked if I would take on the mantle of teaching Fine Whitework at the RSN.
Whitework is an enormous field of embroidery encompassing many individual techniques, each with their own character, stitches, materials and history. At the RSN, ‘Fine Whitework’ refers to a method of working where we use the key techniques of this entire whitework spectrum to form a fabulous tonal scale of stitch, which can be used to convey intricate illustrative designs with great life, depth and texture.
This process has never before been fully recorded and this book therefore aims to provide a definitive guide, setting out and conveying all aspects of the very special art of fine whitework, in the hope that it will inspire many more embroiderers to appreciate its beauty and enjoy its craftsmanship.
Over 191 pages, the book discusses in great depth all the key techniques which can be included in Fine Whitework. These are divided into five categories: sculptured, translucent, filigree, fretted and voided. These guide the reader to an understanding of how to use and balance these techniques to create a sense of depth and life in an embroidery, when all colour is removed. Each technique is provided with a design shape which can be worked as a sampler, developing skill and producing an attractive record of learning, prior to embarking on a full design.
The book includes the history of the key techniques which have led to the development of this illustrative form of whitework. It discusses the selection of materials, threads and suitable equipment and how to prepare and apply designs to the fabric. Effective design in Fine Whitework is discussed in depth with plenty of inspiration from artworks produced by myself and my colleagues.
Whitework may not be everybody’s cup of tea, as it can be hard on the eyes and requires precision workmanship. However, all the techniques discussed are also relevant to many other forms of embroidery, such as silk work and crewel work. Learning how to perfect techniques in white-on-white is an invaluable way to develop general dexterity with the needle.
The book includes two key designs for readers to try. The first, ‘Scabiosa’, leads the embroiderer through from producing sample stitches to the skills required to combine them within an achievable design.
‘Small Birds May Fly High’ is an exuberant design teaching every aspect of the process of fine whitework for those wishing to attempt a piece, or to understand how to design and work their own. Small elements from the design, such as the wren and nest, can also be extracted if the worker wishes to attempt a smaller piece.
The book also provides links to two further smaller designs: ‘Hydrangea Needle Case’ and ‘Honeysuckle Pin Wheel’, which offer a lovely way to learn the art of fine whitework on a smaller scale.
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