Transferring my blackwork design

If you’ve followed along with my previous posts (here and here), you’ll have seen that I did quite a bit of preparation work for my Royal School of Needlework blackwork module. Now I’m on the last step before starting to stitch, transferring my blackwork design onto the fabric.

In my crewelwork module, I painted the design onto the fabric. This is because when stitching I would cover all of the design lines, so you don’t see them on the finished piece. However since you don’t stitch outlines in this style of blackwork, my design lines need to be removable.

To achieve this, the RSN teaches the tissue paper transfer method.


After framing up my linen evenweave, I worked lines of running stitch to mark out the border of my design using regular machine sewing thread.

Then I carefully traced my design onto tissue paper. I’d gone ahead and done this using a regular pencil, but my tutor got me to do it again using a blue colouring pencil. The graphite from a regular pencil could transfer through and leave a mark on my linen. Which would obviously defeat the whole point of the removable outline method!

I’d drawn straight lines around the edge of my design to match up with my running stitches on the fabric. However, when I first tried to place the design I couldn’t get all three lines to match up.

On closer inspection with my tutor, we discovered that this was because the linen was not sitting totally square in the slate frame. To correct this, I just needed to adjust the tension in my lacing string. My tutor gave me a set square to use to help with this. Being a bit of a maths geek, I loved this level of accuracy!!

Using a set square to accurately frame up my linen evenweave

Transferring my blackwork design

Now that I could precisely line up my design with the running stitch guidelines, I secured the tissue paper in place. First using a few pins, then tacking it in place.

To transfer my design, I worked lines of small running stitches along all the design lines using regular sewing thread. As the important thing is to see the lines on the front, I used an uneven running stitch. Where the stitches on the back were very small.

It is worth keeping your running stitches small, as this allows you to more accurately transfer intricate details of your design. This does mean it takes a while to transfer the design, but I looked at it as a chance to do some meditative stitching.

My first instinct was to minimise starting and finishing of my outline thread by jumping across to a nearby section. However my tutor advised against this. Instead getting me to mark each line in isolation. This has certainly made my life easier when I came to unpick the design lines, so good advice indeed!

My blackwork design transferred to my linen using the tissue paper transfer method

When I’d stitched all of the design lines, the final stage was to carefully tear away the tissue paper. This is quite satisfying with the larger sections. On smaller sections, I used a tapestry needle to help pull away the tissue paper. Then I carefully checked over all the lines with tweezers in hand to remove any lingering pieces.

So, after 3 blog posts worth of preparation, I was now ready to start stitching my actual blackwork design! I’ll be back soon with some more posts about that…

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2 thoughts on “Transferring my blackwork design

  1. I love your blogposts. I have just discovered blackwork and am dying to get it right. I attended a short online course run by Domestika. It gave me a way to start and then I found the RSN website and then your blog. Thanks for all the detail. Am thinking of doing the online course on making the puffin by RSN. I live in India, outside the city of Bangalore.

    1. Thanks Brinda! I’m so happy you are enjoying the blogposts. I love blackwork so have much more planned around that! I really enjoyed the RSN online course and think the puffin design is gorgeous, I hope you enjoy the course as much as I did! I’d love to hear how you get on.

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