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Blackwork handkerchief

Linen handkerchief with embroidered blackwork border, English, 1600–25

Linen handkerchief with embroidered blackwork border, English, 1600–25

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The blackwork border on this linen handkerchief was stitched by an amateur embroiderer, possibly the original owner. The design of repeated stylised, almost geometric, floral motifs sewn, predominately in black silk thread using cross stitch, appears to have been worked by eye rather than counted as no two flowers are the same. Even the layout is uneven with a different number of flowers along each edge ranging from seven to nine-and-a-half. The narrow outer border has a chevron pattern worked in cross-stitch with silver-gilt thread in running stitch. At the top right corner are the owners initials ‘MQ’.

The flowers are probably carnations, also known as gilly flowers, which were a popular motif in the late 16th and early 17th century. A design for carnations was included in Jacques le Moyne, La Clef des Champs, 1586. The early 17th century English gardener William Lawson, The Country Housewife’s Garden, 1631, states that they are ‘of all the flowers (save the damask rose) the most pleasant in sight and smell’.

The handkerchief was purchased by Sir William Burrell from the dealer and collector, John Hunt, in 1939.

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