Thread painting - art from your needle

Thread painting, also known as needle painting or silk shading, makes use of long and short stitch to produce works of art on fabric.  

I first tried this as a teenager and it just didn't gel for me. In my fifties, I had another attempt and discovered the beauty that is attainable with this technique.

It wasn't until I was brave enough to stitch with a single strand of embroidery floss that I achieved the soft shading effect. Of course the right choice of colors helps too. I also learned that coming up through the stitches for subsequent rows avoids the "holes" that occur when you push the needle down through them.

The term long and short stitch is perhaps a little misleading, as only the first row comprises stitches of different lengths. This gives a staggered edge into which further rows of stitches fit. This way there isn't a harsh line where one row, or shade, meets the next.



Thread painting - Flower petals

Step 1

I sketched out a simple 5 petalled flower, using a quilter's pencil which gave a line that washed out. Another option would be to use a disappearing ink pen to draw your practice shape. These come in two varieties, one needs water to erase the marks while the other disappears over 24 - 72 hours.

I chose 5 shades of Anchor stranded cotton for this sample flower.

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fig. 1 - The first row of long and short stitch

Step 2

Using the second color I worked the next row by starting the stitches in different places, sometimes piercing the thread of the first row of stitches with the needle. At other times I slipped the stitch in between those in the first row. Again stagger the bottom edge of the stitches.

fig 2 - the next row of stitches in place

Step 3

Each additional row of stitches fits into the previous, keeping the general direction of the stitches pointing towards the center of the flower. 

Fig 3 shows the effect after I used three colors.

fig 3 - adding the third shade

Step 4

I got carried away and forgot to photograph the 4th color for you, so fig 4 shows all 5 in place. I only used a little of the darkest shade to add a few straight stitches and a shadow around the underside of the petal.

fig 4 - the darkest shade in place

Step 5

I continued working each petal around the flower. As you can see in fig 5, my drawing was rather lopsided. I changed the shape of the last two petals as I progressed through the embroidery. 

If you look closely at the petal I am working on in this photo, you'll see that the outside edge is not perfectly even. I could have remedied this by working a row of split stitch around the petal first, then stitching over that when doing the thread painting.

However, some petals have raggedy edges so it is not essential to do this extra step with all flowers.

fig 5 - working the third petal


Finishing the flower

The photograph at the top of the page shows my completed flower sample. 

I used a hand dyed thread to work French knots for the center, and stem stitch for the stem.

My first attempt

It takes practice to get a nice smooth finish to long and short stitch, but it is worth persevering.

I thought you might like to see my first attempt, to encourage you to keep trying if at first you don't succeed. 

My apologies for the awful drawing! Apart from that, my fundamental error here was that I used three strands of floss for this thread painting attempt.

Do you also see the holes where I went down through the existing stitches, instead of bringing the needle up through them?

My first attempt at thread paintingMy first attempt at thread painting

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