Long and Short Shading – two tricks that helped me

When I was first  teaching myself long and short shading, everything I did looked artificial and chunky. None of that lovely, soft gradual shading that I saw on other people’s work. Mine was a block of color next to another block of color. I took the “long and short” literally, making only two lengths of stitch – one long and one short. Then I worked with Phillipa Turnbull and Tracy Franklin and Nicola Jarvis and got the idea (finally!) that it’s really longer and shorter stitches that are the first step to making this stitch look it’s best.

The second trick is to make your first layer of stitches go a long way into the shape – really, really deeply into the shape. (see above) Farther than you think is correct and then a little farther. And don’t panic, because if you do go “too far” you can just put the next layer of stitches over the first layer and it will be fine. In fact, it will be better!

A beautiful shape worked in long and short shading is something most of us strive for and many of us dread. And really, the two tricks that helped me the most are 1. “longer and shorter” – vary the length of the stitches quite a bit one to the other and 2. make the first layer go deeply into the shape so the second layer can be stitched deeply into the first.

Here’s how deeply I went into the first layer of longer and shorter stitches on this flower petal for the Marriage Pillowe. My needle is coming up where I will make the first stitch of the second layer of stitching – the darker color on this petal.

After I pull the needle through and then back down, the new stitch melts into the first layer of thread. It’s the melting or burying of the second layer of stitching into the first layer that helps the threads to blend so beautifully.

One of the things I like about this part of the project is the subtle shift in colors from one petal to the next. The same 3 or 4 shades of blue are used, but the petals use different combinations of the shades of blue. The mixture of shades of blue keep the flower from looking too stiff, yet because all the blue shades are in the same family, they all blend together.

I hope this gives those of you who are having difficulty with long and short shading yet another way to think about the technique. Once you get the hang of it, it’s such fun and the results are so pretty! Now, I just have to work on perfecting my technique – practice, practice, practice!


13 thoughts on “Long and Short Shading – two tricks that helped me

  1. I’ve never been able to understand why beginner kits include long and short stitch, because it’s very depressing for beginners, and – just to make it harder – the diagrams usually look more like brick stitch.

    Good hints, all of those, and the pictures are particularly clear.

  2. What a wonderful article, the lovely descriptions along side the photos that show each stage is really informative. This kit is a credit to the Crewel Work Company.

    I hope that you are pleased with the excellent results.

  3. OH THANK YOU Kathy, I think it was also my problem to make
    my stitches look real. I will feel more comfortable now to use longer stitches.
    Good Day. France

  4. What good timing, albeit a little late. Just last night I was working on long/short in a “beginners” kit as a refresher project. Now the question is whether to start over or from this point forward with your suggestions (probably wait to see how it looks finished before tearing out all of those stitches)! Thanks so much for your web site and comments, they are so helpful.

    • Hi Crewel Lady,

      Another tip I learned was that you can always add stitches over the area you’ve worked to blend the colors better. If you’ve done the entire shape, you can carefully add a few stitches at critical points that make the blending better.I’ve done this both on crewel work and on silk and it does work. Do one stitch at a time and see how it looks. Don’t pull it too tight and, if you don’t like how it looks, just pull it out and try it in another place.

      Liebe Grüße,

  5. Wonderful pictures and instructions Kathy. The hardest thing for me was adapting long and short stitch evenweave fabric to crewel fabric. Same name, but really a totally different stitch. I’ve seen it refered to as silk shading, soft shading or long and short shading, which is really a more accurate description. The real key is as you said tho’, practice, practice, practice.

    Can’t wait to see the finished piece.
    Happy stitching

  6. Ooohh I’m new to embroidery.. When I saw beautidul images of silk shading on the net,I fell in love right away,and I wanted to get straight to the point without having to learn about others basic stitches.Just love L&S stitch.. I’m still learning at this point and a long way to go.

  7. Hi there! I`m working on a needlepoint project and the tree trunk is kind of confusing, since I don`t have the stitch guide. Is it possible to work such a wide area in long and short? It seems to me that’s the stitch, since your tutorial is so clear about how to get the shadowing right!

    • Hi Gloria,

      Please send me a photo of our project and I can better advise you. Long and short isn’t a typical needlepoint/canvas work stitch so I’d like o see what you’re trying to achieve before I give you any advice. Send it to Kathy ( at ) theunbrokenthreqd.com

      Liebe Grüße,


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