Acorn – Long and short shaded leaves

Long and short shading used to be really scary for me. Avoiding it was at the top of my list when looking for a project. Now, I approach it with pleasure, looking forward to seeing if I can do it better this time.

What’s made the difference? Two things: practice and a more thorough understanding of the technique. Working on the Talliaferro Royal Persian Blossom crewel work piece was one of the best experiences for gaining confidence. The designer requires long and short shading in quite a few different shapes, so I really had to think about the direction of the shading, the lines I needed to stitch and the curves I needed to accommodate.

For the acorn piece, I first marked the section of the leaf, so I was sure to divide the shape correctly when distributing the two colors. I didn’t want there to be too much light green and not enough medium green or vice versa. Next, I drew in the stitch direction lines, so I would always see where my stitches were going. Both of these things help enormously and only take a minute to do.


When I stitched the leaf, i actually stitched more than 5 sections due to the curve of the shape. The only way to curve when shading is to make shorter stitches, so trying to fit the curve into five divisions within the shape meant that the curve would be gentle and pleasing. Always keep the final look in mind when working and don’t be a slave to a diagram or written instructions. Think of it (as I’ve said before) as longer and shorter shading.

When stitching, remember that you need short stitches to create the curves and that the longer stitches do a great job of blending the colors. Go deeply into the previous row of color – half way at least – to get a great blend of colors and a lovely, soft texture.


When coming to the tip of a leaf or some other pointed end of a shape, it helps to do the middle stitches which will be straight ones first, right the way down to the end of the tip. Then do the outer edges over the split stitch outline and lastly add the filling stitches, gradually shifting direction from the edge stitches, which are at an angle, to the center stitches, which are straight.

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Here’s the finished area with the long and short shading and the section of the design from the drawing. It’s coming together!



acorn drawing.jpg

© nicolajarvisstudio 2012


How do you feel about long and short shading? Do you like it, dread it, approach it with muted confidence, ignore it and hope it never comes up or relish the challenge? Do you have any tips to help us?




8 thoughts on “Acorn – Long and short shaded leaves

  1. I don’t care for it very much, but that is okay because my projects are my own and never kits or anything, so I can avoid it like the plague and never ruin anything. 🙂

  2. I love long and short stitch and it has been my dream for a while now to master it. Unfortunately, this is not the case, but I keep at it when I come across some in my projects. Sometimes it’s not too bad, other times it just looks awful – then I put it aside and hope that one day I will find the courage to unpick and try again,

  3. Hi Kathy, Sometimes it works for me and other times it doesn’t. I try to avoid it and pick another stitch. I will keep trying, but I’m not going to beat self up if I cannot make it look good.
    By the way, your L&S looks fabulous. Your piece is coming together wondefully. I can’t wait to see the finished.
    Jeannette in PA

  4. I actually enjoy the long and short shading. I used to find it difficult, but somewhere along the line the process clicked for me and now I love to do it.

    The hardest part for me is making it look random.
    Your leaves look great!

    Carol S.

  5. I’ve done very little of it, by choice at least, but I’m gradually getting the hang of it. It’s one of the least well-diagrammed stitches, which makes it hard for people trying to learn embroidery on their own from a book. Even five minutes with a decent teacher is enough to make all the difference!

  6. I’ve always enjoyed long and short stitch and after an online course with Trish Burr and some very encouraging feedback, I love it even more now. It’s amazing to watch a picture grow using nothing but straight stitches strategically placed. I get excited just thinking about it.

  7. I do only tiny bits of it in crazy quilting, but I aspire to doing brilliant crewel embroidery. My problem is that I don’t really like wool but I had a recent epiphany (good time of year for that, too, lol) and decided that I could make the crewel designs in silk or cotton or ….anything else that takes my fancy. After all it’s my project – my design, my colours, so why not my threads too?

    Your wool work on the other hand is simply breathtakingly beautiful. Beautiful too has been watching the transformation from mediocre in the beginning to fantabulous now. (I do hope I haven’t hurt your feelings Kathy, but really your work today is so far ahead of what it was a couple of years back, it’s lonely, as my old Dad would have said.)

    I hope you have a wonderful, happy, safe and healthy Christmas.

  8. Someone very kindly sent me the link to your post as I’m working on an Iris design by Tanja Berlin and am just getting to the long/short embroidery part. I found your directions very helpful and will definitely pencil in the lines I need to make the curves. Thank you and your piece is beautifully stitched.

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