My long and short shading ‘a-ha’ moment!

Some things can be learned from a book. For example, I became a pretty good recorder player as a girl by learning the fingerings from a book. I could NEVER have learned to play the oboe from a book – there are too many individual variables in the way you must hold your mouth to produce the sound. It needs to be explained and demonstrated for complete understanding and success. Well, long and short shading is a skill that that I didn’t understand from a book. I needed a teacher to show me, to tailor her explanations to my way of understanding.

When I was teaching myself about long and short shading, I naturally referred to my embroidery books. I read the text and studied diagrams that looked like this:

I produced something that looked very similar: layered, not shaded. I master the “long and short” but not the “shading” technique.

When I sat down next to Tracy Franklin, the first thing I asked about was my long and short shading. She said to me “think of it as longer and shorter shading”. There are many subtle variations in the length of the stitches, not only long and short. A-ha!

Here is the diagram from her new book (which I”ll be reviewing in the next week).

This is the effect I’d been working towards – but without success. All I really needed was a great teacher to explain it in a way I could understand! (That’s one secret to being a great teacher – knowing how your student thinks so you can tailor your explanation to their way of understanding.)

It really was (almost) as simple as that. I still have to practice and perfect my technique, but now I understand. In addition, Tracy gave me a few tips that I hadn’t read (or maybe had read and forgotten – it’s possible…).

The order in which you stitch the components of the design and the direction of the stitching both make a huge difference in how the design will look. Think about which component is behind others. If a petal in a flower is behind the two petals on either side, stitch that petal first. Think about the slight shadow that the petals in front might cast on the petal behind and shade accordingly. Think about which way the shape flows and stitch with the flow or curve of the shape. Here is an example of how awful it can look when the stitch direction isn’t right. That bottom petal really  looks rough and uneven.

Out that came pretty quickly! It’s important to outline the shape we are shading with split stitch. This is usually done with a single thread. One suggestion Tracy made was to outline the component that was in front of the others with split stitch using two threads, thus raising the edge a bit higher. She had me do this on one side only of the petal that was in front of the others and it does make a difference. (It’s the second from the bottom).

Tracy also had me stitch two layers of each color as I shaded this flower. So I stitched the first layer from the center of the shape over the outside edge. The I stitched it again, as if I was doing long and short shading but with the same color silk. This pads the shape and makes all the stitches look super smooth. If there are any ‘dimples’ in the first layer, it’s easy to cover them with the second layer of the same color. I did two ‘layers’ of each of the three colors and I am so pleased with the results!

I’ve reworked the darkest color of Persian rose silk so that the shading is longer and shorter. It looks much better! Now that I feel more confident, I can’t wait to keep practicing and experimenting with shading, using both silk and wool. Have you ever “learned” something from a book that you then figured out later you’d completely misunderstood? I hope I’m not the only one!

p.s. A reader noticed the slub in the silk (under the pink flower) and asked how I dealt with it: all I did was stitch over it. Because I was doing long and short shading, I simply put in enough stitches that the slub was fully covered and the stitches didn’t split apart, revealing the fabric underneath. I don’t mind the ‘bump’ in the flower but then, as you know, I love it when the nature of the material is revealed.

11 thoughts on “My long and short shading ‘a-ha’ moment!

  1. Hi Kathy,
    The results of your class with Tracy are obvious in the subtlly-blended effect of the stitches. Just lovely. And the stitching tips you learned from her are appreciated and most helpful. You have the ability to clearly explain, in your writing (a good teacher!)

    I do think that, in spite of all of our wonderful web and text resources, having a real-time class experience is indispensable for learning certain techniques as well as for receiving guidance in correcting errors in our basic stitching technique. I’ve often felt frustrated because I can’t achieve a certain effect and don’t know how to correct a problem.

  2. The only book I have which explains long and short shading properly, as Tracy explained it to you, is a Royal School of Needlework book. All of the others (stretching over probably three shelves!) show pictures as you describe with separate layers, almost forming stripes.

    Even more confusing, a couple of them show the shaded result but the striped diagram!

    I used to hate long and short stitch, but now I understand how it works I don’t mind using it!

  3. When i first went to a local evening class and I asked the tutor to show me long and short and she showed me brick stitch. How lovely your work is, and thank you for showing us how Long and short stitch should be done. I agree that a book is not enough and would love to attend a class dedicated just to this stitch.

  4. That is very true! You have to understand how it is done. That looks so pretty and I do see the two differences in the “long and short” and the “longer and shorter”

    very professional!


  5. Thanks so much for the lesson. I was deciding if I wanted to do embroidery. I’m interested in Su Chinese embroidery. Thanks, Tanya

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