Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Needlepainting, Silk Shading, Soft Shading, Thread Painting…


Amazon Books

It goes by so many names, this technique of creating realistic shading in embroidery.

But no matter what name it goes by, and whether there are slight nuances in the meanings of the different names, all the techniques named above involve the dominant use of long & short stitch.

I use the terms in today’s title pretty much interchangeably, while I use the specific term long & short stitch to refer to the stitching technique used to shade – and which can also be used as a solid filling technique, too.

Lately, I’ve received several questions from beginners on how to get started with the techniques used in needlepainting.

So today, I want to share some resources that will help the embroiderer – whether beginner, novice, or advanced – take the plunge into needlepainting and learn how to successfully shade in embroidery.

Needlepainting Embroidery: Resources for Learning, for beginners & beyond

Shading techniques require practice to get good results and to feel confident in tackling your own designs that involve realistic shaded embroidery using long & short stitch.

That said, it is a forgiving technique – it’s one of those techniques where mistakes can often be covered up or corrected as you go, even without having to pick out stitches!

It’s a technique that is suited to beginners, not just to advanced embroiderers. No matter your level of stitchery, you can learn shading techniques and put them into practice in your own embroidery.

There are several ways you can go about learning, practicing, and improving your needlepainting skills. Any of these will work, but a combination of them will work better.

Needlepainting Kits

An embroidery kit – which supplies you with everything you need to successfully complete a project – is a great way for a beginner to try a technique. The better and more thorough the instructions, the more chance you have of successfully conquering the technique.

For beginners and beyond, I think the very best needlepainting kits on the market are those from Berlin Embroidery. Tanja Berlin writes thorough instructions that guide the stitcher through every step of the embroidery process. She also offers feedback via email if you get stuck.

You can find Tanja’s needlepainting kits here on her website. For absolute beginners, the pansies are a great place to start. If you’re keen to stitch birds or wildlife, she has several simpler birds to help you get going in that direction, and then, as you progress, her other wildlife kits will help you grow your skills.

Online Resources

There are several good (and free) online resources that will help you get the hang of shading in embroidery.

Here on Needle ‘n Thread, I have this Long & Short Stitch Sampler that will take you through various configurations of shapes and motifs, showing you how to use long and short stitch to shade them. With a sampler like this, you’ll progress via small increments through different levels of skill in shading, so that you can tackle more advanced projects more readily.

You can also make use of YouTube. Search terms like “long and short stitch,” “needlepainting,” “thread painting,” “soft shading” – you’re bound to come up with some decent video tutorials.

Sarah Homfray has two video tutorials available for needlepointed pansies. You’ll find part 1 here on YouTube, and part 2 here. The first videos is somewhat long – and you’ll have to wait through some ads – but they’re both worth watching!

My own antiquated videos on basic long and short stitch are available here on YouTube: Part I, Part II, and Part III. In each video, I share tips that will help you with the technique and also, occasionally, tips about other general embroidery practices. I’ll be re-working those videos soon, if all goes as planned – but these ancient ones will help you get you started. Technology has changed much in thirteen years!

Books on Needlepainting

Finally, when you’re learning a new technique that’s going to involve an investment of your time to master, I highly recommend acquiring a book or two on the technique that you can use as a reference.

While a book might not focus on a particular project you have in mind, it will give you principles to follow. A good instructional book will help you troubleshoot and figure how how to tackle different aspects of the technique that you might be having difficulties with.

Most instructional books in specific techniques will also provide you with projects you can practice on, making it much easier to progress in skill.

There are many books on the market about needlepainting and realistic shading, but for beginners, I highly recommend Clare Hanham’s Beginner’s Guide to Silk Shading. My review of the book, which you’ll find here, will give you a more detailed overview of it. The approach in this book is simple and direct, it covers all the basics, and it provides good practice projects.

If your needlepainting plans stretch to birds and other critters, and you’ve already dabbled a bit with the basics, I recommend Trish Burr’s Needlepainting Embroidery: Fresh Ideas for Beginners, which I’ve reviewed in detail here.

You can find both of these books currently available under “Browse my Amazon Recommendations” on my Amazon Recommendations page. I’ve split that page into a book section and a tools & materials section, to make it easier for you to find things. These two books are at the top of the list right now in the book section.

Go For It!

So, if you’re keen to learn the skills of shading in embroidery, try these paths!

But above all, don’t be intimidated by the whole notion that shading is somehow a highly advanced embroidery skill that takes years to master. It’s not! Long and short stitch is excessively forgiving. Sure, excellent shading takes practice, but even a beginner can tackle realistic shading and succeed at it!

Here’s to a wonderful week ahead!

This article includes an affiliate link to my Amazon Recommendations page, which means that Needle ‘n Thread receives a small commission for any purchases made through that link at no extra expense to you. Thanks for your support!


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(14) Comments

  1. Mary, have we ever seen a full-view and/or pattern for the “thing” you stitched which is partially shown in the upper right photo? I really love what I’ve seen and would love to stitch it, but can only remember seeing bits and pieces……

  2. Dear Mary

    I watched your all the videos on the stitch and I actually completed your long and short sampler and I found it helpful in getting to know the L&S stitch by the different designs and different colour threads on the sampler. I also have Trish Burr’s book Needlepainting Embroidery: Fresh Ideas for Beginners it’s a great book and has lovely designs in it. Thanks for sharing with us where to find resources for the Long and Short Stitch very helpful.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  3. I have checked out Berlin Embroidery as you suggested and she’s great. I ordered some of her kits and she gives online critiques. She’s very helpful.

  4. Just wanted to let you know, every time I try to use your “Amazon Recommendations” link, it fails. I use Outlook 2010 and have tried with MS Edge, Google Chrome, and Firefox as the default browser, and all fail to open a page. In Amazon’s site itself, there are a number of search phrases that look like they ought to open your page, but all instead just bring up a mish-mash of titles/items that may or may not be remotely connected to stitchery, let alone your blog. Thanks for all the hard work; hope you can fix this. Here’s the URL that fails to open: https://www.amazon.com/shop/marycorbet

    1. Hi, Barbara – thanks for letting me know! I’m guessing you’re accessing the initial link from the email newsletter, rather than from the article here on the website? Have you tried the link at the end of the article above, here on the website? There are some email service providers that automatically “break” affiliate links (and other types of promotional links) coming from subscription lists, on the assumption that their customers don’t want to be bothered with them or on the assumption that the links are somehow nefarious – which, in some cases, certain types of links are. If this is the case, there’s nothing I can really do about it, because the controls are not on my end. But if you access the link from the article above that you left this comment on, it should work for you. If you get a chance, let me know! Thanks!

  5. Mary, I really enjoyed this article. I agree that good kits make such a good way to learn. Please keep on writing. I look forward to your posts so much. I fell and broke my hip last Tuesday in a embroidery related accident. (Life is weird — and at 66 I am young for a broken hip.) My hands are aching to get back to stitching, so I will be urging the physical therapist to include needlework in my rehab. Meanwhile I will be reading, here at needle n thread!

    1. Hi, Taffy – So sorry to hear about your hip! Who knew that embroidery could be so… dangerous?!?!? I hope the recover is swift and thorough!

  6. Hello Mary. Thanks for your really useful article and resource recommendations. The Royal School of Needlework does online courses now and there is a course on silk shading that people might find useful, you can watch the YouTube video trailer for the course . I did the Introduction to Jacobean Crewelwork course and found it really helpful and easy to follow.

  7. i am looking for classes. i can follow instructions, but i want somebody to be available to help me out in person. The Royal School of needlework was supposed to come in November, but has now cancelled.

    Any help on where classes might be?

    1. Hi, Victoria – It’s hard to give you any advice on that, without knowing where you live. In the US, you can look up the Embroiderers’ Guild of America or the San Francisco School of Needlework and Design. Both offer classes and workshops different times of the year. The EGA workshops are in various parts of the country; the SFSNAD workshops are in San Francisco. There’s also a needlework school in Williamsburg VA that offers different types of workshops throughout the year.

  8. Thank you again for another great article. My question involves a variation of the satin stitch — the encroaching satin stitch. I can only find a couple of references online. Might you give some info on it?

  9. Really enjoyed this weekly newsletter, you covered so much I am overwhelmed. I have purchased
    several of your easy project so I can improve my stitching. Thank you sooooo much. Fran

  10. Hiya, I was just wondering if everything went to plan and you managed to rework your own videos on long and short stitch? 🙂

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