Last time, I’d managed to get all the preparation work done for starting the bulk of the embroidery on my Poinsettia Paperweight. This wasn’t too arduous as it was just preparing the fabric, transferring the design and getting the split stitch outlines of the petals ready. Now it was on the fun part – lots of silk shading!
I really like the instructions that come with Sue Hawkins’s kits. I’ve blogged before about how the really good charts and stitch instructions made getting one of her other canvaswork pieces finished just a matter of time rather than a matter of frustration. So far so good on this kit – even though it’s a little more complex as the paperweight is a mixture of canvaswork and stumpwork.
For the silk shading part, there are photos of one petal being worked with the first row and second row (in the lighter colour) in progress. She has a good written description of the ‘feel’ and philosophy of silk shading but this might not be quite enough for you to confidently follow. One thing that did surprise me though is how she recommended working the shapes. While the row order was what I was used to (outside to centre), if I understand the way the instructions are written correctly, you would come up on the outside of the split stitch line and into the centre and subsequent rows are to be worked from the centre out (so you would come needle down through the previous row).
I have an atrocious memory for stitching instructions (there is a reason I love the Embroidery Stitch Bible so much and anyone who creates kits including stitch guides) but this one felt a little odd. For good reason – I have always been taught to go up through the fabric and then tuck the needle down over the outline stitching – essentially the reverse of what was advised. Then, for later rows, to come up and potentially split the previous row’s stitches before moving to the centre of the shape.
I definitely find it easier to get a sharper, cleaner outline going down over the outside and tucking the needle but whether the different direction and order makes a huge difference I don’t really know. I know there are arguments about affecting thread tension and damaging threads being more risky one way around, but any thoughts yourselves dear readers?
I stuck with doing things the way around I knew. I like to run around the outside of the shape with some marker stitches and I was also liberal in my use of pencil lines to give me some stitch guides. I also extended the ‘central line’ from the traced shape to the full length of the petals as the two ‘sides’ of the shape would need to meet somewhere and it helped to have a guide.
As I was working I found myself veering away from the ‘row by row’ approach that I had always used before and ending up filling in segments of the shape, skipping from side to side as required. As Catherine over at Hillview Embroidery shows in her post, different teachers do have different approaches and perhaps there is a little element of personal taste in these. Given the petals are relatively small, there was barely space for a second row anyway – or perhaps I have taken my old tutor’s lesson of considering ‘long and short’ as ‘long and longer’ too literally!
I have to say I did have a few concerns getting started on the poinsettia petals. They’re not the most common shape you can find good tutorial examples of (please, can the next person who creates a silk shading tutorial not just do it on a petal shape that you’d get on a daisy or a pansy?) and I’m a bit out of practice on silk shading too. I’m not sure I’ve done much since I finished my adorable little birdy.
The long and short is worked with two strands of cotton so did work up really quickly and I have been trying to take the time to work at least one thread’s worth of stitches a day. A small mercy of working at home means that, although things are irritatingly busy as usual, I can take advantage of the afternoon light which makes working silk shading so much better and easier. A friend once told me that silk shading is her spring and summer techniques and I really do see why. It helps eliminate that horrible moment when you return to the frame next day with the ‘oh no, what was I thinking…’ feeling of dread when you actually see what criss-cross of stitches to unpick you’ve created for yourself.
One nice thing is as I’ve been working, trying to figure out the best strategies of each shape has got me reading and thinking about needlepainting again. Luckily enough, Trish Burr has just released her advanced Level 3 Art of Shading course and I really do recommend it. Perhaps it is a little on the expensive side for an online course but the pdf that comes with the gorgeous design is absolutely excellent and has a few things so clearly explained with such beautiful diagrams that I had a few lightbulb moments. Probably the best one was the difference between regular silk shading (good for flowers) and irregular silk shading (good for fur). How have I never understood this so clearly?
I probably am veering a little on the irregular side with the poinsettia and with the two threads it is looking slightly ‘fluffy’ but the petals are consistent and the two threads does give it a bit more life and dimensionality where perhaps the tensioning isn’t the most even. They’re not perfect – but I haven’t unpicked a single stitch and I think they’re absolutely good enough. Well… at least good enough for massacring with a pair of scissors, which will probably be my traumatic introduction to stumpwork!