Spring 2024: Google ended its email subscription service in 2021. I believe I've found a replacement, but haven't had time to test it. I have been stitching a little bit here and there and have some posts ready for when the email subscription is active again. Fingers crossed, I'll have time to rouse this blog out of its dormancy sometime this year.

25 June 2018

Shading the Blues Away

I can't seem to leave well enough alone. I've decided to experiment on Wild Child, my Japanese bead embroidery project. I'm going to add some shaded work instead of using only beads on the project.

Bead Embroidery with Thread Painting: A selection of DMC blue floss. (Wild Child Japanese Bead Embroidery by Mary Alice Sinton)

This is going to be a geeky embroidery post so if you're not interested in the details of shading feel free to skip to the photos!

On most of the shaded-oriented projects that I work on, there are two primary types of shading. One is what we probably all think of as typical shading with long and short stitch. You move through the colours and blend them into each other. You'd typically see this type of shading on a leaf or flower petal. Let's call this type of shading 'blended'.

Example of leaf shaded with embroidery thread (thread painting)
Example of blended shading from Leaf Lesson

The other type of shading occurs when you lay rows of colour next to each other as found on elements such as stems. Let's call this type of shading 'adjacent'.

Thread painting example of rosebuds designsd by Trish Burr
'Burgundy Rosebuds' by Trish Burr from Burr-gundy Rosebuds

If you have a simple palette, determining colours for blended shading is relatively easy. Real thread colour cards are very useful in helping to determine basic shade order.

DMC real thread card with actual samples of cotton embroidery floss

Don't be lulled by this simplicity, however. Blended shading can become very sophisticated and complex. Colour masters like Trish Burr create palettes that go far beyond the shade order laid out in thread cards.

I find adjacent shading more difficult to create from scratch. Blending into another thread is very different from blending next to a thread. The same threads that blend well into each other, when laid side by side, may result in jarring colour jumps between shades. Hence, when developing a smooth adjacent blend, a colour card is merely the starting point. You may have to experiment by bringing in colours from a different colour family.

Trish Burr's stems have always fascinated me because they turn out so smooth colour-wise, and you get a lovely 3-D effect from the shading. She uses a lot of colours for her deceptively simple stems. When pulling colours for the stems for the first few Burr projects I did, the colours seemed off. However, once stitched they always worked beautifully. I've since learned to never question Trish's colour sense. Now, when I do a Trish project, I can't wait to see which colours she's chosen!

For a long time, I've wanted to see if I could figure out how to do something similar to a Trish stem, and I decided Wild Child would be my guinea pig.

First, I needed to figure out which elements would be shaded, and I decided that one of the scalloped areas (B) and the blue veins/stems (A/C) would be shaded rather than beaded. I may also shade the gold curly element in-between the light blue stems at (A), but I'm waiting to see how the other shading works out.

Planning for locations on the bead embroidery project where shaded, thread painted embroidery will be added. (Wild Child Japanese Bead Embroidery by Mary Alice Sinton)

Elements (A), (B), and (C) are all blue. (A) needed a light palette while (B) and (C) are darker. I wanted the two palettes to work together, so essentially I required one big palette that went from light to dark.

I was hoping to achieve very smooth adjacent shading on (A), and this was the most challenging part to figure out. I spent a lot of time trying out different shades of blue, and had problems getting a smoothly shaded effect. There was always too much of a jump between shades at some point in the test sample. I enlisted the aid of a friend who is very good at colour and we sat down with the thread card, along with examples of what hadn't worked, and figured out a modified palette. My original palette was close, but needed a few extra in-between shades to make things work smoothly. It was a good learning experience. Many thanks, Rev. Sandy!

Here's how (A) turned out:

Bead Embroidery with Thread Painting: First element with blue shading. (Wild Child Japanese Bead Embroidery by Mary Alice Sinton)

I split stitched the veins in six shades of blue. The shading is nice, just what I was looking for. The veins even change colour depending upon how the light hits them, just as they should! However, I'm not convinced it's appropriate for the design as a whole. This is a very graphic design composed of solid colours, and these veins may not be quite appropriate. On the other hand, there's a lot more beading to come and the veins will probably fade into the background. I'm certainly not taking them out!

The shading for (C) is much more in keeping with the overall design. It's primarily two shades of blue with a single dark blue shadow line along the edge, very graphic. Over to the right, you can see where I have experimented with scallop shading. (There's a lot of experimenting in the margins.)

Bead Embroidery with Thread Painting: Another element shaded with blues. (Wild Child Japanese Bead Embroidery by Mary Alice Sinton)

I could have also stitched (A) like (C), with minimal shades, but I really wanted to challenge myself and see if I could come up with a smooth adjacent palette. I'm waiting to see if the blended shading of the scallops (B) helps balance out the smooth shading in (A).
Wild Child's current state (be sure to click for a larger version):

Bead Embroidery with Thread Painting: Showing some of the finished blue shaded areas. (Wild Child Japanese Bead Embroidery by Mary Alice Sinton)

I still have to stitch dark blue veins on the right hand leaf of (C) and the scallop (B), then it'll be back to beads. I'm looking forward to the beaded outlines on the scallops. I also have to make a decision on the gold curly element at the top. To shade or not to shade....


  1. This is so much fun Margaret! I picked up my beading kit from customs today. It is Anastasia Jewels by Merrilyn Whittle. So unfair that I have so much stuff that need doing that I can't dive in straight away :(. So, I'll be good and enjoy your blog posts for the time being!

    1. Merrilyn Whittle has some beautiful designs. I can't wait to see your posts when you start working on her project!

  2. This is awesome that you added needle
    painting embroidery (Trish Burr). I too love her work. I just finished the Magnolia.

    1. I simply couldn't resist adding some shading to the piece. Shading seems to be my 'thing'. :-)

  3. It wouldn’t be you if you didn’t include thread shading. Really looking forward to see it when it is completed. I just love to watch your pieces evolve.

  4. I love the addition of the silk shading! It works so well as a contrast to the beads. Colour is something that is quite tricky to grasp in full, and I know for me, will take years to master. It looks lovely!

    1. Thanks, Catherine. I think I'm going to like the shading when I'm done. At least, I hope so! :-)

  5. Looking good!

  6. Love the way those white flowers pop out with the beads. The shading on A is lovely, and it's soft and emphasizes the flowers even more. The blues are beautiful. Can't wait to see the next steps.

    1. Thank you, Lyn. I must confess that I've been quite pleased with myself with regard to the shading on A. It's fun when you figure out how to do something that you haven't done before!

      I can't wait to see the next steps as well! :-)