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.

17 May 2021

A Spartan Past

More than ten years ago, I stitched the first challenging piece of thread painting in my embroidery life. It was a Trish Burr design called Iris Spartan.

Embroidered iris detail (design by  Trish Burr)

I didn't know if I was ready for this project at the time, but I jumped in and gave it a try. It was quite a ride!

With this look back, I'm going to provide some critiques of things that could have been done better and also point out bits that I think turned out well. Also, I'm going to call all of the standards and falls on the iris 'petals' because it's easier!

At the time I worked this project it was available as a stamped design from Trish. She was using cotton satin fabric in those days. The iris is stitched with DMC floss (single strands) and a #10 crewel needle.

The project started with the bud and stems. I'd never stitched anything with so many colours jammed into so many small spaces! Also, there were lots of directional changes to keep an eye on.

Thread painted iris bud and stem - Iris Spartan (design by Trish Burr)

There are some good things and bad things about the bud and stem. In the image below the blue letters are the 'bad' and green is 'good'. The stitch direction on the light part of the bud (A) is truly awful. It's all over the place and doesn't flow well. That's definitely a lack-of-experience error. The dark areas on the sepal below the bud (B) are too large and clumpy. There needs to be less dark or at least it should be broken up to lessen the clumpiness. I like the shading and stitch direction on the shapes below the upper sepal (C). There are some really nice subtle, very thin dark lines indicating shadows on the turned edges.

Annotated thread painted iris bud and stem - Iris Spartan (design by Trish Burr)

With the stem and bud finished it was on to the flower. There is a lot of layering of the flower petals so stitching from background to foreground elements required focus.

Thread painted iris petal - Iris Spartan (design by Trish Burr)

Thread painted iris upper petal complete - Iris Spartan (design by Trish Burr)

There are many things that could be improved on the upright petals (see below). The left and right background petals (A, B) really stand out to me. The shading is very poorly done. On the left petal (A) there's a line between shade colours (blue line). That should have been blended better. The problems at B are even worse. The two blue lines indicate where one colour stops and another abruptly starts. That's bad! The two shades should have been blended together. The yellow lines also indicate a place where there are lines of colour rather than a blend. All of the problems with A and B could have been fixed without ripping anything out. I didn't necessarily know that at the time and I probably didn't 'see' the problems, either. I'm more sensitive to these types of problems with the benefit of experience.

There is some nice shading at C. I like the way the stitching fans out (green arrow) and the small upright petal has a nice accent with the lighter bit of colour (black arrow).

There are some directional problems at D. I didn't manage a very graceful change of direction as I worked down the petal. It's not horrible, but could be better.

Overall, there is some nice contrast between parts in shadow and parts in the foreground. All of the petals have defined edges and don't disappear into each other.

Thread painted iris upper petals annotated - Iris Spartan (design by Trish Burr)

The left lower petal was the trickiest part of the entire project. There are many, many different colours in this petal. I recall switching colours with every stitch at times. That being said, I still think the blending could be better (i.e., smoother). I like how the little shadows underneath the petal at the bottom turned out.

Thread painted iris lower left petal detail - Iris Spartan (design by Trish Burr)

Here is the finished flower:

Completed thread painted iris flower - Iris Spartan (design by Trish Burr)

The finished project:

Completed embroidery - Iris Spartan (design by Trish Burr) 
I still like how this piece turned out, but I wonder what it would look like if I stitched it now, ten plus years later, with more experience. It would be spectacular in silk!



  1. Replies
    1. Thank you. I really liked working with the colours, they were so beautiful.

  2. I am beginning to think "thread painting" and am so glad to see some of this work from a decade ago. If I could do anything close to this on my first attempts, I would be very glad. I don't know any stitch geeks, so this post and the comments begin to help me understand that I'm not the only one! I look forward to exploring the entire site more more. Thanks, ahimsa

    1. Ah, well, if you're looking for embroidery geekery you've come to the right place! I try to tone down the geekiness most of the time, but sometimes I just can't help it. If you have any questions don't hesitate to ask either here or via the contact form.

  3. Absolutely stunning. The colors are sublime and the design is so beautiful. Brava!

    1. Thank you, that's very nice of you to say so!

  4. Thank you so much for posting this. I am at the start of my needle painting adventure and I think it will last for life. To my untrained eye your piece looks absolutely stunning. When you pointed out poor blending it really made me think about how to improve my own. I love Trish Burr designs and I’m slowly working my way through her book for beginners. My main problem (there are many) is defining the edges of petals. Mine simply merge into each other! So many challenges in this absorbing new hobby but I find it very relaxing.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. You are right about wanting to have defined petal edges. That's very important for a polished looking finished project. You have to ensure that the places where edges and backgrounds (or other petal bits) meet that you put in some contrast. It's good to look at the petals and make a plan before you start stitching, noting things like potential problems where petals might need a little help with definition. That becomes more natural with experience.

      Trish's beginner book is an excellent choice for learning thread painting because the projects, except for the very first ones, aren't too simplistic, but still stitchable for beginners. Also, as you go through the book the projects become more complex, but still accessible for a beginner.

      If I can be of help, please let me know! I'm happy to help.

  5. Brava, indeed! But also - to look back on it analytically from the distance of ten years of experience - Brava again!

    1. It's interesting to see where one's been. Hopefully, I've improved over those ten years!

  6. Hello, I'm curious to know, when there are several colors that mix, do we work with several needles, or each color one after the other . Thank you for answering me.

    1. Yes, I had several needles threaded with different colours. I stitched the colours as needed sometimes changing colour with every stitch. It can get quite intense.