Needle sketching

I’ve been reading up on a style of embroidery called silk shading, thread painting, or needle painting. It’s a fairly realistic rendering style, using fine threads of silk or cotton.

This is more of a needle sketch, than a needle painting… I wanted to see if I could render this stargazer petal in silk. The silk is not my hand-dyed, it’s commercial Kreinik Soie Platte. I wish that I’d had a closer medium pink, and a darker purple-pink instead of the red – but, as a proof-of-concept type sketch, it worked out fine.

I drew the petal from life, lightly with a colored pencil onto the silk. The next time I do this, I’ll take the longer way around, and make a good finished drawing on paper and then transfer it to the silk.

Closeup of the embroidery. I’m mostly pleased with how it came out; there are some spots where I definitely need to work on angles and coverage. I found that working hand-to-hand helped me a LOT – working with one hand behind the fabric and one in front. The tekobari just got in my way and made me crazy, so I only used it when I had difficulty with getting the stitches where I wanted them.

And the side-by-side shot.

44 replies
  1. admin
    admin says:

    LOL… I totally understand about the patience. Everybody says, “Gosh, you have such amazing patience” – but I find that my patience is of a very specific species, and quite limited. I’m good with things that continue to change, where I don’t have to do the same thing repeatedly, and where the work isn’t large. Rendering a single petal is fine – making a study of a whole lily will be very taxing. I feel envious about things like your redwork bodice – I wish I had that particular kind of patience, as that kind of repetition of pattern would drive me around the bend. I guess what I lack is a kind of mental stamina or perseverence – I’m brilliant in short sprints.

  2. paperspirit
    paperspirit says:

    That’s gorgeous!

    And I never noticed before how much Stargazer lilies look like a certain part of the female anatomy!
    Either that, or I just need to get my mind out of the gutter.

  3. eressea
    eressea says:

    That’s gorgeous! I’ve never had the patience to work in satin stitch for long periods (yet I can spend a week sitting in my chair doing cross-stitch… go figure). Are those French knots in there for the spots? If so, I’m doubly envious… my French knots only work about one time in three.

  4. admin
    admin says:

    I’m hoping I’ll have patience enough to do a whole flower… one petal was a couple of evening’s work. Working from a fresh flower (i.e. not a photograph) was probably not the best idea, in something this slow – it aged and wrinkled as I was going along!

    yes, French knots. They’re tricky in the flat silk; they like to just tie down to nearly nothing and disappear into the satin.

    I wish I had patience for cross-stitch. It’s funny, how each of us has such different patience.

  5. garebear
    garebear says:

    From the initial photo, I read a bit to fast and thought it was a method of painting… only to see the detail of the embroidery. Absolutely incredible!

  6. admin
    admin says:

    Hee. It is, kinda – it’s slow, but it’s very similar to colored-pencil or pastel painting, in terms of how you build up color and shade areas. Or like egg tempera, if you’ve ever done that…

  7. jennybean42
    jennybean42 says:

    I totally made this into an icon for you.
    Not that you couldn’t do it yourself.
    I resisted putting snarky words like “pet my silken vagina” across it…..
    maybe just “flower porn”

  8. admin
    admin says:

    Hee. It totally makes me want to stitch a series of photo-realistic vagina “petals” made into a flower shape, and see who gets it…

  9. niamh_sage
    niamh_sage says:

    Well that’s my LOL moment of the day 😛

    My grandparents had a picture of a ship at sea done in this style of embroidery. I’m hoping to get my grubby paws on it one day – it’s really amazing! (Unfortunately it’s 14,000km away in Australia or I’d take a photo of it to show you.)

    Your go with the petal is great 😀

  10. sskipstress
    sskipstress says:

    It would be very interesting to see the results of stitching from the photograph of the flower above instead of directly from the flower.

    When my mother sketches (charcoal or pencil) from a photo instead of from life, the sketch looks very fake. When she paints from a photo (oils) instead of from life, the painting looks very much like a photo. I wonder if something similar would happen in your stitching.

  11. admin
    admin says:

    It really is so much like painting, though — you get into that “visual/visional” headspace, and you’re seeing things in shapes and colors. Of coruse the application of the thread is more tedious than application of pencil or paint, but the magic seems the same. This bit took me probably 4 hours, maybe less. I listen to books on tape while I do this kind of stuff, and I lose track.

    Now, I just need to undertake a piece with a whole picture, and custom-dye some threads for it!

  12. unluckymonkey
    unluckymonkey says:

    I totally understand about getting lost timewise. I can’t keep track of how many hours it takes me to do pretty much anything. Custom-dyed threads YUM!

    Have you ever done silk painting? I found some silk painting supplies a friend in a knitting group gave me. It’s supposed to be just like watercolor.

    Also, have you seen this?
    I’ve been thinking about getting one to do embroidery a bit faster. I tried my hand on the slow method but I just want to embroider my clothes for fun so I want it to move faster….and I’m impatient. 😉 Maybe it seems cheatercheater pumpkineater. You have to put iron on sheeting on the back to keep it forever as it jsut makes loops on the back but I’m still very interested.

  13. admin
    admin says:

    I haven’t done silk painting. I’ve got some of the stuff, just haven’t given it a try yet. It’s on The List.

    I’ve seen some of those embroidery tool things – they’re interesting, and can look good as long as the loops are kept short. Too long, and they look messy and not nice. Nothing cheatery about it – it’s a fast method, and there are certain things it’s good for. Just like with sewing machine embroidery, which is the bomb for monograms and such.

  14. unluckymonkey
    unluckymonkey says:

    Oh yeah I wasn’t really into the loopy look as I always think of it getting caught on everything ever I like the other stitches. Well I’m very much looking forward to your full on full sized embroidered kimono! 😉 that wouldn’t take long, right?

  15. misoranomegami
    misoranomegami says:


    I really do love the way that stuff turns out. But I do have to wonder, what is the difference between needle painting, silk shading and embroidery? I finally learned some basic embroidery and since then I’ve done a couple of small projects. I’m working on one right now where I drew a bird on some cloth, stuck in in a hoop and am working on the outline now so I can fill it in. I always considered this just plain embroidery. Or does that cover a whole range of other styles?

  16. admin
    admin says:

    Re: Gorgeous

    Embroidery covers all of it – silk shading or needle painting (also called thread painting, although that is often a reference to a particular style of machine embroidery) is a specific style of embroidery, usually rendered in fine threads, without outlining (it’s actually under-lined, so that you don’t see a line around the outside) and using long-and-short stitching to cover the ground with thread. Most needle painting strives for realism, rather than stylized designs.

  17. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Your embroidery is exquisite – silk shading is not something I’d have the patience for (I’m more a counted thread girl), but I love to see the finished result – and your beetle wing embroidery is outta this world! Absolutely exquisite! 😀
    Anne (Feather Stitching –

  18. admin
    admin says:


    Ironically, I don’t have the patience for cross-stitch. It’s funny how each of us has a different kind of patience, and things we can and can’t be patient for!

  19. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Thanks a lot for Your work!

    Hello, thanks a lot, You’v done a great job.I can only realize how much time and resources does it take to create such a resource!Great work, I am impressed!

  20. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    flat French knots

    Just a thought… try a Colonial knot. They seem to sit up better for me and turn out more uniform.
    Your work is lovely.

  21. admin
    admin says:

    Re: flat French knots

    Thanks! I’ll have to give that a try. I’m not so familiar with a lot of the traditional embroidery stitches, so it helps a lot to have suggestions.

  22. yongmcneice
    yongmcneice says:

    They seem to sit up better for me and turn out more uniform. Your work is lovely. Leslie ( Reply to this )( Parent )( Thread ) Re: flat French knots oakenking pm UTC ( link ) Thanks.

  23. seymourkoikker
    seymourkoikker says:

    But otherwise it’s just gorgeous 🙂 ( Reply to this )( Parent ) niamh_sage pm UTC ( link ) Well that’s my LOL moment of the day 😛 My grandparents had a picture of a ship at sea done in this style of embroidery.

  24. joeinman
    joeinman says:

    I guess what I lack is a kind of mental stamina or perseverence – I’m brilliant in short sprints. ( Reply to this )( Parent ) darthcynthia pm UTC ( link ) SO pretty.

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