Ever since I did my first silk shading embroidery (purple anemone), I wanted to do another but then use real silks instead of stranded cotton. I have a lovely collection of real Chinese flat silks as used in Suzhou embroidery; so why not put it to good use? Several years ago, I took this picture of a hollyhock and occupant in my back garden:
Before the actual stitching fun with feisty split flat silk threads could begin, I had to get to know this flower intimately... So, I coloured one version in and I made a stitch plan which shows direction and order of stitch.
Time to dress my slate frame with a gorgeous dark green dupion silk (Silk Society) stitched on top of a piece of calico backing (old bed sheet, in fact!). I transferred the design onto the silk with the help of a light box and a white marking pen by Clover. The bundles of Chinese silk come in 6 to 8 tonal values. Obviously, I choose yellow and green for the flower and leaves and some additional colours for the bumble bee and its shadow. Time to use my beautiful wooden spools to keep them tidy.
Here you can see my setup in front of my balcony doors. No artificial lighting, just pure day light. As you can see, I use a colour image as well as a grey scale image to more clearly see tonal value whilst stitching. Apart from a general colour plan, I also make a detailed plan of each bit. This is very important as the right shading is what the picture will give its lifelikeness. Before the actual embroidery started, I basted the outline of the flower all the way around with a green sewing thread. This should minimalize movement of the silk versus the calico, and thus puckering.
It has been a while since I done any 'serious' silk shading, so some of it inevitably had to come out again. That's one of the wonders of silk shading: you do a lot of reverse stitching. And it is painfully slow (some would say 'utmost relaxing'). And you need to keep at it to develop routine. I am not quite there yet. This is why I try to put in a few hours of stitching each day. The total piece will take up between 120 and 150 stitching hours. However, I am very much looking forward to the results as I really like silk shading. In my opinion, nothing beats this Queen of embroidery techniques!
The coming weeks, I will share progress on a regular basis with you. If you would like to follow another silk shading project 'done the RSN-way', why not pop over to the Unbroken Thread? This is a blog maintained by Kathy Andrews, a Berlin based RSN student. In the mean time, I will keep diligently at it. Promised.
Jessica M. Grimm
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