Monday, August 27

Simple shading in embroidery tutorial

If you haven't tried shading in embroidery yet hopefully this tutorial will inspire you to take the first steps. Note that this tutorial shows how to simply use shading in a cloud (with round shapes). For other shapes and things (like animal furs or flower petals for example) other shading techniques are probably more appropriate, but that's for another time! :) With this tutorial I provide a simple pattern of a cloud. You can download the free pattern here.

The pattern is called Happy when it rains partly a reference to this song and partly because I plan to stitch the drops in happy colours (see photo above). If you decide to link to this tutorial or the pattern please refer to this blog post. Thank you!

This piece I'm working on, and especially the clouds behind the rabbit, was what inspired me to do this tutorial. I have tried to keep the tutorial short, if you have a question please let me know in the comments and I will answer it (for the benefit of all) in the comments as well.

So last week I did a call out if anyone was interested in stitching along with me (my cloud isn't finished yet either!) and a lovely bunch of blog readers have said they would try their hand at stitching a shaded cloud too. For them and for everyone else who decides to play along: please post your WIP's, finished clouds, experiments with shading in my Flickr group here. There are no deadlines but I'm thinking of awarding one voucher for my shop if really nice clouds are posted. :)

Things you need to stitch this cloud...

This is the stuff you need to start with your cloud embroidery (besides the printed pattern): A hoop, fabric, a water disappearing pen, an embroidery needle (size depends on how many strands you plan to use) and four shades of floss. You will also need some 'happy' floss for the drops (example pictured in the top photo) Obviously you will also need embroidery scissors :)

I transferred the pattern to the fabric by sticking the print to a window, put my fabric on top and traced the design with a water soluble pen. The Prym Aqua Trickmarker (fine line) is one of my favourite pens to use.

I wrote a bit about how to select your shades here but basically you take a dark, medium and light shade of one 'colour family'. These three shades should be enough to get a nice effect in your shading. Add white floss as well. I used DMC Mouline (six stranded) floss: Blanc, 169, 762 and 3799.

Starting your embroidery

You start by stitching the outline of the cloud with a back stitch. I used two strands of (six stranded) floss. You could use any number of strands but I'd recommend no more than three strands for this small project. Only one strand would be awesome too (which is what I'm doing in the Rabbit embroidery).  Less strands means a more subtle shading effect. I stitched the outline with all three shades of grey: a chunk of the dark grey here some of the medium grey there etc.

Simple shading example 

To show more clearly how shading works I stitched an example with six strands of floss. Again I wouldn't normally advise to use that many strands, unless you are making a HUGE embroidery that is. ;)

Along the curve of one of the parts of the outline I added a line of back stitches in dark grey. I think it is essential for effective shading to follow the shape of whatever your stitching. I started this top line of stitches a bit further from where the outline started and with the next line a bit further still. Also note that as I go along I'm not even 'connecting' the back stitches anymore. This is because I plan to add medium grey colored stitches in the gaps I leave. I'm gradually phasing out the dark grey and introducing the medium grey.

So basically as the number of darker stitches decreases, the number of medium coloured stitches increases. The same goes for your shading from the medium colour to the lightest shade of grey and for the lightest shade to white.

You don't need to pay much attention to where you place your stitches as long as they are following the shape. They don't have to be stitched along an exact (curved) line. As to the length of the stitches: don't make them too small and not too long either, but you really don't have to worry about a little variation in the length of your stitches.

shading with 2 strands and 4 shades

Movement and subtle colour additions

It's an option to stitch this cloud by shading near the outline and simply filling in most of the middle bit with white floss. If you want to add a little bit more 'lively-ness' and texture to your cloud however try adding the following two things to your piece: movement and subtle colour variation.

Add swirly stitching to your piece!

To add movement let your stitches make a flowing shape. Think a swirly long shape for example (see picture above). Even with using only one colour (white for example) this will add movement to your piece.

Blending in a subtle colour addition will make your embroidery come to live even more. In my cloud I used some of those swirly stitches in the lightest shade of grey and even added a couple of small stitches in the medium grey colour. 

After you have finished fill stitching the whole cloud, stitch the eyes with a few simple back stitches on top of your fill stitches. 

After that it's time to move on to the drops! I'm going for some happy coloured drops (see top photo) using a satin stitch. So far I selected DMC Mouline floss:  720, 725, 834 and 3848. I will post an update of my own cloud (and drops) on this blog soon!

A few final words...

If you choose to use more shades (and only one strand of floss) the effect will be definitely be smoother. However in my experience it's not effective to use too many shades or shades that are too similar. Especially not if you are working on a (relatively) small sized project.

Hope you enjoyed this tutorial! Don't forget to share your own clouds in my Flick group here


  1. Great info; thanks! And I love Garbage (the band, not refuse). :)

  2. Great help. I may give this a try. Thanks!

  3. Now you have ativated my curiosity towards this embroidery thing again, Nicole! Hmmm...
    And I am certainly going to travel a lot these next few months, so perhaps it could be nice to bring something other than that darn work computer ;-)
    *more thinking*
    Thank you for a lovely time in London at the FQR!

  4. Now that is clever :) I'm a beginner so this has been very useful - thank you!!

  5. You make it look so easy! I haven't done this before but I now I really want to try. Thank you for the great tute.

  6. Hi Nicole,
    Great work, specially on these lovely designs:). The instructions are very clear and inspire others to try them out !

    I too have started a new blog on crochet, embroidery and needlework.

    Pls have a look at

  7. What a great tutorial. But I'm lazy & I would use black, white & gray variegated floss instead of the individual colors.


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