Needle painting, also called thread painting or silk shading, is the process of blending coloured embroidery threads to fill areas, thus creating a coloured picture.  It takes time to fill areas with single strands of thread and the effects are stunning. 

It can be a relatively low-cost project for materials & once I’d decided on the design, I ordered a selection of DMC embroidery threads, natural seeded poplin for the backing fabric, & a 7” wooden embroidery hoop for mounting.  Minerva have a vast array of beautiful threads & colours are shown by number.

You can create a lovely effect with as few as 3 shades of thread, but more colours can help to blend between colours.  Simple designs work well as opposed to intricate patterns as the beautiful effect is created from shading long & short stitches and not from complex stitch combinations.

I chose this particular sunflower picture to send as a gift to a friend who, sadly, lost her adult son last year.  She had posted a beautiful photo of a sunflower in her garden that she had grown from seed & was uplifted to see a bumble bee on the flower. It will soon be the first anniversary of his death & I felt this to be the time to send it to her.

I wanted to replicate the photograph exactly, so I created a drawing & digital embroidery pattern using my iPad, then I roughly completed the shading for the desired colours.  I usually transfer an embroidery pattern by printing the design in black & white, laying my chosen fabric on top & securing the edges with masking tape. I use my iPad as a light source and trace the design. 

I’ve watched many tutorials on You Tube & previously did a portrait of a border collie for a friend. There are some beautiful pieces of work & it’s hard to believe they are created with thread.  Pinterest is great for looking for inspiration.

The underlying principles of thread work are to start at the ‘back’ sections of the image & work towards the forefront of the picture.  For this design, I first stitched the leaves, then the petals hidden at the back, working my way to the front, brighter petals. Finally, I stitched the bee & filled the centre with French Knots.  I found it much easier to work in natural, but not sun, light.

I’ve studied the technique for a while & started stitching the leaves & petals that are placed at the back of the image, gradually working towards the areas that are at the fore of the picture.  I was really keen to stitch the little bee but left it until the petals were complete.  I had debated whether to stitch it onto the petals or next to them & decided on the latter. I started with the outline of the wings in silver then stitched him from the bottom of the back going forward to the head, to follow the layering & direction of the hair.

I’ve never studied art or painting but it was really interesting & satisfying to work out where the shadows should be & to shade the petals. I feel the leaves aren’t as blended as they could have been be & they have ended up like a satin stitch, but still with a shaded effect. This was the area I started working on first before I developed a system.

This is only the second proper shading work I’ve done & I definitely got some practice in with the number of hours it has taken.  It is not a quick project, although less petals would obviously take less stitching.  However, I wanted this picture to be an exact representation of the photo as it is a remembrance keepsake.

I absolutely love the little bee & am really pleased I left him until near the end, it bought life to the whole picture & I plan to create a bee embroidery pattern in the near future, especially as I now have all of the thread colours needed.

The original pattern was designed to be much smaller & to fit a 4” hoop, but the bee would have been very small & difficult to stitch, in turn he wouldn’t have shown up well on the picture.  

I’ve looked at many different methods of finishing the back of a hoop, but much prefer to trim a small border around the hoop, approximately 2 inches, add a running stitch & pull in the edges, finally hand stitching a circle of white felt to the back with blanket stitch.  Even though the back of the hoop is covered, I still like the stitching at the back to be as tidy as possible.

This piece has taken many hours of work, the leaves alone took about 4 hours to complete, and it is immensely satisfying to see the picture develop.  It is a great way to relax and can help with stress & anxiety enabling you to focus on a task and be in the moment.

I’m so happy with the finished work & hope it will bring comfort to my friend.

Thank you for reading and to Minerva for the kit.