The idea of leaving some canvas threads unstitched or stitching with threads that are thinner than what is needed to cover the canvas can be confusing to beginning stitchers. When we learn needlepoint one of the first things we discover is that in needlepoint, unlike in Counted Cross Stitch, everything, including the background, is stitched. The other thing we learn is that the threads we use are thick, thick enough to cover the canvas without allowing it to show.
When we first hear of “shadow stitching” and learn that it means using very thin threads and/or leaving canvas exposed our first tendency is to think “That’s not needlepoint!”
As is the case with many other things in life, what we thought were ironclad rules are really just guidelines that are followed most of the time but can be broken when we choose to do so.
Recently I got asked a couple of questions about these techniques and I’ll answer them here.
What Is Shadow Stitching?
Shadow Stitching is a term coined by dede Ogden to refer to the use of very thin threads combined with open stitches used on painted canvases to allow the painting on the canvas to show through.
SuZy Murphy called the same techniques “lite” stitching.
Whatever you call it, it serves several purposes. First, it allows complex shading to show through on the canvas without the stitcher changing colors constantly or creating lots of blended threads. You can see how this hapens in the picture above. It is an Impressionist watercolor of a Waterlily. The painting is complex but shadow stitching allowed me to stitch it easily.
Second, it creates stitches that appear to be lower or more distant than Tent Stitch because the thinner threads and open stitches both give the feeling of distance. In fact the thinner threads are lower than full-coverage threads.
Third, it allows the stitcher to create the Impression of looking through something clear like water or glass. You can see how this works at the bottom of the picture above. The thin blue stitching creates the feeling of the water. You are seeing the reflection of the bushes through that water.
What does it mean to use open stitches?
An open stitch is any stitch or stitch pattern where canvas threads are deliberately left unstitched. It can be done as part of shadow stitching, but it can also be done to create different effects by allowing the color of the canvas to be a part of the pattern.
Take the example of the Needledeeva Wise Man pictured above. Here on his robe I used two different colors of floss to get stripes. On another of the Wise Men I chose to create the stripes by using only one color of floss that was slightly darker than the canvas and skipping every other column of stitches. This also created a stripe but by using an open stitch, Open Continental Stripe, diagrammed below.
There is one other time when we skip threads between stitch units and make open stitches. Some stitches, such as Diagonal H, below, are made with open threads or intersection in them as part of the stitch. There are many stitches like this. Sometimes you will want to fill up those open threads with other stitches or beads, sometimes you won’t.
What does it mean to skip threads between stitch units?
First let’s define what a “stitch unit” is. This is a term I use for stitches, like Scotch for instance, that are made up of several individual stitches. While using the word “stitch” is proper for both Scotch and the stitches that make it up, I will use “stitch unit” when I want to talk about the entire Scotch Stitch as opposed to its parts.
When we make Scotch Stitch. they look like the diagram above, square boxes next to each other. When we stitch it we make one stitch unit and go on to the adjacent one with skipping any threads.
However sometimes we don’t want the boxes next to each other. This could be because we want an open stitch with canvas threads showing. It can also be because we will be putting another stitch in between the units of our original stitch.
In either case the first step will be the same, you will stitch the units but skip threads between them creating open threads. You can see this in the diagram above of Open Clementina.
The next step if we wanted to make it framed in Tent Stitch, Clementina, we would fill those open threads with stitches as in the diagram above.
Tomorrow come get the Mindy Mini free stitch guide for May!