Updated March 30, 2021.
In our three-part series on shading a face in needlepoint, we’ve organized our threads and analyzed the canvas (read it here), and we’ve learned how to do basic and complex needleblending (read it here). Today we will finish up by discussing the process to stitch the face.
Remember that each canvas is very different, so this is just a method for stitching your face. Also remember that this method works on larger, realistic faces, not on small, less detailed canvases. Those faces (such as you find in Petei figures) are just too small for these techniques.
Stitching the Face
At this point, you are prepared to stitch the face. The method of analysis will be the pattern for stitching. In all the areas of each type you will stitch all the solid areas first, then all the blends of one combination before moving to another combination.
Begin with the hair. Remember, this includes eyelashes and eyebrows. The main shading will be shading within the hair. In addition there will be shading using blends of hair and skin tones at the hairline and on the eyebrows. You might want to save doing this edge shading until you have done the nearby skin, so that the skin threads you use for the blends at the hairline match the threads used for the skin next to it.
Once the hair is stitched, stitch the lips. There will be a darker line between the lips and there may be shading with lip and skin tones around the edge of the mouth. Once again, hold off on doing these blends until you have stitched the nearby skin.
Finally, stitch the eyes. There should be no transitional stitching on the eyeballs, although there may be blended threads used here.
Do not stitch the cheeks or nostrils until you have stitched the skin tones around it.
Now it’s time to begin to stitch the skin. Start with your lightest color of skin tones. Stitch all the areas that are solidly this color. If these solid areas meet any of the transition areas for lips, hair, nostrils, or cheeks, make a 50/50 blend and stitch them.
Once the solid and transitional areas are stitched with the lightest color, repeat the process with the next darkest shade. First, stitch the solid areas, then any transitional areas.
At this point you can continue in this way color-by-color, but, for me at least, this makes doing blends more confusing. After each color is complete for solids and transitions, see if you have areas between two already stitched solid colors. These will be stitched with blended threads. I look for and stitch these after each solid color is done. I can remember what threads to use more easily and I already have some of the packages out.
Stitching these areas will follow the guidelines for stitching with two-thread blending unless the canvas is drastically different. Usually, this won’t happen, but if, such as in an area five threads wide, most of the canvas was more like A than B, I’d stitch three rows of AAAB, followed by one row each of AABB and ABBB. It is a very subtle difference, but it will make the transition more like the canvas.
For each color of thread, repeat all three-steps: solid, transitional, blends.
Once these are all done, stitch the solid areas of the cheeks. At this point, you should have almost all the lit side of the face complete. All that should be left to be done are areas that are shadowed or dark. Look at the areas you have stitched. How do they relate to the colors on the shadowed side? If they use similar colors, stitch them as part of the shadowed side. If they are not similarly colored, stitch them as you would the other areas on this side of the face.
In painting, shadows often contain the complementary color of the main colors of the object. This explains why shadows on faces often have a greenish tinge. But you don’t want the face to look like that of a monster. To get shadows, you will, essentially, stitch this side of the face entirely in blends. Where the shadows are lightest, you will replace only one strand of the solids and blends with a shadow thread. As the shadows deepen, you’ll replace more strands with these threads.
You already know how the shading proceeded on the lit side, so you can assume that the flesh tones will shade in the same way. You do, however, need to analyze the shadowed side to see how the shadows shade. Doing this, will tell you which of the shadow shades to use if there is more than one or how many strands of shadow threads to use if you only have one shade.
You’ll be performing the same kind of divide and conquer stitching you did on the lit side of the face, but where you used a solid thread now you will be using a blended thread of three strands of the main color and 1 of the shadow color.
Work slowly and pull out threads following the skin tone plan. Then remove strands according to your shadow plan. Whenever you have a 50/50 blend, replace strands in the less dominant color. If it is a 75/25 blend, replace strands in the dominant color.
Because shading the shadowed side of the face is more complicated, stitch this part slowly. It is going to look strange for a while. Get an idea of how it will look by putting it down and looking at it from 6-10 feet away. What looks blotchy up close will begin to blend,