Focus on… silk shading 

23 January 2023
silk-shadying-by-emma-frith Credit: Emma Frith
Learn about silk shading embroidery, a stunning stitching style that truly brings your embroidery to life!

It's time to explore silk shading – an embroidery technique which is a real treat for the eyes! Artistic hand embroiderer Emma Frith shares her top tips for achieving flawless silk shading along with her gorgeous creations – lucky us!

What is silk shading?

This tremendous embroidery technique involves the blending of colours and shades of threads to produce realistic and natural-looking embroidery. If you want your work to look lifelike, silk shading is the place to go!

How to achieve flawless silk shading

Emma's top hints and tips...

1. Work from a good quality image that you can study in detail. It’s helpful to draw and shade the design in black and white and colour to understand the way the light and shade works.

2. Plan the order of work in advance. The deepest/furthest back design elements should be worked first, followed by areas that overlap them.

3. Outline areas with split stitch to give a firm neat edge to work your foundation row over. Use one strand for areas that stand alone and two strands if an area overlaps a previously worked area, as this gives a better three-dimensional look.

4. To prevent the finished work puckering, keep your work as tight as possible on the frame, don’t pull the stitches too tight and avoid the temptation to overstitch areas. It’s usually better to unpick and have another go if something isn’t quite right.

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5. If you get interrupted, park your threads in a set order, or label them.

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6. Keep the colours you are using threaded up in spare needles and parked safely in an unstitched area until you need them. When a section is finished, tie off and start a new section with fresh threads. Tie off any threads that start to look tired or grubby.

7. Mistakes happen! You could use a pair of tweezers and fine scissors to gently cut out unwanted stitches, and then use magic tape or masking tape to remove any fibres left on the silk. After unpicking, leave it a while before trying again so that you come to it fresh.

8. Step back and look at the overall effect regularly. Take a photograph – it helps you see the piece as a whole after you’ve been so focused on the detail. 

9. For large, detailed designs like human figures, tapestry shading is often used. In this technique, the long and short stitches are worked vertically without varying the angle, giving a smooth, painting-like finish.


Emma is a full-time artistic hand embroiderer in Halifax, West Yorkshire. Between working on commissions and teaching workshops, she is working to complete her RSN diploma in Durham with Tracy Franklin. Emma came to embroidery when a deterioration of her disability made it necessary to use a wheelchair, making it hard to carry on my job as an NHS scientist – however, it soon became clear that embroidery was her real calling. Emma has a particular passion for ecclesiastical embroidery and design. She lives with her husband, son and her trainee assistance dog, Lottie.

You can find Emma on Facebook as Emma Frith Embroidery or visit her website:

Explore more stunning embroidery techniques and see what beautiful creations are possible with needle and thread!

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