Monday, 11 October 2010

Split stitch shading

With the petals outlined with buttonhole stitch, I can now fill them in with split stitch.

Though there are other techniques for filling in an area with stitch and for shading with different coloured threads, with long and short stitch probably the most popular, I prefer split stitch.  To me, it can give a very fine degree of shading indeed over a smaller area than long and short allows, and can be used to quite subtle effect.  I also like the textured effect it gives, even when using a single colour.  I’ve used it a lot over the years, and it's one of my favourite stitches.

Split stitch seems to be most often used nowadays as a single row, used as an outline or a very fine line, as (depending on the thread you use) it's narrower than stem stitch or chain stitch.  It's very simple: the second stitch comes up through the first stitch, splitting it, which gives it its name.  While I use it in bands or blocks to fill in an area, the principle is exactly the same.

For the petals, I first worked a band of straight stitches out from the centre, at the base of each petal.  These are done using two strands of the palest of the three shades of yellow I'm using for this flower, Madeira 0104:

I want most of the petal to be in the middle shade, 0105, but going straight from one colour to the other is quite jarring, and doesn't give the soft effect that I want.  So, for a transitional band, I use one strand of the lighter colour, and one strand of the darker one:

In the photo, the effect is subtle to the point of invisibility, but they really are two different shades!  They weren't that much better in real life - I got the threads mixed up and it took me ages to decide which was which.  (And yes, I could just have cut new lengths and scrapped the ones I mixed up, but that would have been wasteful and I hate waste.  I use very last inch of thread, a habit I got from my grandmother.)

Anyway, once I'd sorted myself out, I stitched another band, using the one-strand-of-each thread.  This is very simple to do - I just bring the needle up through - or split - the stitch in the first band:

And take it back down again a little further in front:

Here's the flower with the pale and transitional bands in place.  Can you see a slight change in the colour?

Next, I used two strands of the darker colour, 0105, and worked the next band in exactly the same way with that:

Using this shade, I then filled in the rest of the petal.  Here's the flower with all of the petals completed in this way:

These two shades are very close together, so the effect is very understated, but I think worth doing. I used the two shades of green in the sepals in exactly the same manner, and even though they're next to each other on the shade card there's more of a difference between them than between the two yellows, so you can probably see how the effect works a little clearer on them.

For a transition of this sort I always use two colours next to each other on the shade card.  If the colour you want to head to is further away from the colour you started with than this, jumping straight from one to the other, even with one strand of each, can look harsh.  I always move through the intermediate shades, even if it means sewing bands of tiny stitches to get there.  Ideally, I should then end up with a seamlessly shaded effect, without it being obvious quite how it's achieved.


  1. I really like the subtle color change, especially using the two different colors at once. I will definitely remember this to try.

  2. More great tips.
    I think I'm going to use this stitch on a flower I'm working on just now:-)