Needlepainting creates naturalistic embroidered effects on a two-dimensional surface. This effect is typically worked in long and short stitches, in rows that either overlap or interlock with one another. The blending of colors, the sheen of the thread, and the staggered and angled manipulation of the threads leads to realistic-looking flowers, foliage, animals, figures and draping in embroidery. This technique is also referred to as thread painting, silk shading, long and short, and soft shading.
Needlepainting is woven throughout the history of embroidery, and silk played an important role since the origins of this technique were executed with silk threads. Silk was discovered in China around 700 BCE. The technique of needlepainting was practiced and most likely originated in the town of Suzhou in the Jiangsu Province of China. Su needlepainting is an art mastered by the Chinese embroiderers of Suzhou, where it has been practiced for over 2,000 years.
Over time, this beautiful and highly specialized technique began to spread and gain popularity in other parts of the world. By the 4th century, Egyptian Copts began displaying the embroidered faces of saints in needlepainted circular designs. And, by the 13th Century, Chinese embroidery was being exported to Europe, where examples were being used for church vestments. The remarkable Opus Anglicanum embroideries of the medieval period swept across Europe –heavily embellished with metal work, these embroideries were also worked in long and short stitches to cover larger motifs in polychrome silks, as well as split stitch to create the details on the faces of figures.
Later, throughout the 17th Century, needlepainting in crewelwork, using fine wools to achieve shading on a larger scale for soft furnishings, became popular. During this same period, silk was used for embellishing costume, as well as in schoolgirl embroideries, especially seen on mirror frames and small work boxes known as caskets. Needlepainting techniques are found on 18th Century costumes and became popular in the United States as crewelwork found its way to the Colonies.
Today, there are contemporary examples of needlepainting in both traditional and more free form and expressive applications.
During this course we will cover many techniques, including:
- Natural shading
- Tapestry shading
- Canvas shading
- Split stitch shading
- Free style thread painting
- Flat silk stitching
In addition to covering needlepainting techniques and styles, we will observe and study color play and how shadow and light help to define shapes. We’ll practice the manipulation of stitching for both smooth and textured blending to be able to express plant and animal forms, interpreting highlights and shadows, and working for naturalistic effect in order to create three dimensional shapes on a two-dimensional surface. Dedicated time will be given to studying:
- Color theory
- Long and short stitch
- Shading and blending in the needle
- Thread types
- Stitch styles
- Combination techniques
- Light play
- Stitch enhancements
- Design process
- Fabric selection
- Overall best practices
The needlepainting concentration focuses on the fundamentals of shading and shape interpretation while practicing the technical uses of the stitches to create both realistic and surreal embroideries of a subject. The student will gain confidence to design, plan, and implement future works in needlepainting.
Prior to the course start date, each student will receive a pack of detailed course instructions, describing the course, required pre-work, class schedules, and an equipment list.
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