Image courtesy of Private Collection

Needlepainting – Watercolor Painting

Needlepainting is a technique that more or less results in a realistic subject in a flat medium, using shading to illustrate dimension. Subjects are generally taken from the plant and animal world. The shading effect is achieved by using long and short stitches with single strands of cotton or silk thread.

A Little History

Silk was first cultivated in China; a remnant of silk exists from the 5th Century BC. Early Chinese garments were embroidered with shaded rows of chain stitch. In the 4th Century, the Egyptians embroidered their linen and Coptic tunics were embroidered in silk shading. The manuscripts of the Middle Ages in Britain influenced embroidery. Stoles, mantles and draperies were embroidered in rows of shaded split and stem stitch.

Opus Anglicum of the 14th Centuries were professionally produced embroideries in metal and silk. The silk on these were in rows of shaded split stitch. Pattern books during the Tudor period offered designs from the plant and animal world to be stitched. Following the Tudor period, influences from the Far East took hold in Europe, where much of the furnishings were embellished in Chinoiserie style embroideries including silk shading. During the Stuart period in England, the flat areas of Stumpwork boxes and mirrors were executed in silk shading.

By the 18th Century, classical pictures were imitated by schoolgirls in the technique. New York became a center of fashion for silk embroidered clothing for both men and women.


El Khalidi, Leila. The Art of Palestinian Embroidery. London: Saqi Books, 1999. Print.

Seba, Anna. Samplers: Five Centuries of a Gentle Craft. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1979. Print

Staples, Kathleen. British Embroidery: Curious Works from the Seventeenth Century. Austin: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Curious Works Press. 1998. Print

Staples, Kathleen and Hogue, Margiet. Samplers in the European Tradition. Curious Works Press. 2000. Print

Synge, Lanto. Art of Embroidery: History of Style and Technique. Woodbridge: Antique Collectors’ Club, 2001. Print