Book Review: Thread Painting and Silk Shading Embroidery by Margaret Dier

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Margaret Dier, who stitches the most beautiful silk shading/thread painting pieces, has recently released a book. Let’s have a peak inside, and find out why this book has become my ‘favourite’ stitching books!

Margaret Dier – a thread painting and silk shading expert

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For those who don’t know who Margaret Dier is, she is an RSN trained embroiderer, who has specialised in silk shading. She creates the most beautiful pieces of silk shading, and is a real ‘expert’ in the technique. Whilst a lot of embroiderers, hobbyists and professional alike, are a little scared by the technique, Margaret has embraced it, and creates true works of art. If you would like your own piece of her art work, you can pick up one of her embroidered pieces of jewellery from her Etsy shop.

Like many, I was eagerly awaiting the release of her first book when I heard about it. And it didn’t disapoint!

An overview of the book

The book is a wonderfully written book, covering the techniques and some projects that fall under the definition of ‘silk shading’, ‘thread painting’ or ‘needle painting’.

One of the things I like about this book is that whilst it is focusing on the technique of ‘silk shading’, a lot of the tips are relevant for other techniques that you may be interested in.

Two of the most important chapters – for me!

For me, two of the most important chapters in the book come right at the start – before she addresses how to set up your frame and work to begin stitching!

The first is on ‘inspiration and design’. This is one of those chapters that can apply to any technique! Not only does Margaret talk about what can be suitable ideas for you to embroider, but also how to photograph something so it is optimal for your embroidery. She then extends on this by talking about how to refine your design for embroidery, along with what does and doesn’t work in silk shading. 

The second of these ‘important’ for me chapters is the second chapter – and it is all about colour theory. I’ve heard several people say that it takes years to develop a thorough understanding of colour. So whilst it is something that does take practice, I found this chapter very interesting, and is one I will be referring to quite a bit in the future!

Moving onto materials and equipment

We then come to an incredibly comprehensive couple of chapters covering materials and equipment.

Margaret gives comprehensive instructions on how to set yourself up on either a slate frame or in a hoop.

She then goes on in detail and talks about the different types of fabrics that are suitable to use, along with the range of different threads that can be used in this technique. This isn’t just a list of what you can use – there is a section devoted to each that talks about the pros and cons of the threads, along with how to use them.

And in such a thorough book, as expected, you will find plenty of detail on needles, the types that are useful in this technique, and some guidance on light and magnifiers.

This first section on design, inspiration, colour, equipment, materials and setting yourself up takes up the first 40 pages of the book! I found it all to be very comprehensive and clear, and suitable for anyone interested in embroidery.

Moving onto the exercises and projects

The next section of the book is where you get to the exciting, stitching part of the process!

Margaret walks you through how to thread a needle, the difference between tapestry shading and long and short/silk shading, along with a few other stitches you may need to enhance your design like French Knots. The one question which she doesn’t however answer is ‘how long’ should the stitch be. Her answer is the fairly standard ‘it depends’ answer – though she does give a range of between 8mm and 15mm for tapestry shading.

When at the RSN, one thing you learn one way or another is the importance of planning.  And this is reiterated in this book! Before we get to the ‘real’ stitching, we are learning the importance of stab stitching the two pieces of fabric used together, the stitch direction plan, the shading plan, and the order of work.

The next few chapters in the book are devoted to particular styles within the classification of ‘silk shading’. The first is tapestry shading, followed by natural shading (which has some interesting points on how to get the ‘messy’ look of fur and feathers that I want to try!) and how to embroider circular objects, like a tomato. I found a lot of points in here very interesting, and I wish I had have had this book to read before or whilst I was stitching my RSN flower! I will now be spending more time before stitching – learning about the thread colours I have chosen, and will take the time to stitch samples of how they all blend together. This looks like it is an invaluable exercise to undertake before each and every project!

A look at historical pieces and other cultures interpretations

Next up, is a detailed look at the history and development of the technique, and how it is, and has been, used in other cultures. It is easy to forget that the Chinese were embroidering in this style well before the Western world was. Along with a look at some of these historical pieces, there are also some projects Margaret has worked in the style of them. This would be a great way to learn more about the techniques!

Further techniques

Just in case you weren’t convinced of Margaret’s creativity, here you get a real sense for it! She shows you a number of different ways and mediums you can explore as you bring your needle and thread to life. The use of beads, felt, padding in silk shading, using the background fabric as a shading and stumpwork are all used in wonderful ways to bring to life images and ideas.

Finishing your work

Something I do not like to do and was never particularly good at doing! But I guess it would be remiss to exclude the topic in a book like this.

Margaret works through a few ideas, and gives, as we’ve become accustomed to, thorough instructions on how to finish your work in a few different ways. With her wonderful Etsy shop, it is probably not surprising that jewellery settings is her first demonstration!

And of course, the mounting for framing is covered as well. She does things a little differently to how I was shown, so I may make a few changes to the way I do my next couple of pieces to try out these little tweaks to the mounting process.

Marg Dier showing in detail how to mount your finished piece of embroidery so it can be framed

Thread Painting and Silk Shading Embroidery by Margaret Dier

This is a book well worth investing in if you ask me! It is very comprehensive, and covers off a lot of information, with very thorough explanations. I just wish I had it when I was stitching my silk shaded rose! Even if you aren’t a fan of the technique, or aren’t interested in it, there are tips that will flow through to all embroidery techniques.

This is a book I will be referring to time and time again, and I imagine it will become quite tattered over the coming years! It is a reference book, especially on the points of design and colour, that I think I will pick something up each time I read it. The tips she shares, and the way so much of her knowledge has been shared is invaluable!

You can find this book at a number of retailers, including Book Depository (ships worldwide), Booktopia (Australian readers), Amazon UK, Amazon US, or Amazon Australia.I hope you love this book as much as I do!


  1. OH My YES! looks like a wonderful book. On my list! Thanks

    • It’s a brilliant book, one I am going to be using for a long time, so well worth it!

  2. I also love this book Catherine and like you I wish it had been available before I did my Silk Shading Certificate piece. I will be referring to it as I want to do tapestry shading for the diploma and this is a technique that I have found it difficult to find good details on. Thanks to Margaret the information is now all in one place.

    • That’s interesting that you say you will be doing tapestry shading in the diploma. Last time I looked, I couldn’t see it was an option, although it is one I would like to do! It’s a great book, and I’m thankful such an experienced stitcher has made the time to put this all together. I think it will be one of those books we will be referring people to in decades to come!

  3. Sounds like something I need to read before my silk shading course!

    • You will find it invaluable I think Deborah. Well worth it!

  4. Thank you for your detailed review Catherine! The book was already on my list but I will definitely buy a copy now!

    • I think you will find it quite helpful Marlous. There will probably be things that go into the ‘next time’ category but it is a great resource and one you will continually get something out of.

  5. Your book review has inspired me. Will order book next month, when more money arrives. Charlie

    • Thanks so much, I’m so glad you have found this inspiring. I hope you are able to get a copy of it and do let me know your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by!

    • It is such an incredible resource and goes through everything in so much detail.

  6. It sounds a good, thorough reference. So many of the early chapters of embroidery books sound a little as though they’ve been copy-pasted from somewhere else!

    • It is a great book Rachel. Your comment about other embroidery books is very accurate! The finishing sections can also be a little light on details. There was a lot of thought put into this one!

  7. Excellent and incredibly helpful review Catherine! Like you, I very much admire Marg’s work on Instagram and was so excited to hear she was publishing a book. I love silk shading, and would like to teach myself, but the instructions are a lot like Satin Stitch – it sounds so simple on the page, and is so difficult in practice! I think using cotton floss, as I do, instead of silk changes things somewhat too – the silk definitely seems to blend better, with its beautiful sheen. Her book doesn’t release until May here in Canada but I’ve put it near the top of my Wishlist 🙂

    • It is a technique that I have found needs s lot more practice to get the fundamentals right thank others. I guess it doesn’t help that every piece is different with the different colours and shades. With using silk threads, it is recommended for beginners to use cotton thread like DMC. There’s more shades of colours available, and the sheen of the thread can make it difficult to blend the shades. And you have to pay much more attention to making sure you lay your threads all in the same order. I’d love to do a piece using silk threads, though I think I need more practice with the cotton threads first! I hope you enjoy it when you are able to get a copy, I didn’t realise it hadn’t been released everywhere! Originally Australia was the same and wasn’t meant to have it till May, but that changed at some point!

  8. Catherine, I think you will find this a very useful book. The photos are amazing.

    • Yes, it has already been a great resource and I’ve not stitched any silk shading!


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