Exploring texture, colour and dimension in the workings of canvas work

Cavaswork Update – Texture, Colour and Dimension

This post is a little later than I had originally intended, but I was so close to getting something other than ‘just brown’ on the piece I decided to wait just that little bit longer before sharing it with you. I have to admit, I was very excited when that blue thread finally came out!

Happily, despite my initial “troubles” with this style of embroidery, l think I am finally understanding it better, and can see the potential for this style to create real works of art. The way texture is used to create the effect you wish to achieve is something I have never encountered before. So despite being restricted to where you can place your needle by the canvas “holes”, it is a very artistic technique. And one I am finally enjoying a little more! Probably still not as much as the Jacobean piece if I’m honest, but I am enjoying stitching and “playing”, and learning a lot in process. And its not just about embroidery stitches!


From what I can work out, texture is a very important element of canvaswork. The different textures are created principally through your choice of thread. I didn’t understand at first why wool was the chosen thread for the foreground in this picture. However I now understand, that by using wool, as opposed to a cotton or silk thread, it creates that effect of ‘bog land’ that is in the foreground, through thinking about how light is reflected and absorbed by the various fibres. As wool absorbs light, more than reflecting it, it is a much better choice for a ‘bog land’.

The rocks, bush and water were all completed in stranded cottons, with a couple of silks thrown in. As rocks, leaves and water reflect light, wool wouldn’t be as suitable a choice in this instance. So not only does it create some much needed contrast and variety, it helps to better portray the picture. So much more to consider than I naively thought! It’s not just colour and stitches to use!

Throughout the ‘bog/moss area’, I also played around with working cotton and silk threads into the area around the wool. If you look closely at the photo, you will see the area has pockets that are ‘different’ to the main areas. Some of these pockets seem less ‘mossy’, so in an attempt to portray this, I changed the thread from the wools to the cottons and silks.  I’m not sure how successful that was, but if nothing else it breaks it up a little!

The effect of water is created using different stitches and thread


The stitches used also play an important part in the creation of texture. The foreground is stitched using various cross stitches. The bush is stitched in leaf stitch, the rocks in rhodes stitch, which sits up quite high, and the water in various straight stitches. I’m certainly not confident at choosing stitches, and need to be pointed in a general direction of what type of stitch to use (or look at what others have done before me and bounce my ideas of that!). But I can see that by combining the stitches with the threads, you can have a very interesting and texturally pleasing piece.

So texture is a whole world of things to contemplate! Light reflection or absorption, what thread or fabric do I have available to use that suits that, and what is the best stitch to enhance that even more!


Most stitchers will be used to the idea of using colour to portray something, and that when you look closely, even the most ‘same colour’ items need to be stitched in a variety of shades to give a more realistic portrayal of what you are stitching. But what I am most fascinated by here is just how the different colours are used.

The ‘brown’ was only stitched using six main browns. But you will notice there is green splattered about here there and everywhere. And the way to get that little bit of colour in I still find interesting – you stitch the stitch using different combinations of thread! So the bottom of the cross will be stitched in say three brown threads, and the top in say one brown and two green threads. In my mind this is a completely new  concept – stitching a stitch using different threads! It just goes to show how very little I know! But, I LOVE the effect it gives, and it really does open up a lot of different avenues with shading.

I should also mention for the sake of completeness that I have never in this piece used the same thread entirely in the needle at once – there is always a combination of at least two colours, and at times four different colours, threaded into the needle. And whilst it might give great results, it is a time consuming business!

subtle changes of colour make all the difference in creating realistic canvas work

I am also noticing how little I actually ‘saw’ when I first looked at this photo. In my ever increasing evident naivety, I looked at it and thought there were a few browns, a bit of green thrown in, the grey fence and building, the dark brown mountains, and the water and sky which is all much of a muchness of blue-grey. Oh my, was I wrong! When I look at it now, and I mean really look at it, I’m seeing the subtle changes of colour, the slightly different shades, which in some cases are due to textural changes, the tiny flecks of green or grey throughout the whole thing. I really do feel I was quite blind before!


And briefly, just to finish off today’s little adventure on all the things I don’t know, dimension! Now, I never excelled at art in school where this was probably discussed (and who knows, I perhaps was even present at some of those discussions!), but being an adult, I understand the basics – things that are closer to us appear bigger than those things that are further away. I don’t need an art degree to know that! Although perhaps it would have been useful in terms of colour and texture!

But, what I am finding interesting here, is how this concept of dimension is applied. I’ve only ever really had any encounters with dimension and embroidery in the few silk shading pieces I’ve done, where I have learnt that you start at the back and work your way forward.

Dimension in canvas work is achieved through your choice of stitch, and the thread you use. The concept of starting at the back and working your way forward is thrown out the window, as I was told to start at the bottom and work to the top of the picture – so the complete opposite! The stitches at the front of the piece are larger stitches – in both height and width, and gradually get smaller as the area gets further ‘away’.

As I’m working ‘up’ the piece, I’m not only moving away from the wools, but my stitches are also getting smaller – in both directions again. The exception to the rule of course is the water – but even with my Parisian stitch, I started it over six threads and reduced it to over four as I worked my way ‘up’ the piece. I’ve also found another cross stitch to add into the mix for the vegetation as it gets closer and closer to the castle, to ensure I’m maintaining consistency in the type of stitch (cross), but at the same time am also paying attention to the dimension and distance from the ‘front’ of the piece.

One element I was concerned about in the area of ‘dimension’, is the ‘bush’ at the front of the design. To give the effect of a bush, rather than moss, it was completed in stranded cottons and silks. But I was a little concerned that the bush was ‘disappearing’ behind all that ‘bog/moss land’ that was completed in wool. The stitches worked in wool looked cramped and ‘squashed’, and instead of the bush being in front of the moss, it really was somehow behind it. So I have pulled out some of those offending stitches, and I will re-stitch them in stranded threads. Much the same as the area just above it. Hopefully that will resolve some technically incorrect things with the squashed stitches, and bring the bush back into foreground!

Moving On

So, no surprises, but I still have a long way to go with this piece! I am getting faster at stitching which is a bonus, and I’ve worked out the real key is to have several needles threaded up at once! An absolute time saver. I do feel a lot happier about the technique – but maybe I should have chosen a ‘brighter’ piece to work! I am getting excited about the prospect of getting the castle started. And the sky will be the next ‘slog’ where I just have to work my way to the top! Heather has said that I’m not going to be using the same stitch for the whole skyline which is somewhat of a relief! That is a lot of sky!

One other thing I would like to do, and this is a real case of now or never, is to colour in a copy of my design. I was told there is no need to do this as I have the photo. And I completely see why I would be told that! But, I think if I had coloured in the design to begin with, I would have firstly been a bit more ‘aware’ of the piece and these little changes in colour and texture, and hence would have felt a bit more attachment to it! And secondly, the way I have finished all my threads in the same area is making me one very confused little bunny (let’s be honest, it doesn’t take much!). I’m getting confused as to which ‘area’ I’m in as I can’t see the design lines clearly, and I just feel that had I coloured the line drawing in, I would be a bit less confused, and spend more time stitching and less time wondering where I am up to! So, for my next piece, I think regardless of the advice, I will do a quick colouring in of the design. I imagine this is very much a personal preference, and it will work and help some, but not others!

I have to say, I was not expecting to learn so much on texture and colour when completing this piece, and I’m finding there is so much more to it than just learning the technicalities of the stitches!

22 thoughts on “Cavaswork Update – Texture, Colour and Dimension”

  1. I admire all the work you have put into this piece already! It takes patience and creativity to do such art. Very pretty and intriguing with all the texture and color. I love it.

    1. Thanks for the support Claire! I actually think stepping away from it did me a world of good in looking at this piece and thinking about it. It’s an intriguing technique!

  2. It is so good to “hear” the enthusiasm you have found for this technique in the words on the page – especially as you are finding that enthusiasm for my own favourite aspects of embroidery! I think your tutors will agree that although they are teaching techniques, it is important for you to learn what approaches work for you, so if you decide you want to colour in a version of your drawing first, do so. As you gain more experience you won’t always do so, but when you’re playing with ideas, it’s easier to tear up a drawing than unpick half a day’s stitching!

    1. Thanks Rachel, and I have to admit I really was wondering what I was ‘missing’ as I know so many people say canvaswork is their favourite embroidery technique, and I just didn’t understand what the attraction was! I completely agree with you about needing to learn what works for me – we are all different, and the tutors can only go so far, we have to be responsible for ourselves and work out the best thing for us and our work!

  3. Oh man it looks really complex 😮 I’m glad you are writing about this because I think I would have the same issues you are having with dimensions and color. I second making a colored version. I do that sometimes when I’m trying to wrap my head around a design.

    1. Thanks Dima. There is certainly more to canvaswork than I had anticpated. Once you get your mind into gear it’s not so bad, but I really struggled up to that point!

  4. Wow, what a lot to learn, all the above is something I had never even considered but it does make sense. I’m glad you are enjoying your ‘journey’ with this this piece and so far its looking good.

    Writing all this on your blog also gives you (and us) a record for future any projects, keep up the good work 🙂

    1. There certainly is a lot to learn and take in, and like you, are things I have never thought about before! I’m definitely stepping out of my comfort zone with this one!
      I’m glad you enjoy the rather in depth and long winded posts about all I’m learning. Hopefully I can pass on some of the things I’m learning!

      1. I went yesterday I’ve just started stitching & have stitching home work. I’m now wondering where am I going to stitch with this large frame. I’m not sure if my simple floor stand can take the weight! How do you work with your frame at home?

      2. Can’t wait to see how you get along! I have a Millenium Frame stand which I bought before I started and that works well enough. Certainly well enough for me to not justify buying the slate frame stand! I’ve heard some people knock something up from IKEA supplies but I don’t know the details. If you are planning on doing the whole Certificate it might be worth considering the investment if you can in a proper stand. But it’s a lot of money, so maybe Ikea will help.

      3. Like you say it’s quite a bit of money in one go & if you buy something else you need to store it too. I’m going to need to explore a few different options first.

      4. Maybe see if you can somehow set up your desk or table to do the job. You might need more regular breaks, but it could work well. There’s probably quite good options on Etsy, Amazon and Ebay too.

  5. I had to wait until I could actually absorb this post! I am in awe! This type of stitching fascinates me, but I don’t think I could work from a non-pattern situation. It would really stress me out, even with a teacher!

    1. Thanks Kathy! Not working from a pattern isn’t easy but it’s one of the reasons I wanted to do the Certificate so I’ve only got myself to blame!

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words! It is definitely a learning experience working all of these things out. Thanks for hosting the link up!

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