Learning silk shading – online with Tanja Berlin
You may recall that prior to starting the RSN Certificate, I completed a couple of different silk shading pieces in online classes offered by Tanja Berlin. Interestingly, I probably didn’t complete them in the ‘right’ order, as I stitched the fox before the pansy, and the fox was the more advanced one!
Tanja’s approach – row by row
The approach taken by Tanja in her online courses is to split your design into lines and sections. And from that, split each line in half again. Each of these initial lines represents a row of stitching. The half lines are to ensure you stagger your stitches in the typical long and short style of alternating your stitches in an attempt to not create ‘rows’ on looking at your completed piece.
Tanja also completes each row in full before moving onto the next row. You will need to change your colours within the row, and at times, you will have to change your stitch direction within the row. Changing your stitch direction may require the use of additional stitches out of the scope of your rows to help turn your corner.
‘Pros’ of this approach
In terms of online learning and initially learning the technique, I feel this is a good approach to take. The instructions can reference a row number, to which you can refer back to in the diagram. It also makes sure you don’t consider the technique as ‘long and short’ stitches, but rather ‘long and longer’ stitches. This is more an illusion however, as all the stitches are actually the same height, the varied starting point gives the illusion.
For a complete beginner to the technique, this does make a lot of the complications of the technique ‘disappear’.
‘Cons’ of this approach
As you are always thinking about the design in terms of rows, the guidance on where to place your stitches in the ‘up and down’ motion, does give your finished piece a structured and ‘row like’ look. Tanja suggests you then go back and add in some ‘random’ stitches to avoid this regimented and structured look to the piece. This of course comes with it’s own complications, as adding in stitches after the fact isn’t easy in this technique!
The actual piece you are stitching will also determine if this is a problem or not. With the pansy, this didn’t seem to create so much of a problem as it did with the fox – presumably the randomness of fur is a bit factor here!
As you have completed each row in full before moving to the next row, you may encounter either stitch direction or colour choice problems quite a while after you have stitched your previous row. This may mean you will have a lot of unpicking to backtrack to a position where you can correct your mistake and then move on. I still remember this being a problem on the pansy on both petals and leaves!
My RSN tutor’s approach
The reason I say ‘my tutor’s’ here is that Tanja is RSN trained. I am assuming this is an area where the approach taken will depend on your tutor and their approach to the technique. Having said that, Tanja’s approach is well suited to the online learning environment, more so than the approach of my ‘in person’ classes at the RSN.
Don’t stitch in rows
One of the very first comments I was given when approaching the rose stitched as part of the RSN Certificate was that I shouldn’t be able to tell anyone which row I was stitching beyond the first one. Nor should anyone be able to see rows in the completed. Not as easy as it sounds in my experience! A very different approach to Tanja’s which is entirely focused around rows. The stitches are to be of different lengths – long and longer. So you are still using long and short stitch, however each stitch isn’t placed in such a regimented manner.
Another difference in approach is that each row is not necessarily completed in full before moving to the next. The element is more divided into sections, and each section is completed before moving to the next section. What this has meant with my rose is that I might stitch four or five rows, and then move to the first row on the next section. The two sections will then join up and become a final section to complete.
Pro’s of this approach
This approach, despite my accounting training, does seem to sit with me a lot better personally. For me, it allows for a more flexible approach, and I am able to ‘move’ with the piece a lot more and achieve the movement from the image a lot more accurately.
I also like completing the element in sections. If I have either the stitch direction or the colour wrong (which admittedly happens more often than not), it is a much quicker fix to pull out just a section of stitching than an entire row. I also find it is easier to keep track of the stitch direction by completing sections of the design rather than individual rows.
Con’s of this approach
Despite not stitching in rows, they do seem to still appear! Blocking of colour is still a problem to be aware of. These are problems which will hopefully diminish with more practice, but both blocks and stripes of colour and rows do still need to actively avoided!
Another approach – fill in the gaps
What is now several years ago, my first ‘real’ embroidery teacher was Jan Kerton of Windflower Embroidery. Jan is principally self taught, and offered a different approach (and one I still on occasion go back to) with silk shading.
Like my current teachers, Jan didn’t teach in rows, but rather in sections. The difference with Jan’s approach was the way in which she set up the area to be stitched.
Firstly, stitch direction lines in the appropriate colour, were stitched in. Then, it was a case of slowly joining up the area between the two direction lines. Each stitch was somewhat ‘random’ in length (and considerably shorter than how we are taught at the RSN). I like to think of this technique as a bit of a colouring in approach – slowly your two areas will eventually join up.
When do I still use this approach? When I’m really struggling with the stitch direction! I’m not as random with my stitch placement, but sometimes having that stitch to work towards makes a huge difference.
Learning silk shading – what is your approach?
So that is my little summary about the different approaches I have encountered. Tanja’s method works well for online learning, and I think is a good introduction to the technique. I’m not sure how effective my current tutor’s approach would be to the world of online learning, although I do enjoy that way of stitching the technique more.
What other ways of learning this technique have you encountered? What method works best for you? I’d love to know more, as for me, this is a really fascinating technique!