Progress on a silk shaded rose being worked as part of the RSN Certificate

RSN Silk Shading update – and a pop of colour!

Finishing the leaf

The last time we had a look at this piece, I had made another attempt at the full leaf on the wild rose. With problems of it first looking like a camellia leaf, and then the shading being too ‘blocky’, there was lots of room for improvement.

The best way to do that is to just stitch it! The more the better. One of the things I find about the RSN Certificate is that there is no room for practice or testing things out. Your final piece in each technique is also your first piece in the technique. And whilst I can understand this from a student’s cost perspective, in techniques like silk shading and canvas work where it is a matter of getting those hours of stitching in, I do wonder if there might be another way of approaching the module. I of course don’t know the answer to what that perhaps should look like, and it would require quite the re-think of how the whole Certificate and Diploma is approached. More something to put in the ‘my observations‘ category!

And so, after a lot of stitching, and some rather painful finger tips, I finally had a leaf where I was somewhat happy with the result. I can see room for improvement, and the more I look at it, the more ‘improvement room’ I can see. But after attending a couple of classes with a couple of different tutors, I’m reasonably happy that as a ‘first attempt’ it will suffice.

A slight change in mindset

Another decision I have had to make with this piece is that ‘done’ is going to have to do. Getting it ‘perfect’ is something that will not happen with this piece. I’ve got some rather tight deadlines on completing the Certificate at the moment (self inflicted mind you!), and this has meant that I have had to accept that there is only so many times I can stitch something. I just simply don’t have the time to stitch everything four or five times. Not to mention, silk is not made for unpicking and re-stitching that many times either! So, I am now taking the approach that as long as I have learnt something, and have progressed through the module to a level I am ‘reasonably’ happy with, and will also pass assessment, I am going to have to leave it as is. There will always be the ‘next piece’!

Still to come – the finishing touches

There is still a stem stitched vein to be put in the centre, but for now, I’m calling this leaf ‘done’. What I have found both interesting and challenging with this leaf are the colours in it. It changes depending on the light I’m stitching it in! This has made for some challenging times. It has also meant that I have a set up with two daylight lamps (required for night time stitching), that are also used during day time stitching, to get that consistency. This is not something I considered before this piece, but is definitely worth remembering for future pieces.

silk shaded leaf on RSN silk shading


Starting a silk shaded leaf as part of the RSN Certificate
Developing the shading on a silk shaded leaf being stitched as part of the RSN certificate
A silk shaded leaf half completed as part of the RSN Certificate
Beginning the stitching of the second half of the leaf on a silk shaded piece


Comparison to the original photo

As I was taking some photos, one of the photos caught my eye – I had taken a photo of the leaf in stitched form, with the actual ‘real’ leaf above it. It’s quite interesting to see side by side like that don’t you think?!

Reviewing progress on a silk shaded piece by comparing the stitched version with the original photo


The first petal

You may (or may not – it was a while ago!), recall that I mentioned how I felt this first petal was going to be one of the more difficult ones due to the rain drops.

Now, maybe I just like pink better than green? Or maybe I’ve just got the swing of it more? Whatever the case is, I have thoroughly enjoyed stitching this petal! It has been time consuming for sure. It has also been incredibly fiddly. The long stitches which are typical and iconic to the RSN way of teaching silk shading have had to go out the window. There is just not the space to create the folds in the petal, whilst also dodging raindrops, and get those lovely flowing stitches. But, all in all, it’s been a lovely stitching experience.

One thing I didn’t realise, even after doing the colour diagram, is just how many different colours there are in the petal! It’s those really subtle changes that make all the difference. One or two stitches in that slightly different colour make all the difference to making the piece look as realistic as possible.

Covering the black background

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the black silk! It’s the sort of thing that to pull off, I need to do a good job, as you can see everything against it. But it does make a really lovely backdrop to the beautiful bright pink flower.

Not only is it an incredibly unforgiving coloured background to work on, it’s also difficult to cover when working with the palest, almost white, thread. To get the coverage, there are a lot of stitches to go into the small area. But, as Owen pointed out, I also have to be careful to not ‘pad’ the area. A very fine balance!

The other point Owen made about the base of the petal (and it may need to come out in due course), is that I should have left gaps for the yellow stitching for the stamens. I’m still not entirely sure I completely understand the balance between petal and stamens, as they go in different directions! For now, what I have stitched is staying in, but there is always the possibly it may have to come out.

And the rain drops?

I have to admit, my tip for this is to not do a flower with raindrops on it’s petals!

But, that is not the case here, and I have to learn how to deal with, and stitch them.

As they are on top of the petal, and with silk shading, you stitch the background first, the raindrops are the last little bits to go on the petal. The way I have been taught is to stitch around the rain drop, and then come back and split stitch around the shape, before filling it in. And to make sure it looks more like a rain drop than some weird stitching you’ve thrown on, there needs to be an adjustment to your stitch direction lines. For little things, there is a lot of thought that needs to go into it! I also made the error of using colours that were too close to the raindrop colours in the petal itself. Nothing too major for this piece I feel, but something else to consider for the next raindrops I stitch!

This part was incredibly tough on my fingers. There was just so much thread to get through, the pointy little size 12 embroidery needle really hurt when getting pushed through!

But at length, it is done, and my fingers are now in partial recovery mode.

starting first petal silk shading on piece for RSN Certificate
Carefully reviewing a petal to determine how to recreate in needle and thread
Working around rain drops on a petal on a silk shaded piece
Completed silk shaded rose petal with rain drops


And continue!

I have (thankfully!) been given the instruction to just continue with what I’m doing now. My tutors are happy I understand the blending, stitch direction and turnovers well enough to just get on with it. And my feeling with this technique is that just getting on with it is the best thing that can be done. So, between now and the first class of 2018, I will be stitching away the remainder of the petals and finishing off the last of the half leaf. Then, hopefully, with the centre and a bit of tweaking, it will be almost be done. There’s still a lot of stitching to be done to get to that point, but I’m so happy I’m finally getting some confidence in the technique to just sit and stitch it!

Progress on a silk shaded rose being worked as part of the RSN Certificate

35 thoughts on “RSN Silk Shading update – and a pop of colour!”

  1. Arghh…, I typed a long comment and then it dissappeared on me! I enjoy reading your updates, and I love to see some colour appearing in your piece. You have given me so many tips, so I will know what to watch out for when I start mine!
    I agree on the C&D structure. It is also true for my crewerlwork, my first ever designed-by-me piece with stitches I have never done also has to be my best ever! Maybe they could make students do lots of different stitches on a sampler, and do the design module which they are advertising now (and which I really want to do but which I am not sure I can afford with flights and accomodation), and then stitch several pieces, maybe combining several techniques….

    1. So annoying for you Marlous! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment again!
      I’m glad you find the updates useful. If there’s ever something else you want to know just ask and I’ll give you my opinion!
      I think the structure of the course is the same for all modules, it’s just I’m feeling it more in the canvaswork and silk shading ones than I did with the Jacobean. I’m hoping I’ll be able to do the three day design course too. I think it would be quite interesting and could almost be something they run a few times a year so you complete it before you actually start. I like that you have to become very proficient in each individual technique, but maybe a smaller design with a sampler would work? I’m sure it won’t change any time soon, so I just need to get on with it!

  2. With all my certificate pieces so far, and with the silk shading that I am working on now (my last piece), I have done samples before stitching the ‘real thing’. With the Jacobean I worked the elements on a separate piece of twill until I was happy enough with them to work them on the real thing. For the lion that meant I stitched four lions in total – three samples and the real thing. For the Canvas I drew the whole design out and worked most parts of it in part before doing the real thing. With goldwork I stitched two complete designs – the sample and the real thing – such that whilst my goldwork real thing is away being framed at the moment I have the framed sample up on the wall. Silk shading, for me, is undeniably the hardest module. I have done two sample pieces for this and I’m STILL finding it difficult. I would be disappointed if the RSN insisted on having extra lessons in the modules for sampling – I simply could not afford to do the certificate if this was the case, I think its best to continue the modules as they are and its up to the individual if they want to sample or not. For me this has meant that each module has taken about a year to complete as I also work full time.

    Your rose is looking lovely, Catherine. Well done.

    1. Thanks for such a detailed response Rita! I have done a few pieces outside the RSN in a few of the techniques, which is why I didn’t think I’d need to sample so much. But the techniques are taught in such a specific way, bringing prior knowledge doesn’t really work I’ve found. I too wouldn’t want to have to attend classes to sample, I’m wondering if taster day classes or a smaller finished piece might help. Regardless, I do like the fact that we all end up with beautiful pieces at the end. My main struggle seems to be ‘switching gears’ between the techniques. Once I’ve had about for or five lessons of not much progress being made I’m fine. That is my main problem with it, but that is just me. And that also needs to change in a hurry with the changes in my life happening next year. I find a lot of students struggle with the silk shading module, often taking twelve or more lessons to complete it (which I think will be me too).
      The important thing to take away is that we are all different and in different situations, and we all have to adapt and make it work in our own way.
      Good luck with your silk shading. We will get there! I’m also a bit relieved you said it was your hardest module – maybe I’ll find gold work easier ☺️
      Thanks again for such a great contribution to the conversation!

  3. Thank you for sharing your progress Catherine. I loved seeing the comparison of the real leaf and your beautifully stitched one. Regarding the black silk, I agree that it gives wonderful contrast for the background even though it is hard to cover with light threads. Based on what you know now, what colour background fabric would you recommend ( and I realise that the flower colour affects this) if you were starting again? What colours are others using for flower backgrounds.? This is a choice I will need to make next year so I am keen to get an understanding of the benefits and pitfalls. Love watching you progress. Regards Sally

    1. Glad you are finding this useful Sally.
      The colour of silk is really dependent on the flower colour. I would suggest taking some of your own silks as options on your first class to discuss with your tutor as the RSN’s supply is somewhat limited (hence the black). If I were to stitch it again, I think another option would be a rich cream for the safe opotion, a metallic brown might be nice too. However I’m happy with the black as it does give a great finish for the bright pink. So maybe it was the best option.
      One comment I was told after I’d started by Becky (Wednesday class) was that pink was a good coloured flower to stitch as the range of shades was so great between DMC and Anchor.
      I think the good thing about the black is that you get such a great contrast to the bright pink and the flower really pops. The downside is there is nowhere to hide!
      I think the best option is to go with a few different colours of silk – a safer option and maybe a more difficult one (I’ve seen bright orange!) and see what your tutors say.

  4. Hi Sally, my silk shading piece is a pink cosmos and the colours in it are similar to Catherine’s. One of my samples is on an airforce blue silk and the other sample is on a oriental green, as is the real piece. The green is quite dark and I would say that the blue was definitely ‘easier’ to cover. It looks quite different on the different colour backgrounds – its an interesting question. Good luck with your silk shading when you start. I found finding an image that met the brief was quite difficult in itself and took me ages.

  5. I am awed and amazed at the blending of colors you have done with this. The flower will be beautiful when you finish it, even though I’m sure you will be thinking it could be greatly improved!

    1. Thanks Kathy. I can already see where improvements can be made – all part of the learning experience and for next time!

  6. A picture is worth a thousand words…thank you so much for sharing your work in progress….i am also learning needle painting, and i guess the old saying “ practice makes perfect” still applies.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment Trini. It’s a tricky technique, but I really do love the result it gives you.
      Good luck with your silk shading work! And the old saying of practice makes perfect definitely still applies!

  7. This looks amazing Catherine, it’s really beautiful! I had no idea that you were meant to use several threads at the same time to give this beautiful colour effect but it is just great!

    1. Thanks Emma. It’s quite intriguing isn’t it? I didn’t know this either until I started doing some ‘serious’ silk shading! But it does make a world of difference to the end result.

  8. One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in my sewing and needlework is to let things be done rather than perfect. I admire anyone who undertakes these RSN courses with the determination to keep at it and do the best work possible.

    1. Thanks Sue. I think a lot of us are perfectionists, and struggle to accept done is better than perfect. I’m sure it could be stitched several times and would still not be perfect. But it’s what is learnt along the way that is important so it can be applied to future pieces. The tutors when you talk to them do understand this is your first piece in the technique, so they are happy to (and I believe want to) see progress throughout the piece. Which is a good thing for us students!

  9. I have never ever attempted silk shading – I love looking at it, but to be frank, I think I fear it. I love your attempt, I’ll have to read through all your posts again and try at least a teeny weeny flower.

    1. Thanks Deepa. It is a technique that a lot of people fear I think, but I love the effect and would love to get better at it!

  10. Such beautiful stitches and amazing work you have done so far, I love seeing your progress through the course, you are inspiring me to go further with my won embroidery.

    1. Thank you so much for such kind words! I have actually enjoyed this project and the (somewhat obvious) improvement throughout

    1. Yes, it intimidates a lot of people I think! Once you get the hang of it I’m finding it enjoyable. Thanks for stopping by!

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