RSN Silk Shading: WIP

The final module for the RSN certificate!

Tight brief here: design has to be a flower, fruit or vegetable and has to feature a turning leaf…. Having seriously considered several humorously phallic carrots, I settled on this satusuma for my design.

Taken between February 2019 and January 2020, the following photostream charts the first half of the project. Starting with pricking and puncing to transfer the design to the silk, stitching a shade key and testing out a circle shape, stitching the lower half of the fruit and the furthest leaf.

silk shading | orange | satsuma | RSN | Sarah Mole

silk shading | orange | satsuma | RSN | Sarah Mole

silk shading | orange | satsuma | RSN | Sarah Mole

silk shading | orange | satsuma | RSN | Sarah Mole

silk shading | orange | satsuma | RSN | Sarah Mole

silk shading | orange | satsuma | RSN | Sarah Mole


silk shading | orange | satsuma | RSN | Sarah Mole

silk shading | orange | satsuma | RSN | Sarah Mole

silk shading | orange | satsuma | RSN | Sarah Mole

silk shading | orange | satsuma | RSN | Sarah Mole

I actually really enjoy this technique! The long and short stitch creates a lovely effect and I’m having fun creating painterly shading.

What I’m not loving is replicating a photograph. I’m finding it frustrating that I’m not managing to achieve a photorealistic result, although in truth I don’t think that’s really the aim of the exercise here. I’m super happy with the smooth, round edges, and I think once I get to the light-reflection part it’ll suddenly feel more ball-like.

I’d really like to try this technique in a more modern, abstract design – just playing with geometric shapes and colour would be fun.

Blackwork: RSN Embroidery Certificate Course, module 2

My last class marked the halfway point on this module. Four down and four to go, but I can’t say it looks like it’s half done.

modern blackwork embroidery portrait

The shading is really daunting. The two elements of thickness of thread and density of stitch pattern have to work simultaneously to make the overall shade move from dark to light and vice- versa. It feels like a strange combination of calculation and instinct. At the beginning I experimented with the threads and set out a key for which looked darker than the next, setting them on a scale from 0-8. I traced my design into blocked out areas of shade and allocated each area a value corresponding to my scale, so that similar tones would look even across the whole piece. At which point I felt that this would be manageable, like a paint by numbers…

Blackwork embroidery shading plan

But I have to use around 5 different stitch patterns within this design, some more open than others. So even though a 4 on my scale may mean using 3 strands of Anchor cotton, that is going to look different in each of my stitches and 3 strands of cotton on the figures’ legs may look much darker from a distance than the same thread on the wall behind her. To compensate for this I need to adapt the stitch pattern to either add or remove some stitches and adjust the density of the stitch. Or, if I want to keep the stitch the same for design purposes, I’ll need to deviate from the key and use a different thread to achieve the right shade.


The whole thing is a balancing act, constantly juggling stitch with thread and comparing the developing work with the original image. I’m paranoid about making the background too dark or too light, throwing in the blackest black where it should be a mid tone and leaving myself with no darker tone for the shoes or the gloves.


Take the area that I’ve worked on today for example: the upper left side of the background where the light moves from bright to very dark in the shadow of the models’ arm. The changes in tone are so varied! and in trying to incorporate every little undulation in shade I’m not only losing shape, but losing the relationship between the arm shadow and the top right corner of the image. Is this a problem? I haven’t got a clue.

blackwork embroidery shading backstitch pattern

But, as important as it is to follow the photograph, I also want to have the freedom to decide what’s best for the embroidery as a stand-alone piece. After all, once it’s done no-one will view the two together, and the embroidery has to work as a realistic and well composed image. It’s inevitably going to be stylised to a certain extent – it’s a textile piece and not a photograph – but it has to make sense and if the lighting in the image is illogical then the brain of the viewer will be quick to flag it up.


And to add to the difficulties, winters limited daylight hours are putting the pressure on! I set up shop in front of our big bedroom windows and door to work a few afternoon hours this weekend, but before long the natural light goes and my harsh lightbulbs don’t cut the mustard.

Tattooed unicorn and jacobean crewelwork day 3

Made some more progress in the third day of the certificate course at the RSN. Learnt two new stitches – heavy chain…

heavy chain embroidery stitch


(unfortunately hard to see in the dark colour!)

and raised stem band…

raised stem band embroidery stitch


raised stem band crewel embroidery

So currently the Tree of Life is up to this stage…

RSN jacobean crewelwork tree of life - day 3

Still a very long way to go! And a long list of homework to tackle before next month.


And in the mean time I have been practicing my embroidery skills on the unicorn I crocheted recently. I think he looks good for it! The back stitch I started out using turned out to be far too thin, I needed the stronger stem stitch to make a decent line. Would also like to make him a little shirt with rolled up sleeves.

If you’re interested in making your own, I used the Toft Alpaca pattern for the zebra, from Edwards Menagerie, and then added my own style of horn and mane. Their pattern base is great and very versatile – really easy to personalise into pretty much any creature you like.

embroidered tattoo unicorn - left embroidered tattooed unicorn - front embroidery tattooed unicorn - right

I feel like you don’t see enough masculine unicorns. Maybe that’s where they went wrong.

Jacobean Crewelwork – day 2

Progress from the second day of the certificate course at the Royal school of Needlework!

Today I have finished framing up, pounced and painted the design onto the fabric, had my stitch plan critiqued and improved, and started the actual stitching :) Almost three weeks until my next class in which I need to complete the chain and block shading stitches I’ve started, plus begin a heavy chain stitch area, and test out some trellis suggestions on some scrap fabric.

slate frame embroidery RSN certificate course


painting on jacobean embroidery design

crewel embroidery chain stitch

crewel embroidery block shading stitch

royal school of needlework certificate course jacobean crewelwork day 2






Beginning at the Royal School of Needlework

So I’m really properly on at the RSN now! Had my first day last week and loved it. Shame I look like a muppet in my 2year-long security pass, but never mind!

RSN pass

So here’s where I’m at so far –

The design is finalised, following a bit of sketchbook research and doodling:

sketchbook work, Liberty's    sketchbook work, Hatfield House

sketchbook progress at RSN

Jacobean Crewelwork design

The design has been copied to tracing paper and then all the lines have been perforated, this will form a template for painting the design to the fabric next time around:

pricked embroidery template

I’ve started to set up my frame, but can’t finish that until my next class, so in the mean time I’ve been experimenting with stitches, using the actual colours of wool which I’ve chosen:

colour palate, appletons crewel wools  french knots with shading, mustard to rose  woven wheel with shading, teal  chain sticth and stem stitch with shading, dark teals and roses


I’m really into it! It’s very traditional, and in a way that feels a little pointless to me, but the experience and the skills are fantastic. So glad I enrolled for it! One day down, four years to go…

Hampton Court Palace


Royal School of Needlework wishlist

Dear Santa,

It’s only October 2nd, but there is a Christmas tree in my office today and I definitely heard Mariah’s dulcet tones earlier on, so I figure the deluge has started.

I would REALLY like to go the RSN again next year because it was so fricking awesome last time around, and seeing as there’s no way I can afford to do the certificate any time soon (I have done the maths, it did not look good) this would be a very welcome compromise.

In order of preference, I fancy:

1. Progressing with Jacobean Crewelwork. (Could maybe progress from Bird to Tree, or even Lion.)

2. Goldwork Squirrel. (Who wouldn’t want a gold squirrel?)

3. Beginners Silk Shading series. (Because once I’ve learnt to flowers I can ditch that and do rude things instead!)

Or all of them would be fine too.

Thank you muchly,



PS. I have finished the bird now and will take a better photo when it’s mounted etc, but even the WIP shots make me happy :)