Dyed and Gone to Heaven – An Online Magazine and Needlework Resource  

Stitching For Effect

By Beth Robertson and Suzanne Howren

Suzanne Howren and Beth Robertson,owners of "SHEAR Creations" and authors of the books "Stitches for Effect" and "More Stitches for Effect", specialize in the design of stitch and thread guides for painted canvas. They teach classes for The National Needlework Association, and at local shops and guilds. Both have won awards for their needlework and are active in their local chapters of the EGA and the ANG Guilds. If you are tired of Basketweaving with wool and you want to create realistic effects by using textured stitches and exciting threads that add dimension to your needlework, then this article is for you.


Select a canvas that lends itself to decorative stitching. For your beginning projects choose a canvas that has large unshaded areas. Less detailed designs provide more opportunity for the use of more stitches. As your stitch repertoire expands, move on to more detailed and shaded projects.

Before you do any stitching, make a plan for your canvas. Look at each area and decide how you want it to look:

Shiny or matte
Raised or flat
Horizontal, vertical or diagonal

Keep your design in perspective. Small stitch patterns and dark colors recede while large stitch patterns and light colors come forward. Use smaller stitch patterns for objects in the distance and larger patterns for objects in the foreground. With this in mind, its time to choose threads.


If you want the area to be very shiny or have a metallic look, try a metallic thread such as Antica, Candlelight or Snow. If you want a more subtle shine, Soie Cristale, Waterlilies, Rachel or Rachelette are good choices. Watercolours, Wildflowers and Impressions provide a matte look.

Also consider the combination of two different threads of the same color such as Soie Cristale and Impressions. An overdyed thread can be combined with a coordinating solid color thread. Be sure to select threads that fit the mesh size of your canvas or fabric ground.


If you want the texture of the area to be flat, choose a stitch with a small stitch pattern. For a raised area choose a larger patterned stitch or a crossed stitch. Your thread selection must work in combination with your stitch to create the flat or raised effect. A thicker thread such as Rachelette will produce a more raised effect than a thinner thread such as Soie Cristale or Wildflowers.

When selecting a stitch consider the direction of the stitch vertical, horizontal or diagonal. A stitch for a beard should be vertical to produce a more realistic effect. A stitch for a woven basket should be both horizontal and vertical to create the look of weaving.


Many different effects can be achieved by using different threads and stitches. If you are not confident of your choices, try them out on a doodle canvas and keep track of what you have stitched. It may not work for your current stitching project, but it could be the perfect combination for your next project.


Here are a few suggestions of threads and stitches that illustrate our philosophy.

ALTERNATING OBLONG CROSS: This is an excellent clothing stitch. The light play on your thread sometimes looks as though you have used more than one shade, especially when using silk. Coats, jackets, and dresses are fabulous in this stitch. Consider using two close color values to really add depth to your piece. Tightly twisted threads are not as effective in this stitch. Try softer twist threads such as Watercolours and Impressions This is also a good stitch for landscapes, shrubs, and architectural columns; try an overdyed thread with appropriate coverage for your ground size.

DIAGONAL HUNGARIAN GROUND: One of the many variations of the Hungarian stitch, this stitch shows best when worked in two different threads of the same color or two different colors of thread. The colors can be close in value, contrasting or complementing, whichever works best for the design. Some thread combination suggestions: Waterlilies with Soie Cristale, Impressions with Waterlilies, Soie Cristale with Candlelight or Rachel with Rachelette. Try this stitch for fields, mountains, fruit trees, starry skies, water, clothing and Santa's robe. It is also an excellent background stitch.

DUTCH: This stitch drastically changes appearance with thread choice. It can be worked all in the same color or with a different color or thread for the tie down. Consider this stitch for baskets, stone walls, shrubbery, mountains, borders and clothing. For a dramatic look choose an overdyed thread such as Waterlilies, Watercolours or Impressions for the cross. Select a matching solid color Soie Cristale, or a metallic thread such as Candlelight or Antica for the tie-down. Also think about using two color values of the same or different threads. This is an excellent background stitch for simple designs.

NOBUKO: The woven result created by this stitch is very effective in many places such as fish, water, mountains, trees, and sky as well as gingerbread houses, stucco houses and large areas of woodwork. It provides great texture for meadows, lawns, and snow covered areas. Try this stitch in any of the overdyed threads for water and sky. When using one of the overdyed threads, try reversing some of the plies or strands in your needle to create a mottled or tweeded effect. Fish are great in shiny thread such as Soie Cristale, Antica or Candlelight Try a subtle overdyed Watercolours for gingerbread or stucco houses. Use subtle shades of overdyed thread for woodwork. Try Rachel or Snow for snowy areas. This is also a wonderful background stitch and a great stitch with which to experiment.


These are only a few of the many different effects that you can achieve through the combination of stitch and thread selection. Stitches For Effect and More Stitches For Effect contain hundreds of effects, stitches and thread suggestions from which to choose. Both of these books are available at the following store:

The Needlewoman East
809C West Broad St.
Falls Church, VA 22046

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