One arrives inevitably at gradation of colour in embroidery: the question is how best to get it. But, before mentioning the ways in which it may be got, it seems necessary to protest that shading is not a matter of course. Perfectly beautiful work may be done, and ought more often to be done, in merely flat needlework; the gloss of the silk and its varying colour as it catches the light according to the direction of the stitching, are quite enough to prevent a monotonously flat effect.
Still, embroidery affords such scope for gradation of colour, not, practically, to be got by any process of weaving, that a colourist may well revel in the delights of colour which silks of various dyes allow. And so long as colour is the end in view there is not much danger that a colourist will go wrong.
The real use of shading in embroidery is rather to get gradation of colour than relief of form. As to the stitch to be employed, that is partly a personal matter, partly a question of what is to be done. The stitch must be adapted to the kind
of shading, or the shading must be designed to suit the stitch. It makes all the difference in the world, whether your shading is done deliberately in well-marked shades of colour, or whether one shade merges into another. In the best work it is always done with decision. There is nothing vague or casual, for example, about the shading of Mr Crane's animals in Illustration 74 (Part Of A Design By Walter Crane). Everywhere the shading is drawn, either in lines or as a sharply defined mass. Given a drawing in which the shadows are properly planned and crisply drawn like that, and you may use what stitch you please.
The more natural way of shading is to let the stitches follow the lines of the drawing, and so make use of them to express form, as with the strokes of the pen or pencil upon paper. Thus in mediaeval figurework prior to the fifteenth century the faces were usually done in split-stitch, worked concentrically from the middle of the cheek outward, and so suggesting the roundness of the face (Illustration 87 (Gothic Church Work)). But just as there is a system of shading according to which the draughtsman makes all his strokes in one direction (slanting usually), so the embroidress may, if she prefer, take her stitches all one way; and in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the fashion was to work flesh in short satin-stitches always in the vertical direction (Illustration 79 (Fifteenth-Century Figure Work)). The term "long-and-short-stitch" is frequently used by way of describing
the stitch. It does not, as I have said, help us much. The stitches are in the first place only satin-stitches worked not in even rows, as in Illustration 40 (Chinese Satin-Stitch), but so that there is no line of demarcation between one row and another. And this, in the case of gradated colour, makes the shading softer. The words long-and-short apply strictly only to the outer row of stitches. You begin, that is to say, with alternately long and short stitches. If you work after that with stitches of equal length, they necessarily alternate or dovetail. If the form to be worked necessitates radiation in the stitching, there results a texture something like the feathering of a bird's breast (Illustration 85 (Satin And Plumage Stitches)), whence the name plumage-stitch, another term describing not so much a stitch as the use of a stitch.
No matter what the stitch, one must be able to draw in order to express form : it is rather more difficult to draw with a needle than with a pen, that is all. True, the designer may do that for you, and make such a workmanlike drawing that there is no mistaking it; but it takes a skilled draughtsman to do it.
In flattish decorative work, where the drawing is in firm lines, as in Illustration 87 (Gothic Church Work), the task of the embroidress is relatively easy - there is not much shading, for example, in the drapery of King Abias, and the vine leaves are merely worked with yellower green towards the edges. Even
where there is strong shading, a draughtsman who knows his business may make shading easy by drawing his shadows with firm outlines. The taste of the artist who designed the roses in Illustration 75 (Shading In Chain-Stitch) is too pictorial to win the heart of any one with a leaning towards severity of design ; too much relief is sought; but the way he has got it shows the master workman; he has deliberately laid in flat washes of colour, each with its precise outline, which the worker had only to follow faithfully with flat tambour work. A design like that, given the working drawing, asks little of the worker beyond patient care: of the designer it asks considerable knowledge.
A yet more pictorial effect is produced in much the same way, this time in satin-stitch, in Illustration 76 (Shading In Short Stitches). The artist has for the most part drawn his shadows with crisp brush strokes, which the worker had no difficulty in following ; but there is some rounding of the bird's bodies which a merely mechanical worker could not have got. In fact, there are indications that this is the work of a painter embroidress more intent in rendering with the needle the plump forms of the birds than their feathering.
You can embroider, of course, without knowing much about drawing ; but you cannot go far in the direction of shading (which has not been drawn for you, or has been but vaguely drawn) without the appreciation of form which comes only of knowing
and understanding. There is evidence of such knowledge and understanding in the working of the lion in Illustration 77 (Shading In Long-And-Short And Split Stitches). That is not a triumph of even stitching; but it is a triumph of drawing with the needle. The short satin and split stitches are not placed with the regularity so dear to the human machine, but they express the design perfectly. The embroiderer of that lion was an artist, possibly the artist who designed it. " It might be a man's work," was the verdict of an embroidress. At all events it is the work of some one who could draw, and only a draughtsman or draughtswoman could have worked it.
This is not said wholly in praise of shading. Embroidery ought, for the most part, to do very well without it. The point to insist upon is that, if shading is employed at all, it should mean something, and not be mere fumbling after form.
The charm of shading in embroidery is not the roundness of form which you get, but the gradation of colour which it gives. This may be very delicately and subtly got by split-stitch, which is on that account so valuable in the rendering of flesh tints. But the blending of colour into colour which is universally admired is not quite so admirable as people think. One may easily employ too many shades of colour, easily allow them to melt so imperceptibly one into the other that the result is only unmeaning softness. An artist prefers to see few shades employed, and those chosen with judgment and placed with deliberate intention. If they mean something, there is no harm in letting it be seen where they meet: broad masses give breadth : vagueness generally means ignorance. That is perhaps why one dislikes it, and why it is so common.