Stitched portrait practice

My most recent embroidered exploits have been attempting the question of how to portray a ‘reasonably realistic’ face in hand embroidery. Partly inspired by the medieval ecclesiastical subject matter of ‘Opus Anglicanum’, I have been experimenting with my own contemporary interpretations. It seems strange I have never attempted a face before and I felt compelled to address this deficit: given stitch’s potential for illustrative uses, portraiture seem of significant importance to master!


This represents my first ever attempt at an embroidered face. (7cm high)  She is worked entirely in a single strand of cotton, using long-and-short ‘silk shading’. The direction of the hair followed the natural ‘flowing’ lines, while the face and body were worked in entirely vertical rows. However, for one thing, she is far too pale. (Insomnia’s drawback is the lack of 24-hour thread shops and being forced to work with the limited colour palette at your disposal – in this case, the lightest of the four skin tones I had to hand being white itself!). A more thoughtful selection of skin tones was definitely required for a subsequent attempt. I also did model her eye makeup on myself, which although suits her gothic pallor, isn’t necessarily a desireable outcome every time….


My second girl, stitched to the same outline, is less anaemic-looking and boasts a more carefully considered combinatrion of skin tone stranded cottons. I’m still not entirely happy with my selection – of the combination of 4, I think the darkest tone is too dark. Or perhaps the shadow under her chin, the patch of darkest colour, should have been ‘broken up’ or softened a little. I also attempted an alternative approach to her hair: as before, with the direction of the stitching following the natural contours of the hairstyle’s curves, but this time imtroducing my signature three-dimensional padding to add depth and heighten the shadows.

Stay tuned for goldwork couching and silk shading combined…..

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