Hello, it’s been a while! I haven’t been blogging as much lately because I’ve been working on something new, but today I happily bring you a new stitch tutorial: the famous long & short stitch! I say “happily”, but if I’m honest I dreaded making a tutorial for this one. It’s such a beautiful stitch, but it’s a harder one to master. Doing it justice in tutorial photos was harder than I expected, and I had to shoot the whole thing twice. 😉 Nevertheless, here we are, so if you’re ready to take your embroidery skills to the next level, let’s dive in!
The long & short stitch is a fill stitch, used in the wonderful technique called “needle-painting”, also called “silk shading”, or “art needlework”. As the first name suggests, using this stitch feels like painting with a needle and thread. Best worked with only 1 strand of floss (cotton or silk), stitches get impeccably blended together to create realistic designs. You’ll often see animals, flowers, and other botanical subjects worked with this technique. For today, I’ve prepared a little flower petal to show you how to get started with the long & short stitch.
Long & Short Stitch Tutorial
1. First, you’ll want to thread a fine hand embroidery needle (size 9-12) ideally with 1 strand of floss. I’m using 6-stranded DMC cotton floss, and you can use more strands if you like, but the blending will be less smooth. Depending on the look you’re going for though, it might work very well. But if you’re hoping to get a really fine, paint-like blend, I recommend 1 strand only. It takes more time, but it’s worth it. You’ll want to pick at least 3 different colours that will blend together well. Use variations of the same tone if you want to create a shading effect. I’ll be using 3 different pink tones, going from light to dark.
2. Next, you’ll want to draw a shape to be filled. I just made a petal shape, and divided it into 3 sections, since I’ll be using 3 different colours to fill it. I highly recommend adding pencil guidelines to divide your shape, especially if you’re new to this technique.
3. The next step is to outline the shape with an outline stitch, such as the stem stitch or split stitch. I’m using the stem stitch here, with 1 strand of DMC #778, the dominant colour for this petal. When you outline, choose one of the lighter colours you’ll be working with, to make sure it won’t be visible once the shape is all filled.
4. Thread your needle with the colour you’d like to use in the first row. I’m using DMC #225. Bring your needle up from the back right outside the outlined edge at the top of the petal, in the middle. Come back down to end your stitch in the second section. Work another stitch in the same way, a little shorter or a little longer, towards the right or left. Before you start making the stitches very close together, you want to leave space between them to create guideline stitches. This is to help with the stitch direction and makes it easier to fill the shape accurately. Work more stitches in this way until the first section has enough guidelines both on the left and the right side.
5. Now, we can actually fill the first row! The idea is to fill the first section completely by adding “long” and “short” stitches very closely together between the guidelines stitches. I like to work from right to left. Always start your stitches just outside the outlined edge, and down into the second row. Vary their length, ending the shorter ones just at the pencil guideline, and letting the longer ones go as far as 2/3 of the way down into the second row.
6. Continue in this way until the first row is filled, making your stitches very close to each other.
7. To fill the second row, thread your needle with a different colour – I’m using #778, a slightly darker pink than #225. Come up from behind through the first row, right about where your pencil guideline was.
8. I like to start in the middle, and work a few guidelines towards the right before I start filling.
9. Keep filling the second row, just as you did the first. Use guideline stitches if you need (stitches that you place ahead of time to help with direction). Always come up through the previous layer, not down into it. It gives it a much smoother effect!
10. To fill the last row, thread your needle with another colour (#316), and fill it much like you did the second row. Only this time, your stitches will end right outside the outlined edge.
11. And that’s it, you’re done!!
A Few Notes:
- As I said earlier, this stitch takes a lot of practice! Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work too well the first time. It’s normal! It took me years of on and off practice to get comfortable with it, and even still it’s not always perfect. ^_^ It’s just how this stitch is, it requires a lot of patience and precision. But you got this, don’t worry!
- There are so many different ways to shade, and so many directions you can go with this stitch! Depending on what you’re trying to fill, you might not need such precise rows, or you might need to work diagonally, or use more or less colours. You can shade from dark to light, light to dark, or really any combination that works for your design. The main takeaway with this stitch is that it’s smoother when worked with 1 strand, and you always want to come up through previous rows (or stitches), rather than down into them.
- If you’re serious about needle-painting, I highly suggest you consult Trish Burr’s amazing work and resources. I already recommended one of her books in a previous post here, and she also has a wonderful website where you can buy her patterns and read her blog: Trish Burr Embroidery Blog. She’s really the expert of long & short stitch, and her designs are stunning.
- Anything by the Royal School of Needlework is also fantastic, they have a few really great books on silk shading, and they offer acclaimed classes and workshops.
- Lastly, just remember to have fun with it, and don’t be afraid to experiment!
Here’s the pinnable tutorial if you want to save it:
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and that it was helpful! Don’t hesitate to reach out if you need some help. I promise you this stitch is so worth it, and opens up wonderful possibilities. Happy stitching my friend!