- Translucent fabric - organdie, fine linen, lawn, muslin, crepe de chine or nylon - either on its own or over an opaque fabric
- A shadow effect caused by stitches/fabric/wadding on the back
- Stitchery - closed herringbone or double back stitch - produces
- A design outline on the front - looks like back stitch
In India there developed a form of whitework called ‘chikan’, stitches worked on the back of very fine muslin fabric to give a shadowy effect. In the 18th C, when Europe and India began trading, imported shadow work muslin goods inspired the Europeans.
Shadow work was also used in conjunction with other whitework techniques especially Dresden work which had become very fashionable during the 18th C where it was used for handkerchiefs, collars, doyleys, tea cosies, cushions, sachets and napery.
This fine embroidery is worked on the back in closed herringbone stitch, or on the front using double back stitch. On the right side this appears as an outline, like a back stitch, with a shadowy infill created by the criss-crossing stitches on the back. Stems and extra relief work were often added on the right side of the work.
Two layers of fabric are used. Appliqué pieces are placed beneath a translucent fabric such as organdy, organza, voile, nylon or net and the pieces outlined with stitches. Shadow appliqué was originally sewn with pin stitch, but running or back stitch is often used.
Again two layers of fabric are used. The design is outlined with running stitch. Certain areas of the design are raised by stuffing wool between the two layers of fabric. When the top layer is semi- transparent and coloured wool is used, this can be considered a form of shadow work.
A scrolling design is outlined on two layers of fabric with parallel lines of running or back stitches. Wool or cord is threaded between the lines giving a raised effect. When the top layer is semi-transparent and coloured wool is used, this too can be considered a form of shadow work.
Anchor Manual of Needlework, Batsford, London, 1990
Pullen, Martha, Shadow Work: The Easy Way, Martha Pullen, USA, 1989
A-Z of Whitework: Book 1 Surface Embroidery, Inspiration Books, 2007
Paine, Sheila, Chikan Embroidery: The Floral Whitework of India, Shire Publications
Morell, Anne,The Techniques of Indian Embroidery, Batsford, London, 1994
© Valerie Cavill, 2010