Silk shading, painting with a needle, long and short stitch embroidery, thread painting: this technique goes by many names but the basis is one stitch, known as long and short stitch. Most likely first practised in China, where it is more commonly known as needle painting. Archaeological excavations have found embroideries that date back to at least the 2nd century BC.
In England, silk shading was first used in Opus Anglicanum embroidery (also known as English work), a technique used in the Mediaeval period. Most surviving examples of Opus Anglicanum silk shading are seen on church work and comprise silk-shaded faces, angels and animals.
The art of silk shading is still alive and well today. It is worked extensively in China to very high standards, and The Royal School of Needlework continues to teach this beautiful technique in new and innovative ways.