Monday, March 7, 2011

Shadow Work Embroidery

While Shadow Work Embroidery is thought to have originated long ago in India, it is well known in Italy. There are lots of pieces to be appreciated in museum collections, look for it on handkerchiefs and table linens especially. The following three photos are of works at the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan.

Here Shadow Work is used in the swirly designs which surround other techniques.

Made with the Herringbone Stitch (worked very close together) or the Double Back Stitch it can be worked on either the back or the front of the fabric and Italy's fantastic gauzy linen fabrics lend themselves nicely to the transparency which is an immediately recognizable characteristic of this technique.

Shadow Work is used here in the filling of the letter A.

In coloured or white threads, it is usually combined with other traditional needlework techniques like padded satin stitch, pulled thread filling stitches and many others.

Shadow Work fills the hanging flowers in this monogram.

Another recognizable characteristic is the bas-relief effect which can be rendered more dramatic with heavier threads and fabric. These images are from Punto Ombra by Carolina Maraini, N. Zanichelli, Bologna, 1924.

Front side of the work using heavier fabric and thread.
Back side of the work using heavier fabric and thread.
In the first years of the 20th century Carolina Maraini started a women's committee in Rieti (a couple of hours north-east of Rome) to promote local techniques and Punto Ombra or Shadow Work was the basis of the work. The designs and execution of the work coming from this group were widely known to be of very high quality giving a re-birth to this technique using floral and Vinci knot motifs. Signora Maraini used ivory carvings, wrought ironworks, designs from paintings, marble carvings, fabric designs, print designs and even floor patterns as inspiration for her works.

More can be learned about Carolina Maraini and her Shadow Work at the Tuttoricamo website. Click on the British Flag for the English pages, then "Techniques", then "Shadow Work". Make sure to click on the link to see a gorgeous coloured Shadow Work tea service tablecloth!

Thanks to Stefania for the use of her photos!


  1. Wonderful!
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. nothing like your examples, of course, but still examples of thrift shop finds

  3. grazie per aver visitato il nostro blog e per esserti registrata come sostenitrice. Non conoscevamo il tuo sito, è veramente una miniera di notizie sul ricamo italiano.
    Complimenti per il lavoro che hai fatto, siamo onorate di averti tra i nostri sostenitori.
    nunzia e cinzia

    thank you for visiting our blog and signing up as a supporter. We did not know your site is truly a mine of information on Italian embroidery.
    Congratulations for the work you've done, we are honored to have you among the supporters.
    nunzia and cinzia

  4. I'm from Québec, Canada, looking for someone near me, who wants to help me with my embroidery.
    My email:

  5. these are beautiful. thanks for sharing their work. I am visiting all kinds of blogs through Stitchin Fingers...I think I'll join that group. I love all the lovely things!