Would You Like to Try Thread Painting?

This is the thread painting installment of “The Making of Two Art Quilts”, which included a few tutorials of some basic techniques often used. At this point we have fused our applique down, zig zaged the edges and are ready to begin thread painting to enhance and add additional detail and texture.

So take a deep breath and just jump in there! If you have done any machine quilting, you can do this. Even if you have no experience, it isn’t all that hard to learn { she said innocently} .

Let’s begin with a few supplies you’ll need to thread paint.

1-sewing machine ready to quilt, feed dogs dropped with the darning foot on.

2- a large size embroidery hoop, the bigger sizes make it easier to work with. Also the height of the hoop should be less than 1/2″, more like 1/4th to get it under the sewing machine needle assembly.

You can see the height is shorter. I also wrapped some bias tape around one hoop to keep the fabric from slipping.

3- you’ll also need some fabric  stabilizer and of course;  fabric. Muslin is a good choice. You might want to transfer a simple design onto the fabric to give you something to work on. A child’s coloring book has simple designs, kitty faces ect.

4-machine embroidery needles, perhaps a size 90. This is an important tool to keep your thread from snapping.

You are now ready to start. The first step will be to hoop your fabric with the stabilizer  under the muslin. You are going to place the larger hoop on the bottom under the fabric.  This is the hoop with the tightening screw on it. Then place  the fabric on top of this, then the final smaller hoop goes on the inside of the larger hoop. Then pull the fabric as tightly as possible, tighten the screw and pull the fabric even more. It should be taunt as a drum. You can use your hand to hold the hoops together as you tighten things up so the hoops don’t pop out.

The smaller hoop sits on the top of the fabric


There’s one thing to keep in mind as you hoop this. When you have it all set up turn it over and look at the bottom, the hoop needs to be sitting  a tiny bit higher than the bottom, with a wee bit of fabric showing.  This will help you move your hoop smoothly so that it  doesn’t hang up on the sewing machine. We want only fabric making contact with the machine,  It will move easier if  “floating” on fabric rather than dragging on wood.

You can see the small amount of fabric with the hoop sitting a bit high.

Now insert the hoop under your sewing machines needle, with the bigger hoop on the bottom and the smaller on the top, it’s upside down. As you fit the  hoop under there, you’l ll see why the thinner hoop was called for, it would be pretty hard to fit a 1/2 ” under that needle.

Here’s how it should look when inserted correctly.

We’re ready to roll. Although you can use a straight stitch,  for much of the work it’s easier  when your machine is set on a zig zag. So set the machine on zig zag stitch,  and yes,  the zig zag works with the feed dogs dropped.

With no feed dogs moving the fabric,  you are going to move the hoop.  Remember to keep the stitches oriented from side to sid or sideways, rather than the needle moving from top to bottom.

If you look at the picture below you will see how the orientation of the needle’s movement effects the stitch’s appearance. You can move in any direction but try to keep the zig zag stitch with the hoop in the orientation shown in the first lower picture on the left.The stitch will go will go from side to side,  while you will slowly move your hoop in a downward direction, forming a row of stitches behind you. Then when you reach the bottom slightly move your hoop over a wee bit and slowly start moving your hoop back upwards, overlapping the first row slightly, to keep it thickly filled in. You are attempting to lay down a nice filled in area behind you. You will continue to make these “rows” til the area is filled in to your satisfaction.

The orientation is not a set in stone rule, it just fills in better & looks fuller. You may use a straight stitch or a zigzag. In other words use what works for you, adapt as needed. This is especially true if there are curves in your design.

When  there are curves, you may need  to temporarly change direction,  the stitches may  go in the up and down direction as you are re positioning the hoop, but keep moving and make adjusting as you are the hoop along. You are attempting to fill in the space., so it won’t matter. Notice the bottom picture and how the stitches do change direction on the curves.

My first attempt at thread painting was a class at my local quilt shop.

I blew this picture up so you could see the stitches better. As you can see there are curves, so as you change directions to move around them, the position of your hoop may need to go in the up and down direction, that’s OK. Move slowly, all the while trying to keep re position the needle and stitches back in the same side to side motion as soon as it is possible to do so.

Now practice, practice, practice. You’ll see improvement. After all it’s not rocket science, if I can do it, anyone can!

I highly suggest taking a class at your local quilt shop, it is a lot easier to see it done, and get hands on help.

Next time I’ll show a few examples of thread painting, how you can create shading with thread changes and some of the finished pictures of the two  quilts that started all this.

See Ya soon.

Published by Barbara Harms Fiber Art & More

Barbara Harms-Up Close and Personal I've been a painter most of my life. When I was introduced to quilting, I fell in love, jumping in with both feet. I loved quilting, but began to miss the creative freedom painting offered. Then, I discovered mixed media art quilting, I was finally home. My Process & Approach For me, it's the process of creating that holds the strongest attraction. I love starting with a tiny seed of an idea; vague and blurred around the edges, then I follow where it leads. My style is fairly loose and instinctual. I don't a great deal of pre-planning.The creative choices are made as I work on a piece, are based on my gut feelings at the time. This can lead to quite a few changes in direction. The outcome can come as a surprise. I love that element of surprise. Sometimes everything just comes together & I think that this is one of my better ones. I can’t wait to show someone. I feel like a six year old, running home from school, a drawing in hand, excited to show Mom. At those times I'm smiling like the Cheshire cat.

3 thoughts on “Would You Like to Try Thread Painting?

  1. I am going to have to give this a try as soon as I get my ufos finished. I love my embroidery and just sold my embroidery machine as I want to thread paint on my own


  2. Wooo–eee! Since my left hand coordination has never completely recovered from injuries a number of years ago, I had better stick with paints and pastels and chalks and charcoals, and just hand-stitch my pillow top creations. But this looks wonderful for those who like to manipulate their sewing machines in such beautifully artistic ways.


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