>Intro to Thread Painting

>Thread painting is being featured in a lot of books and classes recently. I think many people see the word “painting” and think “Oh my gosh, I can’t paint!”. The fact is, thread painting is basically the same thing as free-motion embroidery. Free-motion embroidery is just sewing without the feed dogs up on your sewing machine. It’s not very hard, really, and like anything else, you can improve with practice.
Thread painting can be used to add detail to projects that would be too tedious to applique. It can also add nice highlights to pre-printed fabrics and works as a quilting technique. Layers of thread can be built up to resemble textures like bark and fur.

I have some suggestions for getting started with this technique. Like my tutorial on broderie perse, let’s use the fabric designer’s talents to make our work easier and look great!

(Click on any picture to enlarge it if you cannot see details.)

First, the machine set up:

  1. Put the feed dogs down. If you cannot do this, put tape over the feed dogs. You need to be in control of the direction the fabric goes.
  2. Use a regular 80/12 needle or embroidery needle. Have extras at the ready and allow for the possibility that some might break! if you plan to use shiny threads, like rayon, be sure to use embroidery needles.
  3. Take off the regular sewing foot and attach an embroidery foot. Open toed embroidery feet are nice because you can see where you are going better.
  4. Thread your machine as usual. The color or type of thread isn’t really important to start with—regular or embroidery threads will work fine. Use the same type in the bobbin. I’m using black in this tutorial so it can be seen more easily.
  5. Thread tension can be adjusted so that the TOP tension is LOOSER than normal. You don’t want your bobbin thread to be pulled up to the surface of the fabric. If you loosen the top tension a little, the top thread will be pulled under the fabric by the bobbin thread. (If you don’t want to try this, be sure to use matching top and bobbin thread colors.)
  6. Set a straight stitch. Length doesn’t matter because you will be controlling that aspect.
    Needle stop down, if you have it.

The fabric:

  1. Pick a piece of fabric from your stash that has a large graphic design like a floral, leaves, etc. I’ve had fun with Laurel Burch fabrics, which have cartoonish cats, horses, etc. plus foliage and graphic designs. We want some graphics that are at least 1 ½ inches across to start with.
  2. Make sure the piece of fabric is at least 12 inches across, so you have plenty to hold on to.
  3. Under your fabric you can add a layer of thin batting if you like. This will give your stitching more impact and texture.
  4. On the bottom you want a piece of stabilizer. There are many on the market to choose from. Sometimes I just use a piece of cotton canvas. If your stabilizer is not iron-on, you can use spray adhesive.
  5. If you don’t have spray adhesive, try this: Lay your stabilizer flat on the table, your batting (if you’re using it), and your fabric on top. Pin your layers together all around, then stitch or hand baste around the edges to secure everything together. You can even baste a big “X” across the center of your piece—the basting can be removed when you’re done.

Ready? Let’s sew!

  1. Slide your fabric under the needle and put the presser foot down to engage the thread tension.

  2. Choose a graphic detail—say, a leaf. Let’s outline the leaf. Take a couple of stitches in place at your starting point on the leaf edge. Some people prefer to take a stitch and pull up the bobbin thread, then stitch a couple of stitches and cut off the bobbin thread. That way you don’t get any tangles on the back. Personally, I rarely have this problem so I rarely bother!
  3. Make an “L” with your fingers and thumbs and place your hands around your chosen design with your thumbs about 2-3 inches apart.

  4. Now you’re ready to start stitching. You’ll have to experiment with how fast to stitch and move the fabric. Believe it or not, when you stitch/move a little faster, you can make smoother lines. It’s kind of like riding a bike. When you go really slow, trying to keep your balance, you’re more likely to wobble around. So don’t be afraid to step on the gas!
  5. Outline your leaf (or whatever). You can move sideways and backwards, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time stopping to rearrange your fabric like when you stitch with feed dogs. But if you can’t see what you’re doing, turn the fabric so you can!
  6. Deep breath…..exhale…..relax your shoulders, elbows and wrists……
  7. Now go around again! One thing I love about thread painting is building up lines of thread. And any little “wobbles” can be smoothed over with another line or 2 of stitching.
  • DON’T AIM FOR PERFECTION!! And needles sometimes break! I’ve broken A LOT of needles doing free-motion work. It happens, it’s OK. Just put in a new needle and keep practicing.
  • Now that that’s established, move on to another part of the design. If you’re doing a leaf, try the veins. On a flower, try the stem/leaves.
  • REMEMBER: when you’re ready, you’ll probably use matching or blending thread colors. This time we’re just concentrating on moving around.
  • You can practice stitch all over your fabric. This is a nice technique for quilting those printed panels used for pillows and wall hangings.

Here’s a “before and after” on another section of my fabric. I used thread colors that blend with the design. The difference isn’t dramatic, but it isn’t supposed to be. What we’re doing is embellishing, enhancing a design.
After: the next 3 pictures:

Add Image

Next time we’ll look at how color is used within an object in the design and focus on highlights.

>Some of My Favorite Notions

>ONE OF MY FAVORITE GADGETS: Desk Needle Threader by Clover

Has to be one of my absolute favorite sewing accessories! Discovered this last year at a quilting conference. It’s a little desk-top gadget. You put the needle in the hole, eye-end down, lay the thread across, push a lever, and pull the needle out—threaded! I didn’t need this when I was younger, but this has come around just as my eyes are failing. It’s made by Clover, available at various sites online or check your favorite fabric or quilting shop. (If they don’t carry it, tell them they should!)

I have sewn all my life—the first 35 years I sewed primarily clothing. But in the last 15 years I have been exploring “art quilts” of different types. I’ve always felt like I had a pretty good eye for color, so I didn’t really worry about color theory and such.

In January I went to a quilting conference and an artist/teacher I studied with was a big proponent of color wheels when choosing colors for a project. She pointed out that these color theories were developed over the centuries by the Masters—because they work! She was a painter before she was a quilt artist, and extremely talented. I thought, “If she thinks this is such a good idea, it probably is!”
We did use the wheel in some of our exercises and one thing I found was that it helps me make decisions a lot quicker. Mainly what I use is the back side because it shows at a glance the complementary, split complementary, triad, and tetrad, color combinations. I’m not a trained artist and I’ve chosen my colors “by eye” for such a long time, this has been a bit of a revelation. I still don’t make traditional quilts and I’ve trained my eye to see colors in nature, so for some things I don’t need to worry about split complementaries. But now when I’m choosing colors for a handbag or an arts-y quilt, I’m enjoying consulting my color wheel for some good advice!
This one is pocket size, available online and at craft stores like Hobby Lobby. (about $4)

>Final Results from our Fund Raiser

>Here’s my most recent accounting of our donation results for NADS:
My sales (4) $80
Donations thru my studio (2) $16
BirdysKnits matching donation & purchase $40
Sneakers donations $192.50
TOTAL: $328.50

Well, isn’t that a great figure coming from a bunch of “starving artists”? I’m still basking in warm fuzzies–hope all of you are too.

Many asked about Dean’s Bday: He had a great day. He worked at the sheltered workshop, then went to Special Olympics Bowling. Then his older brother, Ryan, (with whom he lives) and a friend took him out to eat at Chilie’s. Ryan used to work there & a group of waitresses bought Dean one of those molten chocolate desserts. (Dean has the girls wrapped around his stubby finger wherever he goes!)

Sunday we celebrated Dean’s Bday at our house with his younger 2 brothers. Hubby grilled cheeseburgers and I made a chocolate cake. I started showing Dean the Bday wishes as they were already coming in on Sunday and will show him all the rest this weekend. I’ve been telling him about them on the phone in the meantime.

So who’s up for a Juvenile Diabetes fundraiser when my son #3 turns 21?!!!!

Love all of you!

>Today’s the Day!


Today is Dean’s 21st Bday and we’ve had a wonderful start with 2 items sold! All the support, blogging, twittering, bumping, etc. has just filled me with joy and gratitude. I’ve got lots of “pay back” to do, that’s for sure!

We celebrated Dean’s Bday here at our house Sunday, with presents, cheeseburgers and chocolate cake. Monday morning I took Dean back to work and got some incredible feedback about him from the supervisors there—they said he’s the highest functioning person with Down Syndrome they’ve ever seen! Way to go, Dean! And they admire his kindness, generosity, and good manners. So I’m a proud mama today!

After work, Dean will go to Special Olympics Bowling, then his older brother, with whom he lives, and some of their friends will go out to dinner. We nixed the strip club!!!!

I’m trying to get a couple more things posted in my shop today. Man, isn’t there always some techie issue to deal with?

Anyway, once again, thanks to you all!

More “how-to” blog posts coming soon!

>Dean’s Birthday: 100% Sales Donation

>I Dreamed
by Amy Cavaness

I dreamed he’d be born beautiful and healthy.
He was.

I dreamed he’d tell me that he loves me.
He tells me every day.

I dreamed he’d be bright and funny.
He is – his humor is wonderful.

I dreamed he’d ride a bike, catch a ball and wrestle with his big brother.
He does and his brother loves it.

I dreamed he’d have big birthday parties with lots of friends and cake and presents.
He’s had six.

I dreamed he’d one day get on a bus and go to kindergarten.
He did it yesterday – my heart full of love and my eyes full of tears.

I dreamed he’d make us proud.
He has and he’s inspired us.

Dean has Down Syndrome.
I never dreamed that.
It’s been 15 years since I wrote this poem. Dean turns 21 on April 7, 2009 and I couldn’t have dreamed what kind of man he’d become. He’s still funny, he’s very bright, and he still loves cake. He continues to make us proud. I continue to be grateful for his presence in our lives. And I love him dearly.

In honor of Dean’s 21st birthday on Tuesday, April 7, I will donate 100% of my sales to the National Association for Down Syndrome. This organization offers wonderful support to parents and their kids, and we were so glad we found them when Dean was born.

>Broderie Perse (a fusible applique technique)



“Jack of all trades, master of none” sort of describes by relations hip with fabric and threads. From tailoring and bound buttonholes to silk ribbon embroidery by machine, I have tried just about everything! Some techniques I enjoy better than others, some have become more appealing with age and patience.

In my blog I’m going to talk about different things to do with your sewing hobby. Some things aren’t even sewing, but the results are something you can use when you do sew.

Broderie Perse is a technique that you may already be familiar with. It dates from the 17th century and it was originally cutting flowers out of chintz fabric and appliquéing them to a quilt top. With today’s fabrics and the wonderful fusing agents and appliqué techniques we have available, there is no end to the creative things you can do!

In my Sew Many Pictures wall hangings, I have used this technique quite a bit. For example, in my Flower Basket, all the flowers were cut from different fabrics, arranged, and fused in place.

Then I finished them by thread painting (topic for another blog!)

There are so many benefits to using this technique:

The fabric designers are fabulous artists! Why should I try to draw it/paint it when they’ve done it for me???
It can be used in place of machine embroidery at far less cost and time.
For landscape quilts—so many fabrics are coming out for this popular style! You can make a beautiful landscape with ease.

Here are the basics:
Pick out the element you want to use from a piece of fabric and rough-cut it out with about 1 ½ inches border around it.

Then cut a piece of Steam a Seam II or other fusing material, a bit small than your piece of fabric. (trace the fabric piece, then cut ¼-1/2” inside the lines.

Apply the fusing material to the wrong side of the fabric.

With good, sharp, small scissors, cut out your element.

Continue cutting out your elements for your picture til you’ve got everything you need and arrange things as you like on your background fabric.

Note: sometimes I fuse little sections together on a piece of parchment paper or fusible backing paper prior to arranging the bigger picture.

Finally, fuse everything in place.

You’re done! Or, continue on with thread painting or whatever further treatment you choose.