Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thread Painting

Let’s talk about Thread Painting. There are many books out there that show you various ways to thread paint with your machine.

My favorite book is Ellen Anne Eddy’s book, Thread Magic. And I hear she has come out with a new book called, Thread Magic Garden.

 Libby Lehman also has a great book out called Threadplay, showing how to do her ribbon pattern.  
 Both are great reference books.

  I like using a hoop. You can purchase an embroidery hoop that is thinner then a regular hoop from Quality Sewing. The thinner hoop is necessary because it fits under the presser foot of your machine. If you can’t locate one buy a 10” wooden hoop and sand down a 2” area so it will fit under the presser foot of your machine.
  I usually make a drawing of what I want to thread paint. Then using some Super Solvy, water-soluble stabilizer, by sulky, in medium weight, which is translucent, I trace the design onto it. I use a permanent black extra fine sharpie to trace with.
  Some times I find a piece of material that has a design that I want to use to thread paint and if that is the case, I cut it out so it fits in the hoop (about a 12” square), and proceed to sew it as I would a design of my own. Note though, that if you thread paint very thickly you will need to cut the fabric around the edge off so it will lay flat.

  As you can see that is what I will have to do with Threader, my dragon.
  Threader, was a panel, which you often see for sale at quilt shows and some shops. I did not use a hoop because my thread was too thick, so instead I backed it with Deco Bond. It was just a matter of going over the picture with the thread, in my choice of color, then cutting him out and sewing him to a piece of my hand dyed fabric.
  But I digress! After I have the design just the way I want it, I start building my hoop sandwich! I lay the outside hoop down on the table (that’s the larger of the two pieces), then I place one or two layers of tulle down, then top that with the stabilizer that has the design on it. Now I take the inside hoop and place it in the center pushing it down so all the layers are flat on the table and then I tighten the hoop so everything is secure. This is opposite of how you would set up a hoop for hand embroidery because you need what you will be sewing on to be flat against the bed of your machine, just as you would fabric you are sewing on.
  At this point I need to say a word or two about thread. There are many kinds of thread and the thread you use will determine the look of your finished product. As a base I usually use Rayon thread. Rayon thread is not as strong as other threads so it isn’t often used for sewing but it has a nice sheen to it and I like the results. The finished product won’t have any tension on it so you don’t need a strong thread.

 Sometimes I want a shine to my piece, like in my dragon, “Threader”. I did the whole piece with rayon, and then went over it lightly with a metallic thread. I also like to out line my work with a Madeira thread called Super Twist. Which can also be found at Quality Sewing Stores or ordered directly from Madeira, at, it comes in lots of colors although I mostly use black. Super Twist is a polyester thread with a metallic thread twisted around it. I find it is much smoother to sew with then regular metallic thread, especially if I am satin stitching the outline, and it has a nice sparkle to it!
  I know that some sewers hate to change thread and often use a neutral color thread so they don’t have to change it every time they change fabric colors. I use to be one of them! If you want your thread painting to be beautiful, you’ll just have to get over it! I use up to 20 or more different colors on some pieces and that means changing the thread! Some times it means changing the bobbin thread also! However if the bobbin thread isn’t showing on top you can stick with a thin, bottom line thread, in a neutral color.
  Now, about needles, all needles are not the same! I use a top stitch 90/14 for most of my stitching and a metallic 90/14 needle when sewing with metallic thread. This seems like a “no brainer” when using metallic thread but you would be surprised how many people don’t use the right needle. The faster you are sewing, as you will be while thread painting, the more friction will be put on the thread, so the bigger the eye of the needle should be. An 80/12 is a normal quilting and piecing needle size. I use a 60/10 when I am sewing on beads and a 100/16 when using 12-weight thread. The main advantage to using a metallic needle with metallic thread is the shape and the smoothness of the eye. I prefer Klasse’ brand needles because they carry a Titanium needle that bends instead of breaking as a regular needle might when thread painting. They also line the metallic needles eye with titanium for added smoothness! And for every two packs of needles you buy you get the third one free!
  Ok, so now you have your hoop sandwich, your threads, and your needles, you are ready to get started. DROP THE FEED DOGS!!! This is a must, so you don’t snag the tulle. If for some unknown reason your feed dogs won’t drop, you can get out the masking tape and tape over them.
  Hold your hoop lightly on each side while you are sewing, as in any quilting project the design stays in one direction and you move it so the thread goes where you want it. That means that you are not subject to just sewing in a straight line, so instead of moving the hoop around and around, you move it so the needle hits where you want it to. I always start by outlining the piece then I fill in the color and outline again. You need to be sure that the threads lock together so when you are done you have a solid piece to cut out. Think of this as an appliqué that you might purchase to sew on something. It will be just thread. Wash it in very warm water to dissolve the solvy and you can shape it at this point because the solvy acts like a starch. I often do butterflies this way so their wings can stand out away from the piece. This is a postcard that has one of my butterflies attached to it. 

  I usually start new students out with a blank piece of fabric  that has been backed with some Deco Bond stabilizer in the hoop and have them practice moving the hoop around so they can see how the needle and thread can easily travel from one spot to another. Take note of how the fabric reacts to heavy stitching, see how it warps it? That is where the zigzag stitch can be used in the opposite direction to help smooth it out.
  The zig zag stitch is good for filling in spaces and for writing words and for outlining your piece. You can change the width of the zig zag but remember you are the feed dogs, so you control how close the stitches go. You can also get an interesting effect with the zigzag stitch by moving at an angle.
  Practice, practice, practice! They say you should have 10 hours of quilting practice before you even consider quilting a quilt. I’m not really good at waiting. My first free motion, quilting attempt was a Lewis and Clark quilt I was making for a Quilt Contest at Hancock Fabrics. As luck would have it, the quilt turned out very nice and Hancock canceled the contest because of financial problems! 
  I recommend that you start small and build on your skills and practice as much as you can. It is important to relax while you are sewing. Put on some music that will help you relax, not go to sleep kind of relaxed, something that inspires your creativity. Make sure you have a comfortable chair to sit in. Even if I travel somewhere to sew, I always take a chair. One that is adjustable and has wheels so you can maneuver and has a padded seat! There is nothing worst then having to use a metal or plastic folding chair that is too low for the high table that your machine is on!
  I recently invested in a Sew Ezi sewing table that is a great fold up table that has wheels and a drop down for my machine. They sell the slide in to fit your machine exactly, by brand and style. They also sell a solid drop in, that is great to use as a light table. You can order one from,  Light is the other necessary element to sewing; a good light source is a must! Try to find one that shows true color. Ott lights are really good for showing you the true color of what you are sewing. The replacement bulbs can be quite expensive! Good use for your Jo Ann’s 40% off coupon!!!
  Your machine tension is another element to consider. I work on a Bernina sewing machine and I usually set my thread tension at 2 and completely dial back the presser foot tension. Not all machines offer this option so check your owner’s manual and see what you can change! You should be able to move the hoped fabric freely and no bobbin thread should show on top.
  Gather all your equipment, put on the music, load your hoop with a blank piece of fabric and practice, practice, practice! Don’t forget to have fun.

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