Friday, January 14, 2011

How To Series 1: Thread Painting 101 - Supplies Part I

Thread Painting, once you have the basic steps and a bit of practice, can be quite an effective way to enhance your textile art.  Often misinterpreted, Thread Painting is the process of applying color to your fabric using decorative threads with your sewing machine or 'painting with thread'.  Think of your machine and needle as the paint brush and your decorative threads as your pallet.  Transform a basic applique design into a work of art by adding color, shading, and highlights.  Most often, I use Thread Painting on my applique designs to really bring them to life.

Hummingbirds and Fucshias

Before we get into how to Thread Paint, we need to talk about the proper supplies so that we start off on the right foot.  These are the basic supplies that will get you started Thread Painting.  Other more specialized tools will be covered later on in the series when we get into the slightly more advanced techniques.  Because we are going into a bit of detail on some supplies, this Supplies post will be in two parts.  Part II will be posted next Thursday.


For Thread Painting I mainly use two types of needles in my machine: an Embroidery size 75/11 and a Topstitch size 90/14 or 100/16 depending on thread type.

 My default is the Embroidery needle.  This needle has a slightly larger and polished eye for easier passage of decorative threads.  It has a wider scarf or groove above the eye to help protect decorative threads from shredding or breaking and allows it to guide evenly through the eye.  A hump between the eye and scarf allow for better loop formation, which will help to avoid skipped stitches.  This needle also has a higher flexural strength (think of that side to side motion used for embroidery) allowing for longer life and less needle breakage.  The eye and groove both have very well rounded edges to keep from shredding your thread.  The size 11 I feel is a good balance between a strong needle that doesn't leave a really large hole in my fabric.  Note the red band on the needle, this is to differentiate the Embroidery needle from other needles.  

When I run into a 'problem' thread or use a thicker or metallic thread, I turn to the Topstitch needle.  The two sizes are handy; a 90/14 is what I usually start with for metallic or thicker threads and then if needed I move to the 100/16 for thicker threads.  I have been told that the Topstitch needle is exactly the same as the metallica needle, and it certainly works and looks the same.  Save your money, buy the Topstitch and skip the others.  As you can see Topstitch needles have a much larger coated and polished eye to accommodate those heavier threads.  A larger scarf or groove helps prevent shredding of the thread during stitch formation and the needle has a sharper point.   Recently, Superior Threads started distributing their own brand of Topstitch needles.  They have a very thin coating of titanium on them (gold coating as shown in the picture) which hugely increases the life of the needle.  Titanium coating doesn't make your needle stronger, it is to keep the needle point sharp and the surface smooth and free of nicks and burrs for much longer than the average needle.  

Machine Feet:

Machine feet vary quite a bit between the different brands of machines, with each brand having several different options to choose from.  The main thing to look for in a free motion foot to use for Thread Painting, is that it needs to accommodate a zigzag stitch.  A zigzag is the most commonly used Thread Painting stitch.  Additionally I like a foot that has a clear base so that you can see as much of the surface you are stitching on as possible.  Pictured below are several feet from several brands of machines that I use for Thread Painting.  Notice in the second picture the elongated opening that will allow for a zigzag stitch to be used.

OK, that's it for this week.  Stay tuned for next week when we discuss Threads: Decorative Embroidery Thread & Bobbin Thread, Stabilizers/Hoops, plus 'other handy things to have on hand'.


  1. I first 'met' you on QuiltArt in 2003. You encouraged me to just play. I look forward to learning how you have perfected the technique of thread painting. I have only recently begun experimenting in earnest. I look forward to following your blog!

  2. Thanks for doing this! I've ordered my open toe free motion foot!


  3. Angela - thank you for an excellent lesson. I'm teaching a thread-painting class next month for my quilt guild and will add a link to your site. Good stuff!

  4. Thank you!! I'll be following this tut and sharing the link with some friends who are also learning to threadpaint. I hope you will post on QA list when you add to this. Thank you again.

  5. Gloria, I do agree I hope she would put in a question and answer blog to this. I have been reading on this tech. and I have tried it a few times with out a hoop so it was free motion. I am new to sewing and I have a lot of questions :) Thank you for this tutorial I am looking forward to seeing them all! 6/6/16

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