Thursday, January 20, 2011

How To Series 1: Thread Painting 101 - Supplies Part 2

Last week we began talking about the proper supplies for Thread Painting.  Now that we have the correct machine feet and needles ready, it is time to talk about Thread, Bobbin Thread, and Stabilizers.  Remember, it is important to start with the correct supplies in order to be successful in our Thread Painting adventures!


While this tutorial is not an advertisement for any other company, I have included the names of several brand names that I like and use daily.  What I am giving you here is my 'formula' if you will, that I use to get the results you see in my work. These are the supplies and brands that work best for me.

Decorative Embroidery Thread:

Because I am a Thread-a-holic, I have a TON of thread in my thread stash.  Show me a pretty thread and I cannot resist!  I love to try out new threads and am always on the lookout for the unusual or for the 'perfect' color thread, which changes constantly depending on what project I am working on at the moment.  There are many different types of thread and for Thread Painting we will be starting with a basic Embroidery thread.  The two main types of embroidery thread are Rayon and Polyester.  Both are very shiny with a huge range of colors.  We will talk about these first, and then later in the series when we have gotten the basics down, we can get into Metallic and Specialty threads.

Rayon embroidery threads are shiny, colorful, fairly colorfast, but not very strong. Since they are meant to be decorative and not hold things together (IE: a seam on a garment) they work very well for decorative embroidery.  Some of my favorite brands of Rayon thread are: Robison Anton, YLI, Madeira, and WonderFil.

Polyester embroidery threads are also shiny, colorful, very colorfast, and very strong.  While I don't sew my seams with this thread, it is good to know that the Thread Painting I do will hold up to the test of time, wear, and light.  They are also much less troublesome in the machine than rayon threads.  Since it is a stronger thread to begin with and usually less lint (and therefore drag on the needle), there is less shredding and breakage.  My favorite brand of Polyester embroidery thread is by far Superior Threads.  In fact I will reach for this thread before any other brand when I am thread painting.  I also have in my thread stash Isocord, and Hemmingworth.  Because a polyester thread will melt at higher iron temperatures, keep a pressing cloth on hand to cover your work with when ironing, and try to iron from the back when possible.

Spool vs. Cone

Embroidery threads come wound onto a spool or a cone and both come in various sizes.  These are wound differently and need to be 'unwound' differently as well.  How the thread feeds into your machine will affect how it sews onto your fabric. A spool is usually wound straight and should have the thread coming off the side of the spool.  Cones are cross wound (note the direction of the thread on the cone) and need the thread to come off the top of the cone.

When thread is pulled off a spool or cone incorrectly, it causes it to twist more and that can lead to tension and breakage issues.  Since all machines are different, there are a few adapters out there that can help you adjust the way your spool or cone feeds into your machine.  A spool adapter will help with machines with vertical spool holders, allowing thread to be pulled off the spool from the side.  Slip the open end onto the spool holder with the little notch on the end facing up to keep the spool in place.  Cone adapters will allow the cone to sit upright while pulling thread from the top.  These adapters usually sit behind or to the side of your machine.  Sometimes my thread wants to 'puddle' off the cone too quickly causing problems with tangling and twisting.  A thread net helps to tame these unruly threads without adding a lot of additional tension.  I also use thread nets to store some of these more unruly threads.

Thread Net
Bobbin Thread:

Bobbin thread refers to a 60 - 65 weight two ply polyester thread used in the bobbin when embroidering.  Since your top threads will pull to the back (more on this later on) so that your bobbin thread doesn't show on top, you end up with much more thread on the back of your piece.  In order to keep this bulk down, and also to help form nicer stitches, we use a bobbin thread.  While there are several types of bobbin thread, and I have tried out any and all I can get my paws on, I now only use one bobbin thread: Bottom Line by Superior Threads.  At this time they are the ONLY company that manufactures an excellent quality bobbin thread in a huge range of colors.  While I tend to keep with a fairly neutral color pallet for my bobbin threads (OK, I'm lazy and don't like to keep changing my bobbin!) this range of colors comes in extremely handy.  Shown here is my pallet of bobbin threads. A light grey, medium grey, pink, deep red, green and a beige tone are what I use most often.


Have you ever tried to do a zigzag stitch on a plain piece of fabric?  Remember how the fabric puckered up into that zigzag stitch and everything distorted?  Well the same thing will happen when we Thread Paint unless we use some sort of stabilizer.  I have three main ways I stabilize, with other variations we will get into later on for special techniques.  A Tear Away stabilizer (I use Pellon Stitch n Tear) can be partially removed after stitching is done.  You can't tear it out from an area that is heavily thread painted, but you can remove the excess from around it.  I use this stabilizer when doing fusible machine applique.  Once my applique is finished, if I am not heavily thread painting I remove the stabilizer from under the applique piece.  The stabilizer surrounding the applique is left, creating a sort of 'hoop' around the area to be thread painted.  If I do plan on heavily thread painting, I leave the stabilizer under the applique for additional support.  The piece is thread painted and then the outer areas of stabilizer is removed.

When I thread paint really heavily on an entire piece, on or off my applique designs, I use a leave in heavy weight stabilizer.  Decor Bond is my first choice here because it has a built in fusible on one side, allowing me to fuse it to the back of my piece.  Because it is fused (notice the shine on the sample below) my fabric is now completely stabilized, plus I dont have to worry about my fabric moving around or loosing my stabilizer before I begin stitching.

If I want to keep my piece light weight with no stabilizers, such as on a sheer fabric or a wearable, I use a hoop.  These are not hoops you do cross stitch on.  These hoops are made to go under the machine and fit under your machine's foot.  For light to medium light thread painting, a spring hoop will work very well.  For heavier work, use a wood hoop.

Next Week:

By starting with the correct supplies and knowing why these specific items work better, you will hopefully have a much more successful start to Thread Painting.  And, now that we have covered the basic list of supplies, we can start actually Thread Painting!  Don't worry, we will take this in baby steps so that you can practice and become familiar with each kind of stitch before moving onto the next one.  First up: Basic Thread Painting Stitch - Meander Zigzag.  This is the easiest stitch to start with and will let you get used to the feel of free motion zigzag while playing with color.  See you next week!

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  1. Where can I find those hoops? I was looking for them locally (we have several LQS's) and nothing!! I've been using regular embroidery hoops but have to take off my walking foot every time I want to move the hoop under - what a pain!!

  2. Ask for sprung hoops. I recently found out about them and some of my students have a lot more confidence in using them. I manage without because I get to frustrated with running into the sides!
    Sandy in the UK

  3. Where do I find the netting for small cones. Coming off the cone too fast is a problem with polyester. I used to use many brands. However, now I mostly buy Marathon polyester. I want as many colors as I can get + good, strong thread. This is much cheaper than Superior + the cones work much better for me than the spools. They also have a HUGE amount of colors. Although they do not have any 'glow in the dark' or 'really outrageous' colors. Have to get those somewhere else.

  4. Angela, thank you so much! I'm enjoying this series, and appreciate all the work you have put into it. Since I'm an ex-longarmer re-learning the DSM, I'm refreshing my memory on some things, but also learning some new ones. Thanks!

  5. Angela you are the bomb! Your work is so beautiful and is inspiring me to get started with the thread painting. My machine will be coming home after cleaning and repair so it'll be ready to work. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

  6. I threadpaint also, my favorite way to work. Your writing is clear and concise and I think many people will find it extremely helpful.

  7. Thank you for your great instructions. I'm a newbie at this and am looking forward to learning more.

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