Combine Drawing with Thread, Painting with Ink

Have you taken any photos lately and thought, "That would make a great quilt"?

bee quilt with thread sketching and ink by karen fricke
Karen Fricke used thread sketching and ink to
create this bee quilt, based on a photograph.

If you want use a photo as inspiration for a fiber art piece but don't want to appliqué or piece the image, try thread sketching. Drawing with thread, you can create an entire image or an outline. By thread painting-blending colors with close stitching-you can add shading, highlights, or color.

Some artists combine machine stitching with paint, colored pencils, or ink to add colors and shading to their threadwork after they stitch.

Karen Fricke is one of those artists. Starting with a photo of a bee, she used thread sketching techniques with ink to bring it to life on fabric.

After she fills in the details of the image with thread sketching, Karen paints with Tsukineko inks and Fantastix sponge applicators to add shading and highlights. Because the applicators hold a lot of ink, she recommends dabbing them on a scrap of fabric first so you don't saturate your design.

Here are some of Karen's other tips for using her thread sketching with ink technique:

Instead of tracing the image, print a grayscale image of your subject directly onto heavy-duty tear-away stabilizer, with your inkjet printer set on "best quality."

If you lose some details through the printing process, go over the printed image with a permanent marker, referring to the original photo, to define any lost elements you want to capture in your thread sketch.

Place the fabric of your design element (such as the bee's body) on the background fabric and outline that part of your image with plain black cotton thread and free-motion stitching.

removing tear away stabilizer from thread sketching
After thread sketching, Karen carefully
removes the stabilizer from the fabric.

Cut close to the stitching to remove the excess fabric from around the stitching, being careful not to cut through the stitches. Using curved scissors makes it easier to do this.

When you're satisfied with the colors, look over the entire design. If more detail is needed, thread-sketch again with a really fine zigzag stitch.

In upcoming issue of Quilting Arts Magazine, we're featuring articles on thread drawing and sketching as well as surface design techniques with paint, dyes, and inks. Now is the perfect time to subscribe to Quilting Arts.

P.S. Do you paint on fabric with thread, ink (or paint), or both? What are your preferred supplies? Leave your answer below.

Other topics you may enjoy:


Quilting Daily Blog, Thread Painting, Thread Sketching

2 thoughts on “Combine Drawing with Thread, Painting with Ink

  1. I love thread painting and have even taught classes on it. Not only do I use thread, I also use InkTense dye pencils, fabric paints, fabric markers and crayons and/or colored pencils as part of my pallet. This has opened a whole new world for me as a fiber artist and the depth and realism one can now achieve using this technique is limited only by one’s imagination. So glad to see more on this in Quilting Arts and its appearance within the quilting/fiber art community.

    Terri D in Palm Bay, FL

  2. I use everything I can get my hands on. I saved junk for years and found the most wonderful items to transform into art. My mixed medium art contains acrylic paints, puff paints, jewels, 3-D hand painted animals and fabric and felt flowers. Feathers for birds, thread painted tree burls, glitter glue, embroidery threads, curly paper for packaging. I love what I create and each one has meaning representing a Jewish theme or life event .I wish I could send you a picture.