Easy Steps to Thread Sketching Success

Thread sketching is not a new technique, but it seems as though more people are willing to give it a try and are looking for tips on how to do it. If you're one of them, then look no further, as Quilting Arts has plenty of thread sketching tricks and techniques for you to try.

We've had several articles on thread sketching in Quilting Arts over the years. For example, Karen Fricke wrote about "Thread Sketching on Stabilizer" in the October/November 2007 issue. And JJ Foley described two techniques for turning sketches into stitched designs in her article "Sketchbook Quilts" in the October/November 2008 issue.

Those articles and others showed how easy and fun it can be to make thread the star of your design.

And now we've enlisted Susan Brubaker Knapp, host of the Quilting Arts Workshop video "Master Machine Quilting: Free-motion Stitching and Thread Sketching," to write a six-part series on the topic for Quilting Arts, beginning with the February/March issue.

Thread sketching differs from thread painting in the same way that sketching with a pencil differs from painting a picture. Sketching uses a lighter touch, is quicker, and is usually less exact, while painting is heavier and captures more of the subtleties of the subject.

"Thread sketching is fun, and it is an effective way to add color, line, texture, dimension, pattern, and movement to your quilts," says Susan.

In the series, Susan will:

  • Discuss each aspect of thread sketching.
  • Show you examples that illustrate these elements.
  • Provide technical information on considerations like your workspace, needles and thread, stabilizers, and useful tools.
  • Give you some exercises to improve your thread sketching

First up: Susan shows how thread alone can add color to your artwork, as in her piece called "A New Box." Here is one of Susan's suggested exercises:

Interpret a subject that is all about color using only thread on white fabric, as I did in "A New Box." Consider stitching balls of yarn or spools of thread. You may find it helpful to take a photo of your subject, blow it up to the size you want, and then trace the outlines onto white fabric, using a light box or brightly lit window.

That exercise reminded me of one of the techniques JJ Foley talked about in her 2008 article. JJ used digital imaging and inkjet transfer sheets to apply her own sketchbook drawings to her quilt. Here is the essence of her instructions:

  1. Take a digital photo of an original image, upload it to your computer, and alter it, changing the size, cropping it, etc.
  2. Print your image onto pre-treated, colorfast fabric sheets for inkjet printers.
  3. Iron the sheet (on the fabric backing side) to set the ink.
  4. Add batting and backing and stitch around the sandwich with a walking foot.
  5. Use your free-motion quilting foot to stitch along the lines of your drawing, taking extra care around small details. Pay attention to each and every gradation in the image in order to bring out each aspect of the drawing. 

Thread sketching does take practice, but by following some simple steps, it can be a fun and artful way to add color and dimension to your quilts and a way to expand on your drawing and painting skills. Use the tips in these past issues and on Susan's Quilting Arts series and Workshop video to give it a try!

Other topics you may enjoy:


Quilting Daily Blog, Thread Sketching