Follow the Line to an Interesting Quilt Design

As a devotee of "Project Runway," one of the things I love most about the show-after the hilarious Tim Gunn quips-is watching how the designers translate their inspirations into line, pattern, and form. Take last week's episode, where Anthony and Maya were inspired by New York's Chinatown. Anthony's look was a dress with a honeycomb-pleated, 3-D design meandering from the right shoulder, across the front, and all the way down to the left side of the hem. This "line" was taken from the undulating paper-folded dragons seen at a Chinatown shop, and the designer made it work!

I couldn't help but imagine how I might create a similar line with my sewing machine and thread. In fact, I confess I often find myself "translating" the lines I see in my everyday life into potential stitching lines for hand stitching, free-motion quilting, or thread sketching.

But often the line I see so clearly in my mind doesn't quite make it to the fabric. It takes practice to make the needle go where you want it to go and have the effect you desire. I find it's helpful to make a sketch of the line to "memorize" how I want the line to go.

Susan Brubaker Knapp, who is writing a Thread Sketching 101 column for us in Quilting Arts this year, has some tips for improving your thread sketching technique by following the line.

1. Choose a photo or simple still life (such as a bowl of fruit).

  • Create a contour line drawing of the image by placing a piece of white paper in front of you, positioning the pencil on it, and drawing the outlines of the shapes without lifting your pencil. Keep your eyes focused on the subject and not the paper. This can help you build hand-eye coordination and often results in freer, more spontaneous drawing.
  • When you have finished, trace the lines onto fabric using a light board or a brightly lit window.
  • Stitch the lines with a single color of thread.

2. Make your lines "mean" something by taking a cue from cartoonists.

  • What kinds of lines do they use to capture gestures and sensations, such as a shaking fist, a yell, the stench of a garbage can, the aroma of a pie cooling on a windowsill?
  • Practice creating lines that seem sad, angry, or playful.

3. Make a line sampler.

  • Use your imagination and your stitching to create lines with different characteristics in one piece, so you get practice and have something to refer to later, such as my "Hidden Identity" sampler.

Susan demonstrates more of her tips and tricks for successful free-motion quilting and thread sketching in her Quilting Arts Workshop (TM) DVD, Master Machine Quilting.

Now that you've practiced, are you ready to thread sketch some lines? You can try your hand at making Susan's "Vanity" quilt, based on a peacock feather design. A version of the quilt is featured on the April/May cover of Quilting Arts.

You can download a copy of the pattern on the Quilting Arts community website, where you'll also find additional work by other artists featured in this issue.


Other topics you may enjoy:


Machine Quilting, Machine Stitching, Quilting Daily Blog