How to Select the Best Thread for Thread Sketching

Do you see everything around you? Really see it?

If you follow Susan Brubaker Knapp on Facebook, as I do, you will be familiar with her almost daily photo posts she calls, “Beauty on my morning walk.” The breathtaking images of bees’ wings, flower petals, veined rocks, ice crystals and the like lead someone, every few weeks or so, to comment that Susan must live in an especially beautiful area.

joyful quilt with thread sketching susan brubaker knapp
‘Joyful,’ by Susan Brubaker Knapp, features thread sketching on the petals.

And Susan invariable responds, “You will be surprised at how unremarkable it is. You just have to seek out the beauty that is around you, wherever you are. It is there.”

Really seeing the beauty around her, in every detail, helps Susan choose the threads and fabrics she uses to thread sketch her quilts. In her new Quilting Arts Magazine series “Thread Sketching for Beginners,” Susan starts by answering the most frequently asked questions about her specialty.

Here is some of her advice on how she selects thread:

What weight and type of thread do you use?

If you don’t want to hoop your work when you thread sketch-and I personally hate to hoop!-it is critical that you use lightweight thread. I always use AurifilTM Cotton Mako 50. It is a strong but lightweight cotton thread with a good amount of sheen (rare in cotton thread). If you use heavier thread, you will experience more puckering and draw up, and the thread will build up very quickly, so you may not get the subtlety you desire.


agave quilt with thread sketching by susan brubaker knapp
‘Agave’ by Susan Brubaker Knapp. Susan’s thread color choices affect the shading and contours to make the plant come to life.

How do you decide what thread color to use?

In most things in nature, there are subtle color shifts. Most things are not a solid color. If the base fabric is red, for example, but the subject has tones of orange in it, you should add shades of orange and yellow thread. Add dark red thread where the color needs to go darker.

Why not use variegated thread?

There are times that I use it in thread sketching, but usually I don’t, because I can’t control where the color will shift.

What do you use in the bobbin?

I use the same type and weight of thread as in the top. Using heavier thread in the bobbin makes it hard to get the tension balanced. I either match the color, or use a similar value in the bobbin as the top thread.

Now that you’ve gained lots of thread-sketching knowledge, put it to use capturing the beauty you see every day.

There were so many that we couldn’t fit them all into the August/September 2014 issue of Quilting Arts. So we’ve included the rest of Susan’s thread sketching advice in a free downloadable PDF in our Online Extras (under the Free Resources tab) on

P.S.  In what common places do you find beauty? Leave your comment below.

Other topics you may enjoy:


Quilting Daily Blog, Quilting for Beginners

2 thoughts on “How to Select the Best Thread for Thread Sketching

  1. I've been thinking a lot about radishes lately. These tangy roots tinged with pink and purple are the first crop of my garden, and were a huge inspiration to me earlier this summer.

  2. I agree with Susan, it is everywhere, if you look. For example I was washing dishes last evening and a Blue Jay stopped to rest on the fence outside the kitchen window. He was facing me and the sun was on his back, illuminating his coloring with that low-sun warmth. He stayed for just a few seconds and was gone as quickly as he came.
    Sometimes I think I focus on finding beautiful things to see to avoid the harsh realities of life. Like living with rose-colored glasses.