Make Your Focal Point Pop with Thread Painting

thread painting waterstonI first became aware of Elin Waterston through the Quilting Arts reader challenges, particularly our annual calendar contests. Very quickly, our team came to recognize Elin's distinctive brand of well-thought-out, uncluttered design featuring a strong focal point. Since then, Elin has written articles for our magazines, been a part of our QA WorkshopTM series, appeared on "Quilting Arts TV," and has written and contributed to several books.

Elin is always full of good design ideas and has recently added thread painting to her art quilt technique bag of tricks. She'll be sharing her expertise in a fun and productive all-day workshop, Thread Painted Mini Art Quilts at the CREATE with Cloth Paper Scissors retreat August 25-29.

With thread painting a very big trend in art quilt design, we asked Elin a few questions about how easy it is to learn and how the technique contributes to her art.

Q. Previously you've used a lot of mixed-media techniques in your art quilts, in addition to stitch. How and why have you incorporated thread painting in your art?

A. I tend to use thread painting to create the subject or focal point of quiltlet (and that is how we'll approach it in the workshop), but thread painting can be incorporated wherever and whenever appropriate and mixed with other techniques. I use it because it feels very much like drawing or painting to me and that's appropriate for my design style.

Q. Are there certain images or motifs that thread painting is best used for?         

A. Thread painting can be used for many different projects, to achieve many different effects. I'm not sure I can think of anything it couldn't be used for! That said, it behooves the artist to think about what look you want your final product to have and determine if thread painting is the best method to achieve that look.  

I always say that the project will tell you how to make it. Every technique isn't right for every project, but if you have an understanding and some experience using different techniques, you're able to use the technique that's most appropriate and beneficial to the impact of your project.

Q. I know a lot of people are itching to learn thread painting. But can it really be taught in a day?

A. Students can definitely learn the fundamentals of thread painting in a day. Of course, like so many things, the more you do it the better you get at it. When you've mastered the basic technique, you can move on to large or complex designs. It's definitely one of those practice, practice, practice techniques.

Q. What kind of special equipment do you need?

A. You need a sewing machine that has the ability to drop the feed dogs, and a darning or free-motion foot. And, just as important as the sewing machine is a machine embroidery hoop. I prefer wooden hoops that are easily adjustable (not the junky hand embroidery ones, but the nice sturdy kind you can adjust with a screw driver). There are plastic hoops on the market that are specifically made for machine embroidery, but I don't find them to be nearly as good for thread painting as the wooden ones. 

thread painting waterstonQ. What will students accomplish in your CREATE class?

A. During the workshop, students will be able to complete a thread painted subject for their mini quilt. Depending on the speed of the artist and the complexity of their design, they should also be able to add collage elements and embellishments and complete the entire quilt (we're working very small, after all). If anyone is really speedy, or for any reason they prefer to start another subject rather than complete a project, they can do that too. I always like my students to have the freedom to do whatever will most benefit them and enable them to learn as much as they can from the workshop.

Q. What are the advantages/artistic benefits of thread painting for fiber artists?

A. It's always helpful for any artist (fiber or otherwise) to learn new techniques. Every new creative thing you learn can benefit you in your other creative endeavors. So even if thread painting is something you think you might only dabble in, learning it can increase your understanding of color and value and it can improve your dexterity, motor skills and fluidity of movement. Plus it adds to your reserve of techniques to pull from when working on a project.

Q. What are some of the tricks you've discovered to make the thread painting process work well?

A. I don't think there are really any tricks for thread painting. For me, everything is always about the set up. No matter what you're doing – drawing, painting, yoga, dance, whatever – the set up is what counts. So if you set it up right, if you have the appropriate tools and materials and if your drawing/design is correct, everything else will follow. It's also important to understand that the more you experiment with the process, the greater your understanding of it will be, so you have to give yourself some freedom to push yourself a little past your comfort zone from time to time.

Sounds like fun!

If you'd like to sign up for Elin's thread painting class or any of the other exciting stitching and mixed-media workshops planned, visit the CREATE with Cloth Paper Scissors Retreat website now.

Other topics you may enjoy:


Machine Quilting, Machine Stitching, Quilting Daily Blog, Thread Painting