The Trick Every Art Quilter Should Know

Pokey BoltonHas this ever happened to you?

You find something you really love–like the perfect shade of pink lipstick that doesn't make your skin look dull and is appropriate for day or evening–and the next time you go to buy it, you find out it's been discontinued. Gone. Gone forever.


I've had this happen with cosmetics, shampoo, and thread, too. The worst is when you run out of your favorite color of thread right in the middle of quilting a piece.

But at least with thread, I can avoid the dreaded word "discontinued" by taking advantage of color mixing. Being able to successfully layer different thread colors in your free-motion thread work has several advantages:

  1. You don't come to depend on a particular color that might be discontinued or changed by the manufacturer.
  2. You don't have to buy and keep every color in the rainbow or run out to find just the right color in the middle of a project.
  3. Blending threads creates more depth and interest in your work than using one solid color.

The first two reasons are practical, but frankly, I think the last reason is the most important one. Most artists want their work to have more visual dimension and interest.

If you've never tried layering or blending thread colors to create a new color or variations on one color, here's an exercise you might try. It's from internationally known artist Carol Shinn's excellent book Freestyle Machine Embroidery: Techniques and Inspiration for Fiber Art.

1. Paint a square in a medium-value color, then draw lines to create four equal quarters that will be stitched with different colors of thread.

2. Stitch the entire square with a color that matches the paint.

3. Stitch a second layer in each quadrant, using a lighter value in the first; a complement in the second; a grayed, duller color in the third; and an analogous color in the fourth.

4. Stitch a third layer that appears to be a mix of the original and the second layer colors.

5. Stitch a final layer of the basic color across the entire initial square so that only bits of the other colors pop through the thread matrix. Take a moment to note which color combination appears the smoothest or most evenly colored. Which appears the most textured?

Try this exercise with different colors and see what you can create. Keep track of your experiments, recording the colors you used, for future reference.

Speaking of reference, Freestyle Machine Embroidery: Techniques and Inspiration for Fiber Art is full of practical advice, tutorials, and beautiful pieces of machine-embroidered art. No art quilter's studio should be without it.

Now, if I could just find a book that would help me create the perfect shade of lipstick.

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