Thread Sketching Tutorial: Butterfly Wings Step by Step

Besides being fun, thread sketching is an effective way to add details that can make your work highly realistic, including subtle color shifts, intricate textures, and a sense of dimension, according to machine stitching expert Susan Brubaker Knapp. She uses thread sketching on both her fusible appliquéd and wholecloth painted quilts to bring her subjects to life.

As you might expect, the two keys to thread sketching success are technique and the thread itself.  Susan lists the following thread basics:

  • Lightweight machine quilting thread is essential; use 50- or 60-weight thread.
  • Cotton thread is easiest for beginners to regulate their tension.
  • Using the lightest weights of thread allows you to control the build-up of the thread, so it is not too heavy. (Susan uses Aurifil Cotton Mako 50 weight.)
  • To create a realistic piece, invest in a wide range of thread colors and values.
Susan layers in the thread colors to bring the butterfly wings to life.

Here is an excerpt from her new thread sketching tutorial series, beginning in the April/May 2014 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine

1. Start to thread sketch the wings. Fill in the white sections along the wing edges (Figure 5), then add the medium blue (Figure 6), the darker blue (Figure 7), and the brightest blue/white variegated. (Figure 8)

2. Continue working on the wings, referring often to the photo. The top wings are slightly darker, so I used some purple and the darkest blue thread on them. Lastly, I added some orange for the spots that give the butterfly its name.

The wing, completed with thread sketching,
by Susan Brubaker Knapp.

Ready to create thread art like Susan? We have the thread you need: Susan has curated a Thread Sketching Essentials Collection just for you from Interweave.

thread sketching essentials collection

Susan Brubaker Knapp's Thread Sketching
Essentials Collection from Aurifil.

This collection of Susan's favorite Aurifil 50 weight thread is a great way to start or supplement your thread stash. Twelve of Susan's go-to thread colors are all arranged in a handy storage case, come in two sizes and color assortments, and are available only at the Quilting Daily Shop.

P.S. New to thread sketching or machine stitching? Download Susan's popular Thread Sketching 101 eBook  and Master Quilter Quilting Arts Workshop video bundle.

Other topics you may enjoy:


Quilting Daily Blog, Quilting for Beginners, Thread Sketching

3 thoughts on “Thread Sketching Tutorial: Butterfly Wings Step by Step

  1. Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhh, what a question! Only one, I guess blue. I have lots of blue in my life, but I love them all, and a lot of them are on the floor–under my sewing machine.
    I’ve been working on a project that has green on it, and it definitely looks like the Easter Bunny could hide lots of eggs under my sewing table.

  2. Not even a question for me…my favorite color is YELLOW! It makes me smile every time I see it, and I love the way it goes with so many other colors.