Thread Sketching Without a Hoop – 6 Alternatives

Thread sketching can add lots of texture and movement to your quilts. But as anyone who has tried it knows–if you don’t stabilize your work, your fabric will draw up and pull out of shape.

In her thread sketching tutorial series in Quilting Arts, Susan Brubaker Knapp has addressed this issue:

thread sketching with insufficient stabilizer
Oops. One layer of interfacing wasn’t enough to keep this piece of thread art from pulling out of shape. Susan says two layers, or one layer of interfacing and one layer of fusible web would have worked better.

Stabilizing Your Work for Thread Sketching
By Susan Brubaker Knapp 

Properly stabilizing your work is one of the greatest challenges of thread sketching. Ignore this step at your own peril; you will be gnashing your teeth within minutes.

Some artists solve the stabilization problem by working in a hoop, but I dislike hooping my projects for several reasons: it can mess up the layers of fused fabrics I often use in my work; it is disruptive to stop and re-hoop as I move to different areas of a piece; and it restricts my stitching to the space inside the hoop. It also slows me down!

I have found it unnecessary to hoop when I follow these guidelines:

• Choose a base fabric that is fairly heavy or has a high thread count. Batiks usually work beautifully.

• Use a stiff interfacing. Sometimes I use two layers of interfacing. This interfacing stays in the project; it is not washed away like the water-soluble stabilizers used by some thread painting artists and machine embroiderers.

• Work that includes several layers of fabric fused together using a medium-weight fusible web product generally requires only one layer of interfacing underneath to stabilize it.

thread art by susan brubaker knapp
‘Hidden Identity’ by Susan Brubaker Knapp. Susan used lightweight thread and a single layer of interfacing to thread sketch this piece.

• Painting the entire surface of a piece with acrylic paint does a great job of stabilizing the fabric for thread sketching. Pieces that are painted require only one layer of interfacing underneath.

• Thread sketch the whole surface of the piece, working on a bit at a time, without doing really heavy stitching in any one area. When the stitches are evenly distributed on the piece, it will lie flatter and generally behave better before quilting.

• On pieces that have only a single base fabric on a layer of interfacing (such as “Hidden Identity”), use a lightweight thread (#50- or #60-weight). Save heavier threads for pieces with several layers of thread and fusible web, or for after the entire piece has been thread sketched with the lighter-weight thread.

Susan is a master at thread sketching and machine quilting, and one of the best teachers I’ve seen. She shares her tips, tricks, tools, and sources of inspiration with you in her popular Quilting Arts Workshop videos, Master Machine Quilting and Master Machine Sketching.

P.S. Do you prefer to stitch with or without a hoop? Leave your answer below and tell me why.

Other topics you may enjoy:


Quilting Daily Blog, Thread Sketching

7 thoughts on “Thread Sketching Without a Hoop – 6 Alternatives

  1. Firstly, I LOVE Susan Brubaker Knapp!

    I have never thread sketched with a hoop. Probably because I always forget to pick it up and try it. I’m always anxious to get started! And if it’s “good ’nuff” for Susan BK, it’s good ’nuff for me.

    Sunnye Sherman

  2. It depends on my project. If I am thread sketching something that fits within my hoop (say a butterfly), I will use a hoop. I am currently experimenting with a batting layer of two pieces of medium weight (#9) canvas and spray adhesive. Because of the subject matter (agricultural fields as seen from above), I move around the piece, doing the bigger fields, then go back and fill in the smaller fields.

  3. I really hate using a hoop, but if I want something really flat, I have found it’s the best way… It also depends on how heavy the stitching is, how much quilting around it, etc. It is a good way for beginners to eliminate the puckering problem while they are learning. I usually do my thread sketching through my batting too, which sometimes helps, and sometimes makes it pucker even more…but I like that texture.

  4. Stabilizers I’m using lately are:
    1.) Pellon 910
    2.) Heavy Weight Shaping Aid
    3.) Pellon 809 (Decor Bond) – this is a fusible interfacing, but I don’t fuse it, as I find it bubbles up when I do heavy stitching. But it comes 44″ wide, which is useful for bigger pieces
    4.) Pellon 806 (Stitch and Tear) – used by people who do the digitized embroidery designs, and created to be torn away from the embroidered image. But I just leave it in my work. It feels more like paper than the others I’ve listed.