I was pulling laundry out of the dryer the other day when I spied something among the folds that looked black, fuzzy, and about the size of a quarter. I dropped the laundry basket and jumped back, convinced I had just seen a giant spider.
Then I noticed the fuzzy blob wasn't moving. Gingerly, I stepped forward and got a closer look.
Whew! It was only thread trash. You know, those lumpy nests and strands of fiber that come off washed and dried fabric?
Of course I put the thread trash aside for future surface design use. If it looked like a spider on my laundry, it would likely be equally convincing someday on one of my art quilts.
I was first made aware of the artistic benefits of thread trash in 2008, when Connie Fahrion wrote about using these old, cast-off threads to create new surfaces in the June/July issue of Quilting Arts Magazine. Connie has used thread trash to simulate coral, bark on trees, dimensional centers for flowers, foliage, vines, grass, tree limbs, and many other organic textures, real or abstract.
My recent encounter with the thread "spider" jogged my memory (as well as my heart rate), so I thought I'd share some of Connie's ideas for using thread trash with you.
How to Use Thread Trash As Surface Design
1. Choose a background fabric. This can be a commercial fabric, pieced or not pieced, or your own dyed or painted fabric. You can give the fabric a simple wash of color or doctor it up with silkscreen patterns, foils, stamps, felted wool roving, or more detailed fabric painting. Thread trash works well on all of it.
2. Arrange your thread trash on your background in a way that is pleasing to you. You might try placing it in straight lines in a vertical or horizontal orientation, or try curving, twisting, and turning it as it moves across your surface. You can do a stationary, still-life arrangement or try something completely wild and abstract. Scrunch it, lump it, mash it, or stretch it out to a fine thread. The idea is to play.
3. When you have an arrangement and a texture that you like, "save" your thread trash arrangement in one of the following ways before stitching:
- Spray fabric adhesive onto your design surface to keep the thread trash in place.
- Cover the composition with tulle to hold it down.
- On larger pieces, photograph your design for reference, then reposition it at the machine according to your photo.
4. Free-motion stitch your thread trash design onto the background surface. Depending on the thickness and how it's being used, you could also couch the thread trash on your background with hand stitching.
Looking back at the issue in which this article appeared, I noticed there were several other techniques and projects that I'd wanted to get back to, like Carol Wiebe's painterly approach to mounting your quilt, Kath Danswan's stitched silk bowls, Lisa Kerpoe's piece on creating stamped Adinkra cloth, and Rose Hughes' exploratory methods with paint, discharge dyeing, and crayon rubbing. I could spend weeks in the studio with that one issue alone!
If you're missing that issue, or any issue from 2001 through 2008, I'm happy to tell you they're all available on CD, exactly as they were originally printed. Right now these Collection CDs are bundled together and on sale, so you should jump on them like thread trash on laundry!
I'd like to hear if you collect thread trash or any other odd, cast-off fiber, and how you use it. The odder, the better. Leave your comment below.