Use Cast-off Threads for Surface Design

17 May 2011

surface design thread trashpokey boltonI 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.

surface design thread trash2. 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.


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Comments

2littlewings wrote
on 17 May 2011 6:29 AM

I saw a bookart exhibit once where the artist used special screens in the dryer and alternating loads of dark and light laundry to "print" dark text on light dryer lint...genius!

Lindy101 wrote
on 17 May 2011 7:11 AM

Here is a link to QA's studio pix page.  It shows my 'garbage can' lace decorating my 'new' storage for fabric.

www.quiltingdaily.com/.../27468.aspx

For a complete, has-she-no- pride? view of my studio spring cleaning, check out my blog. Warning-Before and after photos. Before pix are a little overwhelming!

quilts-artfromtheheart.blogspot.com/.../spring-cleaning-is-exhilarating.html

on 17 May 2011 7:13 AM

I regularly use what I call ravelings, what you call thread trash, in some of my quilts. One of those quilts went to an AQS Lancaster show in their special Amish exhibit. I had made diamonds from my stash of ravelings and tulle. Mine was the only contemporary quilt in an exhibit of 13 quilts. I was very stoked.

Beth Stewart-Ozark

on 17 May 2011 7:40 AM

Nice article, just getting interested in something different.....I am also trying to get instuctions for  the items in 610, is that info still available..I am have no luck as I am a begginer, the way to do it escapes me....Shirley

Dia9 wrote
on 17 May 2011 8:11 AM

thanks for reminding me, Pokey, why I've been keeping all those bits and pieces as they fall off the serger or I peel them out of the lint screen and they just seem like something not to throw away!

vlhinton wrote
on 17 May 2011 11:01 AM

This is something that a gal in Chico has been doing for quite some time.  She is so cute.  She periodically comes to our sewing group, which gathers every other Tuesday evening at Barnes and Nobles, and asks for the scrim--what you call thread trash.  She makes earrings and cards and all kinds of things with our left over thread bits.  One of these days, I'm going to save it up and do something great with it, like you two do.

hollyart wrote
on 17 May 2011 11:32 AM

I have used dryer trash a few times on my art quilts. My favorite was some wool dryer lint that I got after felting some old sweaters to use for a wool applique. I used it as a background for a needle felted piece.

When I use the threads from my washing machine trash I arrange them the way i want them and then sandwich them between layers of water soluble stabilizer. then I stitch the daylights out of them and then wash out the stabilizer. These little patches are then ready to attach to my quilt. They make great bushes and trees in my landscapes.

hollyart wrote
on 17 May 2011 11:43 AM

I have used dryer trash a few times on my art quilts. My favorite was some wool dryer lint that I got after felting some old sweaters to use for a wool applique. I used it as a background for a needle felted piece.

When I use the threads from my washing machine trash I arrange them the way i want them and then sandwich them between layers of water soluble stabilizer. then I stitch the daylights out of them and then wash out the stabilizer. These little patches are then ready to attach to my quilt. They make great bushes and trees in my landscapes.

pam brees wrote
on 17 May 2011 1:42 PM

I collect them and keep them in a Mason jar.  I found a lamp socket lid for one of my jars and use the lamp in my guest room.  Many people cannot guess what the jar contains...it is very colorful!

ajscholl wrote
on 18 May 2011 8:30 AM

Wonderful ideas!  Anyone use the threads cut from embroidery machines or sergers?  I have about a yard of thread each time I rethread my six-needle and it seems a pity to just throw this away.  

CarolineA wrote
on 20 May 2011 5:57 AM

I'm a spinner so I have no such thing as thread trash - it ends up in my art yarns. I even deliberately fray small pieces of shiny fabric for the glitz. These can also be trapped on material by over-stitching, or held in place by organza or needle-felting so that no precious piece is lost. And they are brilliant in mixed media pieces.

This has to be what the phrase "waste not, want not" was referring to!