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brown paper packages: {thread sketching}

Thursday, May 6, 2010

{thread sketching}

My friend Nettie, over at Singing a Verse of My Song is really talented. When I saw the pictures of her thread sketching projects, I knew I had to share them with all of you. I asked her if she would create a tutorial on how she did it, and she was gracious enough to agree.

This tutorial is in her words:

Another tutorial with images can be found by Gina at Clutterpunk. That is where I actually saw this kind of thing for the first time and used what she did as a launching pad to explore more. Thank you, Gina!

Step 1: Decide on an image

If you freehand draw really well, you could probably sketch the image you wish to draw either directly on the fabric with a fabric pen or pencil, or even directly with the needle as you sew. It can be a little hard to see what you are doing while drawing directly with the needle, though it can be done. When I did my pear and partridge tea towels I followed just the applique edges, plus a few landmarks I sketched on with a fabric pencil to go by. If you are concerned about messing up good fabric, having an image already prepared can be really helpful. Another option is to practice stitching on a pre printed fabric image. Or, some people will paint the image they wish to have directly on the fabric and stitch it more as an accent. To learn how to prepare an image, go to step 2. Otherwise, pre draw your image, if you wish, and move onto step 3.

Step 2: Apply image to stabilizer

To create an image I could use as I stitched, I used a product called Sulky Water Soluble Solvy Stabilizer. It is a stabilizer that dissolves in water. There is also a product called Paper Solvy that I would like to try next, if I can find it. It comes in paper like sheets you can print directly onto with your printer. It also dissolves in water. The stuff I used is too flimsy to put in the printer. To make it printable, I cut out sheets of freezer paper to 8 1/2" by 11" size. Then using a warm iron, I ironed the shiny side down onto the solvy. Then I carefully trimmed the solvy (which comes in a roll) down to the size of the freezer paper. My printer has a photocopy option that I used to photocopy images from a bird book I have onto the solvy/freezer paper sheets. I could also have just printed images off from my printer. You could also try using a tear away stabilizer, but I was concerned that with the detail of the stitching on these particular images that I wouldn't be able to tear it all away or the stitching might be damaged by the tearing.

Step 3: Prepare fabric and image for stitching

If you are stitching something that will be washed later, be sure to pre-shrink your fabric. Dry and press it so you have a smooth work surface. Lay the larger ring of a small embroidery hoop on the table, top it with your fabric, then the image on Solvy if you are using one, then insert the inner ring of the embroidery hoop and tighten it all up. Basically, you are assembling the embroider hoop upside down, compared to the way you would do to embroider by hand. Even if you aren't using an image printed on solvy, you may need to use a stabilizer, depending on the nature of the fabric you are stitching on. My first attempts were on a heavy canvas material, without using a hoop or stabilizer, but I think a hoop would have been useful even with a fabric that heavy. The stabilizer you choose to use can even be one that goes on the back side of the fabric and will stay permanently unseen behind the image.

Step 4: Prepare sewing machine for stitching

I used a darning foot on my machine, but others have done thread sketching with a regular pressure foot. I mainly use a regular straight stitch setting, although zig zag stitching can be used to create texture and shading, especially if you vary the width so that you get tapering of the zig zag as you sew. With the darning foot you can stitch with the feed dogs either up or down. Either way, you will be manually controlling the movement of the fabric and hence the length of the stitches. Some freehand quilter's feel that keeping the feed dogs up somehow makes their stitch lengths more consistent. With a regular pressure foot, you can keep your feed dogs up, but it may be easier to have them down. I haven't tried it. To insert your embroidery hoop, you probably will need to remove the pressure foot first and then reinsert it after.

Step 5: Stitch your image

It is probably best to use a thread that contrasts highly with your fabric, but you could go for a more subtle contrast on purpose. One beautiful piece of work that I loved uses more than one shade of thread. I like to plan out my general path of attack before I start stitching, but you can't always plan it perfectly. It is okay to go back and stitch over areas you have already stitched. You can even do so on purpose, not even trying to stay exactly on the lines. This is a drawing technique called contour drawing. The brain sees the various lines of the drawn edge and automatically chooses to "see" the one that makes the most sense. My pear and partridge are done this way.

When you are starting sewing, insert the needle into the fabric, catch the bobbin thread and pull it up on top of the fabric. Hold the bobbin thread and make a few stitches in one spot to secure the end of your stitching. This may make a thickened spot, so keep that in mind when you choose where to start. Holding the bobbin thread up will help you not make a messy knot underneath which may cause you problems as you sketch. I like to keep a small pair of embroidery scissors close at hand so that I can snip the thread as soon as I can, so I don't stitch it into my design.

Using two hands, smoothly and slowly move the hoop as you stitch your image. Try not to rotate the hoop, as doing so could cause enough tension on your thread to snap it (the thread). When your stitching is completed, or if you need to move to a new location to stitch, do a few stitches in one spot again to secure the end.

Step 6: Dissolve Your Solvy

Once you are done with your sketching, remove the fabric from the machine and the hoop and head to the sink. If you used printer ink to make your image, be warned that the ink can bleed onto your fabric and stain it. I like to carefully snip off as much of the solvy as I can first, then hold the sketched image upside down under running water to dissolve off the rest. That way, the ink is washed away from the fabric. Then just dry and press and your work is done!

To see the pillows I recently made with this technique, look here.

And check out Tara Badcock's photo stream for inspiration on what can be done with this technique!

Thank you so much, Nettie!



Blogger Kelli @ RTSM said...

Gorgeous! I wish I could sew a little better, because I would love to have a cute pillow like this in my living room!

May 6, 2010 at 7:47 AM  
Blogger Char @ Crap I've Made said...

That is seriously cool!

I forgot I used to read Nettie's blog way back when...

May 6, 2010 at 9:20 AM  
Blogger LuLu said...

Kierste, I just love your blog, c'mon over for a visit, I have a gift for you!


May 7, 2010 at 11:10 AM  
Blogger PeaceLoveApplesauce said...

Very pretty!!

May 26, 2010 at 4:06 PM  
Blogger michelle@somedaycrafts said...

I'm linking to this at

June 11, 2010 at 8:18 PM  

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