How To Do Thread Painting


Thread painting looks like a complicated skill to master.  As with all quilting skills, if you know the basics, it's not so scary!

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How To Do Thread Painting

At the Houston International Quilt Show, who doesn't wonder at the $5,000 prize for the Superior Threads Master Award for Thread Artistry? In 2014, an entry in the thread painting category, On This Winter Day, by Nancy Price won Best in Show. The details in Nancy's quilt certainly set the bar high for thread painting. Nancy says she likes to use silk thread and she uses more thread than anyone.

How To Do Thread Painting


What is thread painting? The design in the quilt is created by using different colors and weights of thread and filling in lines or areas of color. It is now often done as free motion quilting and is stitched on top of a base fabric.


Experts guess that thread painting may have come from an embroidery technique that combined long and short stitches to fill in an area. Each stitch is like a brush stroke and the result is a picture that looks painted. Traditional embroidery uses up to three strands of thread in the needle – helping to create color variety and texture. Thread painting can also be used in combination with other techniques to add detail to a quilt.


Here is my first thread painting. Please note: This was presented as a HUMOROUS skit at my local guild meeting. I took the threads from my collapsible fabric wastebasket next to my sewing machine. I mixed them with white household glue and spread it on the canvas with a paintbrush. Almost no one got the joke!!



The real basic technique of thread painting is to fill in different areas of a picture with different colors and textures of thread to create an image. In my research I read that if free motion quilting was not your thing, it was OK to begin with stitches available on your sewing machine. Lucky me! My new machine has lots of them!



A few things before you start:

  • Clean your machine! Mine acted up almost immediately when doing the satin stitches for the eyes of the owl.
  • Put in a new needle of the right weight for the thread you are using.
  • Use a stabilizer on the back of your fabric if you are going to be doing heavy stitching. It is easy for the fabric to tear without it.
  • You need a good collection of thread. You may have to phone a friend if you need a color you don't have.
  • Be prepared to change the thread often. If you don't like thread changes, thread painting may not be your activity.


In this article, Contessa wishes to interest you in playing with something new. She doesn't present herself as an expert in thread painting. Checking the internet for tutorials will get you started. It's always good to experiment with something new and it is a nice way to spend an afternoon.



Remember, as with all quilting, it is yours and you may do it any way you wish!


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The layer in the middle of a quilt sandwich between the Top and Backing layers consisting of wool, polyester, blends, silk, or cotton.

Same As: Stuffing, Batting, Wadding, Filler
Free Motion Quilting
Method of quilting where the feed dogs of a sewing machine are lowered or covered and the quilter controls the movement of the fabric under the needle.
Debi Warner
Author and humorist, Debi Warner, retired after many years as a clinical librarian and information specialist. She has her Master’s in Library and Information Science and achieved a Distinguished level in the Medical Library Association’s Association of Health Information Professionals. She has worked on teaching physicians to use computers and electronic resources. She also worked on several grants teaching the public how to use the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus public database and is co-author of several articles on health literacy. She took up quilting after retirement in 2012 and chaired the Rio Grande Valley Quilt Show in 2019. She currently teaches several quilting classes over Zoom and writes for QuiltingHub.
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