Combine Drawing with Thread, Painting with Ink

Karen Fricke used thread sketching and ink to create this bee quilt, based on a photograph.

Have you taken any photos lately and thought, “That would make a great quilt”?

If you want to use a photo as inspiration for a fiber art piece, but don’t want to appliqué or piece the image, try thread sketching. Drawing with thread, you can create an entire image or an outline. By thread painting—blending colors with close stitching—you can add shading, highlights, or color.

Some artists combine machine stitching with paint, colored pencils, or ink to add colors and shading to their threadwork after they stitch.

Karen Fricke is one of those artists. Starting with a photo of a bee, she used thread sketching techniques with ink to bring it to life on fabric.

After she fills in the details of the image with thread sketching, Karen paints with Tsukineko inks and Fantastix sponge applicators to add shading and highlights. Because the applicators hold a lot of ink, she recommends dabbing them on a scrap of fabric first so you don’t saturate your design.

Here are some of Karen’s other tips for using her thread sketching with ink technique:

Instead of tracing the image, print a grayscale image of your subject directly onto heavy-duty tear-away stabilizer, with your inkjet printer set on “best quality.”

If you lose some details through the printing process, go over the printed image with a permanent marker, referring to the original photo, to define any lost elements you want to capture in your thread sketch.

Place the fabric of your design element (such as the bee’s body) on the background fabric and outline that part of your image with plain black cotton thread and free-motion stitching.

After thread sketching, Karen carefully removes the stabilizer from the fabric.

When you’re satisfied with the colors, look over the entire design. If more detail is needed, thread-sketch again with a really fine zigzag stitch.Cut close to the stitching to remove the excess fabric from around the stitching, being careful not to cut through the stitches. Using curved scissors makes it easier to do this.

In an upcoming issue of Quilting Arts Magazine, we’re featuring articles on thread drawing and sketching as well as surface design techniques with paint, dyes, and inks. Now is the perfect time to subscribe to Quilting Arts.

P.S. Do you paint on fabric with thread, ink (or paint), or both? What are your preferred supplies? Leave your answer below.

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