Thread Painting Portrait Quilts with Lea McComas – Quilting Daily

Portrait quilts are all the rage. There are so many different ways to make them, from pieced pixel quilts to fused appliqué.

But if you want to give your portraits a more painterly look–less like an Andy Warhol print and a little more like a Leonardo Da Vinci–thread painting is just the ticket! Painting with thread allows you to soften the hard lines of the fabric’s edge. The technique may look daunting as you examine the finished product, but in reality it’s just machine stitching lines side by side to blend colors with thread.

“Bike Boys” by Lea McComas

For Lea McComas, an award winning art quilter, thread sketching is one of her go-to techniques when creating portrait quilts. Here is a warm-up exercise from Lea to help you practice thread painting:

How to Practice Blending Threads
by Lea McComas

1. Draw a line down the center of a muslin panel (this represents the hard line where one fabric gives way to another). Draw a solid line on each side of the first, starting about ½” from the center line radiating outward and ending about 1” from the center line (these lines define the transition zone where two colors of thread will be blended).

figure 1


2. Draw 2 dashed lines in between each of the solid lines, dividing the spaces equally. The final drawing should look something like a 2-lane highway disappearing in the distance. (figure1)




figure 2


3. Start at the side of the road and stitch across 1 lane and back, then 2 lanes and back, then 3 lanes and back, and finally all 4 lanes and back. Continue this process of running out and returning to the side–placing each new line of stitching next to the previous one. (figure 2)



figure 3


4. Once you have stitched the length of the practice panel, change threads and repeat the process stitching from the other side of the highway. (figure 3)




figure 4


5. In the end, the 2 colors should blend smoothly, softening or obscuring the hard line down the center. (figure 4) I used red and blue threads to make the stitching more obvious, but when done with threads of a similar color, the effect is very subtle.



Want to learn more? Lucky for you Lea is teaching an 8-week course about thread painting starting September 26th! Check out a  preview of the course:

With over 30 years of teaching experience, Lea will expertly guide you from basic photo editing to blending and shading with several colors of thread and beyond. Don’t wait; register today!

Happy thread painting!

Brenna's Signature

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