Thread Sketching Without a Hoop – 6 Alternatives

Thread sketching can add lots of texture and movement to your quilts. But as anyone who has tried it knows–if you don’t stabilize your work, your fabric will draw up and pull out of shape.

In her thread sketching tutorial series in Quilting Arts, Susan Brubaker Knapp has addressed this issue:

Properly stabilizing your work is one of the greatest challenges of thread sketching. Ignore this step at your own peril; you will be gnashing your teeth within minutes.

Stabilizing Your Work for Thread Sketching by Susan Brubaker Knapp 

Some artists solve the stabilization problem by working in a hoop, but I dislike hooping my projects for several reasons: it can mess up the layers of fused fabrics I often use in my work; it is disruptive to stop and re-hoop as I move to different areas of a piece; and it restricts my stitching to the space inside the hoop. It also slows me down!

thread art by susan brubaker knapp

‘Hidden Identity’ by Susan Brubaker Knapp. Susan used lightweight thread and a single layer of interfacing to thread sketch this piece.

I have found it unnecessary to hoop when I follow these guidelines:

• Choose a base fabric that is fairly heavy or has a high thread count. Batiks usually work beautifully.

• Use a stiff interfacing. Sometimes I use two layers of interfacing. This interfacing stays in the project; it is not washed away like the water-soluble stabilizers used by some thread painting artists and machine embroiderers.

• Work that includes several layers of fabric fused together using a medium-weight fusible web product generally requires only one layer of interfacing underneath to stabilize it.

• Painting the entire surface of a piece with acrylic paint does a great job of stabilizing the fabric for thread sketching. Pieces that are painted require only one layer of interfacing underneath.

• Thread sketch the whole surface of the piece, working on a bit at a time, without doing really heavy stitching in any one area. When the stitches are evenly distributed on the piece, it will lie flatter and generally behave better before quilting.

• On pieces that have only a single base fabric on a layer of interfacing (such as “Hidden Identity”), use a lightweight thread (#50- or #60-weight). Save heavier threads for pieces with several layers of thread and fusible web, or for after the entire piece has been thread sketched with the lighter-weight thread.

Susan is a master at thread sketching and machine quilting, and one of the best teachers I’ve seen. She shares her tips, tricks, tools, and sources of inspiration with you in her popular Quilting Arts Workshop videos, Master Machine Quilting and Master Machine Sketching.

P.S. Do you prefer to stitch with or without a hoop? Leave your answer below and tell me why.

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