Thread Painting


So what is thread painting all about? Thread painting, or free-motion machine embroidery, is a unique way of embellishing your quilts by “painting” the images on your quilt top, clothing or anywhere your imagination takes you. The quilt top is your canvas and the thread is your paint. In thread painting, because the feed dogs are dropped, you are guiding the hoop and thus maintain control. You are only limited by your imagination as to what images you can paint on fabric.

Thread painting might look difficult, but it is actually very simple. No advanced skills are necessary and the best part is that no special machine is required. Set your machine to a straight or zigzag stitch, drop the feed dogs and you are in business.

I use two methods to thread paint my designs. The first is the tulle sandwich method which consists of two layers of tulle sandwiched between two layers of water-soluble stabilizer film. The second is the direct method which consists of 1) bottom layer - two layers of stabilizer backing 2) middle layer -the fabric or quilt top and 3) top layer - a layer of water-soluble stabilizer on the top. In both methods, the design is printed or traced on the top layer of water-soluble stabilizer and acts as a guide to thread paint the design.

Many of the students I have worked with take a look at my award-winning quilts and say, “Oh no, Nancy. I couldn’t possibly do that.” I always say, “Listen, I can’t draw. I can’t paint. But I can do this… and you can too!” Thread painting using my technique really is easy. Just take thread painting one step at a time and everything falls into place.


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Thread Painting Techniques

The tools for successful thread painting are a sewing machine equipped with a straight and zigzag stitch, the ability to drop the feed dogs and a willingness to learn something new. Use a 40 weight rayon or polyester thread for best results. The process is surprisingly simple if taken a step at a time. A simple point to remember when thread painting – thread paint the design the way it grows in nature and you will have a successful project.

Try it!

Click on the pictures below to view a mini-workshop – hopefully enough to whet your appetite so you will give thread painting a try. 

Learn how to thread painting a canopy using the Direct Method and a zigzag stitch - The zigzag stitch creates more texture and dimension and is normally used in high stitch density designs. 

Learn how to thread paint a snow-covered evergreen on the Tulle Sandwich with a zigzag stitch.

Learn how to thread paint a pumpkin on the Tulle Sandwich with a straight stitch – The straight stitch is used when a design calls for a compact, flat surface and when more control is needed.

Hopefully, your curiosity is aroused and you would like more information. Please take a few minutes to visit the Quilt Gallery for a brief trunk show of some of the quilts I have made and check out the Workshop section for available classes. Then take a look at my exciting Online Video Workshops and sign up for my Newsletter. Enjoy your visit and happy thread painting

Sign Up for One of Nancy's On-Demand Workshops!