Thread is the colored pencil of the art quilt.
Traditional artist training for artists from elementary school through college includes developing an artist’s ability to manipulate color and line. This tool is used to teach these two important of elements of design.
Many art quilters are piecers like art quilter extraordinaire Maria Shell who fully embrace using the traditional form of quilting by putting cloth shapes together to form a pattern. This style of art quilting emphasizes two other elements: color and shape.
“I am a piecer also known as a bitmaker. I am also an obsessive compulsive quilter. Might as well claim it.”
Maria Shell blog post “All my Life” 08/06/1
I am not a traditional quilter. My quilts are whole cloth. I add small bits of fabric on top of the whole cloth to create textures and increase a sense of visual space. I use color by painting the cloth with various wet media. When I begin to stitch I use thread just as I would a colored pencil.
In the art quilt world some would call this thread painting like this portrait by Cayce Zavaglia. This artists uses thread across the entire surface of the image. The style is realistic. It mimics an oil painting. My friend Lea McComas has a wonderful book which outlines the technique. Check it out, if you want to know more.
Thread Painted Portraits
You can buy this book at
I use thread to scribble, to add movement, to change the color scheme, to add value and as tool to draw using a variety of lines over the surface. I have two invaluable tools. The most important tool is a high quality sewing machine. My Bernina has a huge work area when stitching . It also has a variety of decorative stitches and an extra large bobbin. It is the tool that allows me a wide variety lines made with thread.
The second tool is my pallette of thread. I have over 100 spools of thread. . Learning to use the right thread and to use a variety of thread is the key to making a real visual impact. Some thread is fine for a straight stitch but gives me headaches when I free motion. I love variegated thread but have come to appreciate the subtle qualities of grey values.
I am lucky to live in close proximity to Superior Threads. It has a “huge” (say it Bernie Sanders would) warehouse in St. George Utah where I can wander through a maze of thread. The first purchase I made was a thread chart. This helps me find not only the color I am looking for, but allows me to check off the colors I already have in my stash.
“Even if you are buying thread online, order the color chart first.”
I often take a photo of the selection of a single color. For example I was working on a portrait and I was missing a light value between two beiges and a dark value between two greys. Seeing the spools in a row helps identify what I am looking for.
When I shopping at Superior I also take a phone shot of the top of the spools which shows the the color number. This way I can make sure I am not buying a duplicate or a color too close to the value I already own.
I have to give a shout out the the staff at Superior, they are always nice and go the extra mile to help answer a question of find a solution to a problem.
Until next time……