Work in progress. Showing small section
Work in progress. Showing small section of working area

They say that trial and error builds character. True.  This is my first thread painting project and, for me, it has been a little bit of trial and error.  I was inspired to start this project by several things.

1)   Libby Lehman.  I took a Thread Painting class with her several years ago at a quilt show. Her class, Thread Play, taught invaluable lessons on the most important aspects of thread painting techniques.  Namely – selecting your foundation, stabilizing your work, and needle selection. Since taking her class, I have wanted to try something larger than the small ribbon project we made in her class. I wanted to create something spectacular! Yes – in my mind, it’s spectacular!  Take a look at her amazing thread painting gallery here: Libby Lehman Gallery

2)   The beautiful flower panels by Stephanie Brandenburg for Camelot Cottons. These panels are absolutely luscious.  I am inspired by the pure bold colors of Poppy and Sunflowers set on a background that makes even a Hawaiian Sunset look pale.

3)   Olde City Quilts. Every time I go into the shop, the samples greet me with a warm hello. In this case, the metallic reflections on the shop samples seemed to wink at me when I walked by, flirting with my inner artist.  “Come on, you know you want to take me home with you.” How could I not walk out of the shop with something so alluring?

4)   Threads – threads – threads!  Sliver, metallic, halo’s, and beautiful variegated colors. Like the colors of a magic garden drawing me in – begging “Pick-me, pick-me!”  They are all so lovely.

Confession: I think I have an obsession with color and texture.  I don’t know when enough is enough.  Wait… Is there even such a thing when it comes to these wonderful textile delights?  At what point does an obsession become an addiction? Hmm…  I know its not vogue to blame you mother, but I think in this case the obsession is definitely inherited.

Thread showing is Madeira Metallic in copper.
Thread showing is Madeira Metallic in copper.

Okay, now I want to share some of the thoughts I had while working on this project. First, don’t listen to everything you think you know. Trial and error is the best way to learn. Each project has its own unique set of qualities. The temperature in your room, the degree of humidity, the temperament of your machine, the speed that you sew. All of these things factor into your work.  Sometimes, what worked for you yesterday – will give you fits today.  So be patient and adjust your methods to meet these varying changes.

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Yesterday, I had a problem with breaking thread.  I was using a 90/14 Universal needle. These needles have long, sharp points, an elongated eye, and a thin shaft.  I thought this would be perfect for piercing through the stabilized cotton. However, I soon learned that the eye of the needle was a little to narrow to accommodate the texture of the Madeira metallic threads. These threads are made of metal wrapped poly cotton core. They are delicate to work with and tend to get ‘warm’ from friction as the thread passes through the eye of the needle. This leads to breakage – followed by brief fits of frustration.

I found that when I changed to an 80/12 metallic needle I had better luck with this thread.  The 80/12 has a thicker shaft and larger eye to accommodate heavier threads. This is good for two reasons: 1) Thicker shaft means less deflection. The needle will not bend during free motion movements, 2) Less breakage due to friction as the thread passes through the eye of the needle.  I also learned that it is best to lower the upper thread tension and slow down. Relax. Breathe. Enjoy the party!

Here are a few machine embroidery trouble shooting tips from Madeira Thread if you are just getting started.

The project is coming along nicely. I’m going to continue to add the metallic threads around the petals of the sunflower. The next step will be to select the highlight and shadow colors. Using light and dark colors will add depth and interest to the finished project. I’ll keep working and post finished pictures soon.

Happy Quilting!