Sunday, October 27, 2013

Fun with thread and scraps

When I was a beginner machine quilter I was very nervous. A quilt is a big project to tackle when you have little or no skills, aren't familiar with how your machine sounds and feels when doing free motion and you don't know what kinds of effects you will get with different threads. And sorting out tension is just one more issue to contend with! Creating a small piece of thread art is a great way to overcome these obstacles. I guarantee that they will help you get comfortable with your machine!

About five years ago the members of my Guild were asked to make small pieces of quilt art that could fit in a shadow box. The plan was to auction these pieces and the funds would go to charity. The shadow boxes were from IKEA and they measured 10" square. Once could make a piece that was that size and it would fill the frame. However there is also a matt in the shadow box and the opening measured 5" square so that was a second option. Time was getting short and I hadn't made anything. I decided I would try doing a little piece of thread art that would fit inside the matt. I was nervous and hadn't much in the way of free motion quilting so my first stitches were a little uneven and the circles looked like deflating balloons! They looked very much like the white stitches in the picture below.

I gained a little confidence and turned the deflating balloons into leaves and flowers. Still not beautiful but they were very small so the imperfections were of no great concern. You can see some of the vines and flowers winding across the top of the picture shown below. I then tried little vines with offshoots and circles at the ends of the offshoots. You can see some of them on the right side.

A square spiral filled a large open space and the offshoots with circles made it even more interesting. I tried any kind of thread I could get my hands on....quilting cotton, variegated polyester, metallic, silk and invisible threads.

So what does the finished piece look like? It measures roughly 6" square. Here it is!

Here is another example of my experimentation with threads and scraps.

When framed these little pieces look complex. People look at them and are amazed at the detail! And all the time I was playing around trying to get comfortable with threads, tension, shapes, moving my fabric and getting to know the sound and feel of my machine when free motion quilting.

If you are wondering how I made these pieces it is really quite simple. I cut a piece of scrap batting. If you want to give it a go just know that in all likelihood you will have to trim down the finished piece so start with a piece of batting that is a little larger. I place the batting on top of a piece of backing fabric that is slightly larger that the backing. Finally I layering scraps of fabric on the batting until I am happy with the arrangement. There are two options available at this point: use a little glue to tack the scraps in place OR lay a piece of fine tulle netting over the entire surface. When I use tulle I like to pin the outside edge with straight pins until everything is stabilized. Here are three examples of pieces in progress.

I start off by quilting over the raw edges of the pieces of fabric and then just start filling in the spaces. When there are no more spaces, I'm done! This pieces measures 3" and it has lots of areas left where I can have fun experiment with threads!

When I sit down to quilt I like to warm up on these little thread art pieces. I've used all sorts of fabrics including drapery sheers, silks, cottons and polyester lining. If I use tulle I've even tossed leftover thread down before the tulle goes over the piece. Creates a very interesting effect!

So if you are nervous about getting started machine quilting why not give little thread art pieces a try. There's no right or wrong way to do it and you can experiment in all sorts of ways with all sorts of materials. If the piece doesn't work out, no great loss. But if it does turn out, put it in a frame and give it a wacky name like "Amoeba Quiche" and amaze everyone with your talent and originality!

Until I post again, happy thread painting!


  1. I am definitely going to have a play with this . Looks like fun. I was in a gallery recently looking at "Artsy pieces " and thought "they look like thread and stitch testing samples". They had been turned into journal covers and were selling at $25.00 - $60.00 a piece.

    1. They really are a lot of fun to play with, especially if you don't feel motivated to work on anything in particular. I often find I get my best ideas when I'm doing something mindless like practicing on these little pieces. I never thought about making a journal cover but what a great idea!

  2. I like Sheilas idea of journal covers. I made some ATC's like this a few years back, but had not thought about making them as practice pieces for machine quilting..

    1. Hi Kath - just curious, what's an ATC?

      I like these little pieces because they kind of loosen me up - sort of like warm up exercises for the hands and eyes!