Today at the evening meeting of the Harbor Art Guild I got to present a little feature on thread-drawing. Since I documented the process I figured you-all might enjoy the education, as well!
A few days ago Nels drew a ship with a smokestack and lots of rigging, in part influenced by one of the Tin Tin books. I really liked the sketch and thought it would look great rendered in loving thread-drawn splendor, and framed. I especially liked the bold vertical lines and the expressiveness of the smoke:
Above from bottom to top: Nels’ original piece, an inkjet photocopy on copy paper, and an inkjet photocopy on a washaway stabilizer.
And here is the completed piece:
The stars of today’s show are: Nels’ expressive and lovely artwork, my many years of sewing f*ck-ups that help me make good decisions today, and Sulky’s Sticky Fabri-Solvy, which, if I was going to have an affair with any of my sewing supplies, she’d be the guy.
I used four techniques to render this piece: fabric applique, standard lockstitch stitching on a machine, darning stitching on a machine, and hand embroidery. For these four techniques, I’ll need the following:
* a color photocopy of the original artwork
* background fabric (make sure it is prewashed, and you have taken into account the influence of its texture and pattern)
* a double-sided fusible web (I used Steam-A-Seam Lite 2)
* a washaway sticky stabilizer (I used Sulky’s Sticky Fabri-Solvy)
* a transfer paper (I used some leftover Saral)
* hand-embroidery supplies (needle, thread, and hoop)
* a lockstitch machine (this just means regular home sewing machine) with darning capabilities and a darning foot
* fabric scraps
* sewing machine threads in the correct colors
* fabric glue (for securing backside threads)
A bit more about the background fabric. Cut a piece that is comfortably large enough to handle under the sewing machine arm, but not so large it bunches up. I elected to serge-finish the edges of the ravel-prone linen/rayon blend used for this project, which you will see two photos down.
I have elected to make the grey and black hull pieces, as well as the red part of the smokestack, using fabric applique. Below, I have fused the double-sided fusible web to small pieces of each color (left to right: cotton, cotton, linen). You can’t see the fusible web as it is on the backsides of the fabrics, and still has the paper backing attached.
Next, using the carbon paper, I trace only the elements that will be made of fabric applique. Think of it this way: whatever bits of fabric I am using, they need to be applied with precision like a “sticker”, and then I can proceed with thread-drawing on top of them:
In the photo above, I have taped over the parts of the ship I’m going to trace – the two hull pieces and the red bit of smokestack. My linen is resting right-side up, and my transfer paper is at left. I have also learned to reinforce my transfer paper with packing tape. It definitely extends the life! Here is the ship hull after I’ve traced:
And here is what the back of the artwork looks like. You will note I accidentally used the original art, instead of the photocopy. That’s okay in this case, but if you want to preserve the original art, my advice is to take care! At the right in the photo below, you see the carbon paper and where I last traced:
I simply use one of the above tracings – the artwork or carbon paper – to trace to the fusible web backing of the fabric applique. Make sure you have flipped everything around so you are not tracing a mirror-image shape:
I then cut out my fabric appliques. Shown below, a piece right before I peel off the backing and stick it to the linen (according to the transfer lines at top left). When I have the pieces stuck loosely to the linen, and have verified they are in position properly, I can iron to fuse.
At this point I cut down my Fabri Sticky-Solvy image and slap it on top of the linen. Everything should line up!
I add some more Fabri Sticky-Solvy to the back of the work. The more stabilization, the better. I have been successful in putting thread motifs on very thin jersey or stretch fabrics with the judicious use of stabilizers!
And now – thread drawing! I enjoyed the vertical rigging motifs and wanted those as bold as Nels’ strokes. I used a triple-stitch on the machine. The needle goes forward, back, forward; forward, back, forward – and produces a stitch three-times as thick as a standard stitch.
The more you can stitch without having to take the work off the machine and cut threads, then re-start, the better. In creating the below image I used the triple-stitch on the vertical rigging only, and a regular stitch on all the other lines, without actually breaking the thread or re-starting. I also ended up where I started; therefore there are only four loose threads in one spot – the top and bobbin from the beginning and ending of my stitching:
I then pulled the thread tails to the top of the work so they did not get snagged underneath in the bobbin/feed dog apparatus.
Now, it is time for the thread-sketching and specialty stitches. I elected to work on the lavendar “box” that is at the right of the ship with a tight zig zag (sometimes called a satin stitch). I threaded my top thread with lavender and left my bottom as black, but dialed my top tension down so no black thread would show at the top of the work:
The finished lavendar “box” (or bilge cover, or whatever. What the heck is any part of a ship called anyway?):
The backside of the work. Here I demonstrate hiding thread tails by pulling them to the back, securing them with a knot, and threading them through backside threads (in this case, the “tunnel” created by my zig zag stitching):
Now, later on you can use a small dot of fabric glue to further secure back-side threads – but wait until after you’ve washed the stabilizer out and the work is dry. Be careful with fabric glue; if it travels through the knot and into the front-side of the piece it can leave a faint, but annoying, stain.
And now on to actual thread-drawing – that is, using darning or free-motion technique with a darning foot. If you don’t know much about this, you may want to look up a video or two. The basic premise is as follows: we lower the feed-dogs (in my machine this switch is under the bobbin housing: you can see two little embossed arrowheads in the white plastic at the bottom-right of the photo), and install a darning foot. A darning foot only touches down on the fabric, when the needle drives in. Thus you move the fabric entirely with your hands. It takes some getting used to – especially moving forward right away so you don’t end up with a hideous bobbin snag – so – practice first on a scrap piece of fabric!
Here is the near-finished piece. I used thread-drawing (free motion/darning) for the “sketchy” aspects of black hull lines, silver smoke lines, and the smokestack. I then switched back to silver and triple-stitch for the silvery parts of the ship equipment. I threaded yellow and triple-stitched the hull midline; I then triple-stitched back over it to create a (hand-embroidered) split-stitch effect. And I have, in the photo below, placed the work in a hoop to hand-emborider the “windows” in the sliver ship housing, and the name (“CIT HARA”) of the vessel in blue:
Removal from the hoop. With the exception of the smoke strokes, I have perfectly copied Nels’ original piece:
Now, it’s time to wash out the stabilizer. I find soaking, then gentle agitation, rinsing, soaking, etc. does the trick. When I am sure every bit has been removed, I tug on the work to square it, then lay it out – preferably in the sun. Even if you don’t get all the stabilizer out in one go, you can re-rinse it again. Just be patient.
The final work! Very true to Nels’ original illustration. The piece took only part of the afternoon, and was a genuine joy to work with!
If you have any questions about thread-drawing or how to start, please comment below – or send me an email (kelly AT hogaboom DOT org).
I enjoy this process very much and look forward to putting many more of my kids’ pieces to fabric! It is apparent to me that the more works I do, the more fun I will have.