Week in Review 2023 – 09/22

My Thread Painting Process

Over the years I have developed a thread painting process. How? That’s simple, by trial and error. Finding a process takes time. Am I done yet? Probably not. However, my process is good enough for now.

The process begins with a photo.

I start with a photo. How do I know which photo to use? Instinct. I see something captivating and I am all in. The photo I am currently working with is of my son Adrian, busy working on an assignment in his 4th grade classroom. What is the appeal? His concentration is what first drew me in. However, there is something about the lighting, angle of his head and that slightly open mouth, that is iconic. You don’t need to know who he is, but I do. 🙂 The photo also brings back fond memories of his youth. Adrian turns 40 years old next January.

Choose A Photo

The photo must, make that MUST, be compelling to motivate me sufficiently to complete the process. It can feel daunting. One way to remove some of the terror is by cropping. I do this using Photoshop Elements.

In hindsight I wish I had zeroed in even further when I cropped the photo. However, the most important part of the cropping is done. That is the head. My process depends on a smooth edge of the area I will be thread painting. Why? Because this helps distinguish the area to be thread painted from the area to be cut away.

Thread painting takes a long time to do compared to piecing. Adrian’s head measures 7.5″ H x 5.5″ W. I used three bobbins worth of 50wt. fine polyester thread. I should have counted the number of colors required to captured his face. My best guess is 30 or more based on how may spools I put away once I was done.

This is an example of my process.

Now that the photo is ready, it is time to set up the layers. I begin by copying the photo onto inkjet photo sheets. Since they go through my printer, they must fit the printer. I could send them out to be printed, but I’m cheap and eager. This process is less expensive and I can do it “instantly” at home. I may need to seam a few fabric sheets together, though. This must be done very, very carefully so the image lines up correctly. I layer the image the same way I layer my quilts. In other words top to bottom: the image, a web fusible, batting, a web fusible and backing. For further insurance, I stay stitch around the area to be thread painted.

Let the Stitching Begin

I have finished thread painting Adrian’s face.

Finally, it is time for my favorite part of the process, the stitching. I start near the center with the lightest sections. In this case, I begin with the nose highlighting. I then proceed with any place else that uses the same color. Although I have a reasonably extensive thread collection, I never have all the threads required. Here is why trial and error is so important. I am teaching myself to create the value and hues I need by layering threads. Think of it like an impressionist painting.

Perhaps my next post will cover going from completed thread painting to how I use the painting as the focus feature in my quilt. The reality is I have yet to plan out my posts in advance. How ironic, considering I have such a methodical process for making art.

Rainbow Scrap Challenge

I finished my Rainbow Scrap Challenge quilt! So now what? I am busy making a few more 8″ x 8″ pieces for my open studio in November. I realized the one I finished up last week has a rainbow palette.

One of a series of small (8″ x 8″) artworks of broderie perse flowers in containers set against wall or window.

I’m linking up to the following posts:

By Gwyned Trefethen

I am an artist who uses fabric, thread and miscellany to create designs gifted to me by my imagination.


    1. Thank you Sara. I enjoy the process. I’m fascinated by how my thread painting recreates the image without replicating it in a realistic way. Probably what keeps me coming back to this technique.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed reading about my thread painting process. It wasn’t how I was “taught” to thread paint. Most people thread paint in a hoop and create thin substrate. The hoop needs to be moved with regularity, it bumps up against the shaft and may even spring open. When the thread builds up the painting won’t fit in the hoop. What is most important is keeping the substrate from shrinking as more and more thread is layered.

  1. Thanks for explaining your thread painting process. That is really cool!
    and your RSC is beautiful!!!

    1. Thread painting, like appliqué, can be achieved using a variety of techniques. I’ve developed my process over years. It works for me. Perhaps it will work for others, too.

  2. I love reading about your process, and your son’s face is very beautiful. Great use of many many spools 😉
    Thank you for sharing your expertise, and linking up.

    1. I’m so touched, Frédérique.I’m rather fond of my son’s face. 🙂 He doesn’t know I’m working on it. Can’t help but wonder if he will recognize himself when he sees the quilt. Pretty in Pink, is his daughter.

  3. Gwyned, every time I visit your blog you make the neurons light up across my brain like it’s a wild 4th of July party in there. I’ve used PhotoShop Elements for cropping in the past, but years ago — had forgotten about those tools. And why did it never occur to me that a larger image could be broken up for printing and then seamed together afterwards?! How are you doing that, Gwyned? Are there options from printing directly from PhotoShop that allow you to break the photo up and print it on multiple sheets? Your process is fascinating; what a sweet photo and memory of your son’s childhood!

    1. Seems we have a mutual admiration society. Love when that happens. I save the photo several times after it is cropped. First as a .psd so I can continue working on it if need be in PSE. Second as a .jpg. Finally, as a pdf. I print the .pdf, because this can be posterized (printed on multiple pages) when you open it in Adobe. Adobe breaks the images into pages. The pages are marked with aligning cut marks. Still eyeballing the photos elements when the matching the seam is a good idea. Think of it like matching plaids.

    1. Thank you, Jan. I know I appreciate having the opportunity to peak behind the curtain and see how someone does what they do. So, when I can I like to reciprocate with an unveiling, myself.

  4. Your thread painting is amazing!!! Thank you for sharing the process! It’s quite a awesome talent!
    Thanks for linking to TGIFF!

    1. Always happy to link to TGIFF. The tricky part is having a finish. Hence, I tend to interpret finish very loosely. 🙂 I’m glad you like my thread painting. I have enjoyed developing my process over the years.

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