Tag Archives: thread painting

Making Faces With My Friends

I’ve been away from the blog for a while, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been

writing. In fact, my fingers are nearly worn down to the first knuckle due to non-

Debbie Fishell worked from a baby picture of her husband.

Debbie Fishell worked from a baby picture of her husband.

stop typing these months of June and July. Among the various writing projects, the most exciting is that I’m working on a book titled The Thread Painted Portrait. It presents my techniques for creating a fused fabric foundation covered with threadwork. Now that the manuscript is being edited, I have a chance to stop and reflect on the publishing process and share some of it with you. This is just an introduction to be followed by several installments about the trials and celebrations I experience in writing this book. Check in and follow my progress, and look for the book hot of the press by the end of October.

First, Why write a book? I’ve beenteaching my portrait quilt workshop for several years now where I teach the fused foundation technique. It’s a real kick to see faces emerge from the fabric, and

Judy Armstrong added a pop of color.

Judy Armstrong added a pop of color.

an even bigger kick watching others get excited when they produce a portrait. Take a look at some of the portrait quilts that students have done.  Everyone adds their own special design element to their piece.

If you’ve seen my work, you know that this is only the beginning for me. After creating the fused fabric face, I spend hours covering it up with miles of thread. Invariably, in a workshop someone will ask me to teach them to thread paint the face. Being able to do something well requires a certain level of understanding and skill development. However, the ability to teach that technique to othersrequires an even greater level of skill and understanding.

Judy Liebo combined two very special images.

Judy Liebo combined two very special images.

It is only recently that I felt that I understood my process well enough to adequately share it with others.

Laurie Carson with her best friend.

Laurie Carson with her best friend.


Getting Rid of Those Unwanted Bumps

Lumps in the back tire

Lumps in the back tire

The recently finished Bike Boys crossed the finish line with some unwanted bumps and lumps. This was most prominent in the area around the bike tires.  Sewing in a circular motion, and some significant corrective stitching caused some stretching that made that part of the quilt pop up.  I needed a way to block the quilt.  Because of it’s size, roughly 4×6 feet, simply pressing it wasn’t sufficient.

Once again, it was an artist friend that came to the rescue.  Peggy, my dog sitter, and an accomplished  water color artist told me how she used to block her water color paintings.  She placed them face down on a piece of glass, sprayed the back with water, placed a second piece of glass over the top, weighted it down and waited for 2 or more weeks.

I was able to create a similar set up, large enough for my quilt, using a couple of large tables at the school where I teach.  Once school was out for the summer, I found an out of the way room with 2 large conference tables. I cleaned the tables thoroughly.  With a bit of help, I turned one table over and stacked it on the other with the quilt in between.  I did give the quilt a spritzing and a little extra moisture in the trouble spots, and walked away for 2 weeks.

I checked back in this week and, to my amazement, it worked!.  The piece will need to be handled with some care so as not to stretch it out of shape again.

Bike Boys

Bike Boys


In the future, I think I can repeat this process using the hardwood floor in my living room and a piece of Plexiglass.

Now, it’s time for me to go out for a run and try to get rid of some of my own unwanted lumps and bumps.


Bike Boys Cross the Finish Line

Bike Boys

Finally, it’s done!  I finished the stitching and added a little extra to give context and a resting space.  I was a bit nervous about adding a neutral background around the Boys, but, in the end, felt that the panel was just too intense and needed some space for the eye to rest. I struggled with how much space to add.  If you add too much space, you lose  intensity.  However, I also know that if it isn’t enough, then the piece actually looks wimpy and weak.  I turned the original panel askew to keep the added space small but powerful.  I think that turning the boys uphill makes them stronger.  Imagine the same panel turned downhill–they would appear to be coasters.  This is better.

I shared the piece with some friends and colleagues.  What was most interesting to them was the historical context of the image.  The inspiration for this piece was a photo found in the archives of the History Colorado Museum in Denver.   The Fowler Sextuplet was the first bicycle built for 6.  It was brought to the Denver Cycle Show in 1896 to race against the Empire State Express.  I’ve spent a good bit of time researching, but can’t find any information as to who won the race.  I hope this doesn’t mean they all crashed and burned.

The Bike Boys paused for a photo that submits them to a fiber art competition in Houston.  Let’s keep our collective fingers crossed that they have a more notable finish in that competition.


Bike Boys and Road Trip

This has been a BIG week.  I traveled to Paducah this week with my parents, Willis and Dixie, for the AQS Quilt Week festivities.  I received a first prize in the Small Wall Quilt, Pictorial category for my “Panning for Gold,” and met lots of wonderful quilters.  We were actually in Paducah for just over 24 hours, but, thanks to Dixie on a motorized scooter, we barely stopped moving.

Lunch on the Curb

Lea with parents in Paducah

In spite of the out of town time, I still made progress on thread painting the Bike Boys.  I now have the first 2 guys stitched.  With a win at Paducah, I’m energized to get this piece done in time to submit to the show in Houston in November.

This is the front man.  I’m not totally satisfied with his face.  I’might give him a mustache.

Here is the second man.  I rather like him, but I will need to do some additional shaping of the hat after I stitch the background figure. Below, see the 2 guys together.


Adam and the Paperectomy

Finally, it’s time to begin work on the people in this composition.  I’m going back to the beginning, the first image that I fused with

The vest in cool reds

fabric, the man in the background on far right.  Since he is first, I’m calling him Adam.  Because he is a less significant figure, I’m using him as a warm-up to the big buys on the bike.  I started with the vest, using cooler reds than in the bike frame so as to push it into the background,

I move next to the face, again selecting a group of cool grays that will fall back from the warmer tones I will use on the actual bike boys.

The face emerges

Finally, I work on the coat.  This is where I find that the dimensions on the arm are messed up.  I will try to redefine them with thread by making the upper arm wider, and shaving off some of the lower edge of the fore sleeve with darker thread that will put it into shadow sooner.  Check back later to see how this works out.

Got to fix that sleeve

Stitching people is a bit intense. when I have only a short period of time to work and don’t want to dive into the details, I move to the background and begin filling it in.  I discover that this too, presents problems.  While stitching, I begin to hear a clicking noise.  Investigation reveals that I didn’t remove a piece of backing paper before assembling this portion of the work.  I need to go in and get it. I declare the need for a “paperectomy” and prepare for surgery.  See this delicate operation below.  The important thing is to make incisions through the layers at various places.  Once done, I can stitch over the area and seal up the cuts that I’ve made.  The patient will survive with no permanent scars.

Horizontal cut through tulle

Scissors under tulle make vertical cut through fabric.

Loosen and remove paper.


Bike Tire

This week, I’ve managed to finish the bike frame and the tires.  I’ve taken a series of photos of the back tire to show how I progress from the lightest threads to the darkest, and then add accents (bits of black) and highlights (bits of white).  Aside from the white and black, I used 4 values of thread, but chose 2 threads for each value.  One was slightly warmer and the other cooler.  I’ve set up my threads and a reference photo on the laptop.  Now, I’m ready to get started.

I work my way around the tire using both threads of each value, but use more of the warmer thread in the back, lit part of the tire, and more of the cooler thread in the front, or shaded side of the tire. Here is how it went.

scissors point to trouble spot.

On may way around I discover trouble: the lines of the tire don’t line up well as they appear between the parts of the frame.  I’ll have to keep this in mind and make some corrections with the darker threads.

I use the mid-value threads to blend the edges of the tire trouble spots with the background.

scissors point to blending away of bad edges

I use the darker threads to redefine the edges so that they line up.

edges redefined

Now, I consult my photo from several weeks back showing the strings.  I use this to select key spots to add white and black to create highlights and accents at just the right spots. (see blog from 3/1/2014).

A mere four hours later, and it’s all done. Hmmm, what to tackle next…







Stitching the Frame

I’ve stitched the mid and foreground sidewalk and street.  This involved a lot of circular stitching.  I like to use variegated threads for this kind of stitching because they blend easily and create variation on the surface.  

After that I started stitching the bike frame.  This takes a bit more attention.  I chose 10 threads total that range from very light to very dark,  I put down the middle value thread first and then worked to the lightest thread.  Now, I need to go back and put down the darker threads, and do some fine tuning.  A key factor will be breaking up the highlights and the accents so that they come and go.


Casting a Net Over Bike Boys

While I’m anxious to put the boys on the long arm and begin stitching, there is still some prep work to be done.  I’ve put the piece back on the design wall, put pins at the corners and 1/3 points along the sides.  Next I wrapped string connecting the points and creating a sort of net over the Boys.

These strings are really a network of tangents that run across the surface.  I can use them to identify  lost and found lines that fall on these strings.  I did this a few weeks back when the piece was only partially fused.  Now that it is done, I’ll choose a few key tangents and  accentuate them by stitching highlights and shadows so that they help guide the viewers eye through and around the piece.  Of course this key stitching will be the last stitching that I do on the long arm, but I need to identify these  tangents now, so that I can avoid removing and reloading the piece on the long arm later.

This is also a time to look over the composition and note areas that need some color or value correction.  For example, the bike frame under the front rider’s bum is just a bit too light.  I can cover it with a darker fabric now, or stitch it with darker thread later.  I think it is hard to see in this photo, but the man behind the bike, standing on the sidewalk, should have his feet showing, and they have been done in sidewalk fabric and are obscured.  They sit just on the line going across the bottom third of the piece.  That, I will fix with fabric now, taking care not to make them too strong.

I’ll have to leave this up for a few days and review it several times as it is hard to catch everything in just one viewing.  Do you see anything?



On the Other Hand

Not quite right?

Back home and unpacked, my attention returns to the artwork.  I want to update you and the Gold Miner’s hand.  I’ve done a bit more work and thank that they are finally right–just right!!

To review, a few weeks ago I finished a new piece, with the exception of the figure’s hand.   Here is how it looked then:

 I’m striving to better understand the use of value, temperature.  Initially, I used cooler threads for the hand in the background and warmer threads for the hand in the foreground.  The contrast was too great and the back hand looked necrotic.

Much better!

Realizing that I needed to blend  threads from each hand into the other, I searched for more information.  Jim, my husband and live-in art teacher, gave some instruction and guided me through observations of my own hands.  I studied hands painted by old masters such as Titian, and Raphael. Then, it was time to re-attack. 

Keeping  in mind the direction of the light source, and reflected light from the water, as well as the tissues under the skin such as bone, muscle, or veins, I went back to work.  I think these new hands are a big improvement and I’m declaring this piece finished!

Now, it’s time to turn my thoughts and energy to the next new piece:  six guys on a bike.  Check back and I’ll keep you posted on the progress.