Thread Painting: A beginner’s tutorial

Thread Painting: A beginner’s tutorial

mario_mushroom_embroideryA few weeks ago, I posted a “how-to” use thread painting to make patches. It linked out to a lot of good resources and that seemed to be exactly what some of you needed to get inspired and get going. For others, it was overwhelming and not very useful. I aim to please, so I’ve taken a bit of time to put together the basics of thread painted patches with a requested sample project, a Mario mushroom. These are fun to make! Despite the million words I’m getting ready to throw at you – they don’t take long. From start to finish, with pictures, it took 45 minutes to make this mushroom.

To get started we need a list of supplies:

  • Super Sulky Water Soluble Stabilizer
  • Thread in colors required for patch
  • Lots of bobbin thread (neutral color)
  • Tulle (neutral, or color that matches patch)
  • Embroidery hoop (with or without twill tape)
  • Line art & Sharpie
  • Fresh Embroidery Needle

Let’s talk about each of these a little bit more.

Super Sulky Water Soluble Stabilizer

stabilizersupplylistI use Super Sulky because it was what I learned on, available just about everywhere, and it works for me. I’m sure there are other brands out there, but I don’t usually stray too far from something I know as long as it is working. It’s a plastic like film that keeps the threads on the top and bottom of the film rather than getting lost in the fabric. It has a front side that is a bit shinier with texture and more dull backside. The front is facing front when it is on the roll, so you can always go back to that to compare if you switch sides. I’ve also been told that it’s properties will change if left in the sun or outside of it’s package for too long. Could be a wives tale, but I’ve never taken the chance!


threadsupplylistYou’ll want to make sure you have the threads you need before you get started. For this project we’re walking through a simple color block and will just need red, white, tan, and black. You may want to use different colors for shading like in this project or to add interest and dimension like in this project. I like Sulky embroidery threads for this type of work. There’s three big reasons I lean towards this thread:

  • It’s accessible. It’s hard to pick thread colors online. JoAnn carries nice selection of colors and if I pay attention to the sales, at a good price.
  • I have yet to have one break. These patches get thick with thread and there is lots of moving and pulling and changing angles when making one. No thread breaking is impressive. You know what they say – if it ain’t broke….
  • I love the shine! You’re going to see that the shine is problematic in pictures, but in real life it looks great!

You don’t need to futz with changing the bobbin. Just pick a matching thread type in a neutral color. You will run through TONS of thread, so start with a full bobbin or have one near by.


tulleimageYou’re probably familiar with tulle. If you ever worn a prom dress, tutu, or veil, you know tulle. The thing you might not know about tulle is that is quite strong. The netting is created with a weaving technique that creates a tension amongst the threads much different from standard cotton weave. Tulle is an ideal medium for this type of work because it will hold its form despite the 1 zillion times we’re going to punch it with a needle.

The idea of this patch is completely cover the tulle. It will peek out here and there though, so it is wise to choose a neutral or color that matches the bulk of your patch. For this project, I’m using white because it’s what I have (heh).

Embroidery Hoop

hoopsupplywithtwilltapeI’m using the plain old wooden hoop that you can pick up at the craft store for a buck or two. I try to use the smallest hoop I can get by with because it is easier to control to movement of the hoop when it is smaller. I feel like I get better results using the twill tape trick. All I’ve done is wrapped twill tape (find it at JoAnn near the binding) around the hoop then tacked it down with a small, messy stitch. Hey, up until now, no one would have known it was messy! If you want to be a little more neat about it – here’s a great tutorial from Mary Corbet at Needle and Thread.

TIP: The patch you are embroidering can be larger than your hoop! Hoop it, embroider it, then move the hoop and continue on the next section. The embroidery will get sandwiched in the hoop and that’s ok!

Line Art & Sharpie

mario_mushroom3.5Now you need something to embroider. I like to use line art because it is simple to trace and easy to see where there might be difficult sections to fill in or navigate around. I can almost always find a good reference if I google image search the things I want to embroider with the string “line art” or “coloring book page”. Go ahead -see if you can find a good butterfly with this google search. For the sample Mario mushroom, I found him in line art form and sized him to 3.5 inches for embroidery. If you’d like to use it, right click the image and choose “save image as”.

I typically use a fine tipped Sharpie to trace my line art onto my stabilizer. I suspect there is a better way (the sharpie eventually finds itself on the tulle/threads), but I havent figured it out yet. Feel free to drop the answer in the comments if you have it!


I’m looking forward to working through it with you! Please, leave any feedback, questions, or just drop some knowledge in the comments.

Read the Full Series!

Thread Painting: A Beginner’s Tutorial, Supplies (you are here)

Thread Painting: A Beginner’s Tutorial page 2

Thread Painting: A Beginner’s Tutorial, finishing

Here’s some projects that feature thread painting patches:

Morbo Label

Thread Painting Class and inspirations



  1. Would a fabric marker instead of a sharpie work better and heating it in order to set it in the dryer or with a hair dryer work better and not color the thread?

    • I suspect it would! Great idea, give it a try and let us know how it goes. 🙂

  2. Thank you for this! I have seen some beautiful projects but never an easy to understand tutorial.

    • I’m so glad you found it useful! Makes it worth the time to write it. 🙂

      • Susan, Thank you so much for making this understandable to a newbie like me. I have been wanting to try this thread painting craft for so long but have been scared. You have helped me to conquer my fear. You are so smart and so cool…I am soo happy I found you. 1000 thank you’s :-)… I googled the images you said and to my surprise I understand.. Thank you again Susan

  3. Susan, I’m making a soccer quilt for my son and need to do some thread painting (I think) to show the grass on the field with the ball. Anyway, I googled thread painting and cam across these fabulous posts that you did – and then it hit me…I know you!!!
    I sat at the table in front of you at Sew South last March! Small world? Sort of 🙂
    At any rate, I think that this is exactly what I need to enhance the quilt and if it turns out, I’ll post a photo and give you full credit.
    Hope that you’re doing well.
    Kit Little
    ps Thanks for the tutorial – now I’ve got to practice…

    • That’s so cool, it is a small world! I know Sew South was just a few months back, but life has been so crazy it seems like a lifetime ago. Guess that means I’ll need to go back. 🙂 I’m glad it was helpful and I bet you’ll come up with something fantastic. Are you familiar with Susan Brubaker Knapp? I saw some of her work in person recently and was uber inspired/impressed. She does amazing pieces that she calls thread sketching. Sounds like it might be close to what you’re up to. Check out some of her work –

  4. I’m looking forward to finding out more about this. I’d love to thread paint. So far it seems easy enough but of course the embroidery is yet to come!

    • It really is pretty easy with just a little bit of a learning curve. The hardest part – limiting the decisions down on what to do! There’s a million combinations and things you can do with this technique. 🙂

  5. looks intriguing, Susan. You always tackle the most interesting projects!

    Thanks so much for sharing at Needle and Thread Thursday!

    🙂 Kelly @ My Quilt Infatuation

    • heh – I’m CRAZY like that! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Very cool! Can’t wait for the next bit!

    • Oh good! I hope it is helpful!

      Good luck with your table runner! It looks like it will be great. 🙂

  7. The mushroom is super cute! Thanks for the tutorial, Susan. I am going to stay tuned for the next iteration 🙂


    • Yay! I’m glad it is useful and you’re very welcome. I like to write them, it is unfortunate I dont have a ton of time to do MORE. 🙂

  8. Excellent article, even if we didn’t make this already, you have a way of introducing us to something new, encouraging new ideas.

    • awww, thanks Jacqui! That’s exactly what I’m trying to accomplish. So nice to hear that you’re getting that! 🙂

  9. You write such in depth and concise tutorials!! You really think of everything!!

    • That’s is also known as verbose… hahaha! That’s why I broke it up into a bunch of posts. What’s really funny? I’m editing myself! I think I could write a small book on the subject. It’s just a great and fun technique that I love to do!

    • It is!! It is so liberating! You can do absolutely anything you can make a line drawing for. I find embroidery machines on the frustrating side because I dont want to deal with the software. These patches dont look the same, I just can’t replicate the machine precision, but I love them just the same!

  10. This is interesting and the mushroom is adorable. Embroidery is so fun and relaxing.

    • It really is isn’t it? It is one of my favorite things to do with my sewing machine. I love doing it FMQ too – no software, just painting along with thread. 🙂

  11. I can’t wait to see the next part!

    • It’s live! I really need a video rig…. Maybe I can talk one of my housemates into helping me out this weekend. 🙂

  12. Hi Susan. What a helpful blogpost. It’s often setting up the basics that are skimped over and I thought it really helpful to see each stage of the setting up. I would never have thought of using tulle and I had never even heard of Super Solvy before, so thank you so much.

    • Good to see you Rose! Thank you so much for your comment. Sometimes I put stuff like this out there and have no idea if it is useful or not! You’re very encouraging, just when I needed a bit of encouragement! 🙂


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