Thread Painting

Thread Painting
Thread Painting is an embroidery technique that can be used by both hand and machine embroiderers. In both methods, the technique relies on long, smooth stitches and intricate shading to produce the stunning results.

Machine Embroidery

This is also called free-motion machine embroidery and is stitched with the thread dogs dropped. This offers you complete control of the fabric, and it does not make any difference on how you set the machine for stitch length and width.

It can be stitched using a specialist embroidery machine, or on a normal sewing machine.

You will need to insert the free motion foot and loosen the upper tension to about 2.5. Fill the bobbin with fine thread and use a slightly heavier (about 40 weight) thread.

With thread painting, you draw your design onto the fabric directly and stitch it. You may want to have a separate copy of the pattern next to you that you have coloured in, so that you can follow the shadings you want to use.

Hand Embroidery

The main stitch used in hand embroidery Thread Painting is Long and Short stitch.

Long and Short Stitch

This stitch is a variation on Satin Stitch. It got its name because the first row is comprised of alternate long and short stitches, following the outline of the design (see example above).

The second and subsequent rows are comprised of stitches that are all the same length, so that the long and short continues throughout the design.

It lends itself particularly well to thread painting, as the shadings blend in very well into the uneven line.

When I stitch shadings in this stitch, I usually ensure that the first row of the new shade actually overlaps slightly the previous row, giving a very subtle change of colour.

As with Satin Stitch, careful stitching is necessary to ensure a smooth finish of your stitching. I find it works best using one strand of thread.

Even better, this particular stitch can be used on all types of fabric, from evenweave and linens, to canvas and any plain fabric you embroider on.

Other stiches typically used in thread painting include stem stitch, knotted stitches (such as French Knots and Bullions) and split stitch.


The beauty of Thread Painting lies in the shading, so whichever method you use, you should practice before you start stitching. You should always have a copy of the design next to you, coloured in showing the shadings, so that you have a guideline to work from.

Use your sampler to practice changing the colours so that the change is smooth and the tension maintained. You should always stitch this technique using a hoop or frame, as loose tension will cause the thread not to lie flat.

When hand stitching, let your needle and thread “hang” to untwist the thread to aid in lying flat. This technique looks especially good done in silk (try Eterna Silk Flat Spun thread – the thread isn’t twisted, and lies perfectly flat) or rayon – both of these give a lovely sheen to your work.

The DMC linen threads also look great and give a completely different look to your work.

With your shadings, don’t be afraid to change threads. Sometimes, you may want a deeper sheen, so why not combine cotton and silk in the same colours and use that different texture to highlight your shadings.

With practice, you will be astonished at how easy this technique is, and at how beautiful the finished piece of embroidery is.


Machine Thread Painting at the HGTV site This article also includes a couple of great patterns and easy to read instructions

Recommended Reading

Thread Painting: Simple Techniques to Add Texture & Dimension by Leni Levenson Wiener

Thread Painting: Bunnies in my Garden by Jenny McWhinney

Coloring With Thread: A No-Drawing Approach To Free-Motion Embroidery by Ann Fahl

Is there anything that you would particularly like to see an article on? If so, please contact me with your suggestions.

Happy Stitching

Happy Stitching from Megan

© 2007 Megan McConnell

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