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Painting with thread and my sewing machine

What is the purpose of the darning foot? Can you thread paint without one?

Thank you.


Yes, you'll need to use a darning foot for thread painting.

Think of it like using crayons to color in a picture.

Rarely do you color a picture with all the strokes going in the same direction. You change their direction to better fill in and cover an area.

With a traditional presser foot installed with the feed dogs up, you are limited to forward and backward stitching, with pivoting in between to change the direction of your stitches. That's not a particularly efficient way to get the stitching done.

Install a darning (or hopping) foot, drop the feed dogs and hoop your fabric, now you can move in any direction to get the coverage or create the type of stitches you want and need to convey the image you are painting.

That is the purpose of using a darning foot.

The Stitches

A straight stitch is a straight stitch is a straight stitch. No matter if you're sewing a seam or quilting with it. It's a short little line, the only thing that changes is it's length.

For thread painting, you'll find yourself frequently using a free motion (meaning with the feed dogs down) zig zag stitch to achieve the thread coverage you're after. A zig zag stitch becomes a straight line (albeit thicker) when you move the fabric from left to right or right to left. It can be a thick band moving forwards and backwards. It's the ability to move the fabric in any direction, at any time, that makes this a versatile 'go-to' stitch for thread-painting.

Watch a short thread painting primer...

Nancy Prince, a well-known thread painting artist, has a great video taking you through the basics of thread painting. You can watch it here...

Notice that, unlike free motion quilting, Nancy was turning the hooped fabric underneath the needle to create the 'look' she wanted. That works because the piece of fabric is so much smaller than a quilt sandwich.

Note, too, that unlike a hand embroidery hoop, the fabric is hooped such that it is at the bottom of the hoop...the fabric is held flat against the bed of your sewing machine. You'll need a hoop that is thin enough to fit underneath your presser foot. Most big box stores will have them.

Purchase from
To learn more about thread painting may I suggest "Thread Magic Garden" by Ellen Anne Eddy. This is an update and re-printing of her first book on the subject, "Thread Magic"...which I own and love!

Thread painting looks difficult. Not a lot of people are doing it and showing it. However, the technique is very forgiving and will help you with your free motion quilting skills, too.

And finally, it's a wonderful reason to expand your thread stash...ask me how I know!

Thank you for your question.

Readers! Do you have a favorite thread painting book or DVD? Please share what you've done to acquire and build this skill. Thank you.


Julie Baird

Comments for Painting with thread and my sewing machine

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Thread painting
by: Kathryn McIlmoyle

I have been playing with thread painting and love it. I would like more information and techniques.

Thank you
by: Anonymous

I am going to attempt to thread paint and this video has been a real help. I just need to know if I need a special hoop or can I use the hoop I use for hand work?

Thank you for your help

Linda Mattson

From the Editor: Hi Linda!

I've got a 'special' hoop, but really the only thing special about it is that I can fit it underneath my presser foot.

Remember that the fabric is inserted so that it is even with the bottom of the hoop. That's opposite from using one for handwork.

Good Luck!

~ Julie

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