Threadpainting: 2 Threads, 1 Needle

by Franki Kohler

In spite of the incredible number of thread choices available, there are times when I cannot find just the right color for the look I want. When this happens, I experiment with combining two spools of thread in one needle to create the desired color.

If you haven’t tried threadpainting before this, here are a few tips for a successful start:


Stabilizing your fabric will eliminate unwanted puckering and distortion. There are many ways to stabilize fabric. My favorite way is to press Pellon Shirtailor fusible nonwoven interfacing to the wrong side of the fabric I will threadpaint. The stabilizer can be removed when the thread work is done, or it can be left on. I don’t find the extra layer of stabilizer to be too thick so I tend to leave the Shirtailor on my fabric and proceed with layering and quilting. Your choice depends upon how you will use the piece and the look you want to achieve.

Note: Find Pellon Shirtailor fusible nonwoven interfacing at fabric stores that cater to clothing makers and Jo-Ann’s.

Needle Choice

I use a topstitch 80/12 or 90/14 when I have two threads in the needle. The thickness of the threads I’m using dictates the size of the needle I will need. You will need to experiment with needles to discover which one(s) will work the best for you with your machine. Press Shirtailor to the wrong side of a 14″-square piece of muslin or other light-colored fabric and test some thread choices. Here is where you want to find problems, not on your project!

Bobbin Thread

I use a prewound bobbin of white polyester thread. The bobbins I buy (Robison-Anton) have 150 yards of thread on them. That allows me many hours of stitching without changing the bobbin. I have not found it necessary to match my bobbin thread color to the thread I am stitching with — proper machine tension is the key here – and I enjoy the ease of tossing out an empty bobbin and popping a new one in. However, you can purchase polyester bobbin thread in colors and on spools if you choose to wind your own bobbins. Prewound bobbins come in more than one size. Check with your machine dealer to fine out which size fits your machine.

Use free-motion threadpainting for outline stitching and defining veins: Cyanotype print on silk charmeuse threadpainted using “deep wine” and “scarlet” threads, both 40-weight rayon.

Use free-motion solid threadpainting for an entire image: Detail of a cyanotype print on cotton. This hellebore leaf was filled in using 40 wt. variegated polyester and 60 wt. solid cotton.

Here is a view of threadpainting in progress: Cyanotype print on cotton. I am using Superior Trilobal Polyester Rainbow #808 and Mettler Embroidery 60-weight cotton in a topstitch 80/12 needle.

Here are a few combinations of threads:

For more information on threadpainting using a single thread see Coloring with Thread by Ann Fahl.