Monday, April 27, 2015


Our first challenge of cycle 3: use thread in a new way.  Martha’s post about modern embroidery was full of fantastic hand stitched examples. But I will admit, I was dreading the idea of hand stitching, especially when the finished piece needed to be 48” long.  So I needed to figure out how to use thread that was not my usual way (machine stitched) and still find a way to enjoy the process.

An idea was formed: I have never used thread to replace fabric. I decided to use thread for shape and color as well as line. One of my students gave me 2 boxes of various embroidery floss to play with. I started separating the floss into different thicknesses and piling it onto a whole cloth background. I loved creating these loose scribbly lines. I chose to form them into a hummingbird because the colorful and dynamic movement of the thread lines reminded me of this tiny bird’s unique flying abilities.


The other half of the challenge was to incorporate the overall theme I’ve chosen for this cycle: Reflections. Splitting the composition into 2 mirror images achieves that goal and also made the design process much quicker and more intuitive. It also offers different ways of hanging the two finished pieces.  For V9 I have them stacked like a bird reflected in water.  But they could also be hung side to side facing each other, or displayed alone. 

I loved inventing 2 different color schemes with the thread, one dark and one light. I had a general palette in mind for each bird, but every once in a while I’d throw in a random contrasting color. This is not my typical creative process. Usually I’m a planner. I don’t think I’ve ever used fabric with the thought “Eh, I’ll just throw a bit of this red in there with the turquoise and see what happens”.
Putting these together was incredibly fun.  I will say I experienced a childish JOY while pulling apart threads and letting them fall down onto the ‘canvas’. Some of the outlining threads were carefully placed, but most were just dropped into squiggly piles. I didn’t care that sometimes a thread or two would stick to my sleeve with static electricity and end up somewhere else on the piece.  I just left them there.

Photo Apr 26, 5 25 17 PM

To keep it all from falling apart, I covered the loose embroidery thread piles with tulle then machine stitched on top of that to hold them down permanently. With the machine stitching, I tried to “scribble” with the stitches to reflect the shapes and movement of the piled threads, so the lines would all blend together. Some of the threads are trapped under the tulle while others are sewn on top.


Technical details: finished size = 26” wide x 48” tall
materials = cotton fabric, embroidery floss, acrylic tulle, rayon and polyester thread
techniques = piles of embroidery threads held down with acrylic tulle and hand-guided machine stitching


  1. Very effective use of thread Kate and stunning! I can see you using this technique again.

    1. Thank you Sue! I would like to do this again. :)

  2. I love the way it looks like a loose drawing. A good technique for lots of purposes. Thanks for sharing it!

  3. Gorgeous Kate! You described my dilemma exactly: 48" with hand stitching? Ugh! I love how you solved the problem and I can understand how it felt like playing. I'm going to try this one day.

  4. This is fantastic, Kate! I always love the little piles of colored threads that collect during a project - something else to reflect on :) Nice solution to hand stitching!

  5. What a beautiful work, Kate! It’s so nice to meet you and Tom in Portland. I look back and find out that your works are as elegant as you are.