Focus on Embroidery: Thread Painting

Rissa Peace Root 2005

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Thread Painting covers a variety of embroidery styles from Chinese Double Sided Embroideries to the incredible work of Helen Stevens.  It is precise realistic art and takes many years to master.  All of these styles are defined by the same principle; needle, thread and fabric can be used in much the same manner as brush, paint and canvas.  Some time ago, I bought Kit Nichol's Painting with Thread and really enjoyed it.  Her work shows a much more relaxed style without the need for laying tool or precision long and short stitch, without sacrificing beauty.  She also uses mixed techniques for dimensional effect, which seems very liberating. If I were forced to pinpoint the difference, I would say that her work is more representational than realistic. I am sure someone who has actually studied art could more accurately describe the phenomenon, but I'll let it stand for the purposes of this article.   

Examples of basic long and short technique from Dimensions Needlework Kits.

I started with several commercially available kits, but I was still hesitant to break out onto my own.  Then I took a Thread Painting class from Susan O'Connor of Country Bumpkin Publications of Australia.  At first I was uncomfortable drawing in the class, but I discovered my inability to draw a straight line was not a true liability.  The teacher spoke about line and direction, as well as shadow and light, then after lunch set us loose with several shades of yellow and brown silk.  The end result was surprisingly pear-like.  In person it even has an element of photo realism, despite my own criticisms of the stitching technique. 

My own sketch of a pear rendered in Madeira silks.

At some point, I stopped being concerned with my less than perfect long and short stitch and focused on using these techniques to create motifs for my Crazy Quilting.  My guess is that many of you are being hampered by the same self-criticism, so I thought I would share some of my work to inspire each of you to try a little thread painting in your next project.

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