Empty Spools at Asilomar: Monday 24 February 2014

25 02 2014

First full day of class today. Pam explained the thread painting process and then we were into it, working straight away on our prepared photo. No practising!!

The basic process with a photo printed on fabric:

  1. Add fusible to the back of the photo, then fuse it onto the background fabric. Make sure you leave at least 4 inches of background fabric around all edges of the photo so you have something to hold onto.
  2. Add batting and backing and pin baste all layers together.
  3. Start with the eyes and the black edges around the eyes. Mark with black pen first,  if necessary, then stitch with black thread.
  4. Finish the eyes with other coloured thread. Get the eyes right first; everything else is easy after that.
  5. Now mark and stitch all other black areas.
  6. Work from dark to light when stitching.
  7. Use short tight stitches and check the fine details  against the original photo.
  8. When stitching, don’t drop the feed dogs, and use both straight free motion stitches as well as zigzag  stitches for the filler areas.

My progress

I decided to start with a photo of an old, rugged cowboy (some people thought he looked like Jeff Bridges!). The photos below show the original photo I worked from, and then my progress, from stitching the black of his eyes, hair, hat etc. to adding the pink and tan on his face, the white and shiny grey for his hair, etc.


Original photo of the cowboy, who was my inspiration

I used multiple free motion zigzag passes (in different directions) on the underside of his hat and on his vest; meandering stipple on the wool collar of his coat; scribble stitching on the top side of his hat; and straight-ish diagonal lines in black for the background. I also added red, blue and purple scribble stitching to his bandana, and various greys for the silver dollar clasping his bandana. I got up a real rhythm doing his hair and beard, and I guess I used about 15 different colours for those elements. I used about 5 different colours in his face. And I dotted a shine in his eyes with some white paint, using the very pointed end of a bamboo skewer (satay stick).

I finished him early on the second day, but I’ve put all the photos in this post to keep them together and to show the development of his face.


Stitching the black areas around the eyes first


Adding more black — eyebrows, hair


Adding dark brown (especially the underside of the hat), and the grey of the eyes



Adding tan to the face and the beard


Pink added to the face, and all other elements now stitched, including the beard and rest of the hair, and the background fabric (I was so into the process I forgot to take photos of each stage!)





I finished him when I got home by adding a thin black border around his portrait and a binding in the same fabric as the background.


I then decided to get him valued by my state’s quilt guild. They valued him at $2000! Yes, that’s TWO THOUSAND! And they added a personal note about how much they ‘all loved this little quilt’.

Update May 2014: I’ve had this quilt valued, and the certificate of valuation is below. However the valuation only takes account the materials and techniques used and the quality of both — it takes no account of the time to learn the techniques nor the time taken to make the piece, which can be hundreds of hours.

_Valuation 2014_American_Cowboy


Breakfast: scrambled eggs with sausage links; lunch: chicken Caesar salad, carrot and ginger soup; dinner: pork loin steak with veges, carrot and walnut cake.

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Empty Spools at Asilomar: Sunday 23 February 2014

25 02 2014

Registration and start of classes today. Fortunately I was able to find Asilomar and check in just after 11am, and orient myself as to where the main halls etc. were in relation to my room, and unpack. I wouldn’t have liked to have left it until 4pm (as suggested in the brochure) as classes started then. As it was,  I left my friend’s house in Monterey at 3:30pm and was pushing to get to registration and to class on time.

I’m in Pam Holland’s group (yes, Pam is a fellow Australian, but I chose her class because of what she was teaching that I wanted to learn, not who she was) and we spent that first session on thread and needles and why she uses what she does. Interesting stuff and I took notes which I’ll add to this blog later when I can type on a proper keyboard and not a tablet.

Dinner was at 6 pm as it will be every night, and was pot roast with rice and veges and a nice dessert cake thing. After dinner we had a general group session in the main hall (Merrill Hall) welcoming us, then it was to bed.

My room is at the top of a bit of a hill and some distance from the meeting hall, dining room, and our workshop room, so there’s a lot walking and lots of steps and stairs. Add to that the bracing fresh air and this could be quite an energetic week!

The only issue I have at the moment is that the place is full of log fires for heating, all of which seem to be going, and the smoke is getting to me.

I won’t post any pictures until I get home as I can’t resize them on the tablet (as far as I know), so you’ll have to live without them for  a while.

Notes from Pam’s initial session:


  • Cotton thread has a centre core, and the fibres wind around it with either an S or Z shape twist. With an S-shape twist, when you pull the thread it will bounce back up on release; with a Z-shape twist, it doesn’t bounce back when pulled and released, which is ideal for thread painting. Z-twist threads include Superior Masterpiece, Aurifil, YLI, Madeira, Robison-Anton; S-twist threads include those by Gutermann and Sulky. Silk-finished (mercerised) cottons are fine (e.g. Mettler) as they are coated.
  • All thread weights listed as the same are NOT equal; e.g. Superior vs Aurifil 50 wt — one is thicker than the other and so may need a different size needle.
  • YLI monofilament: Only ever use the first half of the spool then throw the rest away! Superior Masterpiece 50 wt goes well in the bobbin with the YLI monofilament; don’t use mono in the top and bobbin.
  • When using the sewing machine as a drawing tool (i.e thread painting/sketching), use a thread stand — it gives the thread another two feet (~60 cm) to ‘relax’.
  • For thread sketching, have many gradations of one colour in your thread.


  • Universal needles are semi-ballpoint needles, which separate the weft and warp of the fabric, resulting in some fraying as it separates.
  • Sharps include embroidery needles, leather needles, quilting needles and don’t separate the fabric as they pierce it. Sharps are good for raw edge applique.
  • Pam uses size 60 needles, which have TINY holes, though she got us to use 70 needles for our work.

Using the markers:

  • User the coloured markers to ‘dye’ the thread AFTER the stitching is done. Dyeing works best on cotton threads, not polyesters, rayons, etc.
  • Use a fine (0.05 mm?) black UniPin marker for the outlines of the eyes and other very dark areas, BEFORE you stitch.
  • The markers she recommends are Fabrico markers (from Tsukineko) — using brush end, mostly. There are many colours, but she said about nine colours are sufficient, and recommends getting the ‘mud’ colours, not the brights for faces, drapes in clothing etc. For the week, we used sand, grey, and an orange marker.


Recommendations for thread sketching/painting a child’s face:

  • Print the image out lightly on paper, then shade with coloured pencils to see how to achieve softness.
  • Use less stitching.


  • There’s a right and wrong side to batting. Look for the needle punch holes – where they went in is the right side; where they came out is the wrong side.
  • Put the right side facing up when layering top, batting (i.e. right side up), backing.

See also: