Sep 19 11

The Power of the Thin Black Line

Can you see how the thin black thread line that outlines all the pieces of this applique really adds a nice definition to this quilt?  It’s just like the narrow black outline that we see so often in line drawings, and it’s stitched here using a very heavy black cotton thread.  Most of the time, I outline with invisible thread, but sometimes, adding that thin black line can really add a cool intricacy to a design.

A couple years back, I started a large applique quilt that featured giant-sized Queen Anne’s lace.  I mean really over-sized Queen Anne’s lace, like each one is many feet long.  I wanted to add a thin black line to each of the applique shapes, except on that scale, that thin black line really needed to be a satin stitch that was fairly wide.  I put many feet of temporary stabilizer behind the quilt top and started embroidering it.  This first shot shows part of one of the flowers before I’d added the black line:

…and this next shot gives you a bit of a sense of how that black line helps define shapes:

Here’s a close up of part of the black-outlined Queen Anne’s lace:

Once everything was finally outlined in a black satin stitch, I tore away all the stabilizer, and I free motion embroidered the irregular swirl design inside  the flowers.  I then  decided that these giant flowers really needed to be trapuntoed.  I  was really kicking myself at that point, as I’d thought long and hard about the option of trapunto before I added that satin stitching (since I could do the satin stitching and add the trapunto layer at the same time), and I’d decided against it.  Rats!  So I pinned some batting behind all the applique and added a trapunto layer by outlining everything with invisible thread.  I cut away all the excess batting and then basted my final quilt sandwich together.   I’m picking this project back up now, and here is the beginning of outlining those large appliques, and you can see how the trapunto layer helps emphasize the applique shapes:

Fun, fun, fun!  And this is before the background fill stitching has even started!


  1. Cindy Says:

    Wow, this is stunning! What weight is the black thread you are using? It really changes the look of the piece. Thanks for sharing the technique!

  2. Claire Pereira Says:

    Hmmm really nice!

  3. Elsie Montgomery Says:

    Another cool idea that will go into my ‘inspiration file’ for another quilt someday! Thank you, Patsy.

  4. Debbie St. Germain Says:

    Love how the black looks, I have thought about that myself, I love using black. I still have to figure out how to do tensions for satin stitches. I do a lot of primitive pieces, so have used the blanket and that was fun.


  5. Kelly Jackson Says:

    Hi Patsy,
    Those fine black lines really make the queen annes lace pop. I need to figure out how to get my machine to do that fine of a line and still be smooth. Thanks for more fun!

    (Still Gone Fishing 🙂

  6. Sally Says:

    I really like the thinner black line as opposed to the satin stitching. Great job, as usual. What thread did you use?

  7. Sandy Says:

    Love the little black line, it’s adds charter to your piece. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Sally Says:

    Another outlining question–I’m so enamored of the effect! Did you do it free motion or with the feed dogs up, straight stitching? Hoping you have time to answer.

  9. Dorothy Minett Says:

    You constantly amaze me with your new ideas…I love the black line…it has the subtle effect to draw the eye to the design. I also love black as a background for batiks…it makes them shine.
    Thanks for sharting your ideas so generously.