Nov 08 11

Using Thread to Add Detail to Your Quilt

I’m nearly done with the free motion embroidery and trapunto on this quilt top, so now I’m adding in some detail work into the “blank spaces.”  My first move is to throw in a few grapevine curlycues emanating from the vine structures.  To do this, I first find a “blank zone” adjacent to a vine that’s large enough to support a grapevine curly cue, like what you see below:

Once you’ve identified the space and ironed it, you flip the top over and apply a temporary stabilizer onto the backside.  Here, I’ve attached some Sulky Iron-on Tear Away stabilizer:

(You need that stabilizer to prevent puckering and gathering from forming around your stitches.) Now, I really want this grapevine curlycue to have some dimension, so I’m going to use a super heavy thread. I’m using a size 12 pearl cotton embroidery thread by The Caron Collection (it has been hand-wound onto an old empty cone):

I want you to notice a couple things in the above photo. The first is a tiny bottle of Sewer’s Aid, which is liquid silicone. This lubricant can be used to help “finicky threads” flow easily through your machine. You do not need to use this product, but I use it for any thread I feel might be problematic. (Metallic thread would be at the top of my list.) It’s very easy to use. If you look closely at the photo, you’ll see a line that goes from the top of the spool to the bottom. That is a line of Sewer’s Aid that I have drizzled along the cone, and I typically drizzle 4-5 lines like that across a given spool or cone. I use a size 90 Microtex Sharp or Topstitch Needle for this thread and I choose a mid-weight cotton in the bobbin. To start a curleycue, begin by placing your needle right at the edge of the vine as below:

You can pre-draw a curlycue and do follow-the-line stitching or just stitch one out freehand as below:

Notice how the stitches lay flat, without any puckering around them-that is because we placed that stabilzer on the backside. Here’s what the back looks like at this point:

Just pull those long thread tails to the backside, tie them in a knot, and snip them off. Once that’s done, tear away that stabilizer and you’re done!


  1. Lisa Says:

    Very nice. I wouldn’t think that the pearl cotton would go through your tension so easily or that it would fray. Is that what the silicone does for the thread?

  2. Debbie St. Germain Says:

    I have the new yarn foot and was wondering if I could use thicker threads with it too. I would have never thought to use stabilizer, makes sense;)


  3. a1angiem Says:

    wow! so simple and beautiful! great tip about the silicone…tfs!

  4. Marie Says:

    I love your work. I am new to thread painting – what is the EKG stitch. Thanks

  5. Mary G Says:

    Thanks for sharing those helpful tips. Appreciate your work very much.

  6. Liz Says:

    I just so love your work and find you very sharing and inspirational. Last week I watched one of your DVD and now I can do feathers something I have wanted to do for many many years. I am SO hooked. I always look forward to all your new posts. Thank you again.
    Happy Quilting Liz from New Zealand

  7. Sally Says:

    What a nice “tutorial”. And, I second the question what is the EKG stitch? TIA.

  8. Jon Zimmer Says:

    I want to to thank you for this very good read!! I definitely enjoyed every bit
    of it. I’ve got you book marked to check out new stuff you post…