Playing with Wash-Away Stabilizer

Wash-away (also called water soluble) stabilizer is a lot of fun to play around with. Although it may most often be used to add stability to fabric during stitching, it can be used all by itself to create fabric out of thread, ribbon, yarn or any number of things. It can also be used to create lace, or simple grids.

Unfortunately I didn’t take photos of the stitching while in progress, so I’ll just have to describe the procedure to stitch a thread grid. I used a single layer of Sulky Super Solvy heavy water soluble stabilizer, cut into a square a little larger than my embroidery hoop. I used the hoop to secure the stabilizer, and set my sewing machine to free-motion stitch (although this technique could also be done using regular stitching with the feed dogs up), using a variegated heavy-weight cotton quilting thread in the top needle, and a solid cotton thread in the bobbin.

To begin a grid, stitch in straight lines in a grid using a straight stitch. Go over each line a few times, and be sure to connect the outline and the cross lines at the ends (once the stabilizer has been washed away, you want the threads to hold together). Next, switch the stitch to a narrow zigzag and sew over the grid lines again, building up the thread density to the desired thickness. Be sure that the zigzag is going over the lines of straight stitching.

When the grid has been stitched to the desired density, remove from the hoop, carefully cut away excess stabilizer, and then follow the manufacturer’s directions to hand-wash the stabilizer from the thread. If you wash the grid thoroughly, it will be soft when it dries. If you leave some of the stabilizer residue in the threads, it will be stiff when it dries. It’s a personal preference whether to end up with the grid soft or stiff. Lay the grid out to dry on a smooth surface (parchment paper works well, terry towel might stick to any remaining stabilizer residue).

Here is my first, simple grid, together with the thread I used to stitch it with.


Thread grids can be mounted onto a quilt to add an extra dimension to the piece. I mounted this one onto a simple background that I quilted with a pattern of leaves and flowers.


That was fun to make, so I followed it up by making one a little more complex in design. The next one I stitched in a spider web shape, which I then mounted on a background of trees. I used some metallic threads in this one, to add a bit of sparkle.



Here’s a close-up of the web (which still needs a spider!):


As you might imagine, you can do many fun things using this technique. The only important thing to remember is to make sure that your lines of stitching are well anchored to each other so that they hold together when the stabilizer has been washed out.

Here’s another example of what you can do with this technique, using decorative machine stitches.


Playing with Line

Another thing we’ve been doing in the art quilting classes I’m taking is playing with line. Line is an important element of design, and in quilting it can come in many forms. The line created by quilting the layers together is one of those forms. I stitched a couple of small samples to experiment with using quilting lines for different purposes.

In this sample, the quilting lines were used to express emotion. These were done quickly and without stopping to think about them, so they are both rough and spontaneous. They did serve their purpose of getting me thinking about the effects of different types of quilting.


I used a pigment marker to write the emotions in each square.

Another use of quilting lines is to add dimension and shape to figures. This exercise square shows grids of stitching done in varying densities, followed by some simple shapes using stitching to add dimension.

line-density -exercise-001

Eventually these sample blocks will be made into pages for my skitchbook™ – that’s a stitched sketchbook. That will be a great reference for future work, as well as a record of what I’m learning and the progress I’m making.

The book we are using a lot in our classes is Threads: The Basics and Beyond, by Debbie Bates and Liz Kettle. It’s a great book full of information and exercises for developing the various skills that are useful for making art quilts. We are lucky to have Debbie as our coach, instructor and facilitator for our classes. She’s a wonderful teacher and I leave the classes feeling like I could do anything!

Threads – Playing with Colour

As an exercise in colour theory and thread painting I stitched a colour wheel. It was interesting going through my thread collection and locating the appropriate colours, and a little revealing that I actually had them all (No, I do not have a thread buying problem!). I used a basic red-yellow-blue colour wheel for this exercise, and chose colours based on a colour wheel I found in a book I own called Color Magic for Quilters, by Ann Seely and Joyce Stewart.

Here is the colour wheel using single colours of thread. The primary colours (yellow, blue and red) and secondary colours (orange, violet and green) are stitched to the full diameter of the circle. The tertiary colours (blue-green, yellow-green, orange-yellow, red-orange, violet-red blue-violet) are only stitched part-way.


I used mainly rayon threads for this, and white quilting cotton backed by two layers of Sulky Totally Stable Iron-On Tear-Away stabilizer. I also put the stabilized fabric in an embroidery hoop. Even with all of this, I found that the dense stitching caused some distortion.

To finish off the tertiary colour areas, I stitched using the primary and secondary thread colours together to see how they would blend.

Here is the finished colour wheel:


I like the way the double threads blend together. It shows how easily you can create a new colour using threads you already own.

Some things I learned in this exercise:

  • for dense thread painting, either a very heavy fabric or lots of backing stabilizer are required.
  • loosen the thread tension to prevent the bobbin thread from pulling up. I found that this happened particularly when I changed direction. In the photo you can see my bobbin thread, a light beige, at some of the outside edges of the stitching, especially in the lighter colours. On the other hand, using a contrasting bobbin colour and allowing it to be pulled to the top can be a design feature.
  • be careful to use the right colour in the right place. Do test patches first if you are testing colours. Ripping out dense stitching is difficult and time-consuming (don’t ask).
  • some of those rayon threads are slippery and can be tricky to work with. Helpful things: topstitch needles, which have sharp points and large eyes; feeding the spool from either the top or the side, depending on how the spool is wound (if a horizontal spool holder doesn’t work, try a vertical one); a mesh thread net helps keep the thread from spontaneously unwinding itself into a big, tangled mess.
  • for colour blending with threads, you can try stitching with two threads at the same time as I did, or you can stitch with one first, and then the second one over top of the first. Try a little test patch to see if one way is more to your liking than another.two-colour-samples_0001 These samples were stitched on artist canvas. I found that the two threads together filled in a little faster and blended evenly, so that’s what I used for my colour wheel. Each colour was stitched at about the density of the single colour samples at the bottom.

For reference, here are the threads I used (some of the Sulky colour numbers are guesses. I have quite a few threads that I purchased in discount packs that don’t have proper labels on them).

Red: Sulky rayon 1147

Red-Orange: Sulky rayon 1078

Orange: Sulky rayon 1065

Orange-Yellow: Sulky rayon 1023

Yellow: Wonderfil rayon 2116

Yellow-Green: Sulky rayon 1063

Green: Wonderfil rayon 4156

Green-Blue: Sulky rayon 1252

Blue: Coats Twist rayon 740

Blue-Violet: Sulky Rayon 1534

Violet: Wonderfil rayon 5108

Violet-Red: Superior Threads Highlights polyester 714