Category: how-to

Fill you soul with what you love

Click on the image to see the YouTube video

There’s a line in the Avett Brothers song “Head Full of Doubt” that says Decide what to be and go be it.”

That always has been a powerful line for me. There are so many options in this world. How do you decide? It is not as easy as saying I want to be an astronaut and “poof” tomorrow you’re flying rockets. It takes commitment. And, I’m also realizing it takes a lot of time.

We all have gifts and talents, part of finding our personal direction is tuning into them. When we share these skills we can cultivate a sense of meaning and purpose. It is important to recognize which of our attributes provide us with joy.

For me my art is what brings me joy, but sharing my art is what brings me purpose and meaning. It is easy to get caught up with the day to day minutia and forget about what makes our hearts feel full. When life gets like that, it is important to stop and reconnect. If you love creating, find time to create. Set aside time and commit to making it a regular habit. If life is super fast, find bits of time to squeeze in creativity:

  • Maybe have a sketchbook handy to write or draw your idea.
  • Take five minutes to sit in your creative space and breathe.
  • Go to an art show or gallery.
  • Or, maybe commit to taking a class.
  • Even flipping through pages of creative magazine or book can lovingly fill the empty space in your heart.

It does take commitment and time, but when are you more happy? Do you find joy, running super fast through life? Or, is it more joyful to fill you soul with what you love?

Process of learning

Part of what I have to do to create my artwork is to take photos of birds. I have some drawing skills but not enough to feel confident about drawing freehand. My college education is in wildlife biology. So, I personally like what I do to be as accurate as possible in representing the species I’m featuring. This is why I rely on a camera so much.

The screech owl piece I finished last week was generated using this photo as a starting point. I took the photo during a public event for an animal rehabilitation facility. These events are great ways to raise awareness and money for the organizations. But, they are also great opportunities to get photographs of animals you may never see in the wild. You don’t even have to be that great of photographer or need a fancy camera. This photo was taken using my cell phone.

Judges/jurors of art shows don’t take to kindly to artists submitting work where a photo by someone else was used to inspire the art (yes, even if the photographer gave permission). It falls within the messy business of copyright law. Copyrights are a tricky thing. This is why I’ve decided to source my own reference photos.

Its just another layer to the art I create. I have to practice/improve my photo skills and seek out opportunities to capture the images. It is all part of the process of learning.

Improve your stitching

Last month I wrote a post about using interfacing when you paint with thread (aka free-motion embroidery). This month I want to share some information about thread tension when doing free-motion sewing. This information is appropriate for thread painting and free-motion quilting.

When I was younger, I remember a sewing machine technician strongly telling me and my dad that we should “never touch the tension dial!” I adhered to that rule and it so intimidated me until I started quilting.

Thread tension is the the point where the thread coming from the spool (top of the machine) has a balanced pull with the thread in the bobbin (bottom of the machine). Think of it as a tug of war between the two (see image). If the top tension is too tight, it will pull up the bobbin thread and you’ll see little pop-ups of that thread on the top of your work.

If the top tension is too loose, it will get pulled to the back of the work by the bobbin thread.

The tension dial on the front of your machine controls the tension of the top thread and is helpful in balancing the tug of war.

  • There’s also a way to adjust the bobbin tension, but most of the time top tension adjustments are all we need. So to keep things simple and easier I’ll only discuss the top tension. If necessary, you can learn more about adjusting the bobbin tension by referring to your sewing machine’s manual.

Tension balance is affected when we sew different materials, think of the difference in thicknesses between quilts, fine fabrics, heavy denim, quilters cotton, etc.  The tension has to be adjusted to accommodate each because the thickness of the layers is different.

When you sew, always do some test stitching with the materials you plan to use. I check when I first start sewing, every time I change the top or bobbin thread (stuff happens), and any time I use different stitches (e.g., straight vs zig-zag). Look at the stitches on the front and the back of the work. Do you see an in-balance in the tug of war?

When sewing machine mechanics service our machines, they adjust the tension to accommodate straight stitching on light weight cotton fabric with the tension dial set mid-way. My tension dial has ten numbers (0-9). In this set-up, the mid point is 5. So the mechanic set my machine to have a good balance on cotton at #5. This is good to know…because if things get wonky, we can go back to the middle setting and start over. Also remember to set your machine back to that setting when you straight sew.

If your sample stitching indicates an adjustment is needed, you can refer to the chart on this page which indicates what you do for each scenario (feel free to right-click on the image and save it to your computer). Make minor adjustments at a time and check your stitching again. Check both front and back of your work because it’s possible to over compensate. Did you solve the issue? If not, make some more adjustments.

It’s not so intimidating when you get comfortable with the concept. When your stitches don’t look their best, you can be confident it setting them right. It’s good to know how your machine works and how to improve your stitching.


Never one way to do anything

Last month in my newzletter, I explained my desire to engage more with my readers who don’t live in my local area. For a variety of reasons, this year has really grounded me to my local community. I exhibited locally this past June and have been focusing on teaching live workshops at a local creative space. My blog posts tends to be more about the mental/emotional aspects of being a creative. I don’t usually show too many how-tos here. I’ve been thinking maybe I should change things up the next few weeks and see how you like some occasional insight into my process.

So … let’s talk thread painting… one of my favorite things to do. The butterfly image is an example of a before and after of thread painting on a fabric known as “quilters cotton”. Quilters cotton is fairly lightweight and flimsy. And if you’ve ever tried to sew on it, you might notice that it starts to draw-up (pull in). You may even notice that the stitches don’t look very neat. So how do you apply such dense stitches onto this fabric without making a mess?


By definition a stabilizer is “a thing used to keep something steady or stable.” With lightweight fabrics we need to add something to the fabric to make the material more “stable” and less likely to draw-up. What’s fun is we have lots of options to choose from.

  • Interfacing: This material is attached to the back of fabric (or between 2 layers). Most commonly they are used in clothing construction to stiffen shirt collars or cuffs. There are interfacings that need to be sewn in and others that have a heat reactive (fusible) glue on the back that can be ironed in place. Every thread painter has their own preference. My go-to is Pellon 809 Decor Bond (fusible). It’s fairly stiff material giving me plenty of support and I can easily remove the excess material from the back of my work.
  • Quilt batting: Think of the thread painting as dense quilting. Fuse or pin the batting to the back of your work and stitch. You may get more draw-up with batting than other products, but it has the bonus of creating a 3-dimensional (trapunto) effect.
  • Canvas: A dense cloth used for boat sails, tents and painter’s canvases. Needs to be pinned or fused to the back of the fabric and draw-up is very minimal. It’s challenging to remove any excess, so plan to leave it in or add extra to stretch the finished thread painting onto a stretcher bars to make a finished art piece.
  • Stiff Interfacing: A very dense, thick non-woven polyester material that does not flatten or distort with steam, example Peltex. Used most commonly for crafts, like purses, fabric postcards, etc. Used when you want a really rigid finished project.
  • Embroidery hoops: Yep! just like the ones hand embroiders use. It’s common to find hoops that are 1/2″ thick in the hobby stores. However, the foot of some machines won’t raise high enough to get the hoop under it. I’ve find 1/4″ thick hoops work with any machine. Hoops that are 12″ wide (diameter) work best for most sewing machines. Note: when you use a hoop for thread painting, you want to the fabric in the hoop to be in contact with the bed of the sewing machine. Look at hooped fabric, one side looks like a drum and the opposite side looks like a tray. When thread painting, the tray side is facing up when we stitch.

I always encourage everyone to experiment. Try new materials and look at your results. Which do you like? There’s never one way to do anything.

Want to learn more about thread painting?  Take my online on-demand course Paint with Thread to learn how. Learn at your leisure, with unlimited access to the materials.