Journal Entry: February 21, 2014.

Fossil images and hieroglyphics make great design elements to replicate with fiber using a thread painting technique. The images typically have nice clean lines, and you can fill in the “missing” parts by painting them in with thread. Traveling through the southwestern states of America you can find many opportunities to see the hieroglyphics created by the Native Americans who lived in the area, especially around the Four Corners: Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. I’ve also found a lot of photographs, drawings and paintings of fossils in art galleries and gift shops that can be used for inspiration. 

From my last rust dyeing project I created several pieces of fabric that reminded me of antique fabric I’ve seen in museum pieces. I pulled these out to create the Christmas gifts, in the above picture, one for our friend Doug who has traveled North America to fish and the other for my son Andrew, who likes to fly fish and makes flys from natural animal hair. I thought the fabric would be extra special for my son because his sons helped me create the rusted fabric last summer. To add to the fun I found a fly for Doug’s from a Scottish vendor at the Spitalfields Antique Market in London. I asked Andrew to create a special fly for a piece  of art (the best part being he didn’t realize it was for him when I asked him for a fly sample), which he made from the hair of their family’s dog Stella.

Doug’s fish with a genuine Scottish fly
Andrew’s fish with a dog hair handmade fly

Here are the steps I took to create my fish for these wall hangings.

I discovered this photo of a fish fossil in the window of a gift shop in Manitou Springs, Colorado a couple years ago. From the photo I traced the outline and spine details of the fish.

Step 1. Trace an outline of the image.

I use two products as a foundation to support the fibers for a thread painting, Nifty Notions Aquabond for the bottom layer and Solvy Water Soluble Stabilizer to lie on top of the fibers to hold them in place as I stitch. You can use about any scraps of fiber you have left over from other projects, thread, yarn, ribbon, lace, fabric strips, etc. I purchased a package of Oliver Twists Two of a Kind, Color #001 hand-dyed thread to create the fish in my wall hanging. As you can see there are a variety of fiber textures and in this case the exact colors I needed to replicate the fossil.

Thread Painting Stabilizers
Thread Painting Threads

Placing my traced paper underneath a piece of Aquabond. I laid out the fibers, first placing the outline and center spine of the fish, then filled in the head. Finally I laid strips of different fibers out that I could use to anchor the thread as I “painted” with free-motion stitching.

Step 2. Layout threads onto the stabilizer, outlining the image.

To start, I zigzag stitched three times around the outer edge of the fish. I followed this stitching with a zigzag stitch down the center and out edge of the head.

Step 3. Secure the threads and stabilizer sandwich.

Then, I used free-motion stitching, with a circular pattern to fill in the fish, making sure I overlapped the stitches and covered the crossed fibers.

Step 4. Fill in the fish shape with thread painting.

After all the fibers were anchored and filled in with stitching I held the painted piece under hot water to remove the soluble fabric. I laid my painted fish out on a towel to dry.  After dried, the fish was ready to apply to my wall hanging.

Step 5. Dissolve the stabilizer and dry the thread painted fish.

I’ve used this thread painting technique to create a variety of shapes: stars, circles, squares, and hearts to compliment many fiber art projects. For common shapes, a star for instance, I make extra to have on hand to add to last minute handmade gifts.

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Addendum Journal Entry: January 30, 2020

Have you made your own fabric with rust? If not, check out the November 29, 2018 blog post I wrote for The Quilting Company website (now known as Quilting Daily) to find instructions for rusting fabric: Material Difference: Hand-Dyed Fabrics from Rust.