Thread Doodle Portraits…

by Brenda Wood

Are you in the middle of a major project, and just need a quick creative outlet to help keep momentum, or perhaps you are trying to decide colours to use and need a little distraction while the fabrics you’ve pulled are working themselves out?

Try a Thread Doodle Portrait.  They are easy and fun, and because there are no straight lines to adhere to, and colour and thread choice use limited palettes, they are quick to finish.  They can be used for Journal covers, Pockets on bags, quilt labels, clothing, postcards, eBook covers and they even look great on quilts!

To start, decide what end project to incorporate the Doodle Portrait, and size the design accordingly.   Select a photo, cropping it to size and revert it to black and white, either within photo editing software or using a black and white copier.  Portraits that are in profile are easier to render than full front faces with their balanced dimensions.

Select fabrics from your scrap bin that will not compete with the thread sketch.  Simple or subtle fabrics are good, but don’t be afraid to throw in a zinger fabric for interest. Perhaps you could use hand dyes or your dye mop up cloth if you have one lurking about.

Roughly cut the fabrics to make a background for your sketch.  Affix them to an adhesive backing such as interfacing or calico with iron on interfacing.  Raw “fresh” edges with fabrics overlapping add interest to the piece.  Stitch the fabrics down using subtle colours and relaxed stitching.  Add interest with bolder coloured thread that matches the deeper fabric colours.  Use “off the grid stitching” or preset stitches on your machine.  Leave the portrait area of the background reasonably clear so that it doesn’t interfere with the portrait’s details.

Using plastic such as overhead transparencies, plastic pockets, or non-adhesive book cover plastic. (Found in a roll at most Newsagents or Supermarkets). Trace the portrait with a thin black permanent marker.  Try not to lift the pen off the paper to imitate your actions in stitch.  In this Doodle Portrait there are only two stops-starts, one for the right eye and brow.  The remainder of the portrait was traced in one pen movement. When Drawing, as in stitching, some lines will be gone over more than once, however it is best to keep a single pass on the jaw, nose and cheek lines, unless the portrait is of an older person.

When tracing the portrait, simple lines are the best.  The viewer’s eye will fill in details.  However, one important detail to include is the small dot in the pupil, this feature will stop the eye looking dead or empty.  The design may need to be traced more then once until it is evident which details to incorporate or leave out.

Preview the portrait on the background. Trace the Doodle Portrait onto water soluble stabiliser or tearaway.  Place on the fabric backing, hooping if desired.  Using black thread and stitching slowly, follow the drawing, stitching over the drawn lines. 

Remove the stabiliser or tearaway. 

Iron and trim the piece to suit your project.



Nelson Mandela detail from Brenda Wood’s Pride quilt

I created a quilt using 3 outlines using this method. Sadly it has never hung anywhere.

4 thoughts on “Thread Doodle Portraits…

  1. Love this challenge. Just did 7 hand stitching challenges, one being my eye. Will try this by machine. Such fun. Sandy

    Sent from my iPad

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