A whole world of sewing opens up when you master drawing with thread. We like to use a sharp pencil, chalk, or vanishing ink pen to sketch some guidelines on the surface before stitching. Come up with your own motifs, use templates, or just improvise and design as you sew.

Sketching with Thread

How to do it: Different line styles call for different approaches.

Outlines: When stitching the drawing’s main lines, sew slowly. Manipulate the fabric gently to negotiate curves. Stop often, checking your needle placement. At the point where lines intersect, stop sewing with the needle down, lift the presser foot, and turn the fabric, making sure that the stitches are always going forward to keep the lines clean and sharp. For bolder outlines, sew over the same lines two or three times. As a general rule, set your presser foot pressure to 2 for stitching gradual curves or right angles where you will stop and lift the foot to turn the fabric.

This medium pressure helps keep the lines looking tidy but makes it easier to move the fabric. If the lines are small and tightly spaced, then decreasing the pressure to 0 or 1 would be better, giving you more control of the fabric.

Scribbly areas:  Set your presser foot pressure to 0 (we set our stitch length at 2). Get a good grip on the fabric on either side of the presser foot. Increase your stitching speed so you’re sewing quite fast, and manipulate the fabric by pulling it where you want the stitches to go in tiny circles as in the pupils of a bird’s eye, or back and forth for zigzagging scribbles as in a monster’s hair. You can also use this technique to fill a shape with color.

Sewing on Paper or Cardboard

Stitching on paper or cardboard is simple and lets you get wildly creative, but keep in mind that each time the needle perforates the material, it compromises the surface. If too many stitches are made in one small space, paper can tear. For this reason, it’s easiest to use thick, high-quality paper or card stock. Cardboard should be single-ply (steer clear of the corrugated stuff).

How to do it: After experimenting to find the proper settings, sew decorative lines using the Sketching with Thread technique described above. Keep your material moving, never letting the needle stay in one spot for more than a stitch or two.

You don’t need an industrial machine to stitch through unconventional materials like plastic, paper, and cork. A basic home machine can easily handle these and many others, as long as the material fits under the presser foot and the needle can pierce it.

Universal needles work for this project. Before beginning, experiment with your machine’s settings, working on scraps of your project material to find the right stitch length and width, thread tension, and foot pressure. If you are running into trouble, you may want to use a speciality needle. To determine the right needle type and size, refer to your machine’s manual and talk to a knowledgeable sewing machine salesperson.