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Thread Salad- Hardest Working Stitch

The HWS: Hardest Working Stitch is a “biggest stitch for your buck” feature.  It’s simple stitch. I break it down into a few easy steps, and then show you how to mutate it to get endless variety from it (OR I’ll show you how I use it to get where I want to go).  Cool, huh?

Thread Salad featuring blanket stitch.


Thread salad trees.

The blanket stitch is one of the easiest yet most versatile stitches. You can get miles of use by simply varying the length of the arms, but in this case, it’s used as a tacking stitch for your thread salad.

Thread salad was an invention of necessity–I needed a way to visualize what stitching on a given surface might look like. I take a few strands of thread and just wad it to make a bird-nest shape out of it.  Then I lay it on the fabric and move it around til I get an idea. Sometimes it looks foliage-y, or flower-y. It’s basically an impressionistic look at what I imagine stitching somewhere…


Here it is on the big Root piece: purple thread salad nestled in a couple of woven picot leaves: first you choose a color and make a wispy shape:


(Visit the Roots Diary) Anchor it with a straight stitch, then tack it down with big loopy french knots (using at least 6 or 12 strands of floss) it becomes a really neat



(Note: for this to work, a yarn darner is key – I prefer 4 or 5 inch doll sculpture needles. Dritz is my brand. The key is you have to be able to pass the floss through the fabric without ripping or distressing the surface and (more importantly) you don’t want to disturb the salad too much –

the worst case scenario is that you catch the salad threads in the floss and pull them through the fabric – WHOA!!! That’s quite a mess! Take my advice here – when embroidering fearlessly, just cut out the snags and start over!

DON’T try to repair a snag or you’ll really wangle your fabric.  Now there are times when you’re experimenting and it isn’t so important to preserve the ground fabric, or the integrity of a piece.  If it’s in the name of research, and you are ok with possibly sacrificing your work – then go on and be ruthless, see where it takes you…

Some of my best techniques have arisen from trying to repair mistakes — which leads to innovation — which spawns discoveries…

(For a better clearer photo see below – the purple flowers with light green woven picot in Meadow are a great Thread Salad example).

In the next piece, Meadow, it was the first technique I used to get an idea of what trees might look like.  (I ended up liking the technique so well, I now use it to choose form and colors — just lay thread salad on your fabric, and imagine!)  This was actually the first EVER embroidery-over-watercolor I did (back in about 2005).


It sat like this for 3 years until I had the technical skills to complete it the way it looked in my head:

I kept the thread salad but added 8 colors for depth and definition:


I also used it to fill in the bottom (I had to scan it in 2 halves because the actual size is 15X20″)


Above, you can see the light purple french knots (12 strands of floss) over dark purple thread salad. Light green salad forms a base for the light green woven picot leaves.

In some cases, after I get an idea for what shape I want, I pull off the threads and stitch with proper stitching. Other times instead of lifting the thread salad off and using formal stitching, I leave it and stitch the wadding down using loose loopy french knots and some uneven blanket stitching.

For the bird nest, the whole image is made of threads, blanket stitched to look like it’s sitting on the branch.

little nest

Below are some more of the results.  tah dah!   Visit the Schoolhouse to see what’s happening….

Visit the Sinister Stitch project **LINK** to see some more techniques unfold.