How Does Your Garden Glow?

by Shelly Stokes, Founder and Creative Mentor
Bar line

A couple of years ago, I got bit by the hand-stitching bug. Hard. I am not saying it was a bad thing – just that it totally changed the way I think about painted fabric.

It started with just a little bit of embellishment for a handbag. Then an “experiment” with adding stitching to a whole-cloth collage. And now to a very large-scale project that will show off the possibilities in an amazing way.

I am not ready to share my big project, but my little stitched collage is finally ready for show-and-tell. It officially became a quilt over the weekend – binding and all. Just a few more photos and it will be ready for entry in the Minnesota Quilt Show. (Now that is something I have not done in what seems like 100 years!)

Garden Collage: From Concept To Quilt


My garden collage quilt started out simply. I painted a whole cloth collage on a dark green batik after seeing a handbag created by my friend Janet Houle (Kensington, MN). I liked the way Janet blocked out some rubbings on her fabric and decided to play with the concept.

To make the collage, I used rubbing plates from the Leaves, Garden Flowers and Floral Fantasy collections along with a bunch of Iridescent Paintstik Colors.


My first thought was that I needed distinct divisions between the sections of the collage. But once that was done, the flowers and leaves looked too plain.


So, I proceeded to add stitching to each of the collage panels. I quickly discovered that the color of the thread could have a huge impact on what I perceived to be the color of the paint.

I did a fair amount of “reverse” sewing along the way, but it was not a big deal. In my mind, this was my little “experiment.” Just something to play with when I needed something to do.


I took my collage to Houston Quilt Market and pulled it out a few times as I was looking at embroidery threads. (Cruising around a trade show is super cool when you want to see what the different manufacturers have to offer!)

During the show, a veteran quilter and teacher challenged me to take this technique and do some serious exploration. At that point, I realized that my little “experiment” was the jumping off point on a whole new adventure.

But my brain, of course, was working in overdrive. How could I turn this into a quilt without distracting from the hand work? The stitching needed to be the star — not the quilting.


Well, ask and ye shall receive! I asked around about possibilities for “invisible” quilting, and no fewer than three people looked at me and said “Go see the people at Wonderfil.”

Their Invisifil 100 wt soft poly thread was exactly what I needed. I used the smoke colored thread and it totally disappears into the dark green background fabric. Perfect!

Stitching Brings Fabric to Life

The thing I love best about adding stitching to my painted fabric is the way the fabric “comes alive” as I stitch. It is simply magical. I love my painted fabric, but I love it even more after I add the stitching. And I am thrilled to have found the next step in my creative journey.

I am really glad I started with a small project. My finished little quilt is about 17” x 22” – big enough to get a feel for the technique – and small enough to get it done! Now that I am confident about what I am doing, my big project feels ambitious but not daunting. And that is a very good thing.

Have You Quilted a Piece With Hand Stitching?

If you have experience quilting around hand-stitching, I would love to hear from you. I spent far more time than usual quilting this little piece and I would love any advice you have to offer. Leave your comments (or ask questions) here on the blog. Or you can click over to our Facebook page.



  1. Susan on April 10, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Thank you, Shelly. It’s beautiful!! I can no longer hand stitch but my new Baby Lock has 460 embroidery stitches to play with. A couching foot will turn out some awesome results also. Your project is so.o.o.o inspiring.

    • Shelly on April 10, 2014 at 10:24 am

      Thank you for your lovely comments, Susan. I absolutely agree that machine embroidery could be equally fun to play with on painted images. For now, I’m enjoying the hand work, but I’ll be back to my machine when my hands start objecting too much! 🙂

  2. Shirley Sylvester on April 10, 2014 at 11:34 am

    Your stitched/painted piece is “Wow”.My question is,where did you
    find the brite varegaeted hand stitching threads?They almost look
    like wool to me.Any piece that turns out like yours is one to be so
    very proud of.I have often wondered why all of the fabric projects
    of today have to be “quick”.I love a project that lets me enjoy every stitch for the pleasure of it,not to just get this thing done
    & race on to the next project.If there is no pleasure what is the point of the project?Thanks again,


    • Shelly on April 10, 2014 at 12:53 pm

      Hi Shirley, the beautiful threads are almost all from Laura’s #8 Pearl Cotton is my favorite.

  3. Marlyn on April 10, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Can you tell me the WonderFil website address?
    Was the smoke colored thread you used for your quilting like a polyester invisible thread? Is it shiny?


    • Shelly on April 10, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      I don’t know what the “official” site is for WonderFil, but you can order the thread from Susan Cleveland at I picked up the B002 Neutral collection at Houston. I see that she also has a collection called Smokies. Click over there for a better description than I can give you. Susan is much more knowledgeable about this thread. 🙂

  4. lynnk50 on April 10, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    Your piece is beautiful. I love the hand-stitching combined with the painting. Artfabrics’s threads are beautiful and feel nice, too, to work with. I love Wonderfil’s Invisafil thread! It comes in so many different colors. I use it mainly where I want quilting thread to disappear into the background. Can’t wait to try this technique! Thanks for sharing!

    • Shelly on April 11, 2014 at 9:00 am

      You are welcome, Lynn. I feel like I’ve been on a year-long adventure with this piece. And my new project will most likely take up the next year!

  5. Anita on April 11, 2014 at 7:52 am

    It is just beautiful Shelly. I love the adding of the stitching. I do all kinds of hand stitching and just love it. I don’t know if you have ever checked out Sue Spargo but she does a lot of stitching on wool. She has all kinds of fibers and threads to work with. She also has a very good book that has all kinds of stitches in it. A lot of them I have never done or seen before. Lots of fun.

    • Shelly on April 11, 2014 at 9:03 am

      Hi Anita. Thanks for chiming in! Yes, I am definitely familiar with Sue Spargo. Her little book called Creative Stitching is one of my Go-To resources. The illustrations and instructions are great and I love the way it is organized. And don’t even get me started on the gorgeous threads and fibers on her site. If I allow myself to linger there too long I’ll be broke!