Thursday, March 2, 2017

Watercolor Wonder: White Stitched Circles

A Guest Post by Cassia Cogger

Deep dives into mixed media give an artist freedom to experiment with materials; to combine mediums one might not automatically consider related; to wonder what would happen if . . . ?

Embroidery thread stitched over paper or canvas excites many, seems to be a growing trend in art and craft and it got me wondering, what if the thread was stitched on first. Bright colors and textures applied as the final layer of a piece offer certain bold visual and textural qualities. How might these qualities shift if the thread is applied as the initial layer and painted upon with watercolor? Would they operate the same when applied as a final layer?

watercolor wonder materials


  • embroidery needle
  • palette for mixing paints
  • scissors or snips
  • watercolor brushes, your favorite (I used Royal Aqualon round 5, 8, 10)
  • watercolor paints (I used Holbein’s Opera and Winsor & Newton’s Ultramarine Blue, Cerulean Blue, Cadmium Yellow Deep and Lemon Yellow Deep)
  • watercolor paper, 140lb (300gsm) (I used 4” x 6” [10cm x 15cm] cards)
  • white embroidery floss (I used DMC)

 Stitch a Circle on the Page

It is always helpful to explore new approaches through basic shapes and simple composition. The circle always seems to be a perfect starting point.

watercolor wonder stitched circle step 1

Draw or trace a circle onto the center of your watercolor paper. Using your embroidery needle, pierce the paper approximately every 1/4” (6mm) along the line you have drawn. Thread your needle with enough floss to outline your circle (plan on about three times the perimeter to have more than enough) and put a knot in the end. Begin to stitch the circle by alternating going up through one hole and down through the next. You will end up with an open space between each stitch. Continue the process to fill in all spaces if you want a closed circle. (For this demonstration, I created two pieces, one with stitches closing the entire form and one with an opening between each stitch.)

Apply Your Paint

This is where it gets exciting! DMC floss is 100% cotton and very absorbent. Apply your paint to your paper and see how the thread responds. In the spirit of wonder and experimentation, I made two pieces and applied the paint both wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry to see how they reacted differently.

watercolor wonder stitched circles step 2

In this instance, I applied a clear wash of water and very wet paint into the center of the circle to see if it would contain the pigment. You can see the pigment followed the water and seeped out beyond the edges of the circle and the stitching.


watercolor wonder stitched circle step 3

In this instance, paint was applied directly on the dry page. You can see the thread absorbed the paint as it brushed up upon its edges but the paint did not go beyond that point.
*Note the thread is so absorbent that when I moved the watercolor paper to create the wet-on-dry piece in blue, the embroidery floss on the back of the paper absorbed some pink paint from the table below it and pulled it up to the top of the page.

watercolor wonder stitched circles final

How to Continue:

Let The Circle Be The Frame

Circles are often a perfect starting point to exploring new approaches to art-making. In the application of wet paint on a dry page, the pigment stayed within the circle. This is the perfect opportunity to explore painting within the circle itself and letting the circle be the frame.

choose subject circle painting

1. Choose your subject matter, and, using watercolor paints, finish painting in the entire circle shape. Do not leave any area unpainted or white.
Here, the idea of a sighting scope at sea, viewing a tropical island were explored. Using a combination of Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Yellow and Aureole Yellow, lush tropical foliage were laid in and allowed to dry completely.

create highlight with thread

2. Use the white thread as a single highlight.
Staying in line with the idea of a tropical island, a simple figure was stitched using white thread. A small knot of taupe floss was used to suggest a head. The white thread in the fully-painted circle serves as a value reference and makes all of the colors around it operate more vibrantly.

Let The Circle Be a Flower

In the application of wet paint on the wet page, the pigment spread quite beautifully as would be expected in watercolor. This is the perfect opportunity to explore letting the circle be a single element in the overall piece. The large central circle shape on the page and the vibrant paint reminded me of a large spring bloom.

add additional stitching

1. Create more lines by stitching with white floss. Choose a few key elements and allow the stitches to serve as their borders.

color in page

2. Using your watercolors, paint the rest of the page. Here, Cerulean Blue, Ultramarine Blue and Aureole Yellow were used to create wet washes suggesting sky in the background, a stem and some leaves. Cadmium Yellow Deep was applied wet on the dry page to create the center of the flower. Allow this layer to dry completely.

use thread for contrast

3. Use the white thread as a contrasting pattern element.
The white thread is used as a repeating pattern element creating visual interest and contrast on the central flower motif.

use additional thread for contrast

4. Return to the piece adding additional layers of watercolor.
The same limited palette of Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Yellow, Aureole Yellow and Opera are used to layer in more elements of pattern creating more visual interest and value contrast.

compare final stiched paintings

White thread is a great way to add texture and highlights to watercolor paintings. The white thread automatically absorbs the pigments that come in contact with it when painted, so it can operate quietly in the background while adding a bit of textural intrigue to the piece. When applied as a final layer the white thread serves as an effective highlight in that it is not only pure, bright white but also has a textural contrast to the overall painting.

back of stitched piece

Here is just a fun shot of the back, illustrating the absorbency of the threads with the paint on the front side of the painting.


R1984_Cogger-headshot_200Cassia Cogger—artist, teacher and author of Creating Personal Mandalas—is inspired to create artworks, creative courses and experiences that allow individuals to enter into greater relationships with their surroundings, becoming present to that which is essential. As much as she is excited by color, shape, pattern and beauty, she is more excited by what the creative process reveals.
Her work has been featured at the National Academy Museum of Design in NYC, in Watercolor Artist magazine as a rising star as well as in a host of other galleries and private collections.
Learn more about Cassia and her work at


For more watercolor inspiration, check out this video from Gina Rossi Armfield at Art Journaling Live






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