Make Mixed-Media Magic with Acrylic Paints and Stitch

susan brubaker knapp
Susan Brubaker Knapp

cate pratoTalented fiber artist Susan Brubaker Knapp is one of the nicest people I know. But she always gets a little witchy around Halloween, casting a spell with paint, fabric, and stitch to conjure up quilted masterpieces featuring pumpkins and the occasional black cat.

"I've always loved pumpkins because my birthday is on Halloween," says Susan, whose pumpkin-popping 12" x 12" quilt was featured in the Quilting Arts calendar a couple of years back.

Recently, Susan completed a commissioned piece based on a photo she had taken of pumpkins and gourds at a farm stand.  

"I usually work from photos when I make my fiber art, so taking the time to get great photos is very much a part of my process," says Susan.

pumpkins and gourds
Original image of pumpkins and gourds.

"Now is a great time to take photos of pumpkins and gourds. Head to your local farm stand and shoot, shoot, shoot! Take photos from all anglesstraight down into a bin, from the side, all lined upand in different lighting conditions. I am thrilled to get one really great shot out of a hundred."

Once Susan has the photo she wants and has cropped it, if necessary, she generally follows this process: She traces the main shapes of the photo onto fabric, paints the image with acrylic paints, appliqués the painted shapes onto the background fabric, and then free-motion stitches over the shapes to add more texture.

Susan has the following tips for creating realistic-looking pumpkins and gourds with paint and stitching.

mixed media pumpkins
After Susan works her magic with
paint and stitch.

Think about texture. Pumpkins are seldom smooth. They have bumps, ridges, and dents. Paint in some of this texture, then emphasize it with stitching. Don't be afraid to use your fingers to smush, smear, or blot the paint to create mottled texture.

Consider color. A bright, cartoony orange is usually not accurate. Depending on the species, pumpkins can be creamy brownish-orange, golden orange, or reddish orange. And some are white or gray! Tone down bright orange paint and make it look more natural by adding a tiny bit of blue or brown.

mixed media cat
'Trouble' by Susan Brubaker Knapp

Hit the highlights. Make sure to add highlights (where the light is hitting the pumpkins) and shadows (in the ridges and on the edges). This will make your pumpkins and gourds more dimensional. For highlights, take a color you mixed for the pumpkin, and add a bit of white. And don't fear adding absolute white and black as needed; they will make your piece pop! If your pumpkin is smooth and shiny, consider using a bit of metallic paint on the places that reflect light.

Get coverage: If you want solid coverage when painting on black or dark fabrics, make sure to use opaque paints.

Susan takes you step by step through her process, from choosing a photo to mixing paints for depth and richness, to adding texture through machine stitching in her new Quilting Arts Workshop video, Dynamic Quilt Design: Paint Meets Stitch, now available.

Happy Birthday, Susan! And Happy Halloween, Everyone!

P.S. What's your favorite fall motif? Pumpkins, leaves, skeletons . . .? Leave a comment below!




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