Kate Hughes Art Blog

  • Kate Hughes

Stitching RUPAUL: A Portrait of an Iconic Moment in HERstory

Transcription of Threadpainting Behind the Scenes Episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Zb8q2Y6-3M&t=45s

Hello and welcome to Threadpainting Behind the Scenes. I’m Kate, and in today’s episode, I’m sharing the behind the scenes stitching process of creating my “RuPaul at the Roast” threadpainting. Let’s go behind the scenes!

If you’re a super-fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race like me, you will probably instantly recognize the reference photo I used to create this embroidery. But in case you’re a casual fan or unfamiliar, this is a screenshot taken during the Season 13 Episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race ‘Nice Girls Roast’ where one of the Queens makes a joke at RuPaul’s expense. This pose is her perfect reaction. The moment was so iconic and unexpected from Ru, I knew immediately I had to capture this moment in thread for my ongoing Pop Culture Portraits series.

I started the process of creating this threadpainting by tracing the reference photo on my iPad in Procreate. Then I moved the file into Photoshop and adjusted the size for my pattern. Then I used a technique I learned from Stitching Sabbatical on YouTube where you stick your fabric to the adhesive part of a full page label and print the pattern directly on your fabric. Here is a link to that tutorial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kDE9QXY6nM Once I printed out my pattern, I removed the fabric from the label paper, hooped it and began stitching Ru’s face.

I always start my threadpainted portraits with the eyes, for a few reasons. First, stitching the eyes gives me an opportunity to solidify the spacing of facial features in the portrait. Secondly, they always use what I consider to be the two most important thread colors in any embroidery I create- black and white. Embroidering faces is just like contouring the face, you place the shadows and highlights with the darkest and lightest colors you’ll be using first before moving onto blending everything together. In my case, to create the most realism I use black and white to start this process. After the eyes I continue working on the other major features of the face that will have white or highlights, like the teeth, and bridge of the nose.

I then choose about 3-4 thread colors to blend these highlights and shadows together on the face making sure to have light, medium and dark colors that I can use to create depth and dimension in different areas. Throughout the blending process I will jump around the face, using black thread to define features. Once I feel the features are solidly in place and I’ve achieved the realism and depth that I’m looking for, I move onto another section of the portrait. I like to give myself some time away from working on the face once I think it’s “done” so that I can come back in later and tweak things as needed. This happens in every portrait I create to some extent, so I don’t stress about it and get excited about the next section.

When working on RuPaul’s fabulous wig, I chose a medium orange color to lay as one of the darker shadow colors, following with a super pale yellow color all over as the main highlight and then shading again with a medium golden color. Since Drag Queens are larger than life and everything they do has a little extra shine, I used satin white thread to act as an additional highlight which looks AMAZING! I even used a little bit on the top of the cheek as the makeup highlight. I then blended everything together with a bright yellow color, before moving on to the next section.

The hands are arguably what makes this portrait so iconic in the first place - very rare to see Ru flipping off one of her Queens! I love stitching them and so it was a big part of why I chose this photo to recreate in thread. I followed a similar process as I did with the face, laying a base foundation of a lighter color and then coming in with lighter and darker tones to define the fingers and arms. At this stage of the portrait I really get into a flow since I already have my colors chosen and I’m just enjoying the process. Everything starts coming together in my mind and all of a sudden I’m done stitching the neck, ears, and already moving on to the second hand. By this point I know exactly what I’m doing and it’s just a race to finish so I can move on to finishing touches! I go back through Ru’s hair and add in some definition with a dark brown color.

I didn’t film the process of stitching Ru’s outfit or earrings, but once everything was complete I knew the portrait needed some color to make it pop. I decided to finish the embroidery with a satin stitch around the portrait in a hot pink color corresponding with the reference photo.

I then went searching through my stash of art supplies and found a 5 x 5 inch canvas, along with the perfect scrap of black and silver patterned faux leather to cover the canvas with and serve as a dynamic backdrop. I added some fray check around the satin stitches edges of the portrait to give it some stability so I could trim very closely around the portrait. Finally, I used HeatnBond iron on adhesive to mount the finished portrait onto the fabric covered canvas.


The entire process took about 40 hours, and I’m so so happy with how the finished portrait turned out. I think I captured the essence of this moment in Drag Race HER-story and it’s one of my favorite portraits I’ve ever created. The serendipity of having the perfect fabric scrap from years ago in my stash to complete the look is what really makes it for me. I’ve created over 20 Pop Culture Portraits on my embroidery journey so far, but this is the first time I’ve documented the process in this way. I wonder who I’ll stitch next? Feel free to leave suggestions for future threadpainted portraits in the comments, or any questions you may have.

Thank you for spending time with me and learning about the behind the scenes process of creating my RuPaul at the Roast threadpainting, I hope you’ve enjoyed! I’ll see you next time. - Kate Hughes, 2022

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