mini project 2 Denim Fabric Pyrography Tutorial wood burning

In this tutorial I’m going to explain to you how to create the look of denim fabric.  This is the second installment of in my mini project series.  My goal with this series is to showcase one or two skills and how to implement them in a small project.   With this mini project I will explain two skills; circular motion and uniform strokes.  These two burn types are used in almost every single piece of artwork I create.  I consider them to be essential skills that help me create the levels of realism I accomplish in my artwork. 

Circular motion allows me to create transitions that can be very subtle, very bold, or somewhere in between.  One of the defining features of circular motion is that the transitions will not have a clear line that defines them.  You can see that the color changes, but you can’t draw a line to indicate that this is the precise moment it happens. 

Uniform strokes allow me to burn a smooth looking swath of color that has very little if any tonal variations in it.  This is perfect when rendering glass and other very smooth surfaced objects.  Another wonderful aspect of uniform strokes is to give something a base color like we will be doing with the fabric in this project.

Click on the icon to the left to watch the YouTube tutorial for this project. 




To watch a time lapse video of the artwork being created, click on the icon to the left.

Now, let’s get to work.




  • Writing tip
  • Shading tip
  • 4 x 5 inch (10.2 x 12.7 cm) piece of wood
  • Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed)  Denim Fabric pattern
  • Card Embossing Tool*

*A card embossing tool was used to create the some of the stitching.  I used one designed for embossing paper, and it works just fine in this application.   I did a quick internet search and found several sites online that sell them (amazon & ebay included) and a set of three was well under $10 US dollars.    This tool is found in the card making or scrapbook sections in craft stores, but keep in mind anything with a small rounded tip will work.  For example, I’ve used really small crochet needles to emboss wood.  

In this tutorial I will show you two items to emboss with; 1) the card embossing tool, and 2) a writing pen tip.   You can decide which one you would prefer to use.


Smooth the wood surface by sanding it with at least 220 grit sandpaper. 

Then thoroughly wet the board by misting it with water or running it quickly under the sink faucet.  Let the board dry and then sand again.

This will produce a super smooth surface, and the smoother the surface is the better the burn results will be. 






I use the tracing method to transfer all my patterns to my projects.  It’s cheap, easy, and gives me control on what I want to include.  Print off your pattern on lightweight paper (standard copier paper is perfect), coat the back of the pattern with a graphite pencil, position on the wood, and trace over the pattern.  Make sure to check the trace results for accuracy before removing the pattern. 





The first two things we will be doing are burning the seam edges and embossing the stitches. 






Start by darkly burning along the seam edges with the shader pen tip.  Make sure to keep the pen tip so it is positioned on the shadow and not on the folded over fabric edge.  Let me explain.







This photo is marked with white arrows.  The arrows all point to seams along the fabric where the top layer of fabric gets folded over and stitched into place.  This thicker section of fabric casts a shadow onto the fabric next to or below it.  We are burning in that shadow.







Because we are burning in the shadow, the end of our pen tip needs to be on the shadow edge and NOT on the folded fabric edge.  This is what I call optimal pen tip position and it will ensure that only shadow edge is burned on.






Continue to burn darkly along all of the seam lines. 

With the seam lines burned in, we’ll start embossing the stitches.  Embossing means we will carve the stitches down into the wood so that we can burn over the top of them and they won’t darken.   

Before you emboss the stitching, gently rub over the pencil stitch marks with an eraser to lighten them.  The embossing process forces all of the graphite from the pencil down into the wood.  Heavy graphite will make the stitching look dark or grey, so removing most of the pencil marks will keep the embossed stitching nice and light.

Note that you can work in small sections when you do this.  By this I mean you can lighten a few stitches with the eraser, emboss them, lighten a few more stitches, and continue on in this fashion.  

I started out with the card embossing tool to do the stitching along one of the seams.   Take your time as you very firmly press the tool into the wood and deeply score the wood along the stitch mark until you reach the end of that stitch.  Then repeat.  Try to leave a very small gap, about the size of a small dot, between each stitch.  Later we’ll burn a small dark spot between the stitches to represent where the needle punched through the fabric when it was sewn.    

It is much easier to create the stitches by pulling the tool or pen tip towards you.  Also, if you place a small lamp above and to the side of where you are working, then the light will light up an edge of the embossed stitching making it easier to see what you’ve done. 

This photo shows how the light can show your stitching.  Since I’m left handed, I placed the light in the upper right corner.  The light reflected on the back of each stitch making it look like I had drawn white dots next to each stitch.  On the seam just barely visible next to my finger, the light is illuminating the left edge of each stitch.   You can tell in this photo I’m using the pyrography writing pen tip to create the stitches along this section.





If you use a writing pen tip to create the stitches, have the heat setting on super low.  The heat from the pen will help the tip gouge into the wood, and if it’s on a super low setting then it won’t color the wood.   For reference, my Colwood unit goes to 10 and I had the heat setting on 0.5.

Tool vs Pen

Either option works, but I will admit that it was easier to create the stitches using a writing pen tip.  The danger is possible damage to the pen tip because of the pressure exerted on the tip.   I have bent a pen tip doing this.  Yes, I was able to bend it back, but I’m sure it’s not good for the metal; especially if it should happen numerous times.

My pen tip cost around $10 whereas the embossing tool around $3.  If I break the card embossing tool I’d don’t care as it won’t impact my pyrography.   My writer pen tip, on the other hand, is one of my essential pen tip I use in almost every project.

Now I do want to point out that the pen tip I’m using is the latest version Colwood makes and I have not bent this style of pen tip.  Instead it was the older version micro writer I bent the crud out of.  




This is a picture of the older microwriter style pen tip.  If you have this style of writer, then you might consider using an embossing tool instead of a writer. 







Now we need to burn in the basic shape of the shadows.   DO NOT try to burn the shadows to the proper darkness level.  Our only goal right now is to get the areas lightly colored so we can erase the pencils lines.

Why is that a big deal you ask?   The pencil lines are right on the transition zones where the shadows end, so we don’t what them in the way.  Also pencil can smear, especially when rubbed over and that would interfere with our pyrography work.

I used the circular motion to fill in the basic shadow shape, so let’s go over that.

This photo shows the motion I make when burning in a circular motion.  As the photo shows, I am literally burning a continuous chain of small circles, but this example is highly exaggerated.





This thick line I’m burning is being created using circular motion, but the difference is that the circles are much smaller and they overlap slightly.  This removes the hole in the center of the circle and the gaps between each circle.





I continued the line out further and you can see that the line is not uniform in color.    Unless you are extremely careful and really work at it, circular motion doesn’t create uniform color.  There are much easier way to accomplish that, and we’ll discuss that later.  





Here I’m starting a new patch of circular motion.   







This patch is much wider and that is accomplished by burning a little and then changing the direction I’m burning in.  I want to point out that I don’t lift the pen tip from the wood while doing this.  Instead I’ll burn a couple of circles in one direction, change direction and burn a few more, repeat. 





Continued work on the wide patch of circular motion.







If I wanted to darken up a section of my patch, I just burn more circular motions over the area I want darkened.  I want to point out that I do not adjust the heat setting on my burner when I do this.  Wood will continue to darken up with repeated re-burn no how low the heat setting on the burner is.  Granted, if the heat setting is super low it’s going to take a while.  




Continued work on darkening up a section.







Another thing I often do is extend the color and/or fade that color out.  So here I’m burning circular motion around the edges of the dark patch.  This extends the color a bit and softens the transition from unburned board to the dark patch.






To darken up areas, you can reburn over them as I’ve already shown or you can alter the speed of your hand movement.   In this new band of circular motion I’ve started, I’m using a really slow hand movement and this is giving me a nice dark band.





With this band of circular motion I used a much faster hand movement and notice how much paler the line is.  

Try not to get into the habit of constantly adjusting the heat setting on your burner.   Darkening areas by re-burning and altering your hand speed will give you so much more control and flexibility in your work. 

Since I’ve explained the circular motion concept, let’s get back to work on the fabric.


Pick a shadow and fill in the area so it is tan to medium tan in color.  The color doesn’t need to be perfectly uniform, but try to stay within the pencil lines.





When working near edges that need to stay pale, make sure to rotate the wood so you can easily see where your pen tip is in comparison to the pale edge.





It is not necessary to burn right up to the pencil marks.    






Continued work.






Here’s a progress photo after I was done with the basic shadows.  Some of the areas I got very close to the pencil marks and other areas there is some gap and that’s perfectly ok. 





 The last thing we need do in this step is to rub over the entire surface with a pencil eraser to remove all of the pencil marks.







Now that the pencil marks are gone we can proceed.  






Here’s the reference photo.







I worked on the project in sections.  You don’t have to do it the same way, but I will explain it in sections to make things a little easier on myself.  I began by completing section 4 first as it had the fewest wrinkles to contend with.





SECTION 4 – Lower Right

In this photo shows that I’ve finished section 4 and it will be first section we work on.









Here’s the reference photo for this section.  Looking at the photo there are a few slight wrinkles that have some shadows to them.  The one near the top is the darkest.  Also there are quite a few small wrinkles along the stitching.  Notice that the shadows tend to stay between the two rows of stitches.   Along the left there is a fold of fabric and the right edge of that fold is fairly defined.  Plus there is about 1 inch (2.54 cm) segment along this edge that is much darker in color.






Before we get to work I have to explain uniform strokes.  A uniform stroke is created by pulling the pen tip towards you (this is easier anyway) at a set speed that allows the resulting burn to be the same color throughout the stroke. 







The heat setting your burner will determine how fast or slow you have to move your hand to accomplish this.








When you are filling in an area with uniform strokes the individual strokes should be touching or slightly overlapping. 








If you look at the photo, you will notice that I’m using the side of my pen tip when doing this.  I can produce wider strokes with the side of the pen and I find that this position is more comfortable for me to burn.







Finishing up the patch of uniform strokes.  My patch isn’t perfectly uniform in color, but for a quick demo it’s pretty darn good.

With the fabric our goal is to give it a base color of medium tan using the uniform strokes.

You will have to discover what heat setting and hand speed works best for you to accomplish this.  Just keep in mind that a higher heat requires a faster hand speed and lower heat requires slower speed.  

So far every piece of wood I’ve burned on has a minimum heat threshold.  I have to adjust the heat setting on my unit to find that threshold and the setting varies slightly between each piece of wood.  When I reach the threshold, the pen tip burns a nice tan color and easily glides over the wood. 

One last thing, I often tap or touch my pen tip to a scrap piece of wood before I start burning.  This is to remove any heat buildup.  The longer a heated pen tip sits without being in contact with wood, the more the heat builds up.  If it gets too high then you will have a dark blotch when you start your stroke.  A quick tap on scrap wood fixes that.   If you don’t have a piece of scrap wood, tap the pen tip on any really dark area in the artwork as that will do the same thing.           

Start on the seam and burn uniform strokes to fill in the area giving the fabric a base color.  As I mentioned before, pulling the pen towards you is easier than pushing it away from you.    






In this photo you can see that I rotated the wood while working on the seam.  The reason is that I like to easily see where the end of my pen tip is in relationship to the edge of the area I’m working on.   With the wood rotated, I can see the edge of the seam and make sure my pen tip doesn’t stray onto the fabric next to the seam.  Plus, it doesn’t matter if I’m using just the tip end or the entire flat of the pen, I will still be burning only on the seam.    Keep in mind that if you are right handed you probably won’t need to rotate the wood as the seam edge will be easily visible.




Darken up the little wrinkles between the two rows of stitching as you work your way along the seam.








A quick word about the little wrinkles between the two rows of stitching; don’t get hung up on replicated the reference photo exactly.   I started out trying to replicate the photo and what a waste of time.  No one is going to compare the reference photo to the artwork, so make the process as easy as possible.  What I did was to add a wrinkle between almost every set of stitches.  Just vary the darkness and the shape of the wrinkles and it will look great.

For example, some of my wrinkles were barely darker than the base fabric color and others were considerably darker.  Most of my wrinkles were semi-curved lines, but I also did a number of ‘Y’ shaped wrinkles.  




After you burn the seam a uniform color and darken the wrinkles up, then use the razor edge of the pen tip to burn a thin line along the right side of the left row of stitching. 






 Burn a thin line along the right side of the right row of stitching.  





Here’s a progress photo.  The dark thin line of color really helps the stitching stand out.









Use the writer pen tip to burn dark tiny dots between each stitch on the rows.  If you embossed the stitching with great precision, only 1 dot will fit between the stitches.   If you can fit more than one dot, then join my club.





I wasn’t very precise with my embossing, so there are stitches where I could easily fit 2 or 3 dots.  With this close-up photo you can see some of the areas.  Remember that under normal viewing conditions no one is going to notice this, so don’t worry if your stitching isn’t perfect.     In the areas where more than one dot could fit, I burned a dot at the end of each stitch.


We are done with the seam, so let’s move onto the rest of the fabric.  Start by darkening up the shadows.  Use the reference photo to judge how dark the shadows need to be compared to the base fabric color.   The shadow near the top of this section was the darkest one, so make it a brown color.





Continue to darken the different shadows in this section making sure to consult with the reference photo as you go.








Rotate the wood, if needed, to burn the dark section along the edge of the folded fabric.  Remember to keep your pen tip in Optimal Position when doing this.  The end of your pen tip should be on the right edge of the fold and the rest of the pen better be angled AWAY from the folded fabric edge! 





Use small circular motions to slightly extend the dark color.






Now fill in the rest of the fabric section with uniform strokes to give it the base color.  I often burn over the same stroke a couple of times to slowly build up the color.





Continued work.  If you lose some of your shadows while burning in the base color on the fabric, just darken the shadows back up. 








Continued work. 







Use a small circular motion to slightly extend the shadow under the seam edge.







I highly recommend rotating the board on occasion when you work.  This makes your brain re-think about what you are seeing and this can make it easier to determine if there’s an area that needs more color or fine-tuning.  Remember when you rotate the board also rotate your reference material to match. 




Here’s how the artwork looks so far.






SECTION 5 – Lower Left

Now we’re going to work on section 5.





Here’s the reference photo.  Looking at this photo we see that there are some dark shadows along the seam and near the pocket.  And lastly there is a dark shadow near lower folded edge on the right side of the section.



Start on the larger and darker shadow near the top of the folded edge.







Slightly extend the color along the seam.








Continue to follow along the seam adding shadows as needed.  Consult with the reference photo often.






Continued work.





The fabric gets a lot darker near the left end of this section between the seam and the pocket.








Burn uniform strokes to fill in this little area, but burn them a couple of shades darker than normal.








Finishing up this small patch of fabric.






Begin working on the shadow near the lower edge of the fabric fold.







Continued work.






Darken the shadows as you work your way towards the pocket.







Look at this photo and notice the wide range of color found in the area I’ve just burned.  The large range of color hues is accomplished by re-burning and altering your hand speed.





Rotate the board when working near the pocket edge, so you don’t accidently burn on the pocket.  The area above the pocket has several tiny dark shadows along it.






Add the base color to the fabric by burning some uniform strokes over any unburned areas.  I did not try to avoid the little shadows I had already burned when I did this.






Continue to burn uniform strokes over the remaining unburned areas in this section of fabric.








Continued work.








Continued work.






Don’t forget to burn the pocket with uniform strokes.







Burn darkly along both edges of the stitching.






Finish up the uniform strokes.







The last thing we need to do is to burn darkly along the edges of the other rows of stitching; including the vertical rows on the left side of the pocket.    Note that you can add the dark dots between each stitch now or later.  I ended up doing it later as I didn’t want to change out pen tips right then and there.



Here’s how the artwork looks so far.






SECTION 3 – Upper Right

Now we’re going to work on section 3.





Here’s the reference photo.  The majority of this small section is taken up with the large shadowed wrinkle/fold of fabric. 






Begin by working on the large shadow. 








This shadow is not uniform is color and has an irregular shape, so check with the reference photo often as you work.







I like to build up areas slowly, so I work my way around the shadowed area filling in the darker spots first. 







Continued work.






The right corner of this section had a few small shadowy areas, but mostly needed uniform strokes to give it the base fabric color.


Make sure to keep the base fabric color the same throughout the different sections.






Continued work.









Back to work on the shadowed area.  When an area has a lot going on, like this one does, I like to work on it for a little bit and then take a break.  During my ‘break’ I often just work on another area of the project.  Doing this helps me look at my work with “fresh eyes,” and it’s easier for me to see what needs to be done.





Remember to rotate the wood when working near the edges of fabric that need to stay pale.






Continued work.






As I said before, another benefit of rotating the wood is that it forces your eyes and brain to reevaluate what they see.  This can make it a lot easier to replicate what you see in the reference photo, but make sure to rotate the reference photo so it matches the wood.





Burn a dark thin line next to the row of stitching.








Here I’m using the shader to burn the dots between the stitches.  It was an experiment and it worked ok, but wasn’t near as precise as the writer pen tip.  I know, duh.





By now this should start sounding redundant, but burn darkly along the edges of the other row of stitching.







Working on the large shadowed area again.







Continued work.







Finishing the wrinkles between the rows of stitching.






Adding the last of the dark shadows for this section.







Here’s how the artwork looks so far.






SECTION 2 – Upper Left

Now we’re going to work on section 2.








Here’s the reference photo.  This section has a several large wrinkles of fabric that create ridges in the fabric.  Ridge might not be the best word to describe the raised up spots of fabric, but I couldn’t think of anything better.  The large ridge that borders section 3 has a small offshoot ridge near the top.  Along the bottom of this section is a large ridge that looks like a mustache to me.  The right side of the mustache extends into the seam and finishing in section 5.  The left side of the mustache forms the first of a series of curve ridges with each ridge above becoming smaller in size.





Start on the right side of the ‘mustache’ and start darkening in the shadowed side of it.






Take care of the small section of seam between the section edge and the shadowed bottom of the mustache.






Next start working on the shadow on the ridge that borders section 3 to the right.







 Continued work.







Burn uniform strokes along the top of the ridge.







Work on the ridge shadow side near the seam along the top of the fabric.






Rotate the wood when work along the top of the small offshoot.









Afterwards, work your way along the top of this section next to the seam burning in the shadows found there.





Finished burning in the dark side of the small curved ridge.





Then start working on the next curved ridge.






Work your way along the left side burning the shadowed areas of the ridges.  In this photo I’m working on the left side of the mustache.






Burn uniform strokes to give the fabric color along the lower area of this section.






Continued work.








Continued work.






Rotated the wood to work on the shadows on the mustache from a different perspective.






Fine-tuning the shadows along the ridge bordering section 3.







Continued work.






Continued work.






Burn darkly along the bottom row of stitching.








Do the same thing along the top row of stitching.









Finalize the shadows on the left side of the mustache.








Continued work.






Add the wrinkles between the two rows of stitching.







Continued work.






Burn uniform strokes on any unburned segments of fabric in this section.






Here’s how the artwork looks so far.






SECTION 1 – Top section

Now we’re going to work on the last unburned section, section 1.



Here’s the reference photo.  This top section has a seam running along the bottom of it.  Near the middle of the seam there is a ‘valley’ formed due to the ridges or wrinkled fabric to the left and right of it. A puckered section of fabric is just above the valley and it has a really dark shadow along the left side.  The last major feature is a tiny pocket or something showing just above the dark puckered section of fabric.

Start by darkening up the highly curved shadow that extends from the seam.





Take care of the seam area in the ‘valley’ to the left of the curved shadow.  This means darken on either side of the two rows of stitching, add wrinkles, and uniform strokes to give it a base color.




Then start darkening up the shadow on the puckered piece of fabric.






Continued work.







Rotate the wood, as needed, when working near areas of fabric that stay paler.






Start working on defining the stitching.






Continued work.







Darken up the shadow near the top of the fabric and burn in the tiny pocket thing. 







Burn uniform strokes to give this section of fabric a base color on all of the unburned areas.





Continued work.






Add the wrinkles between the two rows of stitching.






Burn uniform strokes to give the rest of the fabric in this section color.








Define the rows of stitching.









Continued work.








Add wrinkles.






Add the few semi-wrinkled areas above the stitching.






The very last thing that needs to be done is burn a tiny dark dot between each stitch.  I had omitted this step in several sections, so I took care of them at this point.



Below is a comparison photo of my artwork with the reference material.  I could have made my fabric a touch darker, but overall I think it looks pretty good.



We’re done.    If circular motion and uniform strokes are not a part of your current pyrography skill sets, then I highly recommend you make the effort to learn them.   Also watch some YouTube videos on pyrography and pay attention to what the artists hands are doing.  Ignore the art, just look at the hand movement.  At some point you will most likely see the artist using one, if not both, of the burn types.  Now the artist might not call them what I do, after all they are terms I made up, but it’s what they are doing.   

Also use re-burning and different hand speeds to alter the darkness levels in your artwork.  By doing this you can achieve a large range of color hues and gain more control and flexibility in your artwork.    

I hope that I was able to provide you with some valuable information in this tutorial.  I love hearing from you, so please leave a comment and let me know what you think.    

Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently.  This artwork was burned on Die-cut Birch plywood that measures 4 x 5 inches (10.2 x 12.7 cm).  It took me 5 1/2 hours to complete the artwork.   That said, this is not a race or contest.  I only put how long a project takes me as I get asked that question a lot.  Art takes as long as it takes to be created.  The only thing that is important is that the artist is having fun during the creation process.  I’m happy to report that I’m having a blast!  🙂

Until the next blog,


Mar 30, 2018

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