Moving on from basic Threads – Variegated

Anne Haigh takes a closer look at variegated threads

This is a follow-on article to “getting started with threads” and is to help you understand threads on the market that you may be hesitant about buying. Don’t be – the threads in this article are some of my favourite ones – variegated and space dyed threads.

These threads are produced by both big and small manufacturers in different ways. Understanding the possibilities will help you when buying threads and deciding what will work for you in any piece you are doing, or purely to add to your stash to await the perfect design to use it. Space dyeing and Over dyeing are specific techniques in achieving a multicolour effect – however there are others. I don’t specifically seek out space dyed or over dyed threads – any multicolour thread is of interest. I am more interested in how it stitches, and does it give the effect I want for specific pieces.

Anchor and DMC both have two types of variegated/multicoloured threads. Anchor have Ombre and Multicolour, and DMC have Colour Variations and Coloris.
Anchor Ombre colour shifts through tones of the same colour. This can create shading in your work as you stitch. Anchor Multicolour have more variation as it has up to 6 complimentary colours in a skein so can move from blue to green or purple to pink and they provide lovely variation as you stitch.

The DMC Colour Variations is similar to Anchor Multicolour although none of the colours are direct matches for Anchor so both can sit comfortably together. DMC Coloris has four distinct colours in each skein which can lead to dramatic effects, and since each colour has a solid colour skein that matches it there is the opportunity to play with the effects.
Both Anchor and DMC have pearl/perle of the Multicolour and Colour Variations as well as stranded cotton.

This photo shows samples of Anchor and DMC options as well as Threadworx and Needle Necessities (old name for Threadworx).

Anchor, DMC and Threadworx

Aurifil also do variegated threads in the 12WT thread and wool thread. Some of these are tonal – shades of the same colour and others bring in different colours in harmonious mixes.

These are all commercially dyed and repeatable mixes, however sometimes the colour change is on a regular basis and can produce striped effects depending on what’s being stitch.

Other companies produce multicolour threads which don’t have the same regularity of repeat that Anchor, DMC and Aurifil have. These companies include ThreadWorx, Caron Threads, House of Embroidery, 21st Century Yarns, Paintbox threads, Weeks Dye Works,  In Stitches Creative Textiles, Oliver Twists, Stef Francis to name a few – and apologies to those I’ve missed out. Most of these hand-dye their threads which creates stunning ranges of thread. Some with very subtle shading and others with quite wacky combinations.

The impact of hand-dyeing also depends on whether the thread is skein or hank dyed. Hank dyed means a large amount of thread is dyed and the skeins are wound off the hank. Skein dyed means the thread is wound into skeins first and then dyed. Skein dyed can give more variety of colour change throughout the skein. Hank dyed is more even repeat along the skein. Neither is better than the other – they just have their own subtle differences. Subtle shading can help when stitching to provide naturalistic colour shading in nature inspired pictures, although they don’t work for silk shading techniques. 

Some samples from different companies – top in brown is Threadworx. Middle threads are in blue a perle/pearl thread and in green a softer cotton thread with less twist. These are both from smaller traders picked up at shows etc – and I can’t remember the vendors. The green at the bottom is from House of Embroidery who pair variegated threads in complementary mixes.

The wacky combinations need more creative consideration but can be fun to use. See the canvas work sample later in the article.

These types of dyers often dye more than just cotton. They dye a wide range of fibres e.g. Caron do wool and silk as well as cotton. Stef Francis dyes a range of threads including cottons, silks and metallics. Some package these threads in mixed bundles. These bundles often have a variety of textures and are great for creative embroidery, adding texture to designs in a harmonious way. As different fibres take the same dye differently these bundles will have subtle shade differences within the same colour palette. Often there will be very fine threads that can be used to couch on the more textured threads that may not hold up being pulled through the fabric and being dyed together means they blend well. These bundles can be a challenge to separate but take time to lay out and gradually pull each type of fibre out and wrap onto thread cards, and you get an amazing range of threads.

Some stitched examples:

The topiary tree:

A Suffolk puff is the topiary while the trunk, background stitches and the blanket stitch on the pot are all in hand dyed threads. The trunk is raised chain band with one skein of cotton floss all the shading comes from floss as it came off the skein – no effort from me. The sky and grasses are subtler shading but mean the background isn’t bland and since the fabric is not a flat colour the thread compliments the variety of colours in them. The picture on the right shows the threads used.

Topiary Tree
Threads used for the Topiary Tree

A canvas work sampler

This piece was stitched with Threadworx thread 1154 – a complete rainbow of colour, and then I used 5 DMC Variations thread in toning colours.

Canvaswork sampler.
Threads used in the sampler

Splitting a multiple yarn bundle.

The Blue skein shows how the orange looked originally. The last picture shows the variety of threads in the orange skein. It takes time to separate but well worth it. I wound the individual threads onto card bobbins to store until I used them.

Multiple yarns/thread bundles
The bundle teased out to show the various threads
A wide variety of threads

All images by Anne Haigh