Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Thread Talk: Overdyed Threads – Your Take?


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This morning, I was going to write a long, deep article about overdyed embroidered threads.

But two things are against me: one is the ongoing computer kerfuffle, which is slowly being solved, but when I say slowly, I mean slooooowly. And the other is a large impending thunderstorm, which could very well mean a loss of internet connection.

So instead of an all-out article on the subject over overdyed embroidery threads at this point, I’m going to poll the audience for opinions today, and save the in-depth stuff for a little farther down the road.

Overdyed Embroidery Thread

Overdyed embroidery threads are pretty much what the name says they are: they are threads that have been dyed with different colors, with the colors applied over each other, so that the colors kind of blend and meld together, but also, in places, retain their own color.

Overdyed threads aren’t to be confused with variegated threads (though, semantically, they are variegated in color) or space-dyed threads, or shadow-dyed threads, all of which have slightly different characteristics.

Gosh, who ever knew there were so many ways of dying thread?!

Overdyed hand embroidery threads

The most obvious characteristic (to me, anyway) of the overdyed thread is that it is uneven in the color layout. The varying colors in variegated threads are normally evenly spaced, but in overdyed threads – which are dyed by hand – the areas of color are much more random in length, intensity, and placement. And this can lead to some interesting effects in the finished embroidery.

Overdyed Embroidery Thread

The overdyed threads shown here are DMC perle cottons in sizes 5, 8, and 12, hand dyed by Lorraine Stobie of LES Designs on Etsy.

Lorraine’s shop offers some fantastic examples of overdyed cottons, using DMC perle cotton as the base thread and then, oh! The colors she adds! They’re vibrant, they’re fun – and the threads are nice to stitch with. If you like working with overdyed threads on your projects, check out her selection of threads. You’re sure to find something that will entice you!

Your Take on Overdyed Threads?

Later on, we’re going to chat a little more in-depth about overdyed threads, but before we do, I’d love to hear your opinion about them. Do you like them? Why or why not? Do you work with them often? What type of needlework do you do with them? Have you experienced any drawbacks when working with them? Have you ever dyed your own? What’s your favorite overdyed thread to use?

In short, what are your thoughts on overdyed threads? I’m … uh …. dying to hear them! (Sorry.) Please, join in the conversation below!

And later on, along with a chat, we’re also going to have a little give-away of some overdyed threads, so keep an eye out for that!


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(121) Comments

  1. My personal take is that like variegated threads they’re oh so beautiful to look at on the skein, but not that useful to use in embroidery projects. Having said that, they’re better than variegated usually because the colours do blend more into each other and you don’t get that sharp dividing line. I would happily, VERY happily make crochet jewellery or something with them, but be less likely to embroider – I’m an embroidery control freak and want to know exactly where my colours are landing before I start!

  2. Dear Mary,

    I love working with overdyed threads. I especially working with overdyed perle cottons as they provide such a great way to add a little “spice” (if I would say) without greatly altering the pattern. My only concern, at times, is that sometimes I find if I put the project down or add a new piece of overdyed thread, it is hard to get a continuous flow of the color without out showing a gap in the colors that can look out of place.

  3. I love looking at them as we’ll and wish I could use them. I smock and these threads are not as washable as I need them to be.

  4. I used overdyed threads by a very well known company for my first ever wool blanket. I had completed 3/4’s of the blanket when I had to wash a mark out of it and the dyed threads ran. I was devastated and had to start a new blanket but I guess it was better to happen to me than to the girl I was gifting it to as a present for her new baby. Ever since then, I’m wary of this company’s threads but always wash any threads I use first.

    1. The overwhelming problem with over-dyed threads is that they run. Some companies even put a note on the packaging telling you they shouldn’t be washed.

  5. Hi Mary,
    Interesting question. I think when working with a thread that has such variety of color in a single working strand, you should use it in a stitch that will show off the color changes. What I mean is that there are some stitches like a satin or long stitch that will show the variegation, but to use these types of threads in chains or knots or other smaller stitches I think is a waste. I’ve used variegated for counted canvas work, but only for certain areas. I like them best when they are counterbalanced with solid colors. Use them carefully and sparingly is my opinion.

  6. I have worked with over-dyed and varigated threads. I like to think of over-dyeds as an accent thread. They give thread work a bit of extra interest, but it has to be the right project. I’ve used different brands: Carries Creations, Gentle Arts Sampler Threads, DMC, as well as silk over-dyeds. I like them all.

  7. As a beginner, I have only used the overdyed perle cotton a little. I love the colors and it seems to me that you get a change of color quicker than with the variegated threads. Sometimes when doing something smaller, I need to change threads and cut my thread if I want the color variegated. I have found the Valdani color to blend into another color quicker than the DMC cotton. I do love color.

  8. If one carefully selects the right over dyed thread for the right stitches for the right application, the effect can be powerful and quite wonderful. I do needlepoint, which is embroidery of a type, onto canvas. I use over dyed threads a lot and often use them in complex stitches along with solid threads – it can give a great effect. Many people shy away from over dyed threads because they cannot see what it will look like stitched. I have a practice board that I use to check out an effect, but with practice I’ve learned which thread and stitch will do what. I like the over dyed threads by Weeks and by ThreadWorX as well and Gloriana Silks, especially their beautiful artisan dyed soie d’ alger. The Thread Gatherer also has many exquisite over dyed threads of many different fibers. Over dyed threads are FUN to use and play around with.

    1. I 100% agree with your comments – I do a LOT of canvas work and LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the over-dyed fibres. But, we don’t have to wash our work at the end as with some other types of embroidery and these types of fibres are really not colour-fast. That sure doesn’t stop me from using them though.

  9. I made a quilt-12 blocks of embroidered hearts using a variegated floss, purchased at a quilt store. The colors ran when I washed the quilt. Pre-test these if you are planning to wash your work!

  10. I love overdyed thread and find every excuse I can to use them especially the silk ones. They work really well in samplers and in blackwork projects, that’s what I am doing right now they also work very well in projcts where you are using a satin or long and short sitch to fill in an area

  11. Hi Mary, I love to look and buy them, but unless I have a long swath to stitch I tend not to use them as they are in a skein. Rather, I find myself clipping a piece here and there to obtain the colour I want, or re-stranding them. I like the experimentation but sometimes it’s frustrating when a colour you don’t want appears in the next length!

  12. I love, love using Valdani over dyed pearl cotton for wool appliqué. It is costly, but since I had no knowledge that anyone else carried over dyed PC, it is all I have used. did I mention that I love using it? Very hard to find unusual threads when you live in never never land (SW rural NE.)

    1. I just want to say I agree with you about the Valdani threads. I’d never heard of them before until the year we took a trip up to Canada. We stopped in a small town in Washington and I just had to visit the quilt shop there. They had Valdani threads. I figured I buy a few as a souvenir and play with them when I got home. What fun and they were so pretty when stitched up. But going back for more is a bit of a drive. LOL

  13. Hi Mary, this is my first ever comment so I hope that’s OK! I have recently made a cushion in Hardanger embroidery using the overdyed thread in cotton perle No.8 and 12 and I am thrilled with result and hope to try more colours in the future.

    1. Great was wondering if this thread could be used in hardanger am new to this .also is overdied thread available in.australia and if so where

    2. I use overdyed & varigated threads for Hardanger all the time, and I love them! You do have to be careful of how the color pattern shows up, though. If you’re not careful, the color changes will be very abrupt and jarring. For that reason, I prefer to use overdyes where the color changes are fairly subtle if I’m going to be doing a lot of satin stitch motifs. It’s not such a problem on kloster blocks, probably because they’re small enough that the color change is more from block to block.

      I’m particularly fond of Dinky Dyes perle cottons, which come in #5, 8. & 12 so can be used on most fabrics. Leah’s are also lovely to work with, as are Weeks. Caron’s Water Colors and Wild Flower threads also work well for Hardanger, and they have some lovely colors.

      Mary in MN

    3. I loooove them. But having said that I must also say I prefer them not to have too many different colours in one thread. For stitching seams on crazy quilting they are fabulous as they give an interesting sort of arrhythmic effect which isn’t boring as single colour threads might be. I use over-dyed or space-dyed or variegated indiscriminately, and especially like single colour (different shades and tints) threads for stems, leaves, flowers etc. I guess I am a bit of a thread ‘tart’ as I don’t really care what the fibre content is, wool, cotton, silk or rayon, as long as it is right for the effect I am trying to achieve.

    4. Irena, there are lots of places in Australia where you can get over-dyed threads. If Mary would kindly send you my email address, and you send me an email I will let you know depending on where you live. I hope that’s OK with you Mary.

  14. I love overdyed threads — I got a whole bunch from Weeks Dye Works years ago, and I still have a few left, which I use only for the most special projects.

    I love the way they vary in color, but subtly. I think it adds depth to the work, and it’s interesting to watch how the skein translates to the embroidery.

  15. I love,love, love overdyed thread. I use them as much as possible in cross stitch projects. The silks are scrumptious and the cottons are divine. With practice, you can make the threads work in whatever pattern you wish. I recently stitched a mirrored image where both side showed the color gradient perfectly. If you haven’t tried them, go to your closest LNS or jump on Etsy and get a skein or two.

    1. I did a small cross stitch pattern a year or so ago. I decided to play around with a Halloween colored variegated floss while stitching a cat. Stitched diagonally (each direction dividing down the middle) on the face and ears, up and down on the chest and front legs and in a circular movement around the rump and hind legs. Pretty interesting effect.

  16. Love the idea of over dyed floss but the end result isn’t always what you expect. And then you figure in the cost factor… I do mostly cross stitch samplers and love the instant age the overdyes can impart but getting the end product to look the way you vision it is hard at times. I recently did a tree and midway thru realized the “grain” of the bark was running sideways instead of up and down. Too far along to happily rip it out so it is just sitting. Or the look is lost when you do only a few stitches of one color in an area. And I have learned to cut the strand in different areas because you keep getting the same color pattern repeat and so much can be lost in beginning and ending. I find you have to plan how and where you use it. And don’t tell hubby I paid 5 times more for half the floss…he just doesn’t understand.

  17. I love, love, LOVE overdyed threads! The fact that the colors change gradually at unequal lengths adds to the realistic look of the project one is working on. However, one does need to choose carefully because some threads have wild color changes (from orange to peacock blue, for example), but I love those, too – in the right project!!!

  18. Hi. I love overdyed threads. I battle with colour combinations and these do it all for me. My Mum left me drawers full of the printed tray cloths, etc and having overdyed threads means that I need only select a few shades and I can complete a whole project.

  19. I do like the way that overdyed threads look, but admittedly I have not tried them. I also adore variegated threads in certain instances, and hope that they make many more variegated colors. I am used to the skeins of divisible DMC and they do not (as far as I am aware) do overdyed in the regular skein cotton flosses.

    1. You might look at DMC’s Color Variations line of Pearl Cotton & floss. I suppose they’re variegated, rather than overdyed, but the effect is very similar.
      Mary in MN

    2. Thanks for the suggestion Mary, I do appreciate it. I prefer to be able to divide the thread into the size I need. The biggest reason is that I do not have the storage space for all of those balls/skeins in all of those sizes and colors, especially if I only plan to use a partial skein. All I have at the moment is a plastic box for leftovers on plastic floss card/spools, a smaller plastic box for current project card/spools and a large wooden accordion style box for skeins. With the regular stuff, I maximize my storage space usage, and I can still use whatever size I need, I don’t have to buy several different sizes of the same color. Thanks again though.

  20. I like overdyed threads, plain threads, variegated threads, and hand-dyed threads. I guess I just love thread! I’ve used several HDT’s and love them, but have only purchased from tatters who dye their own. I’ve tried several varieties of overdyed threads, but haven’t tried enough often enough to have a favourite. I like to use all these threads for tatting and with crazy quilting, as well as with surface embroidery, or cross-stitch. I’ve made cards with fancy threads, too.

  21. I use them, love them, dye them. They can make subtle textural depth in a piece. Mix with solid, stranded together. See some work on my Pinterest collections. I feel the key is to look for Sublime changes along one hue rather than rainbow or many different colors. I look for blending effects for sweeps of areas of satin stitch.
    They can be extremely effective, sometimes the best selections for stitching aren’t the most beautiful vibrant looking when in the skein.

  22. I love to look at over-dyed threads. Using them is another story. You have to complete each stitch as you go or you lose the color effect. If you stitch in rows, your color changes will be in rows so you need to scatter your stitches around to get a nice effect. You have to use them on items that will never be washed. If they are on a project that needs dry-cleaning, you have to dry-clean it yourself because no dry cleaner will take them. And, having said all that, some of my prettiest projects are done with over-dyed thredas.

  23. Being basically a counted canvas stitcher, I have had fun with the overdyes. I tend to let the colors flow, unlike some that cut out sections of color. One of the fun things to do, is to untwist the skein and pick up a skein or two in a solid color that is represented in the overdye. Pair those with a neutral and something sparkly (metallic or beads). A whole range of ideas springs from the collection. The one difficult thing, is to control a color run in a counted design as they are not necessarily equal along the length of a skein. I developed a method of using solid colors to create the effect of an overdye, but is more easily controlled. I love the sheen of the stranded silks. You do have to be careful of excess color running in the dark overdyes and take precautions if the embroidery will be laundered.

    1. I also tend to pair sparkly or those weird rayon flosses with a strand of similar cotton, it is the only way I can manage to use it without getting it tangled (I use shorter lengths) and killing my fingers in frustration. 🙂

  24. I am a huge fan of over dyes. I am working on a series of Quaker motifs that I’m using to make a Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter picture. Using a single color of Caron Collections Wildflowers for each season, I use different sections of the color for different parts of the design.

    The first thing I do with an over dye thread is find the repeat of the dyeing. From there I use the sections that I want for different areas of the pattern. Having found the pattern, it makes it easier to add thread when I need it. For the alphabet around the sampler I just let the threads “run” and work it as it comes off the skein.

    I used to use Weeks and Gentle Arts for cross stitch designs in cotton floss, but I have changed over to Valdani now. You can find something close to convert to and the colors seem to be more consistent if you need another hank. (I chose to carry the Valdani in my shop.) I love their variegated silk perle as well.

    The only drawback I have found with some designers who use a lot of over dyes is that sections of the design are so small that you can’t tell that there was an over dyed used. In that case, I find the color pattern and cut sections out where the colors transition so I specifically have some color change. It does waste thread though so sometimes I just give up and use a solid.

    I just finished stitching Blackbird Designs’ “Halloween Eve” and added a darning pattern section and did the pumpkin in blackwork. I used over dyes for both sections and they turned out really nice, especially the darning pattern.

    I am actually guilty of changing to an over dye even if it’s not asked for in the pattern. Love it!

  25. I love over dyed threads because a) they don’t leave a pattern or stripe as you work and, b) when used in light canvas work, they allow for interesting variation as the canvas shows through.

  26. I agree that they are beautiful to look at in the skein. I have used them for Hardanger and like the result. I also like the look in a band sampler. I have also dyed my own. We have a group here that periodically dyes fabric or threads. I used some of what I dyed in a canvas project. It turned out really well.

  27. Count me in the I love overdyed threads camp! Ever since stitching an Earth Threads band sampler with Gentle Arts Sampler Threads in the 1990s, I have been collecting and sampling and playing with overdyes. My favorite silk is Glorianna and my favorite stranded cotton is Threadworx. Did I mention Kreinik’s Ombre? Wow, the things that I can do with that. I do a lot of geometrics on canvas and frequently a project begins with finding an overdye that you like and picking threads that go with it. Because the dyer has already figured out the color scheme, this works well for developing a color palette.

  28. I love looking at them, and enjoy using them in some very specific applications. They’re wonderful in more primitive cross stitch pieces with large areas of a single color. They’re good in borders. They work well in hardanger or other single color work. I used them in a cross stitch piece that had a background of trees. I wanted a little more variety in the green (it was big blocks of four colors). It worked beautifully there. But they’re expensive, and can detract from the piece if it’s too detailed. Also, I’ve found that some overdyed flosses do not have enough variation to justify the cost. No need to use them there. In short, they are lovely, but choose your projects carefully.

  29. I just received my first order from Lorraine and I love the threads. My projects are small crazy quilted wallets, purses and wall hangings using both vibrant jewel tones and pastels so these threads are gorgeous on the seams. They give the embroidery such a beautiful look. I love using varigated threads and ribbons.

  30. Lorraine has some yummy colors but I think they would be difficult to use in a flower (French-knots might be interesting). The DMC perle cotton shown above would be lovely in flowers or leaves or most anything. I don’t think that I would use it for borders or outlines due to the variation. I will sure try it sometime just not right now. Thank you for your wonderful articles. I savor each and everyone of them. Lynne

  31. I used variegated threads to embroidery my son’s wedding shirt, and did Celtic knot work dragons. Each scale on the dragons happened to change colors because of the thread, and it looked as if I had pains takingly used a slightly different color. I LOVE variegated thread!

  32. Dear Mary

    Sorry to hear about your on-going problem with your computer I know how that feels, it’s so frustrating.

    I have never used overdyed thread so I can’t comment on the pros and cons of them. But you photo of overdyed thread look lovely and interesting. I’m sure they have there uses and can look attractive in certain embroidery projects, it would be interesting to try the thread to see how they feel. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  33. I love them. I probably use GAST and Weeks every chance I can. I cross stitch a lot and love the look they give. Sometimes I get frustrated trying to maneuver the shades so they look natural and not clumped in one area. I wish they had them years ago when I use to do a lot of Teresa Wentzler designs. I could have avoided the 50 threaded needles. I think I have used most of what’s out there. They beat verigated threads hands down. Drawback is Some aren’t colour fast and bleed easy but overall I love them. I think GAST and Weeks are my favorite tho I’ve used a lot of Crescent Colours in my Mirabilias.

    1. The Teresa Wentzler name jumped out at me and I smiled at your mention of 50 threaded needles. I did her design of Rapunzel many years ago at a time when I didn’t have the confidence in my own common sense. There were, I think, over 80 shades in that design and because of blending threads there were over 100 symbols. I trusted several months of my time to the folk who made up the kit. They supplied Aida fabric, when a huge proportion of the design contained fractional stitches. I should have relegated the Aida and gone for evenweave at once. I finished it but the number of times it nearly went out of the window! I know better now. I would love to get hold of some of the threads available in the US, we in the UK do not have easy access to floche, Valdani etc., unless we are prepared to ship it in. Strange in a way as DMC floche is European and Valdani is made in Romania. I’m sure that other stitchers in the US feel the same way about availability. It is one thing to examine a thread in a shop and know what to expect, quite something else to trust your computer monitor to show the correct shading and so on then to pay shipping, perhaps duty and taxes for something that may be a real disappointment, especially if it is not colour fast. I was told to dampen a paper tissue, dab the thread and if any colour comes off on the tissue, do not use in something you would expect to wash. Imagine having ordered thread (from whichever side of the pond) paying the extra, only to find you cannot use it? AAAAggh.

      Elsa in UK

  34. I LOVE overdyed threads, ever since being introduced to them years ago when stitching my first Bent Creek design. The more variegated and inconsistent the colors, the more I love them! To me, they remind me of what the fibers must have been like centuries ago when stitchers were first adding embroidered effects to clothing, fabrics, tapestries and samplers. (Maybe I’m wrong?) I’ve basically used them for counted cross stitch projects, and have been “taught” that to get the full effect of these threads you must stitch one X at a time (rather than a row of half crosses in one direction, and the top legs of the x’s back in the opposite direction.) Although it certainly takes longer to finish a sampler or a design by stitching each individual x, the payoff is that beautiful appearance of the varied shadings of color. I love how no two finished pieces look totally alike when stitching with these threads. I love them all — from the big name brands to the collections by individual dyers found on Etsy or on blogs. Great topic! I’m interested to read other people’s opinions of these threads.

  35. I would like to learn how other stitchers use, or even misuse them! That is, where are they most effective? I would like to be able to see photographs of them stitched into projects.

  36. See, right from the start I learned something new. I tend to lump all threads with multiple colors under the heading “variegated.” I didn’t know there was a difference. I knew overdyed were done by hand and I thought most were not colorfast. That means I use them on things not to be washed.

    I do enjoy using multi-colored threads. They add interest without all the work of constantly changing the thread. I do prefer the more subtle color blends rather than the bright rainbow explosions. But I can see a place for them as well.

  37. It was fascinating to read the previous comments as most stitchers seem to either love or hate over-dyes. My opinion is it depends….

    I had a disastrous (bled-all-over) experience when I smocked an item with over-dyes so will never again use the thread for anything requiring washing. However I used an over-dye in a geometric canvas piece (on stretcher bars to avoid need to block) and thought the result attractive. Over-dyed silk ribbon is my absolute favorite for silk ribbon embroidery as it gives the most natural appearance to flowers and leaves. By choosing where the ribbon is cut, the center of a full blown rose can be dark with lighter outer petals, all using the same ribbon.

  38. I agree, over dyed are beautiful in the skein, but I don’t use them very often. I most often use them when stitching or needle pointing a large area to be filled. I like them way they look when stitching a robe, such as on a Santa, for example.

  39. I am a quilter but I do lots of applique and always do it by hand using embroidery floss. Lately I have stepped/leaped out of my comfort zone and have tried more art type quilts using perle cotton and discovered variegated perle cotton and couching and embroidery stitches. So fun. Thanks for your info as I am a left hander and often struggle with embroidery stitches. I always want to go left to right. So your question, haven’t used overdyed, didn’t know they existed, but the wheels are turning about the possibilities in landscapes.

  40. Thank you Mary! I started dyeing my threads out of necessity as I live in a rural area with limited supplies. Although I use my threads for crazy quilting, I have customers who use them for wool applique, cross stitch, hardanger, wrapped jewellry and even for dolls eyes! I personally love to combine any of the perle cottons with a strand of something sparkly for that bit of pizazz. The overdyes are beautiful using French knots and particular drizzle stitch – very fun. Like many I have had some poor experiences with issues of colourfastness in threads I have worked with prior to dyeing my own and therefore make every attempt to ensure my threads do not “run”.

  41. Hi Mary, I use a lot of Gloriana silk with Stumpwork and surface embroidery. She has beautiful colors that vary just enough to add interest.

  42. I love overdyed threads, especially for blackwork. My favourites have to be Stef Francis and Oliver Twists, the latter I used recently for a blackwork butterfly and loved how the colours worked together on the fabric.

  43. As a cross stitcher I use overdyed quite often. If I am making something with big blocks of color or working on a border that might otherwise be boring, I will consider using an over-dyed thread for interest. They are great for samplers. However, they do require a bit of preping to assure a smooth flow of color and to prevent bleeding. I cut my strands end to end and use them in order to prevent the abrupt color changes. They also must be washed before use and that is a drag.

    I use variegated threads for text in patterns and for more juvenile designs calling for cartoon-type designs.

  44. It really depends on the brand and what kind of stitching I do. Since I do a variety of techniques, both modern and historic, I do find some use for the Over dyes. I love working cross stitch samplers with the over-dyes from Gentle Art and Weeks, but I really enjoy the over-dyes from Threadworx when I do painted canvas needlepoint. In needlepoint, the over-dyes can give a lot of dimension to the work that you are doing. For example a variegated brown can really bring out the trunk of a tree. So, they are fun to work with.

  45. I like OD threads, love most of the color combos, but a bit fearful of the “getting stripes in my work” issue. Would love to learn how to anticipate & avoid such. I’m a needlepointer who loves your work.

  46. I had never really thought about ‘variegated’ and ‘over-dyed’ as being different. I have dyed small quantities in the past, but there are so many wonderful shaded colour threads about these days, I just buy what catches my eye and add to my “I’ll need this one day” stash!

  47. I have to agree with some of the other commentors that the overdyed and variegated threads are often so beautiful in the skein but difficult to use effectively. Also agree that the Valdani perle is beautiful and a joy to work with. I’ve used overdyed perle cotton for french knots and was very happy with the effect. I’ve also used it for blanket stitch on more folky wool applique projects and was happy with the results. I found it generally unsatisfactory for satin stitches and other filling stitches.

    For anyone who hasn’t used overdyed threads, the comments above about it’s lack of color fastness should be particularly noted.

  48. Hi Mary and everyone!

    I have a fair collection of overdyes and machine dyed threads in a number of gauges and from a few manufacturers. I find that they (both types) tend to be most useful for counted thread work and not so much for freestyle. Having said that, I ahve used some Gentle Arts Sampler Threads and Weeks Dye Works cottons in freestyle pieces, but they were only gentle gradations of one colour.

    Speaking of overdyes vs machine (space dyed etc) threads, I’ve probably used the machine ones most and find that they aren’t as evenly spaced as one might assume. Sometimes they’re very uneven and that can make a difference in where and how they can be used. Also, from one ball/skein to the next, the length of dyed sections can vary greatly!

    On the whole, I prefer solid colours, but I like to use some dyed ones too.=)

  49. I seldom stitch a project that doesn’t have at least 1 overdyed thread. I have been using Lois Caron’s Watercolours since early on. I am a canvas stitcher and also other counted thread techniques. I often use an overdyed thread to plan a color scheme for a project. Sometimes, you can use 2 or 3 overdyes and then fill in with pearl cotton and a metallic. Couldn’t be simpler. I guess I have stitched with most of the overdyes–Watercolours is the one I use the most. I like NeedleNecessities/ThreadWorx. I also like Gentle Arts and Weeks Dye Works samplers threads. The color changes are much more subtle and are all one color. I use the stranded threads on canvas as well as on linen for samplers, etc. And of course there is the creme de la creme–the silks–Belle Soie and Gloriana. Sometimes you do have to do some planning on color placement and you absolutely cannot wash the overdyes but stitching with them is exciting–also, I use DMC Variations which I like very much-there isn’t a lot of choice of colors but there are some that I especially like. I use a lot of different brands because sometimes you just can’t find the exact color you want in the brand you are using but can in a different brand. I have become quite dependent on the overdyed threads.

  50. I belong to the group that love the look of (especially hand-dyed) multi-coloured threads, but can feel left stumped when it comes to actually using them. They’re so gorgeous, I can’t resist buying, but then they’re left in the treasure chest as pure eye candy. Now, part of the problem for me is my penchant for buying all sorts of fibres I’m not used to working with — but who can resist something so scrumptious??

    One reason I keep buying is of cause that I use many threads for more than just embroidery, which is the part that most often stump me. A good heavy thread works great for wrapped bracelets, a braided silk cord can be used for bead crochet, embroidery thread can be used for pretty much anything and the same goes for more novelty yarn-like fibres. With embroidery, I’ve pretty much just played with running stitch and thought about doing some french knot flowers.

    Right now I’m having fun playing with various threads in bead embroidery. Space-dyed silk with transparent grey beads for darker, “antiqued” colours with smooth transitions between the colours, variegated thread with clear beads to showcase the fibre, mixed colours (e.g. Mingles) to created a striped lining, metallic threads for a faux metal lining (preferably mixing a couple of different metallic colours to create something you don’t get in silver/gilt/copper/bronze/brass lined beads). It’s fun — even when I’m not sure what to do with the ideas, what project they’d be good for.

  51. I recently finished a piece, washed it and was dismayed to find that the overdyed threads had RUN. It is not an important piece so I won’t do anything about it but wouldn’t have used them if there was danger of them running.

    1. Have you ever tried just soaking a piece that has run in Orvus. Allow it tosoak then rinse in cold water until the water is clear.

  52. I like overdye that had gradations of one color. It gives the needlework highlights.

    Sometimes overdye gives a project ‘stripes’ of color, which can compete with the design.

    When in doubt, I take two strands of one color and a lighter shade of the color – which gives the area highlight without a stripe

  53. I like overdyed threads for cross stitch, and really enjoy watching the variety of cor develop. I have used silk overdyed on silk gauze and find it somewhat troublesome for backgrounds (stripes or lines which I find not favorable). I
    Guess it is w hat you want the piece to look like as a finished product.

  54. I LOVE overdyed threads. I drooled all over my mouse checking out Lorraine`s Etsy shop. They are my thing to stash and hoard- from yarns to SRE ribbons. I use them (perle5&8) mostly to embelish crazy quilt projects but would like some more ideas.Thank you Mary for a wonderful web site.

  55. I’m in the “it depends” camp. I love the ones that are one color and suble changes. They give an instant look of age to projects that are based on antique articles. But in general, it depends on the colors and how they are used.

    Can they be washed before stitching them up to avoid the bleeding issue?

  56. I love overdyed threads and use a variety of them in my work. My recent work includes original designs of scenes or landscapes. So I have used overdyed threads for fall leaves, grassy colors, azalea blossoms, foliage, etc. Sometimes I like to use an overdyed thread and then supplement them with similar DMC colors of stranded embroidery cotton. I have recently discovered that I like the subtle effect of the dyes on Wildflowers, a Caron thread. These a much more muted than their Wildflowers and Waterlilies. One problem with overdyed threads is the length of the color before it changes to another color. Sometimes this is too long or too short for the intended purpose. I have also used these threads in geometric designs and the effect is nice.

  57. This morning I learned that overdyed threads exist, and what that means! Thank you for the lesson. Learn something new every day!

  58. I’d prefer the color changes be in shorter length. If I want 12″ of color in One color, I’d use that color, not variegated. I want variegated to be 4 colors in that 12″ length for better variety.

  59. What a beautiful threads, the colors are bright and nice. I tried to dye a fabric with beets and tea, didn’t work (I have seen that in the internet), so I haven’t tried it again, but I would like to learn.

  60. I love their look and like to use them. I have mostly done stitching on crazy quilts where the changing colors is an added attraction. I used them for needlepoint and it was quite lovely in a free form type of design.

  61. I love stitching with Glorianna, my favorite of all overdyes. Second is probably Weeks. I’ve had a problem with some brands that tend to fray or shred. Most of my stitching is counted thread but am in the process of the “house”, a surface embroidery piece. I like overdyes much better than varigated, think they’re much more interesting. Several years ago a group of us did a project where we had to use the overdyes in such a way that we actually made mirror images, a real challenge.

  62. I am very new to needle work and have purchased some over dyed thread but am just hearing now that it might not be color fast! I am using it on a pillowcase, (a starter project) so may be disappointed when I have to wash the piece. I will try washing a piece of the thread and if it runs I will not use the pillowcase but I guess I don’t understand why it wouldn’t be made color fast?! If solid color thread can be made color fast then why would dyed thread not be? At some point all thread is dyed, right?

  63. I LOVE looking at those wonderfully coloured threads but they frightened me. I sometimes use them in Hardanger embroidery, but most of them are not washable as they run. I find it´s a great limit to their use !

  64. I love hand dyed threads for their unique colourways. I like dyeing a series of overdyed threads to compliment my hand dyed fabrics. The way various fabrics and threads take up the dye in differing intensities is always a surprise. It’s so easy to throw a few threads in when dyeing fabric and adds a personal touch to your work. The one caution I have is around the need to triple check the colour is fixed, and thoroughly washed out.

  65. Love them, love them, love them!! Way back in 1985, I used a blue and white variagated floss to make snowflakes on a Christmas item for my then-boyfriend. The unpredicatable results with overdyes are even more fun — ask that beau (now my husband of 26 years) how much I spend on them!! 😉

  66. As a dyer, I have a suggestion if you are using overdyed threads in something that will be washed. Take the skein as it is and soak it in a bowl of cold water with some synthrapol which is a detergent dyers use to remove excess dye. From what I understand (I am not a chemist), it acts by holding the dye in the water so it does not wash back into the dyed item and can be rinsed away more easily. Rinse gently and carefully so as not to tangle the skein. After the water runs clear, it is safe to use, but double check by letting it dry on a paper towel so you can see if there is any remaining dye. You can also soak it in water with retayne after that. As I understand it, retayne works by swelling up the dye molecules so they can’t escape the fiber. You will also need to rinse the retayne out. My personal thought is that I like to have most of the excess dye out of the threads before I use retayne. Retayne and synthrapol are availabe in quilt shops or in fiber art supply places. Dick Blick and Dharma Trading Post carry them. If you absolutely must wash something that is already embroidered with overdyed threads, try throwing in a couple Shout color catchers.

  67. I love overdyed threads and use them when I can.It all depends on the project. I do dye my own and have several projects that I have used them in. Look forward future blogs on this subject.

  68. I love overdyed thread and use it on every project. My favorite is Perle cotton #12. My favorite maker is Threadworx. I just did a winter tree, no leaves, using sevral mixtures of browns, blacks, and greens – a little blue and some purple. The trunk and limbs are a masterpiece.
    Barb W, MO

  69. Hi, Mary! I am a big fan of overdyed threads. So much so that I have dyed my own in order to get a colourway I like. I use them in hardangar and in my fabric art pieces. I also dye my own variegated thread, both silk and cotton, and I want to start doing wool as well. Of course, there are some embroidery techniques overdyed thread doesn’t work so well with and then I just use single colour flosses.

  70. I love over-dyed threads…in the UK they are often called “space dyed” and manufacturers guard their recipes zealously.

    They are wonderful for embroidery, and great for big stitch quilting…brilliant for stumpwork and needle lace.

    There is an UK needle artist called Steff Francis, who manufactures a wonderful range including all kinds of silk threads…single strand and multi-strand thread skeins. The colours are strong and the silk is wonderfully soft to the touch…a joy to work with.

    1. Hi Ursula, I might be a bit late to the party here! Just found the blog.I live in the UK. I use Stef Francis threads and also Jean at Oliver Twists does some lovely hand-dyed perle and medium cotton thread in variegated colours. (Colour fast) Sew and Sews a firm I have just discovered will deliver Weeks Overdyes and Dinky Dyes overdyes as well as those gorgeous Caron perles.

      The overdyes are all labelled Non fast. I use them on wool felt as embroidery on my felt bangles and pin cushions, where the rhythm of the variegation works beautifully.
      HAving written all of this I hope it doesn’t get lost in the backlog!! I will be following your blog Mary, now that I’ve found you.

  71. I love using overdyed thread. I have only used thread from major manufacturers.

    I have never thought of dying my own threads, but it sounds like a good idea. I have overdyed wool for my rug hooking.

  72. I LOVE(LOOOOOVE) over dyed threads. I have boxes of them and can’t resist buying them when I see them. My favourite brand is COLOUR STREAMS made here in Australia. They have the most vibrant gorgeous colours,a slight sheen and wonderful to stitch with. I have almost completed a quilt which has an enormous amount of applique which has all been applied with embroidery using colour stream thread. The changes in colour as I stitch around a flower or leaf is so beautiful…..much more interesting in this particular case than just a plain colour. I prefer not to have a regular change in colour as this shows up pretty fast in long lines of embroidery…over dyes perform better in this situation…..
    I’ll end as I started…..I LOOOOVE THEM.

  73. Thank you Laura for mentioning the colour catcher sachets. I was working on a lovely hardangar piece with over dyed threads a couple of years ago when I heard that they could run on washing. So I left it. I only noticed those colour catcher sachets last week in our supermarket, so guess where I’m heading tonight?

  74. I love to use overdyed threads on embroidery, cross stitch, pulled thread, crochet, Hardanger and tatting. It gives a more interesting look and lends depth to simple stitches and patterns.

  75. I have not as yet tried overdyed threads but have just ordered a sample pack. Just what I need more thread LOL. I sometimes get frustrated with variegated thread as they seem to change colour just when I do not want them to. I am looking forward to playing with these threads.

  76. I have used overdyes since Watercolours was introduced 20 some years ago. I like Hardanger klosters done with it and use one color for the needleweaving part. I also like it for canvas work for skies and natural backgrounds (trees, water, rocks). It makes for added interest in Celtic knots.
    You have to watch not to over due it. Also, I like to monitor the transition between one thread and the next.

  77. Mary I think you have ESP. This topic is so timely. I’m starting my search this weekend for an overdye perle #8 with subtle plum/purple variations for a quilt project. I’ve used Weeks Dye Works before and absolutely love it, but that was the only name I knew. Thanks to your readers I now have an abundance to look into. Thank you all very much. Unfortunately I’ve been so busy completing projects to make a buck that I brain-farted my nieces birthday and don’t really have time to order and get the quilt done in time. She’ll be 15 a

    1. …sorry, got cut off….My niece will be 15 and has recently lost her blanky that I made when she was born. She was devastated so I CAN NOT postpone this quilt. I can now do some research and hit quilt and needlepoint shops this weekend with Grammy. Thanks again Mary and everyone else for all the great information.

  78. I have used overdyes for over 20 years-since Watercolours first came out. Now I have expanded toother companies. I do Hardanger klosters and fill in the needleweaving with a solid color. I like them for geometric canvases and for skies and background (rocks, water, forests). Celtic knots are very interesting donw with ovedyes.
    You need to control the flow of the colros especially when changing strands. Also some sttiches need to have the direction of the stich taken into account.

  79. I love them. I enjoy figuring out show I’m going to make the colours work; there is a skill involved that I’m still catching onto.

    Cynthia from Nanaimo, BC

  80. I have been working with overdyes since back when all there was Rainbow Gallery and Needle Necessities, (now Threadworx). I learned early on to use Retayne for anything that might need to be washed. It is available at most any quilt shop.
    I like to play with the colors and with six-strand floss, I reverse one of the strands to make a nice heathery effect. It also gets rid of the “stripes” and I usually complete each stitch when doing cross stitch. I love the Caron threads for Hardanger, and sometimes use them along with matching solids. I use silk and perle cotton also and use subtle or bold colors, depending on what I want to accomplish. They also make fun twisted cord for trims. Alphabets are interesting and borders fun with overdyes. You can make a whole garden with just a few skeins making colonial knots, lazy daisy, and straight stitches. Just too much fun!

  81. First, I want to say thank you for explaining the difference between overdyed threads and variegated threads. I’ve only had the experience in using the variegated thread and enjoy the “spice” (as someone mentioned) the tread gives to a given project. I’m going to have to try the overdyed threads. One more item to add to my list (smile)

  82. I love the look of them; however, I have had problems with them bleeding if there are darker colors like burgundy or teal so be careful and test them before you ruin your project

  83. I prefer variegated threads to over dyed threads the reason being that with variegated threads you can use the colours and match them to plain stranded thread to start an individual colour scheme for a new embroidery project. Over dyed threads are useful for colouring in with your embroidery but do not offer the same options to start a new colour scheme.

  84. I love variegated threads, whether space-dyed, overdyed or handpainted. I went through MANY skeins of the pastel Coats & Clark floss in my childhood stamped embroidery period, and may have a skein or 2 hoarded still.

    I use these threads both in cross-stitch & needlepoint, whenever I feel they will add a spark of interest. (I admit to being a bit lazy, too, and will sometimes use one in lieu of pesky color changes.) I will not use them just for the sake of doing so. They make wonderful backgrounds for many needlepoint designs, and great foliage. I enjoy varying directions to achieve different effects – vertically, following a tree limb for bark; in a spiral for a cheery sun.

    I’ve used cotton floss, perle cotton, and silks, and have liked or loved almostall of them; I don’t play favorites. As almost everyone knows, overdyeds are generally not colorfast; I refrain from using them on anything likely to get wet. For wearables or anything else that will or may get wet, I usually use DMC Color Variations; otherwise, Sulky 12wt Blendables, or Caron Watercolours Wildflowers.

    I’m always happy to learn of a new fiber line, since I’m pretty sure that dyeing would not be in my skill set. The perle you featured today is lovely – off to visit her Etsy shop.

  85. I’ve been interested in overdyed threads since I saw that you’d used some in a piece recently. I love the colours and would also love to use some, but am worried about the possibility of the colour running, and prefer to be able to launder/clean my work in most cases. Is there a solution to ths problem?

  86. I have never used any kind of variegated thread for embroidery, and am not likely to. I’m not a fan of the ‘random’ look, which looks messy to me. And if on the other hand you are cutting the thread and controlling the colour changes, why not use solid threads and do the job properly? Two uses of overdyed thread really bug me: in reproduction samplers (sorry but antique samplers don’t look like that!) and in hardanger (I feel that colour competes with texture and spoils the beauty and character of the work – it’s whitework for a reason!).

    BUT… the skeins are so gorgeous!!!

  87. I dye my own, and am addictted to the endless colour possibilities, and unpredictable results. I overdye DMC and Valdani perle cotton in different weights, using white, ecru, and light variegated as the base. Silk also dyes beautifully. I use the threads in many ways in quilting… as embellishment on crazy style pieces, as detail on applique, for wool felt applique, and for redwork style surface embroidery that is not red! I have never had any problems with dye running, but I do all my own, and always “cook” the thread in a hot bath with Synthrapol which fixes the dye.

  88. I don’t know where to start i’m so excited! I usually, even though I love thread, don’t get as enraptured with it as I have with the offerings on Lorraine Stobie’s blog. I love the way the colors blend into each other and flow so easily together. I am so anxious to own some of her thread for my foray into a crazy quilt i’m making. I don’t care for variegated thread at all and never use it but this overdyed process has really caught my eye and now my goal is to own and use some. Deonia in Florida

  89. I love the look of variegated and overdyed threads on the skein, but I’ve never had any success sewing with them. I don’t like the way they look when they’re stitched up, but maybe I’m approaching it the wrong way – I’m interested to hear your take on it.

  90. Hi Mary,

    I love the overdyed flosses from The Gentle Art, both the simply shaker and the sampler threads. I use them in my landscapes, particularly for barns, rocks, trees. I also use them to fill in the colour gaps of DMC. For example, they have a great range of blacks. Often I don’t want the DMC black, but would prefer a more subtle colour; dark, but with a hint of colour. SAme goes for their wonderful range of browns, greys, golds, etc. They have the same weight of DMC threads, are colour fast and wonderful to use.


  91. I will not be using overdyed threads ever again. Last year, using some well known labels of overdyed threads, did two beautiful embroidered mottos for two of my kids. Played with stitches and tonal shades of thread, carefully planned and designed each one to be just right for the recipient. Had a lovely working experience. Finished all the embroidery, went to wash, and they bled horribly. There was no saving them. Months of work in the garbage. And no, no where on the labeling did it say “do not wash”. One even claimed to be colorfast…..

    1. Hi there, This is a very timely article for me as I just bought a couple of crocheted dressing table sets and I suspect that they are made from DMC Pearl Cotton variations which is overdyed. It is an interesting effect but I’m not sure it really suits crochet as instead of gradual changes in colour, gradations, the twisting involved in the crochet makes the colour changes look a bit patchy. Because in crochet it is common to work an area then reach across to join onto a previous bit of work there is also a lack of gradual colour change. Many of the motifs rely on symmetry or regularity to look attractive and the colour changes disrupt that. I suppose it just depends what effect you are going for. They certainly look more modern and jazzy and I’ve seen some attractive embroidery in colour change on a dark ground. Not so keen on it for crochet though.

  92. I enjoy working with overdyed threads-but in moderation. It’s too bad that they are not colorfast, because I like to damp/wet block some of my finished projects.

  93. I’m not the biggest fan. I mostly do CCS and I just don’t like the way the over dye colors play out when one x is done completely before the next. I do sometimes like muted variations in shades. I do one of 2 ways. Make the first stitch all way across the line and then come back (Danish method of CCS) or take 2 strands of the thread and turn one strand end for end and use the Danish method again. Gives a looks that says the color varies, but it’s not in your face 🙂 Oh yes , I am VERY aware they run and don’t use them on anything that would need washing.

  94. Hello all,
    I use variegated threads in bargello patterns for a different, muted effect–particularly in the ‘wave’ type patterns.
    I have also used them in cross/tent stitch needlepoint, but find that you have to be willing to experiment as you can’t control the results. They are good for needlepointing hair, sometimes fur–for things that are themselves variegated. Keeping them to one section of the canvas is good — they change every 7 stitches or so — so you can see how your colors are changing.
    Lorraine’s threads are quite beautiful; they are the best I have ever seen.

  95. I realized that I mixed up over-dyed thread with variegated thread. Do you get surprise effect with over-dyed thread but not with variegated thread ,right?

  96. I just LOVE working with the overdyed threads. Several of the projects I have done were specifically designed to use these types of threads. I have used the Christmas colors a lot, for Santas. One tree was more modern in design and each level was done with a different color of Caron threads. My absolute favorite is an anchor thread that comes in floss and sizes 8 and 5 of pearl cottons. It is pastels of many colors and look great on Spring and Easter designs. I am looking forward to using one of the darker colors in a Halloween silhouette type design. The only comment I can make in regards to sewing, do one cross (both directions) at a time. You can’t go across an area with half a cross and come back to complete the other half with this type of thread.

  97. Lovely overdyed embroidery threads I must say 🙂
    Loved the embroidery work done by you.
    Do you sell over dyed embroidery threads? If yes do you ship it in India?
    Am keen on buying.

    Thanks waiting for reply.

  98. I use them a lot to add dimension and texture to my embroidery. I can then use just one strand to get variations whereas a block colour would need to be at least 2 strands to get the same variations in colour.

  99. To be honest I have been disappointed in overdyed threads that I have used. Just my experience but there is inconsistency in dye lots, which is to be expected as a handyed product, but huge differences. I also find they knot more easily, so I’m not sure if that’s a result of the dyeing process.

    1. My threads hardly ever knot but I use a product called” Thread heaven”, which is a thread conditioner.

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