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: Variegated Embroidery Threads – Thoughts & Questions


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Variegated embroidery threads are embroidery threads that change color within the same thread.

We refer to variegated threads with other names – like over-dyed threads, space dyed threads, and so forth. But all of these threads share the characteristic of variegation. When there is variegation in a thread (that is, changes in color), it falls under the general category of a variegated thread.

From there, threads can be subcategorized based on dyeing methods. Some dyeing methods produce very subtle variegation, while others produce very vivid and bold variegation. Some rely on building colors upon colors, while others don’t. But in essence, if there’s a change in color within the thread, it’s a variegated thread.

Strangely enough, it took me years to discover that I could actually like and use variegated threads in surface embroidery. I used to have an aversion to them…

Variegated threads for hand embroidery - DMC Variations & Other Variegated Threads

…which is mighty strange for me, because, in general, I tend to love embroidery threads and to love color. You would think that I’d have an affinity for threads that pack a lot of color into one thread.

But not really. Like I said, I used to have an aversion to them.

It took me several years of playing with variegated threads off and on to finally discover that I could enjoy them – and not only enjoy them, but really like stitching with them, making them a regular part of threads that I might reach for automatically.

Then, it took a little more time to acquiesce to designing a project with variegated threads in mind. That breakthrough just happened with Octoberfest, year before last. It was the first project that I designed specifically with the plan of using variegated threads. I used House of Embroidery threads for that design.

Variegated threads for hand embroidery - DMC Variations & Other Variegated Threads

There are many sources of variegated threads on the needlework market today.

For example, I love Lorraine’s beautiful hand-dyed variegated (over-dyed) threads at Colour Complements. She dyes such a glorious array of color, on different weights and types of threads. They are gorgeous threads. You just have to glance at her home page right now to be bedazzled by her color combinations and to fall in love with her threads.

Most “commercial” (even small-business commercial) thread lines put out some kind of variegated thread. From Week’s Dye Works to Caron Collections to Valdani to House of Embroidery (which is all variegated to some degree) to Dinky Dyes, to DMC to Cosmo, Anchor, Madeira – they all have some variegated threads in their lines.

Variegated threads for hand embroidery - DMC Variations & Other Variegated Threads

Lately, I’ve been working with DMC’s Variations quite a bit. There are several reasons I’ve been using this thread line:

1. I like the Variations color line. With the exception of two or three out of the sixty-three available, the colors and transitions are subtle and pleasing.

2. The threads are consistent from batch to batch, which makes designing with them more feasible.

3. They’re readily available. If I run out of a color, I know I can pick it up next time I’m in town. If I recommend a specific DMC Variations color for a design or project, I know most people will be able to acquire the color fairly easily.

4. The colors in each skein correspond with solid colors in the DMC line, making it easy to coordinate solids and variegated threads in one project.

5. They’re colorfast and fade resistant, so I don’t have to worry about losing excess dye if I’m working on something that will need to be laundered.

Variegated threads for hand embroidery - DMC Variations & Other Variegated Threads

Still, I do have some pet peeves about variegated threads that I probably still need to overcome, but I don’t know if I ever will overcome them.

For one thing, I’m not a huge fan of the stripy affect that is often had when using variegated threads. There are several tricks to overcome too much stripiness – we’ll talk about those a little later.

For another thing, I am not hugely fond of variegated threads that change too drastically in color. So a thread that goes from bright red to bright green doesn’t really float my boat. I prefer subtle variations in color.

(Despite this point, I had a lot of fun working with Coloris, a different DMC variegated thread with very un-subtle color changes, when I embroidered this kaleidoscope. I suppose there’s a time and a place for every kind of thread!)

What About You?

What about you? Are you a variegated thread user? If so, what do you like about them or how do you use them? If not, why not? What puts you off from them? I’d love to hear your take on variegated embroidery threads!

Two of the projects I’m working on right now incorporated variegated threads. I thought I’d devote an article or two to different ways to use variegated threads effectively in surface embroidery. So if you have any questions about using variegated threads, you might leave them in the comments below, too, and I’ll try to address them.

Please feel free to join in the conversation below and share your thoughts about using variegated threads in surface embroidery!


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(98) Comments

  1. Morning everyone, gonna be a nice clear (but cold) day here, perfect for sitting in my stitching chair and ‘creating’.
    As far as variegated threads (and yarns) go, well, I love them but never know how to use them and have collected quite a few over the last couple of years. My preference is for colors that are shades of one color or tertiary colors. Not too keen on those in complementary colors, they’re just too different, besides which, I can easily put together complementary colors for myself.
    I’ve looked at some of the work you’ve done Mary using these threads and am feeling a bit braver now. I’d love to read a couple of posts educating us on how to use them. Also looking forward to reading the comments later today.
    Happy stitching everyone, cul8r, Brenda

  2. The above uses the dmc red variegated colour way. I love using variations – another project is this table cloth that uses blue and green variations – three strands of each in the needle to do the text.

  3. I love the variegated threads. I bought a package of them from DMC last year, with one small project all stuck in my head, so off I went. I made a bookmark for a friend with four different blue feathers in graduated sizes, along with her favorite scripture. (Psalm 91:4) I used the lightest blue variation for the smallest feather at the top. The biggest feather at the bottom started with the darkest blue. The ones in the middle used the middle colors varying to lighter or darker.

    The only real problem I had was waste. I knew about where and how I wanted the color to change, so I would pull off thread until I found the change I wanted. The first part, that I didn’t want right in that spot, I would cut off and set aside to use later. Well, we know what happens to “later.”

    The bookmark came out really well, and my friend absolutely loves it, so it was well worth a little unused thread.

    What I would like to try next time is something that I can just use the thread as is, and go all the way through the color variations in one skein. Maybe a large flower, and fill in all the way around? A tree in shades of green (but then won’t I be tempted to go from dark at the bottom to light at the top and wind up with the same problem?) I think that part of the problem for me is giving up control of the color changes.

    Ah, well. Maybe Mary will have some ideas about this.

  4. I started using the DMC variegated threads for a quick Christmas project, single color cross stitch lettering, and I love, love, love them! I have since done a much larger project using two different color variations and really enjoy how they blend so beautifully from one shade to the next. I am hooked! Thank you for the review, Mary.

  5. I have always loved variegated threads & yarn. The more colors – the happier I am. I should really say, the more colors, the more textures, the more sheens – the happier I am!!

  6. For me, it depends on the project. For a primitive sampler or folk art type cross stitch, I love the uneven look of overdyed threads like Sampler Threads. Because my grandmother used them often for casual embroidery (pillowcases, hankies, flour sack towels), the DMC ones always feel a bit nostalgic to me. I keep meaning to use them in a project again. I’m running low on kitchen towels, so I may need to do that some time this summer.

  7. I love “variegated” threads — so pretty! I like the DMC Variations because (among other things) the colors coordinate/match with the solid threads and they “act” like DMC thread. Caron has some absolutely gorgeous colors, but some colors can run. I’ve not done it, but some of DMC Variations threads could be used for antique or reproduction type samplers, as the threads would have a sort of a “colors have faded or dyeing wasn’t perfect” type of look. Some day, I’d like to make one of the mandalas or kaleidoscopes using variegated thread – that sounds like fun. (Like whenever I finish some WIPs and UFOs! Hahaha!)

  8. One of my pet peeves is when a designer (I’m primarily a cross stitch or needlework stitcher) uses a variegated expensive overdye when the amount of area covered us insufficient to show any variation at all.
    I love using them and want to see the beautiful transitions!

    1. I agree! I just started one of the Mirabilia Mermaids, and it calls for some very expensive variegated silk threads. While they are an absolute DREAM to stitch with, I feel like not enough of them are used to justify the expense. Most of the pattern is stitched with regular DMC floss, and I’ve been able to easily pick out less expensive substitutions. :/

  9. Thank you for discussing this subject. I have been hesitant to use variegated threads and look forward to your future articles on the subject.

  10. I’ve got a project planned where I plan on using vareigated threads to do some sashiko embroidery. I’m hoping the variations in color will bring a little added dimension to what’s basically running stitch. I’m using the DMC floss, because I’m lazy about my sourcing. That said, I think how well it will work will depend on whether the color variation is closely enough spaced – we’ll see. I love the colors though!!!

  11. I LOVE variegated floss. I especially like using it when doing freestyle flowers because it can be an easy cheat to add visual depth and dimension.

  12. I love using variegated threads and use them primarily in my sometimes nontraditional embroideries. I also use a lot of Lorrraine’s threads from Colour Complements and since she is a fellow Canadian, that is even better.
    I have recently been using them to make the most beautiful stem stitch roses. With the changes in colour, you get lovely full blown cabbage style roses in floss, Perle cotton, and silk pearl.
    Thank you for this wonderfully educational web site.

  13. I agree that subtle changes in colour are best in variegated threads. They add depth to your work. I’ve used Caran threads and Dinky dyes but my current favourites are silk threads from 21st Century yarns . I’ve converted several friends and we just drool over the shade card with 72 colours. Have a look at 21stcenturyyarns.co.uk
    Keep stitching!
    Wendy Thwaites

  14. I wanted to love variegated threads. They are so pretty in the package. I had to be very fussy when I cut the thread to make sure I started with the color I wanted. Then I found myself just using a part of the threads when I wanted a certain color there. It got to be as fussy as threading the needle with another solid color so I gave up. Maybe you can create a project that we can practice with where we can just stitch and stitch and stitch relaxingly and the color change doesn’t matter. Sashiko comes to mind.

  15. I would love to use them more but find the length of the color changes are “too long” for small designs and you don’t get the effect of the variations

    1. Hi Marilyn, The “old style” variegated threads the change over was definitely too long, but with the new treads from DMC the colour change can be 3-4 different shades in a 12 inch length.
      Regards Elza

  16. I try to cross each stitch as I go. Another trick if I want the varied color is to divide my thread in hald and turn one half end for end and cross each stitch as I go. This gives a even more varied look. I like colors that are blends of their own families. I don’t care for abrupt color changes.

  17. I love variegated thread although in embroidery I don’t use it much. I use it in sewing because it blends in so well with fabric. But embroidery, I have plenty in my stash but have only been able to use it on occasion. Since you brought it up, though, I think I’ll make something.

  18. Hi Mary, I am so glad you are discussing variegated threads. I buy them because they are so beautiful—but then I don’t use them because they aren’t simple or subtle. I am interested in this discussion. Thanks for starting it.

  19. I enjoy working with varigated threads. However, I wonder which varigated threads are colorfast. I do know that DMC varigated threads are colorfast, but are there others?

    Thank you so very much for your work . I sent you an e-mail to you a long time ago stating that every embroiderer should subscribe to your website. I believed it even more now.


  20. I like the variegated threads up to a point. I’ve found that some of the Cosmos fade to almost white in the lightest portions from color to color, and so they look the same even if they are quite different; e.g. yellow variegated looks the same as pink variegated in the lightest portions. I’ve read patterns that say “use the bluest section” of the floss, and I think…if it’s supposed to be blue, why not use blue? Time and place, as you say.

  21. Hi Mary,
    I think the drastic colour change as you have mentioned from green to red makes a pretty picture if you are embroidering say a shrub with red flowers. I will use french knots and it will make for an interesting image. Another colour which can be used is DMC 4068. It consists of browns greens and yellows which will make a beautiful tree in Fall colours, also using french knots. The secret is to spread the colours so that it does not form clumps of the same colour. I love variegated threads as it helps with shading in needle painting.

  22. Hmmm….variegated threads. I don’t use them often, mostly if I have purchased a design that calls for them but have a small collection of Caron threads because, for most of them, there is a subtle transition from dark to light or from hue to hue to play with. I have a Valdani silk project, a Christmas ornament, WIP and find it a challenge to make the design come out with the colors balanced. Being able to approximate the spot in the transitions to cut a new length of thread to work with is an interesting adventure and can be quite frustrating. I think it takes a careful and deliberate choosing of a design. It has to be one in which, where the transitions come don’t matter to the final effect in the design. The tree you are currently working on is a good example of how variegation can be employed for a good effect. But putting all the elements together is obviously a ‘hair pull’ LOL. I did a challenge Quaker design using the Caron threads in blue to lavender and solid blue as contrast. That was fun because using the elements in the variegated as foil for the ones in the solid, where the variegations occurred did not matter.

  23. I am a fan of DMC Color Variations and wish they offered this line in a Pearl Size 8 in addition to their Pearl Size 5. I find the Coloris line unfavorable as the color transitions are choppy and indeed stitch out as stripes.

  24. I used to avoid variegated threads because I do a lot of shaded work and generally need to control how colours work together. However, I started working on a design by Alison Cole that included some subtly variegated thread and was delighted by the ‘poor man’s’ shading effect provided by a single thread. The embroidered element had more depth to it than if it had been stitched with a solid-coloured thread.

    Next, I was introduced to House of Embroidery threads via a Canevas Folies kit and I was hooked on variegated threads. The threads in the kit worked beautifully and I even added more HoE threads for added depth. In a subsequent project, I used HoE threads in long and short stitch shading to delightful effect. I never ever thought I’d use variegated threads for long and short shading, but it can work with care and planning. The key for me is subtle variation in shade and/or naturalistic colours.

    Variegated threads are well worth playing with. I’ve found that sometimes I like to control them and at other times just let them do as they wish and see what happens.

  25. I love using the variegated perle cotton threads but have a difficult time finding them. There is only one store close to me that even carries perle cotton and not very much of it much less the variegated.

  26. I don’t like most variegated stranded cotton, but I love variegated perle cotton. It is used very commonly and very effectively in Ecuadorian embroidery (worked on white, lacy blouses), which has a focus on bold, filled-in areas, connected by lines of stem stitch, often in a floral pattern. I like the stripe effect — it gives the pieces character. And certain stitches (like woven spiderweb stitches) work really, really well in variegated thread. The other stitches that I have seen a lot are Romanian couching, stem stitch, buttonhole stitch, herringbone stitch, and French knots. Variegated thread works really well with the right type of design, and the right type of stitches.

    I find that much embroidery today has so much focus on control and precision that variegated thread doesn’t really fit in. While that is beautiful, it also loses a certain natural quality from the randomness of these threads. I really like this natural quality, in the right setting. (When I want a natural-looking beaded pattern, I scatter a handful of beads over my frame and stitch them where they land). Variegated thread is not so different.

  27. I am always in search of good variegated silk threads as I use them for my
    silk thread paintings. I was sad when Vikki clayton closed her thread line,
    Hand Dyed Fibers. She is a master dyer par excellence! I now use Thread
    Gatherer, though the color transitions are not quite as subtle. Sometimes
    dye lots vary, too. Cost is always a factor, also.

  28. I have tried to use them but not very successfully…I mostly embroider for doll clothing and the variations do not occur soon enough for small motifs.

  29. Mary, in the kaleidoscope that used variegated threads, how were you able to get the color changes to coordinate so well with the kaleidoscope design? Was this just good luck or are their strategies that can be used?

  30. When I stitch the placement of accents, shading, tint or tone colors, needs to fit (precisely).

    Doing lots of vegetation, there often is a swath of light peeping through the foliage and blossoms in specific areas. Adding a green-yellow, rosey cream, or deep blue in the right spot makes a difference I notice.

    I cannot trust variegated thread to be properly changing color at these proper moments.

    For a field of flowers, the background of an ocean, sky, meadow, or forest, or even the paint on an old barn, variegated threads work wonderfully. There qualities are simply not preferred in what I most often stitch.

  31. I have never been a big fan of variegated threads either UNTIL you suggested to put the threads separated tip to tail. I never thought of that! I like the result. Colors seem to blend much better. I ordered some variegated DMC thread to begin the holly tea towel pattern. The colors are really lovely! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us! Happy stitching everyone!

  32. I have used variegated threads from time to time, some called out in class projects. The teacher suggested “puddling” the colors to break up the stripe-y effect given when stitching long rows. This works well and is not cumbersome, no ending and restarting threads. You just randomly stitch small areas within an element. It works particularly well for rocks or stepping stones in a path. A hedge row finished with an un-patterned background that felt very organic as well.

    Variegated threads worked in a line of repetitive motifs, using different color sections for each unit, are turning out quite well. Each element in the line came from a darker section of the thread. It is working out quite well, even though there may be loss from unused sections of the threads.

    It is fairly simple to avoid the stripe-y effect using both of these techniques. I agree that stripes are appropriate in very few instances. But there are so many applications in which variegated threads provide an easy shading alternative.

  33. I did a project years and years ago. It was a sampler with DMC variegated floss (many of those colors are retired now, like #57). It called for a technique where you cut the floss at a point of color change (more or less). The resulting length moved from light to dark. Then you stitched from light to dark. The next time you threaded your needle opposite and stitched dark to light. And on you went, flipping back and forth, so there was no abrupt color change. I have used this technique with Variations on wool applique. Coloris might be tricky with its short areas of color.
    Love your articles, Mary! Maybe you could discuss the length of color changes and how that affects the look you are creating.

  34. I am a knitter who dabbles in embroidery. Having used variegated yarn several times on knitting projects, I have decided I do not like the effect, especially if the colour change is a drastic one.
    As far as embroidery threads go, subtle colour changes can produce a more realistic effect in the finished picture (like a lady’s dress or a horse’s face).

  35. I enjoy the variegation in shades, particularly in a background. But it can be difficult to avoid abrupt changes in shade at times and that draws the eye to one spot rather than moving around the design. Still playing and learning!

  36. My first variegated threads project was in 2002 after seeing it in Martha Stewart’s magazine. I did chain stitches all over some Aunt Martha iron-on Mexican scenes, onto nightshirts for my girlfriends (for a girls’ trip to Cabo). The chain stitching caused the colors to change frequently and since the scenes were fairly complicated the project was so much simpler without having to choose and change colors. I used DMC threads in hues to coordinate with the different shirt colors I chose. They came out great and actually got finished before the trip. Now I use them whenever I want to make something super quick and easy, like a tea towel to take as a gift.

  37. I use variegated threads in two very different ways – Those with the subtle changes I use for samplers and the variations can make them look older. I use the other type (with multiple colors) as the basis for a color scheme for a project I am working on – usually a geometric designs. If the colors go well together in the variegated thread, then using the same colors in a design will look good together.

  38. My pet peeves with variegated threads are the same as yours! I hate the striped look when the color changes are too short or too abrupt, and prefer a more subtle change for a pretty gradient effect.

  39. Love to read your insight. I’ve used Weeks overdyed threads but I really like the variegated silk threads from Thread Gather. This is a small business owner and her variety of threads are lovely. The colors are softer and variegation is very subtle blending the colors

  40. I haven’t heard of half the variegated threads you mentioned. I feel the same about them as you did but I haven’t used them often and when I did I found it didn’t look like the project sample. I now realize that the hand dyed threads are not consistent in color from one batch to the next and without choosing a skein yourself you may not have the color you need even when you have the correct color number.
    I realize that I also need to keep in mind how large the pattern/motif to be stitched is. If there is a color change needed and the design is very small then the thread really needs to change color in short intervals.
    I also prefer subtle color changes for me this works best when I need some random color changes like grass or straw. I haven’t figured out what to do with some of my threads that change so wildly from one color to the next. I have DMC variegated threads that I don’t care for and now I wonder if this is part of the Variations you mentioned or not.

  41. I realize my question is not relevant to your beautiful embroidery, but I would like to ask you anyway. I am a needlepointer and work only in basketweave. ( I know, how old-fashioned ) I like the concept of variegated threads, but I have heard that they will have a disappointing result if I use them. Do you know of any tricks for me that would allow me to use them in my basketweave needlepoint projects ? Many thanks, Cindy

  42. I stitch a lot of canvaswork and fell in love with Watercolours when it was first introduced many years ago. When kitting a new project I pick a Watercolours that has several different colors that I really like and then add solid pearl cotton or various Rainbow Gallery threads. When stitching samplers or sampler type projects I like to use some Weeks Dye Works or Gentle Art Sampler threads. From a couple of different teacher/designers I learned to control the colors by simply pulling out very long lengths and cutting what I wanted to use. I have accepted that there will be some loss when there is a section of color that I don’t like or more importantly does not fit in the area I am stitching. In silk, I especially like Glorianna. And I have used other over-dyes. I agree that the DMC is readily available but most of the colors are brighter than I wish to use.
    Also, the way you make your cross stitches can affect the color changing. If I wish to keep the color strong and pure, I will complete each cross stitch but if I wish to have a more subtle change of color I will stitch the first half of the cross stitch for a ways and then work back completing the cross stitch.

  43. Enjoyed your comments on variegated threads. One line of variegated threads is my favorite when I stitch from my stash — Artfabrik cotton threads by Laura Wasilowski. The colors are so much more brilliant than Watercolors. Laura is a quilter, using her own dyed fabrics as well as threads.

    1. Thank you Marcia! I’m glad you like my hand dyed threads. I enjoy working with them too. I like how the colors wink in and out when I embroidery on the quilts or do free form embroidery.

  44. As we speak, I am using a variegated pearl cotton on that darling bottle cap (Rapunzel) pin cushion you showed us recently. It makes easy and realistic-looking flowers (French knots) on the trailing vines covering the walls of the “castle”. It adds interest to an already interesting project.

  45. Variegated threads and I don’t get along. I think it’s because I’m a control freak and the threads change color when I don’t want them to or when I’m not expecting it. I’ve been known to work a whole area, then pull it out and rework it in some thing else because the variegated version just looked like gobble-d-gook with no rhyme or reason to the color changes. I’m looking forward to Mary’s tips to see if I can learn love them.

  46. I too am wary of variegated thread but I did use DMC Coloris for a name in cursive writing very successfully and I like the subtle variations for blossom seen from a distance e.g. a tree or bush in bloom. I have also used variegated pearle in hardanger which looks very pretty.

  47. I love variegated thread and use it all the time. I frequently will sew with two threads in my embroidery. After I cut my thread off and before I thread needle, I turn one thread the opposite direction. It keeps the look but less bright. Sometimes the color may match in places depending on how it is made.

  48. I have been using varigated threads for a long time beginning with Caron, Weeks dyeworks for example and just love the DMC ranges from perle 5 and 8 to the stranded .When I want to have fun doing a design I will use the Variations and love the way it transforms it.
    Where I live in New Zealand I can only get DMC so thank you Mary for the reccomendation

  49. I especially like to use variegated threads in lettering, borders, and landscapes. I’ve used both cotton and silk, DMC, Colour Complements, Gentle Arts Sampler Threads, Weeks Dye Works, and several other brands – mostly in the silks. I had a real ball about a year ago using some of them in a piece entitled Country Roads I did for my cousin; various fields in a wide variety of colors and stitches.

  50. I enjoy variegated threads. They make stitching interesting. Sometimes I use them as they come. Sometimes I will turn multiple strands head-to-tail to produce a more subtle effect, and sometimes I will take the long route through a design so as to”waste” some of the thread on the back so that the color changes more quickly. Sometime, if I want a very minimal effect, I’ll pair a variegated thread in the needle with a solid color. For example, pairing an orange/brown shaded thread with a strand of black gives you something just about perfect for the variegated parts of a tortoiseshell cat’s coat!

    1. Thank you, Monique! I’m planning a sampler off all ten cats I’ve had over my life, and two of them are tortoiseshell. I’ve been trying to figure out how I would do them, but you already figured it out.

      Thanks again!

  51. I am in love with “Cottage Garden Threads” . They are a cotton stranded variegated thread made here in Australia . There are a huge range of colours ( over 150) probably more. I have 70 skeins so obviously have a serious addiction. The variegations are quite dramatic at times but all work. The colour changes are well blended together. I have used them in lots of projects and have designed with them. They are pre cut into switchable lengths which can be a disadvantage but I’m used to that now.
    Everyone that has used them loves them. For the Christmas just gone I wrapped up different ones and made a lucky dip. Then everyone in my craft group had to create something with them for their holiday homework. It was up to them what they did. As long as they created one stitch it was ok. The the results were great. We had Jacobean flowers, bullion roses to simple stitcheries.
    There is even a Cottage Garden Thread club. So I’m not the only sick one.
    I too used to dislike variegated threads. My brain would go back to the 70’s when the wool was variegated and you ended up with a jumper that had blobs of colour……yuk. Now we can get variegated wools also that are gorgeous like Noro and Katia. I have just finished a rug out of a Bendigo Woollen Mill yarn called Bloom that was fantastic. I used a pattern called Virus which you can find on you tube. I’ve also used a variegated cotton yarn to make the same blanket. The modern variations just work. No changing threads just keep working. The thread adds the interest so you can use quite simple patterns.

    Happy creating

  52. Although it hardly ever matters to me what kind of thread I use (once it gets worked in, I can rarely tell the difference) I have to say I really like the Valdani and the Weeks Dye Works variegated thread best. The color changes seem to be closer together. Sometimes with DMC there are long stretches between the changes in color. If I’m embroidering a small flower there’s more variation with the Valdani or Weeks.

  53. I too love variegated threads and in Australia we have, or have had, some beautiful ones. Minnamurra threads were the first I played with, and I liked the way they came different weights, stranded and perle. Cottage Garden threads have taken over with a large range of colours and I LOVE the colour ranges, many of which are specific reflections of Australian colours. There are colour combinations in our bush that are nowhere else, whether in flora or fauna. Cottage Gardens are also perle and stranded and Kacoonda and Colour Streams have beautiful silks. I’ve had success with French knots etc where it’s easy to place colours from one thread, and things like fly and feather stitch of course. I’m still battling with satin stitch, but have tried blending a single-colour thread with a variegated to “muddy the waters” a bit, which seems to work. It’s a fascinating subject.

  54. I enjoy using variegated threads for threadpainting, as I think they give a more realistic variation in colour. The ones that I use are the more subtle variegated threads, and are especially effective for leaves and shrubbery; also for clothing (think lovely long gowns), and any blocks of colour. I haven’t used the ones with the abrupt colour changes, and I think those would be more challenging to use effectively.

  55. I love, love, love variegated threads. When stitching flowers, especially cast-on stitch roses, variegated threads make them look so natural. Each rose on a branch will be a little different, but since they’re all the same thread, they look like they belong together. I’m always searching for new sources of variegated threads. While I love DMC brand for their pearl cottons, their variegated threads often have such long spaces between their color changes that in a small flower, you just get one color. Artfabrik.com has some great combinations of color in their pearl cottons.

  56. I know what you mean, I like variegated thread but the stripy effect bothers me too, especially in cross stitch.

    Interestingly, around the time DMC released variegated threads in New Zealand, they also released several free, NZ themed cross stitch patterns, things which would make nice little pin cushions. On those they recommended stitching in a random way, not the usual row at a time.

    I have used this method ever since and it produces a mottled effect instead of the awful stripes. It can be very effective, just requires a little more concentration.

  57. Mary, like many embroiderers I have far too much thread in my stash – more than I will ever use in a lifetime. I love working with variegated thread BUT after an ‘unfortunate’ episode, always check if they are colourfast before using them in anything which may be laundered.

  58. I love variegated thread, especially DMC color variations! I always wondered why you didn’t and am glad you are starting to enjoy it. I also am not crazy about Coloris, but I’m obsessed with color variations!

  59. I used a variegated blue/green from DMC–don’t have the color name handy–for the tails of mermaids I embroidered for my sister and my daughter. The variegated thread was lovely for those projects and created exactly the effect I wanted without me having to change colors frequently.

  60. I really hate 1-color patterns, so i generally think the best place for variegated threads are patterns like the Ink Circles geometric patterns. (Ink Circles in popular in the cross-stitch world for these patterns.) They’re charted for 1 color, but using variagated threads makes for color changes. Different intensities / color combinations in the variation along the thread can make for really unique final product presentations.

    I feel a little weird being the one to say this, but the key to using color variation threads is, I think, to do work where you can let the color flow without worrying too much about which color is where. Trying to control where each color ends up is counter to the design of the threads, which is to allow for smooth transition changes as you stitch. If you’re trying to control where the color lands, then variagated thread was probably the wrong choice for the project.

    Best Regards,
    Monika in Mobile

  61. Wonderful post! I love the look of variegated threads but I don’t often know how to use them, except for monochrome designs. I like that there is an element of mystery – you never really know how it will stitch up – but I dislike having to complete every single stitch separately. Also, with hand-dyed variegated threads, there is the colour consistency and bleeding issues you mentioned. I bought three skeins of Coloris a few months ago and I’m looking forward to experimenting with the short, high-contrast colour changes, since the Colour Variations aren’t very good at showing all the mix in small spaces 🙂 Very much looking forward to your tips about avoiding stripiness!

  62. I’m with you on liking/using variegated threads. I think when the color shifts are subtle and slight they can make a piece more lively. If the shifts are dramatic I just can’t figure out where to use them.

  63. I like the DMC collections very much. These threads are made near my home.
    The Variations collection is beautiful but I prefer the new Coloris collection, from DMC too. The colors are wonderful too, but they change more often on the thread, that is beautiful in a stitchery.
    Thank you for your work and for sharing it. I am always very happy to read your posts from France.

  64. I agree that the subtle changing variegated thread is okay but I find it frustrating when it changes colour when I’m not ready!

  65. I have similar reservations about using variegated thread but for some things, they seem to work well (eg sashiko, leaves, especially grasses, sand, running stitch, bookmarks or ground etc. I did find a way to minimize wastage by choosing either lightest or darkest area where you cut mid-tone, then you can continue your next thread to continue as long as you choose your change-over spot at similar tone. I also found it useful for blending when transitioning from one area of colour to another eg in shrubs( especially to avoid flat cross-stitch areas) or needle-painting. I just do prefer to control where colours are though.

  66. I love variegated threads!
    I love the color changes.
    Makes it more fun to stitch with, watching the color change with every stitch.

  67. Hi Mary,
    I too, have had reservations about using variegated threads in the past and found my inability to control the placement of color to be frustrating. I’ve had more success with subtle graduations of the same color, when I could choose which part of the color density to begin with and then get a shading effect as I work through the shape to be filled, on leaves for example. I’ve always avoided the skeins with a number of colors in one, but I can see from your kaleidoscope, that using these threads in one focal area of a design, to pull together all the colors used in the rest of the design is very effective. Maybe I’ll take the plunge and select some multi colored skeins, the next time I find myself in a needlework shop.

  68. Like you also mentioned it has taken me a while to get used to variegated thread and how best to use it. I have recently used a variegated green thread 30wt sewing thread to embroider a design on a quilt which doubled as hand quilting. Unfortunately can’t add a photo here

  69. I am now using varigated Valdani Pearle on wool applique because that was suggested. I am not really liking the change of shade because I don’t think each of the hues in the ball go with the color of the wool. I like to pick out a rather matching thread for edge stitching and maybe a different color for the veins of a leaf so the embroidery stands out.

  70. Have you reviewed Sue Spargo’s thread ?
    The variation length is different so you get a whole different look.
    Many of the colors are also very appealing
    Joan from AK

  71. I love the variegated threads in the skeins and balls. But when it comes to actually using them, I’m stymied. I guess it’s the unpredictability of the results that bother me. There are some, Weeks Dye Works or Caron maybe???, that have some lovely subtle color changes that I have used happily.

  72. I use variegated threads quite a bit, but they do take a bit of manipulation. I took a class from Betty Chin Louis years ago on how to control color flow with these threads and have enjoyed them ever since. They can add amazing subtlety to a piece or blaring excitement.

  73. Initially, I was put off by the stripey effect of variegated threads. Then I saw some used in a more blended fashion and I was intrigued enough to try it on a project. I used a pink/purple blend to do some French knot lupines and they look marvelous! I’m going to be getting a brown/sand blend for a tree for a new project. I like the mottled effect they produce–very nice for nature pieces.

  74. I think most “beyond absolute beginner” stitchers would enjoy and have no problems with variegated threads that have subtle changes.

    To use strongly variegated thread we need to stitch like children. Watch a class of 10yr olds stitching. They have no angst about what colour to use next, or even what motif. Need a pink, grab the most convenient pink in the thread box, variegated thread has changed to blue: stop stitching a stem and put in a flower, or an insect, or a blue leaf. who says my stitched leaf cannot be blue.

    Variegated threads encourage us to stop worrying about total control and to just have fun.

  75. I did a project for the SF School of Needlework and Design. Little cards that a beginning embroiderer could make. I chose the Coloris 4502. Pink and Green. We cherry picked the colors so that our blackwork flowers were in the pinks, and used the greens for everything else.

    After that experience, I bought a dozen Sulky 12 count perle cotton in their group called blendables. I love the 50 yard spools, and I haven’t been getting that annoying striping. I’m using it for a sampler of thread darning. And it’s Darned Cute! I love that I don’t have to peel off threads and join them together. The spools and nice and neat, never get tangled, and pack beautifully. I was able to put my project in a slim plastic bag and hit the road. There are so many colors to choose from.

    They are also very economic when you need several shades of a color.

  76. I, too, prefer the more subtle variations, especially if they are within the same color. They are easier to use and they make things more “twinkly”. They add a little interest that the eye can’t quite figure out! I became a fan when “Sampler Threads” came out so many years ago. To tamp down their effects, I often will combine one “variegated” with one solid thread — when stitching with 2 threads. Years ago there was a well-done book (self-published, I believe) by Mary Shipp about “How to Stitch with Overdyed Threads.” She had a number of exercises one could try to learn the ins-and-outs.

  77. I love working with variegated thread. I have used it on several tea towel designs. I think it is pretty on ladies dresses or hats. I have used in on fancy cup and saucer designs. Every where I want something different. Flowers is another good design for this king of floss

  78. I use a lot of variegated thread. I usually use it to color paint. But, ultimately it depends on the piece. Small amounts of stitches I don’t worry too much about, but larger areas, I tend to paint with the thread, I concentrate larger areas of similar color and blend out to another area of like color. I don’t like striping of variegated thread. Just my personal preference.

  79. I love working with variegated threads – working out how and where to use them is part of the fun. But sometimes I want to be able to use the constituent plain colours in the piece as well. Would love to be able to access this information (in chart form?) for Anchor and DMC in particular, as they are the ones I have in my stash and are most readily available where I live.

  80. I have embroidered various projects combining different brands of Variegated and variations embroidery floss. I like very much to use them with split stitch or chain stitch to fill shapes and give them an interesting effect.
    Mary, I sent you an email with a picture about my experience. I hope you like it.

  81. I don’t see myself using variegated threads much, as I’m usually embellishing on clothing items and want a more consistent pattern. What I will sometimes do is stitch with one strand of one colour and one of a couple others, or two and two, or two and one and one.

  82. I am a beginner embroiderer…if that’s word!! I love doing kits that teach me something new, that challenge me to learn new stitches (this can be frustrating as well). Some of the kits I have recently completed used variegated thread and I fell in love with them. The variation was subtle and gave the piece (garden print) a nice realistic look that was pleasing. Now I’m hooked on variated threads. I’m still not a huge fan of sharply variegated threads, but I’m sure there’s a place for them. Thank you

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