Using Variegated Thread to Take Your Cross Stitching to the Next Level

September 12, 2020

Maybe you love using variegated thread for your cross stitch projects and want to understand a little more about when to use it and the effects it can help produce. Perhaps you're completely new to using variegated floss in your stitching and fancy learning a little bit more about this super-cool stitching supply. 

WHAT IS VARIEGATED THREAD?

Variegated thread is cotton cross stitch and embroidery thread (or floss) that's been dyed in such a way to give a variating colour throughout the thread. Unlike normal cross stitch thread that's one solid colour, variegated thread changes colour, either subtly or drastically throughout the lengths.

There's a ton of options out there for you to choose from. Many variegated threads are dyed by hand which gives beautiful, natural colour variations and provides an overall vintage or antique look to your stitching. You can buy the thread in skeins just as with normal thread and the cotton comes in 6 strands that can be separated out as required. 

 

variegated cross stitch thread tips

 

Photo above @ Martha Lynn Miller

You might also hear variegated thread referred to as 'hand over-dyed thread', which means that it wasn’t dyed by a machine to give a standard solid block colour. The thread was dyed using various different colours. 

All of the main cross stitch brands have also produced variegated thread. DMC have a wonderful range called Coloris (using four different colours in a single skein) and Colour Variations (giving a more blended effect). Using these you can create delicately tonal patterns without ever having to change thread. Anchor, Weeks Dye Works, Madeira, Colour and Cotton and many others also produce beautiful variegated thread collections. 

WHEN SHOULD I USE VARIEGATED THREAD?

Honestly, any time you feel like it! They're fun threads to work with and can really add a wonderful dimension to any project. Sometimes, you might want to mix and match solid colour threads and variegated threads within one project (even if the design doesn't call for it). For example, on Seas the Day shown below, the beach towel is stitched using solid colours. But, many stitchers chose variegated thread and it turned out brilliantly (see Martha's work above!) Other good ideas can be animals, to show off their fur or feathers or when you're stitching flowers with subtle colour changes on petals.

 

 seas the day cross stitch beach

 

You can totally change the look of a cross stitch project by using variegated floss. It makes the overall presentation really quite interesting and there are a few different techniques to achieve this. Some threads have really subtle changes where the shades blend slowly. Others have vivid, distinct changes that appear every inch or so.

For a slow variation of tone and more control, you can complete one full stitch before going onto the next stitch (the English method of stitching). This takes a little longer but by doing this, each stitch you complete will ensure the colour changes gradually through your stitches. Remember to avoid the loop method of starting your stitching because you'd loose the subtle variations along the strand as they are doubled up. 

 

what is variegated thread

 

You can use the faster, Danish method of stitching (which is to place half stitches for one row and then come back across over them one at a time to complete each stitch) and this will give a completely different appearance! This would be more effective with variegated thread of one colour with different shades, for example medium blue and light blue, rather than a thread with two completely different colours because the two different colours may look too contrasting. You can see the subtle blended effect below on the heart from Positivity Rules

 how to use variegated cross stitch floss

 

Photo above @ Bec Patterson

THE PROS AND CONS OF USING VARIEGATED FLOSS IN PROJECTS 

Variegated thread can give your stitching a gorgeous, antique look and make your piece truly unique. Particularly if you're taking part in a stitch-a-long where hundreds (if not thousands) of people are stitching the same pattern. The varying colours can replicate the look of faded threads and will have everyone asking in the Facebook stitch group, 'how did you create this look?!'

It can also give you more creative expression with your project, giving you control over the appearance of shading and shadow on certain elements. This type of thread also keeps things interesting especially when tackling a larger cross stitch design because you won't truly know what it will look like! It gives the viewing eye more to examine as the colour changes in your project are admired. A great place to start if you're a little hesitant, is to stitch with variegated floss when completing a border around the piece. 

 

variegated floss

 

Photo above @ Jessica Long

There are some drawbacks however. Variegated thread can be much more expensive that single colour threads (sometimes five times as much!) which increases the cost of the overall project supplies.

And if you run out? The nature of the threads means that no two batches will be exactly the same. So if you run out of that colour in the middle of your project, there is no guarantee that you'll find a skein to match. 

What about you - are you a variegated thread user? Let us know in the comments below what you've used them for before, to inspire others! 

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