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» » Tips for stitching with multicolor and overdyed threads
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Tips for stitching with multicolor and overdyed threads

Tricks and tips for stitching with multicolor and overdyed threads
Creative Poppy designers share their techniques for cross stitching with multicolor threads


When cross stitching with multicolor thread, unlike solid colors, the way you complete your stitches and the way you navigate in the chart can result in remarkably different effects. This article explores various options depending on:

1. The way you complete your cross stitches:

- Maximizing color change (one stitch at a time)

- Blending colors (a row and back)

2. The way you navigate your chart

- Horizontal, Vertical or diagonal rows

- Random patchy effects

- Controlling color in zones 




Anticipate how the color will turn out in a length of thread



DMC Color VariationsBefore you start stitching, it's worth having a closer look though at how the color develops in the first yard or so of your skein. How many colors are there in the thread? Do they fade slowly into each other or rapidly? How long is each color sequence? There is a huge variation from one brand to another and it's important to understand the characteristics of each thread.


Take the example of DMC Color Variation floss. It changes color every 2 inches (5cm). That's about 5 stitches if you are stitching on 14ct Aida or 28ct linen. It then blends into a slightly different color, and again on a regular basis. 

Other overdyed threads have longer sequences, sometimes much longer and more irregular if they are hand dyed. The longer the sequence (same color before a change), and the more contrast between colors,  the more "stripe" effects you will get when stitching.

Tip: A rule of thumb is that for every inch of floss you will complete about 3 stitches. By observing a length of thread you can guess what color your next stitches will look like.


Tip: if stitching a very large area, with a hand-dyed thread, make sure you have enough thread from the same skein to complete the area. If two skeins are needed, make sure they come from the same batch and have similar characteristics.

DMC Color Variations

Barbara Ana Hoppy Easter (detail)Complete one cross stitch at a time


This technique most closely reproduces the colors you see in the skein, only in a shorter sequence. Indeed it is the preferred choice of many stitchers when using overdyed or multicolor threads. 


When you complete one cross stitch at a time, both half crosses will be the exact same color and the thread won't change color until you get a few cross stitches further.


This technique was used by Barbara Ana for the little chicks in Hoppy Easter using Gentle Arts Sampler threads. The threads have a slow and gentle variation in tone. Completing a stitch at a time maximises the effect of the color changes of the thread. The Color goes gradually from light to dark.


The drawback of completing a cross stitch at a time is that it emphasizes horizontal lines, especially in threads with a long sequence and noticeable color change, as well as if you are stitching long rows. If you want to avoid this, chek out your further options.

Barbara Ana -  Hoppy Easter


Perrette Samouiloff - Child and Fox ABCStitch a row of half stitches and complete your cross stitches on the way back

By contrast, if you want to soften the variations observed in your thread, instead of completing a cross stitch at a time, simply stitch back and forth in rows like you would for cross stitch in general.


When applied to multicolor threads, it results in a more blended effect with subtle color changes. This is how the little fox of Child and Fox ABC was stitched by Perrette Samouiloff.


Indeed at first glance its looks like a solid color. In fact it's full of rich hues making the brown more vibrant.

Designer Perrette Samouiloff likes this method because, she says:

"I like to blend the different hues of the thread together. The result is a very rich yet subtle color that does not appear striped yet is so much richer than a solid color"


Vary the direction in which you stitch, horizontally, vertically or in a diagonal way.


Barbara Ana - Boo to ewe!Barbara Ana - Boo to ewe!

With solid colors, one normally completes horizontal rows. With overdyed and muticolor threads, give it a thought first. What are you stitching? Would a vertical effect make sense? Or following an outline?



Designer Barbara Ana loves using multicolor threads. Almost all her patterns include some parts stitched with them. While she usually completes a stitch at a time and stitches one row after another, she also happens to change the direction of her stitching.


Notice how this tree trunk and those pumpkins are stitched vertically, contrasting with other parts of the design. Look even closer now at the tree, and see how the mouth of the tree was cleverly outlined in a lighter shade of the same thread.

Barbara Ana - Boo to ewe! (detail)



PATCHY EFFECTSTam's Creations Hummingbird pattern - Flowers stitched in a random

Randomly filling an area



If you want to avoid the "divisive line" effects, you can randomly fill the area, still completing a cross stitch at a time.


To create a more natural variation of color in the petals of the flowers in her Hummingbird design, Tam, the designer of Tam's Creations, includes the following tip with the chart:

" When stitching the flowers, try to avoid stitching in straight lines, but rather in a diagonal or patchy approach".



This makes a lot of sense when you want to keep a natural effect.



Tam's Creations - Hummingpatches  



Observe color changes and position your stitches

Many stitchers, understandably, like to keep complete control over the colors they stitch. This is the most sophisticated of all your options and requires observing closely how often and how much variation there is in your thread. And then to position your stitches in specific areas depending on the part of the thread being used. Complete one cross stitch at a time. You can work one small area that you want in the same color, then move outwards as the color changes.


Tom & Lily - Autumn fruitThis also works particularly well with threads that have a long sequence between color changes, in particular variegated threads such as those of the DMC range (not to be confused with DMC Color Variations). You can even cut out in advance several lengths in different shades.

When stitching her pumpkin pattern, Melanie, designer of Tom & Lily, kept her thread "under control", making sure the lighter parts were in the center of the pumkin, therefore reinforcing the dimensional effect.





Tom & lily - Autumn fruit (detail) and corresponding DMC thread sample

We hope you enjoyed this article and found some inspiration. Remember, there is no right or wrong way of using these fun threads. Follow your instinct, just let your needle guide you. Your stitched piece will be unique. Enjoy!


We'd love to hear your feedback and/or suggestions on this article. Please don't hesitate to write!




Now have fun stitching with the threads:
>> Autumn cross stitch patterns with overdyed and multicolor threads
>> Love-themed cross-stitch patterns with overdyed multicolor threads

Thread manufacturers' Color Cards:

>> DMC Color Variations (with all 60 colors, including 20 new ones)

>> Anchor Stranded cotton multicolor

>> The Gentle Art - Sampler Threads and Simply Shaker 

>> The Caron Collection - Hand-dyed variegated

>> Back to What's new

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