Friday, November 16, 2012

The Hows and Whys of Variegated Threads

Many people like to use variegated threads, those threads with color changes along the stitching length, for a variety of reasons - they like the color combinations, they provide interest in the stitching, they relieve the stitcher of having to change thread colors for shading, among others.

Knowing when and how to use variegated threads is important, and here’s why:  as a stitcher, you need to make a determination whether the change in color helps or hinders your stitched piece.  Too often this point is not even considered by the stitcher.

So in this post and in the next couple, let’s look at different ways that trouble with variegated threads crops up in stitching.

Many counted thread needlepoint pieces rely on variegated threads to add interest to the stitching.  The important thing to realize about counted thread pieces is that they rely heavily on symmetry.  Therefore, color changes in the variegated threads should not be random - they need to be planned.  Knowing this before you start stitching will allow you to select lengths of thread that will provide the color changes in your piece to make it more symmetrical.

Look at the piece below.  Notice that the stitches around each of the three sides that are stitched match.  This is what I mean by symmetry.  I think that this piece would look better if the darkest part of the variegated thread was in the middle of each side.  The crescents were stitched so that the same color changes would take place in each of them.  This is a symmetrical piece, the color changes in the variegated thread should enhance that symmetry.

Symmetrical Piece with Variegated Threads

One other point with respect to the piece above, I did not cut the skein of Watercolours in half.  Many times it is easier to find color runs with a skein of Watercolours if you cut one thread at the knot and then unwind the skein.  The length of the repeat in the Watercolours above is longer than the length of a skein.  So cutting the skein in half does not always make color sense for this piece.

The sample below shows Watercolours, color Aurora.  The colors in Aurora range from green to blue to violet to pink to dirty yellow.  This stitch sample shows how the change of color from pink to blue takes place - it has to pass through violet to get from the one color to another.  This makes sense because when you combine pink and blue it creates violet, and this is how that violet is created, by the pink dye mixing with the blue dye.  If you have trouble with what color is created when two different colors are mixed together, get yourself a color wheel.

Normal Color Flow with Variegated Thread

OK, where does the problem come in?

I saw this type of stitching with color change in an exhibited piece: 

Changing Thread in the Middle of a Stitch

The color changed right in the middle of a stitch.  Let me go so far as to say, never do this.  Never change thread color in the middle of a stitch, like the Scotch Stitch in this sample.  Let me go so far as to say never change any thread in the middle of a stitch - tension will be your biggest problem if the threads are all one color.  If you do not have enough thread to finish the stitch, rip the threads out for that stitch and end your thread.  Begin with a new thread.  

But don’t do this:

Too Drastic of a Color Change

This sample shows a color change, but in the stitch next to it.  If you have a line of stitching, try not to change the thread while you are stitching in a line, whether vertical or horizontal.  This is not always possible, so find a new piece of thread that will show a gradual color change away from the color of your last stitch.  And remember that the color you are searching for may not be at the END of the thread, you may need to start stitching a little way into the length of thread.  As you saw in the first example, the color changed to violet before turning to blue.  That is what you need to see in the stitching.  The difference is exaggerated, and visually jarring, when the stitches are right next to each other.

Therefore, look at your variegated thread.  Notice how the colors change.  Don’t pick up the thread randomly to stitch with, especially if you have to change colors in a line of stitches.  Find the color of your last stitch in a piece of thread, then begin stitching at that point to make a gradual change of color.