How to use variegated threads for embroidery

This is my collection of skeins of variegated thread of different kinds. They’re beautiful, aren’t they? I buy them wherever I can. I’m particularly drawn to teal-greens and purpley-pinks, as you can see. I haven’t yet been able to track down a really good variegated red, but I live in hope! What you might also be able to deduce from the photo is…..they are all still complete skeins. None of them are started yet. That’s because I have a problem. I can’t think what to use them for. Whenever I start a new project, I pull out the drawer where I keep all these lovely bundles of colour, and I hold them in my hand, and I consider using them – and then I put them back in the drawer, and settle on a non-variegated thread for whichever project I’m starting. The fact is, variegated threads can be difficult to use, simply because they are unpredictable. The subtle colour changes aren’t going to repeat evenly across your piece of stitching, so you can’t be sure what effect that will have. If you use them on a border, for instance, will the changes in the gradations of colour become noticeable in odd places, such as near the corner on one side, but half way along on another side?

However, I’ve come up with a solution.

This year, I have bought a selection of small satin-covered boxes, with padded lids that take embroidery. I’ve decided to do a series of embroidered calligraphy designs, featuring spiritual words in Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic, such as ‘Love and Peace’ and ‘Praise be to God’. These designs are perfect for using variegated stranded cotton and silk – and I’ve got lots to choose from! The calligraphic shapes of the letters really lend themselves to being filled in with stem stitch, and the gradual changes in the shades from one colour to another work wonderfully well.

So far, I’ve completed one box – it’s a ‘Love and Peace’ design (in Arabic, it says ‘Houb Salaam’), in the shape of a dove. I used two strands in the needle of a Stef Francis variegated stranded cotton in fuchsia-mauve (shade 37 ) on white silk. The box itself is covered in navy satin, and measures three and a half inches across. It took about four hours to stitch.

Love and Peace ('Houb salaam') embroidered box

The trickiest part was transferring the design onto the fabric, but I used my favourite method, which is a bit time-consuming, but it means there is no chance of getting carbon or chalk on the fabric: I traced the design onto dressmakers’ pattern tissue, then pinned the tracing onto the fabric. Then, with sewing cotton in a shade similar to the variegated thread shade, I tacked through the tracing’s main lines, leaving short stitches on the front and longer ones on the back. This uneven stitching helps with the next stage – ripping off the tissue, to leave the design lines on the fabric, ready to stitch over. The sewing cotton doesn’t need to be removed – I just stitch over it with the stem stitch lines.

Love and Peace ('Houb salaam') embroidered box showing stem stitch and French knot detail

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One thought on “How to use variegated threads for embroidery

  1. Mosaic Magpie

    This was the perfect use for the thread. I can remember the old varigated embroidery thread, I thought it was so tacky and would not buy or even think of using it. Now I do crazy quilting and those varigated threads make seam treatments come to life. Of course these new varigated threads are not like the ones from the past. I tend to purchase much the same colors you are drawn to.

    Reply

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