Are DMC Thread Dye Lots Really An Issue?

You’ve heard the horror stories, everyone has, and you wish upon wish that it just won’t happen to you as you grab a handful of threads from the store. You hope and pray they there aren’t any of those dreaded dye lot issues…
But is that actually an issue?
Today, we look into the rumors of dye lot issues that effect threads and find out once and for all if it’s true or not.
To start, we should say that we spoke with both store owners, thread manufacturers, and cross stitchers who have found threads afflicted with the issue. However, we even went out of our way to try to find these threads, and actually, once you know why it happens, you can find them everywhere!

Are the stories true?

Kind of. You see, the stories of different colored threads despite being the same color, does exist. But that doesn’t mean that dye lots are the issue.
The common thought behind the issue is a fair one; its the same thread, same color code, it should be the same color. However, people do find threads that don’t match up. But in all the examples I could find after I scoured the internet, every single one had a caveat. In most cases, they were old threads. Some were decades old, like the one in the image below that has a paper wrapper, some were only a year or so.

DMC Thread Color 318 Old and New (Source: Facebook)
DMC Thread Color 318 Old and New (Source: Facebook)

In addition to the age thing, there were also some with dubious origins. And by that, we mean they were fake threads. The wrappings didn’t match, they were part of an odd set, or they were clearly suspect.
But in every single case, there was something that was said before they mentioned dye lots. Having spoken to the store owners and manufacturers, they hardly ever see issues in the threads themselves. But they do see it happening…

So why does it happen?

Well, in short, age is the issue, combined with storage. We’ve mentioned how to store finished cross stitch before, and we even mentioned one of the major issues is light damage. However, most people don’t think about the fact that light damage happens to the threads all the time, and not just after you’ve finished stitching something.
Light, especially sunlight, bleaches the colors in threads and changes the colors over time. In most cases, this tends to make it lighter, but in some cases, the lighter colors go first, making threads look darker. In really old threads, it’s somewhat expected, but even newer threads, ones that are maybe only a year old, can still have the issue. This is due to big stores having them on display under bright lights all day (and in some cases nights too).
Of course, there are also fakes out there. With eBay and Alibaba becoming larger in the cross stitch world, you do find fakes. These are poor quality threads though, so there’s no guarantee on their quality.

DMC 3861 dye lot differences (source: Cindi Csraze)
DMC thread 3861 color differences (source: Cindi Csraze)

What can you do about it?

So now you know that dye lots aren’t the issue, but color changes do happen, how do you avoid picking up an incorrect color?

Buy them from a reputable source

First off, buy them from a source you know what you’re getting is actually a branded thread. If you choose to buy them from eBay, or Alibaba, the chances are they aren’t genuine. Those sweet deals like to seem like a great way to get a complete set of DMC threads, but they’re too good to be true.
However, just because you can see the threads in store, doesn’t mean they are the best bet either:

Don’t buy them from the big brick and mortar stores

Now, we don’t want to have a go at all stores here, but larger ‘big box’ stores that don’t specialize in crafts are the real issue. They don’t sell as many threads, meaning the threads that are out, and probably been there a long time. These threads are bombarded all day, and usually all night, with bright bulbs, sapping the color out of the threads. Don’t bother going to those stores.
Other stores that sell just cross stitch stuff, or just craft stuff, tend to have a similar issue, but they do have a better turn over, which means you’re more likely to get a better color. Also, avoid any store that puts the thread near a window.

Store them well

So now you have the threads, is there anything you can do to avoid the color seeping out? Well, yes. Store them well, or more specifically, out of direct light (be that sunlight or indoor lighting). So long as you keep your threads in a drawer, box or cabinet, this should be fine, however, be aware that if you keep threads out on display you need to be careful of light sources.

Know they don’t last forever

But even if you do store them well, just be aware that they might not last forever. The older the threads get, the more chance there is for color to seep out of them. Even if you store them well, it’s worth checking some colors (especially greys) against a color card or a newer thread to check before you use them on a big project.

Buy cheaper threads

Yeh, that doesn’t seem like an obvious thing, does it? But one brand of cheap threads, CXC, make threads with polyester in them. Similar to a t-shirt, these tend to keep their color much longer, meaning they’re more likely to keep.
So there you have it, our investigation, and solutions to not getting the dreaded incorrect color thread.
TL;DR No, dye lots really aren’t an issue, but lights from stores and old threads do change color over time.

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Jeanne

    I was suspecting that DMC 612 was affected by the EU-regulation changes, since the ca.1991 skein I had been using is significantly darker than the one I bought this year when I knew I was going to run short. Apparently the tan shades weren’t affected by the regulation changes, since you’ve said elsewhere that it was some grey shades and some reds, so I guess I’ll just have to put it down to the age of the thread, and figure something out! Thanks for your posts — I find them very helpful!

    Knitters, by the way, have long known about the “blending” of dye lots, and often use the trick of knitting one row with the old skein and one row with the new for a bit, in order to “blend” the colors! I too am impressed with how consistent DMC threads are.

    (And I hope that those who are lucky enough to acquire stashes of antique threads appreciate and use them as much as possible — just with the caveat that things might not always go as planned!)

  2. Elaine Cochrane

    I’m always amazed at how consistent the colours remain over the years. That said, I have a large stash of vintage threads from a variety of sources and have found that some colours have been changed; when this happens it is obviously a change in the dyes rather than light exposure because there is no variation within each skein. Your earlier post about replacing toxic dyes and processes may account for these. The main problem with the oldest threads is that they can become fragile and break or fluff up in use. But then, some of the thread I’m using must be close to 100 years old.

  3. Melissa

    Dye lots are an issue. The solution is to stitch with a strand of each skein, blending the two shades together. You get the amount of skeins you need and a consistent color throughout your piece.

    1. LordLibidan

      This is a brilliant bit of advice. It’s literally blending, but with the same color. Genious!

      Also, why didn’t I think of that…? 😛

  4. Arpita

    This article is very helpful, thank you! It reminds me a bit of people posting their “hauls” on social media, like “So and so’s relative bequeathed this historic stash of floss to me, wow” but then I wonder how useful those threads will be if they have been stored in bright light for years.