Why You Should Try Hand-Dyed Threads

It feels like every time someone posts a photo on social media at the moment, somewhere in the background is a nice hank of hand-dyed, variegated or over-dyed threads. But the number of photos with people actually using them is super rare. In fact, despite you seeing them at stores, there’s a good chance you’ve never picked any up.
Today, I want to convince you to give them a try.

Chameleon Hand Dyed Threads (Source: africanfabric.co.uk)
Chameleon Hand Dyed Threads (Source: africanfabric.co.uk)

Why Should You Use Them?

So, what makes these threads interesting? Well, it’s all about visual interest.
There are two main reasons why you might choose to use specialty stitches; to create something unique, or to highlight details.

Something Unique

The first of these is making something unique. By applying a specialty thread on something like a background (as in the picture below), you create not only something with visual interest but something that no one else can replicate. It’s something new, different, and doesn’t take away from the rest of the stitch.

Harry Potter Cross Stitch with Variegated Thread by cityofevil7 (Source: reddit.com)
Harry Potter Cross Stitch with Variegated Thread by cityofevil7 (Source: reddit.com)


Secondly, there are the details. This one, for me, is the most interesting. By using something like a variated thread you can create complex-looking sections of your work, without having to confetti stitch.

Various hand-dyed, over-dyed and variegated thread cross stitches (Source: various)
Various hand-dyed, over-dyed and variegated thread cross stitches (Source: various)

In the examples above you have roses with natural-looking color variation, a truly fantastic wood effect, and a brick wall and bushes that would take a crazy level of time to replicate with single color threads.
Whilst these seem like simple ideas at first, by adding them to your work you’ll see how they add an extra touch of something special, especially if used sparingly.

Types Of Threads

Whilst we have been talking about these threads, it’s worth pointing out that there are more than a few thread types here.
Hand-dyed Single Color – Of all the threads, this is the most boring, but also hardest to find. In short, they’re single color threads, that happen to be hand-dyed. Whilst there are some really nice colors coming out of this space, the difference between using something like DMC or CXC and hand-dyed single color threads is barely noticeable (if at all).
Over-dyed – The second type of threads are over-dyed. Effectively these are also single-color threads, but the dye has been applied haphazardly (on purpose) meaning there are more intense spots and less intense spots. This gives you a patchwork like effect.
Variegated – The official ‘variegated’ threads from manufacturers like DMC are like over-dyed, but with two key differences. Firstly, the changes between intensities are planned out in regular lengths, giving it a far less natural transition. Secondly, they are MUCH more intense, going from super dark to super light all within one thread.

DMC Thread 67 (Source: cloudcraft.co.uk)
DMC Thread 67 (Source: cloudcraft.co.uk)

Hand-dyed Variations – These threads are a bit more complicated, instead of going through intense and less intense patches of the same color, they go through the same, but with multiple colors. This gives a really interesting, and visually complicated look.
Variations Threads – The official variation threads from brands like DMC are once again, the same style as the hand-dyed, but have two drawbacks. The first is once again, its very regimented transitions, looking rather obvious if stitched over larger areas. Secondly, they can change between some seriously powerful colors at opposite ends of the color spectrum. These threads tend to be less useful thanks to their extreme changes of color.
DMC Thread 4200 (Source: studio-koekoek.com)
DMC Thread 4200 (Source: studio-koekoek.com)

How To Stitch With them

So now we want to stitch with them, and we know the differences, can we start to stitch? Well, not yet.
You see, unlike normal threads, if you’re using any of these threads, you need to be aware of how you stitch.
Below is an image of different stitching techniques and how they change the look of stitching. From left (up) to the right (bottom); Danish method, English method, block method.

Variegated Thread using different stitching styles (Source: crossstitchreview.com)
Variegated Thread using different stitching styles (Source: crossstitchreview.com)

Depending on the look you’re going for, and the thread type you choose, you may need to adjust your stitching technique.
But that’s up to you! We suggest you have a trial and see what interesting ideas you can come up with!

A Word Of Warning

Finally, it is worth pointing out that even though hand-dyed threads are fantastic to use, there are a few downsides too.
Washing/Colorfast – The first issue is a two-parter; both washing and colorfastness. Washing your cross stitch is an important step for most stitchers (even if you don’t have to wash it), but all bets are off with hand-dyed threads.
The processes behind colorfast dyes might not be followed, or even possible, depending on the brand, color, or even style base thread, meaning that washing these threads often washes colors. We would suggest that you really think about the threads before any washing happens, and whilst you could wash your thread before you start, some of the intensity will come out. So it’s a decision you really need to think about.
Finally, a lot, but not all, of these threads have their own washing instructions, so make sure you follow them to the letter for best results!
Dye Lots – Whilst DMC thread dye lot issues may or may not be real, its a serious problem with hand-dyed threads. These things not only have a less stringent dying process, so vary in intensity, but variation threads and variegated threads blend multiple colors from different points, meaning it almost guaranteed that no two threads will be the same.
This can work to your advantage, meaning you always produce something truly unique, but there is also no chance you can get the same look twice.
Price – Yeh, hand-dyed threads cost more. In reality, you’re paying for the base price of the thread, and then the hand-dying process on top of that, meaning that most of these threads can cost 3 or 4 times as much as their mass-manufactured counterparts.
Have you tried using hand-dyed threads, or even DMC’s variegated? We’d love your feedback and to hear if you’ll be using them again!
Happy stitching,
Lord Libidan

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. April

    I’m using some variegated (DMC) to be “poison” on a Snow White/Apple2-logo mashup, and what I found worked best for me was to cut my section of floss so each end was different, say redder on one end, oranger on the other… then when I separate the strands to put two together for stitching, I align them so I have a red-end and orange-end on each side, so the randomization gives a nice blend, and I can continue stitching in my danish method, and have a nice “shimmer.”

    1. LordLibidan

      That is BRILLIANT advice!
      One of my biggest gripes about variegated threads is you can sometimes end one color and then start with a totally different one, creating a clear change in color. But if you cut your threads to always end on the same colors, that won’t happen.
      Thanks for teaching me something new 😀

  2. Judy L

    This was a great article. So many people in the various Cross Stitch Groups on Facebook, etc. ask how to use variegated floss. I have found my own technique for stitching with variegated threads. I stitch diagonally. It eliminates the cross backs and makes an interesting pattern.