Overdyed Thread Techniques

Funk & Weber Overdyed Thread tutorial, floss from The Gentle Art

Each of the samples below was stitched with 3 strands of Purple Iris from The Gentle Art. Notice the different effects achieved by different stitching techniques.

Because of the subtle color changes in the fibers, the effects are more noticeable when used in larger blocks of color. Also, colors vary from skein to skein, so it’s virtually impossible to get the same exact pattern twice.

  • Funk & Weber Overdyed Thread tutorial, stripes


    Stripes are achieved by stitching straight lines. Whether you complete both legs of the cross before moving to the next stitch, or stitch one leg on the outward journey and the second leg on the return, you will wind up with stripes.

    This sample was stitched with the latter method: I stitched all the / legs of one row, then stitched the \ legs on the return. Note: If the rows are long, when stitching one leg at a time you might wind up with light purple on the bottom and dark blue on top. If you want to avoid 2-color stitches, stitch both legs together before moving to the next stitch.

    Stripes might be used to suggest woodgrain, a plowed field, sky, water. Remember, they can be vertical, or diagonal, too.

  • Funk & Weber Overdyed Thread tutorial, speckled


    Same fiber, totally different effect. What fun! To achieve speckles, place stitches randomly in the area to be filled. Leave several spaces between stitches of similar colors for mottled effect. Yes, jumping around in this way makes for a mess on the back. (See below.)

    Speckles might be used for some animal furs and for multi-colored objects in the distance, like a hillside.

  • Funk & Weber Overdyed Thread tutorial, speckled back side

    ACK! The speckled back.
    Such is life. What matters is how it looks on the front. The biggest difficulty with this technique is maintaining an even tension on all the stitches.

  • Funk & Weber Overdyed Thread tutorial, tweed


    The overall effect here is a solid, tweed color. Each of the 3 strands used to stitch this sample is pulled from a different section of the 6-strand fiber, so each of the strands is differently shaded. If using 2 strands, you might simply reverse one (head to foot) or use one long strand, doubled (sometimes called the “loop method” of stitching).

    Tweeds create very subtle shading. Different colors can be combined to create entirely new colors.

  • Funk & Weber Overdyed Thread tutorial, blob


    Great name, eh? “Blobs.” I’m not sure what else to call it! The approach here is similar to speckling. Instead of spacing the individual stitches far apart, however, they are bunched into blobs, so there are larger patches of color. Somewhat random placement of stitches keeps the blobs from appearing too regular or linear, but surely there are occasions for both.

    Blobs might work well for clouds, or worn fabric. I developed this technique for the Funk & Weber Designs Fall, In Pieces pattern.

    So many effects from a single skein of fiber! Explore the possibilities, and add depth and interest to any piece of needlework by substituting hand-dyed, overdyed, or variegated fibers.

But Wait—There’s More!

There’s always more, isn’t there?

Patterns are another interesting way to employ overdyed threads. Marilyn mentions spirals being one of her favorite patterns. Start with a single stitch and then circle around and around it. I’m envisioning a wave pattern and zigzags. I’ll have to do some experimenting and post more pics!

What other ways have you found to use overdyed threads in your embroidery?

The Story Behind the Stitchery: Fall, in Pieces

In talking about this embroidery recently, I realized that multiple stories are wrapped up in this piece. It’s time to unwrap them so I can see them all.


Fall, in Pieces cross stitch pattern, by Funk & Weber Designs

Fall, in Pieces cross stitch pattern.


The Season and Color

First, there is the colorful autumn-leaf motif. Fall is Mike’s favorite time of year. He likes the temperature, the colors, and the end of a the busy summer season. It’s time to play outside.

I, too, am a fan of the colors. Growing up on the east coast, I loved the brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows of maples, oaks, tulip poplars, and other deciduous trees. Here in Alaska, we don’t have that variety of trees: the birches, aspens, cottonwoods, and willows all turn yellow; there are no autumn-red trees and only an occasional autumn-orange one, usually an aspen on its way to yellow.


Yellow aspen leaves, Funk & Weber Designs

Autumn aspens are brilliant yellow.


Fall colors in Alaska, Funk & Weber Designs

A touch of orange on an autumn aspen.


But there is red fireweed and bearberry, orange dwarf birch. In fact, when you get down to it—literally down—Alaska has the same brilliant fall colors as the easy coast; they’re just on the ground rather than against the sky.


Autumn-red bearberry

Autumn-red bearberry


Autumn red and orange tundra

Autumn red and orange tundra


It’s a Puzzle

Like Puzzle Pisces, the pattern is a jigsaw puzzle. I like that. And I like the puzzle-y title, Fall, in Pieces, with its multiple meanings.


Fall, in Pieces is a jigsaw puzzle cross stitch, by Funk & Weber Designs

It’s a puzzle!


The Stitching

Another behind the Fall, in Pieces stitchery is how the delicious Gentle Art threads were used. The subtle variegation of the overdyed threads lend themselves to natural color variations and changes, but how they’re used—how they’re manipulated and stitched up—matters.

With traditional linear cross stitching, the pattern of overdyed threads is striped. But autumn leaves aren’t striped. Used this way, the natural colors yield unnatural results.

Don’t get me wrong, stripes can be a cool effect, but it wasn’t what I was after.

I stitched some test leaves to practice, stitching both legs of each cross before moving to the next stitch, and stitching randomly to avoid stripes. The first leaves were too mottled. The effect was better than stripes, but still not the more natural look I was after.


Mottled cross-stitch leaf, Funk & Weber Designs

While it’s more mottled than I wanted for the project, it’s lovely on its own, so I made it a bookmark.


So I altered my approach and stitched “blobs” of color; that is, I stitched six squares that all touched in some random way, then moved on to a blob of nine squares. The groups—”blobs”—were irregular shapes that fit together like puzzle pieces.

Aside: By the way, we have a tutorial for stitching with overdyed threads.

I liked this look. It was fun to see the leaves take shape and color, as there was always an element of surprise due to the somewhat random stitching. That was different from other stitching I’d done.

I brought pretty leaves inside for inspiration. And if I didn’t like the look of a leaf in the end, I ripped it out and had another go, certain the next version would be different and excited to see how.


The Framing

Mike made the oak frame. Roz (professional framer) cut the mats. I stretched and laced the embroidery to the backing. Mike put it all together.

While I had ideas for non-traditional framing of this piece, we opted for traditional because it was a model for the pattern. That Mike made the frame made it easier to give up my creative vision.


Puzzle Contest Launch

The pattern was so long in the making that I had plenty of time to plan and set up a launch. Zweigart and Gentle Art donated the fabric and threads for the first prize of a complete kit. Nine runners up got free patterns.

Five stitchy blogger friends agreed to participate, hiding pieces to the puzzle contest within posts on their blogs during the week-long contest. That means readers from all participating blogs learned about and could take part. We had over 4,000 stitchers playing our game!

So much fun!

Of course, I made things as complicated and convoluted as possible. It’s what I do. There were actually two contests: One was merely hide and seek, so anyone could participate, and players got one entry for each found item. The other contest involved solving puzzles, and players got additional entries for solving. The answers to the first four puzzles of the week were anagrams of the pattern title, Fall, in Pieces.

The final puzzle was to was to anagram those letters again to come up with the pattern title, and thus the subject of the pattern, which had not been revealed. More entries were earned for getting this one right.

Believe it or not, several people got the answer. Others got respectably close.

Entries were stored in a file; the Random Number Generator was consulted; and Bev was our first-place winner.


Fall, in Pieces cross stitch pattern, by Funk & Weber Designs

The Grand Prize Winner: Bev. She completed the puzzle in her version of the pattern. How great is this?


Now we all know one of the stories behind Bev’s pillow!


Building Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge

The launch took place while I was helping to build Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge. I was connected to the contest and entries via shaky satellite Internet from inside the cook tent, with black bears roaming about outside.

So, you see, this pattern contains a bunch of stories.

Have you stitched it? What story does it contain for you? I’d love to hear it!

Fall, in Pieces cross stitch pattern, Funk & Weber Designs

Get the Pattern

The printed chart for Fall, in Pieces is available in our shop.


Cross Stitch Over One Thread

When we cross stitch over two threads or on Aida fabric, we make sure the top leg of our crosses slant in the same direction, but how we achieve that doesn’t matter. When we cross over one thread on a plainweave fabric, it matters.

The warp and weft fibers of plainweaves are not “interlocked” at intersections; they simply pass over and under one another. As a result, when stitching over one thread, some stitches can slip and disappear. Yikes!

Being the clever needleworkers that we are, however, we’ve found solutions to this problem, enabling us to stitch tiny, delicate embroideries over one thread on linens and other evenweave fabrics. Come on, I’ll show you.

  • The problem with stitching over one thread: disappearing stitches.

    The Problem with Stitching Over One

    Look closely at the diagram. The warp fiber (that’s the vertical one) is on top in the intersection being stitched. The loop made by the working thread in going from 2 to 3 (dashed line, behind the fabric) has nothing to keep it from sliding up that warp thread, right over the weft (horizontal) thread, until all we see is a tiny stitch between 1 and 4. It’s possible for that tiny stitch to keep slipping and disappear altogether behind the weft thread above it. Oh no!

    There are a number of ways to prevent disappearing stitches. We’re going to look at two here: long arms on the back side and smart loops.

Solution 1: Long Arms on the Back Side

Stitching over one solution: long arms on the back.

The needle comes up to the surface at 1 and goes down at 2. It comes up at 3 and goes down at 4. And on and on.

The long arms (dashed lines) mean you’re stitching over two threads on the back side, and stitching over the long arms on the return journey further prevents slipping. You don’t strictly have to make long arms on the return trip, but doing so creates a thicker fabric which can be nice. Try it both ways—with and without long arms on the return—and see which you like.

  • Solution 2: Smart Loops

    Solution 2: Smart Loops

    Take a look at the first diagram again. Do you see how it differs from this one? Here, the loop created by the working thread as it moves from 2 to 3 goes under the lower thread in the intersection, which happens to be the weft thread in this case. Imagine that loop sliding along that thread (it would slide to the right, the direction it’s being pulled). It won’t go far: The top thread prevents the stitch from slipping under the intersection.
    You could also make this stitch by going 2-1-4-3. The important part is that the loop goes under the bottom thread of the intersection.

  • Solution 2: Smart Loop, next in the sequence.

    Smart Loop, next in sequence

    Now consider an adjacent stitch. Now the weft thread is on top. Notice that the loop here runs in a different direction from the loop in the previous diagram. This is necessary for the loop to pass under the bottom thread in the intersection.

  • Smart loops in series.

    A Row of Smart Loops

    A whole row of over-one stitches might be stitched by following the numbers in this diagram. The needle comes up at 1, goes down at 2, and so on. Of course, there are other patterns that will work, too.

    Note that in the Smart Loop method we’re completing each stitch before moving to the next. If you’re stitching with an overdyed or variegated thread and want to keep both legs the same color, this is the method to use.

Tips for Cross Stitching Over One Thread

Almost any pattern cross stitched over two threads can be stitched over one for a smaller, more delicate piece. While fractional stitches cannot be worked over one, it is possible to adjust the pattern by ignoring them or making whole stitches of them. When two colors occupy two halves of a stitch, consider which color belongs to the object “in front.” For instance, if half the stitch is part of a red flower, and the other half is part of the blue sky, make that stitch red. The flower is “in front of” the sky from the viewer’s perspective, and so is the dominant stitch.

For fabric thread counts of 27 and higher, use one strand of floss for crosses worked over one thread. For counts 25 and lower, try two strands. If backstitching over one with a single strand of floss seems too coarse, try sewing thread instead.

Above all, have fun!

Related Articles
How To Cross Stitch Over Two Threads
Cross Stitching with Overdyed Threads
Cross Stitch Embroidery Fabrics 101

Wonky Pearls * How to Use Them

I love making pearl threads from six-strand threads, which are an embroidery staple. It allows me to have pearls in any of the fun hand-painted, dyed, or overdyed threads. That’s especially handy if I want to match the six-strand floss with the pearl, but it’s also nice to have all those interesting threads available in different weights.

Assorted handmade pearl threads, wonky pearls on the right.

Assorted handmade pearl threads, wonky pearls on the right.

I often use the finer pearls for stitching and the heavier ones for edge stitches and finishing. The heavier threads are strong and durable.

Two-color, handmade pearls are used for the tag holders, running stitch, and edge stitch

Two-color, handmade pearls are used for the tag holders, running stitch, and edge stitch

Handmade wonky pearl by Funk & Weber Designs

A wonky pearl thread makes a nice friendship bracelet, too.

Making traditional pearls is ever so useful, but it’s also just the beginning of what is possible. By adding specialty threads—metallics, fuzzy threads, ribbons, etc.—we wind up with some wildly interesting threads.

And we can keep going, combining handmade pearl threads for heavier and more interesting threads and cords, aka Wonky Pearls.

At this point, the wonky pearls can take on a life of their out, outside embroidery. They look great as ribbons for packages or wrapped around a wrist as a friendship bracelet.

But what can they do for your embroidery? They’re probably too big to pull through the fabric for regular stitching.

Three ways to use wonky pearls in embroidery

1. Couching

Couch the wonky pearl to the fabric surface. Couching a thread is a great way to create smooth curves in normally boxy counted thread embroidery. It can be a fun way to outline a shape.

2. Trims and Hangers

Ornaments, fobs, standups, etc. often have a trim around the edge masking a seam. This is a perfect place for wonky pearls. If you’re using twisted cord, stop! Wonky pearls won’t untwist when you let go of them, so they’re much easier to work with.

Couching handmade pearl thread trim over a seam.

Couching handmade wonky pearl thread trim over a seam.

3. Bookmark Tails

If you make book thongs or ribbon-style bookmarks, wonky pearls are a fun alternative to ribbon. I like combining several interesting threads—wonky pearl plus individual strands of Fuzzy Stuff, chenille, rickrack, etc.—to make a tail or connect two bits of embroidery for a book thong. I will braid them together very loosely so that they hang together and intermingle.

Wonky Pearl in Book-Thong String

The large green wonky pearl is loosely braided with Fuzzy Stuff, a heavy metallic, and simple pearl on this book thong.

Have you made wonky pearls yet? How do you use them or plan to use them?

How To Make Pearl Threads

Hand-made, multi-colored pearl cotton.

Hand-made, multi-colored pearl cotton.

Do you know that you can make pearl thread?

And do you know it’s totally easy and big-time fun?

And do you know that once you get the basics down, you can go all kinds of Nuts with it to create some wildly interesting, fully functional threads?

Well. Now you do.

Hand-made pearl threads in different sizes

Hand-made pearl threads. Better than twisted cord because it doesn’t untwist when you drop it.

Why Make Pearl?

Handmade wonky pearl by Funk & Weber Designs

A wonky pearl thread makes a nice friendship bracelet, too.

  • Pearls are great threads. They’re used for all kinds of stitching, including blackwork, Hardanger, needlepoint, cross stitch, and more.
  • They’re more twisted and thicker than six-strand floss which makes them stronger, which makes them good for finishing edges, which tend to get more wear, tear, and general abuse.
  • It can be hard to find pearls to match other fibers. Most hand-dyed, overdyed, and painted six-strand threads don’t have matching pearls.
  • It can be hard to find pearls in a wide variety of colors and sizes. You might get white, black, ecru, and red in size 5 at big box stores, but what about medium-light, bright-dark, ultra-very turquoise-red in sizes 3, 8, 12, or 16? What if what you really want is size 10? No one even makes that, do they? But you can. Suh-weet!
  • When I travel, I don’t take bags and bags of thread. I take six-strand floss, then I have floss plus perfect matches in every size pearl.
  • And the most important reason, the only one anyone needs: It’s fun!

Learn How To Make Pearl Threads

Learn how to make these super-cool threads (and so much more!) in a 20-minute video when you sign up for our mailing list, called The Needlework Nutshell or The Nutsletter, for short. You’ll receive Funk & Weber news, musings, and our popular Tips, Tricks, and Brilliant Ideas. Oh—and the very best steals and deals we have to offer.