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?

12 Responses to “Overdyed Thread Techniques”

  1. Edy

    I have also done diagonal stripes by stitching my x’s as you would basket weave.

    January 24, 2011 @ 1:16 pm
  2. Excellent, Edy! Some other patterns that might be achieved include spirals, squares, zig-zags, etc. If there’s a pattern that suits our subject, overdyed threads might be a great choice.

    January 26, 2011 @ 8:00 pm
  3. […] 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 […]

    July 1, 2011 @ 1:57 pm
  4. […] Nutshell reader (and non-stitcher), Chrissie, mentioned liking the messy back-side image from the Overdyed Thread tutorial. Truth is, I find the “messy” stitching attractive, […]

    December 17, 2011 @ 7:39 pm
  5. Vminerd

    Wow – great ideas – thank you. I’ve always sort of shied away from over-dyes. Think I’ll give it a try now.

    April 21, 2014 @ 4:18 am
  6. Oh, I hope you will! And I’d love to hear about your experience, your results, and how you like it.

    April 21, 2014 @ 7:01 am
  7. Great post! We ARE smarter than the threads! lol

    March 17, 2015 @ 3:53 am
  8. Jen

    @Kerry – 🙂

    I need to add some more examples to this. There are so many possibilities!

    March 19, 2015 @ 9:18 pm
  9. Laurie

    I am a sampler stitcher. Many years ago when overdyed fibers first came out, I was led to believe that the effect achieved by completing each stitch at a time would lend itself to a “faded” look on the individual motifs of the sampler. I have since refined that a bit but still follow that premise. Having the sampler look “aged” was the objective.

    April 5, 2015 @ 6:30 am
  10. Jen

    Laurie, overdyed threads are great for making samplers look aged. I think that’s a time to beware of stripes, too.

    April 13, 2015 @ 2:25 am
  11. Christine

    I’ve used variegated floss for several projects. eg http://ic.pics.livejournal.com/xinef/4706948/49800/49800_original.jpg , http://ic.pics.livejournal.com/xinef/4706948/61530/61530_800.jpg , and http://ic.pics.livejournal.com/xinef/4706948/64696/64696_800.jpg (hope those publish as links). With patterns like these, that don’t have large, solid blocks, I tend to follow the curves of the design so that the colour changes flow as much as possible.

    April 12, 2015 @ 6:50 am
  12. Jen

    Christine, those are excellent patterns for overdyed threads, and “following the curves” is a good guideline for making the color flow. Check out those links, folks!

    April 13, 2015 @ 2:27 am

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