Variegated threads with a mind of their own

I like variegated threads, from the colourfast, mass-produced Anchor and DMC ones to the don’t-even-get-a-hint-of-dampness-anywhere-near-me ones hand-dyed by a lone enthusiast somewhere in the Welsh mountains or the Australian outback. They are such an easy way of adding a bit of extra interest to a project, and besides that, they’re just so pretty and colourful that I love looking at them (if in addition they are also beautifully soft and strokeable, like Gloriana silks or Caron Watercolours, they’re simply bliss to play with).

It won’t come as a surprise then that dotted around our house (awaiting the time when I have a craft room all to myself and all my pretties can live together in one easily accessible collection) are various boxes of them – Caron threads in my Dragonfly box, which lives on top of the stereo ever since Lexi decided it was a good place for a nap; ThreadworX perles and silks in a more sturdy, cat-proof box where the Dragonfly box used to be; House of Embroidery perles and Anchor & DMC variegated perles in two plastic storage boxes in a chest of drawers upstairs; Gloriana, Treenway, Thread Gatherer and other silks perles in a glass-fronted wall-mounted cupboard in the same room; Carrie’s Creation, Gumnut, Chameleon and various other silks in yet more plastic boxes in what is known as the Silver Cabinet (although it looks more like a specimen cupboard or something like that). I think that’s all of them. But I may find one or two surprises when I come to gather them all in for the move to the The Craft Room…

Caron threads Threadworx perles Upstairs storage Anchor and House of Embroidery perles the Silver Cabinet

Anyway, you get the idea, which is that I like variegated threads. That isn’t to say that I don’t see any drawbacks to them. For one thing, they can take over a design if you’re not careful, and you lose the picture or shape in a whirl of changing colours. Not so much a drawback as a slight inconvenience is the fact that sometimes it takes a bit of advance consideration to get certain colours where you want them, and that smooth transitions aren’t always guaranteed when changing threads or when stitching next to a previously worked area. There are ways, of course, such as cutting the new thread so that it starts with the colour that you will be stitching next to, bearing in mind the bit that will be used for fastening on – not insignificant in some fast-changing threads, where it could mean the difference between bright yellow and fuchsia pink if you’re not careful (I’m looking at you, ThreadworX Bradley Balloons!)

ThreadworX Bradley Balloons

But how about stitches that meet up again, like a closed chain stitch motif? How do you ensure that the end and the beginning match? Well, erm, you don’t. Luck of the draw. Great when it works out – I get all excited when I can see, half a dozen stitches before joining up, that this time the two ends will Match Up!

But do you know what is annoying? When magically, serendipitously, you’ve matched up the beginning and end so no-one can tell where the beginning/end is, but somewhere else in the motif there is a colour change in the thread so abrupt that it looks as though that’s where the join is. While I was in the Netherlands last week I was working on some coasters which have a chain stitch diamond surrounding the central Hardanger motif. In two out of the three cases I managed to make the join invisible, only for there to be a colour change right on one of the corners – mustard to orange in one case, yellow to mustard in the other.

An abrupt change from mustard to orange An abrupt change from yellow to mustard

I’m sure the people who ordered the coasters won’t mind in the slightest; in fact, not being stitchers themselves they may not even consciously notice. But I notice. And it annoys me.

Does this mean that I will now give my collection of variegated threads to a deserving charity and never ever consider using them again? Of course not; I still love the effect they have, the above “problem” (minor to the point of non-existence in the grand scheme of things) only occurs in a small proportion of projects, and anyway, it is a problem of pride as much as anything else – having managed (without any merit of my own) to disguise the join, it irks me that people might look at it and think that I did not manage. And in that light, perhaps these irritating colour changes are doing me a favour: they’re keeping me humble smiley.