Last week after I published the article on what’s in a stitch guide, a friend asked me a question about finding less expensive threads as substitutes for those specified in the stitch guide. That’s a great question because for many canvases the cost of threads can easily equal or exceed the cost of the canvas.
Before you even start to look for threads for your canvas, shop the cheapest store in town — your stash. You have already spent the money on these threads. Look there first for listed threads as well as substitutes. Always shop your stash first.
When possible buy threads on sale, especially those in your list of essential threads. I don’t know how many times having the gold Kreinik I love or the white Nordic Gold in my stash has saved the day for a canvas.
Now that you have exhausted what you have on hand, consider what threads you can substitute. One easy substitution to make is to substitute cotton floss for stranded silk. These threads are similar in diameter, so you can use the same number of strands. They have a similar look when stitched. They also tend to come in large numbers of colors.
If a listed thread is a non-cotton pearl, often, but not always, pearl cotton can be substituted. You will, however, have to think about the thread, its color and texture. Pearl cotton has a strong bead-like texture. That texture is present in Vineyard Merino, but the texture of wool makes it more fuzzy and matte. Rainbow Gallery’s silk pearls (Grandeur, etc.) are similar in shine, but have a less pronounced bead texture.
Substitute solids for solids and overdyes for overdyes. You may not be able to find an exact match in solids and you may have to look at several companies to find a matching overdye, but, almost always cotton is less expensive than silk.
The fiber of the thread can make a big difference in cost. Cotton is the least expensive fiber for threads. Next comes wool, then man-made fibers (metallics, etc.). Linen is about the same price but can be very hard to find. Silk is the most expensive and comes in two forms stranded silk (less expensive) and filament silk (more expensive). Keep these relative costs in mind when considering threads.
You often can change the background thread completely to a thread that is less expensive. Great budget choices are pearl cotton and the various brands of Persian wool. Often they come in larger packages and are tried and true background choices.
When possible choose machine-dyed over hand-dyed. The more people have to be involved directly in the manufacturing, the more expensive the thread tends to be. As an example, let’s say the stitch guide calls for a pink-and-blue hand-dyed floss. DMC makes a similar color in their Color Variations line. Will it work in your piece? If it will look to the overdyed-look flosses and pearls from DMC, Anchor, and Valdani; they will save you money.
If you need lots and lots of a color or use it often, consider knitting yarns to save money. They are considerably less per yard than needlepoint threads. Look for ones that are strandable or the right thickness for your canvas mesh and ones that are all natural fibers instead of blends of natural and man-made fibers. Not all knitting yarns will work for needlepoint, but when they do it’s a great budget choice. If you can find mini-skeins, they are a great way to find accent colors. I often find these 10-yard skeins on Etsy.
Looking carefully at these options should get you most of the way to finding budget-friendly threads, but often these days stitch guides call for specialty threads. Often these threads are specific to manufacturer’s but here too you can save money. Overall Rainbow Gallery threads are the most budget-friendly line, so I would look to their threads first. To find a similar thread, follow my guidelines for thread substitutions to find the right thread.
What Is the True Cost of the Thread?
One reason folks are often frustrated by stitch guides is that they feel as if they are “wasting” money on the threads. Take the Kathy Schenkel Santa Fe round pictured above. The words “Santa Fe” is the only red used in the piece. If I had no red out there, I would need to buy one. If I rarely used red in my work, the entire cost of that thread could be attributed to this project. In this case the true cost of the thread is that price of one unit.
But let’s say I do use red often so I can use the thread I buy on other projects. If the red is $5 for a 10-yard package, the thread costs $.50.yard. I’ll use a yard here and be able to go on to use the rest of the thread in other projects. Now that red’s true cost is only $.50, but the sunk costs for the thread are $4.50 for what goes into stash.
If I bought an inexpensive thread or got some from a stitching friend for this red, I would spend less money, even if I did not use any other reds in my work.
All this goes to show that you can save money on your threads, no what the stitch guide wants.