It’s inevitable if we stitch enough; we’ll find that we have to substitute for a thread. It’s more of a problem if you stitch from stash, as I do. Because I want to use what I have already, this happens on almost every project I do.
Today we’ll look at the guidelines I’ve found most helpful for substituting threads.
The main principle for thread substitution is to get as close to the original thread as possible. There are only a few threads that have no acceptable substitute, so most of the time you’ll be able to find a thread that will work.
The first thing to do is to look for the same thread from a different manufacturer. Cotton floss, for example, comes from DMC, Presencia, and several others. While each company has an individual color range, most of the time you can substitute any single skein from one company with a similar color from another company.
Threads can be easily classified into three groups, according to structure: round, stranded, and flat. If you want to substitute one thread for another, pick a thread similar in structure. Within each structure type, threads behave similarly, often allowing one thread to be switched for another with no problems. Think about cotton floss and stranded silk. You can mix these up in the same piece, or even in the same needle with good results.
In some structures though, there are threads with different finishes. Metallic braid and pearl cotton are both round, but their finish is different. In the case where there are lots of texture choices, pick a thread similar in finish. For example, if you have run out of a round metallic, look to another manufacturer for a substitute.
Some threads come in different sizes of the same thread. It does not always work, but substitute a different size of the same thread. You may need to stitch samples with both threads in the margin to see if this will work.
If you’re original thread has no matches in any of the previous categories, look for a thread from the same fiber. This is often a visible difference, but each fiber has characteristics it shares with other threads made from the same fiber.
There are two cases when we’ll want to substitute threads: when we want to change the color and when we want, or need, to use a different thread. In the case where the color is changed, the structure is slightly more important than the color. That’s because here you can tweak your color choices. In the case where the color is the same, the color is most important. You want to retain the color even if the construction or fiber is different.
Sometimes the change can’t be seen. This happened to me in a piece where Tapestry and crewel wool are mixed, I cannot tell which is used where. At other times the change will be noticeable if not disguised. Here are some ways to do this:
- Use the different threads for different layers of a stitch such as Rice or Smyrna Cross.
- Use the different threads for different parts of a stitch, such as the long stitches in Mosaic.
- Use them if different areas that don’t meet, such as the front and back of an ornament.
I won’t tell you that you will always be able to find a good substitute, but there is a substitute thread that will work a vast majority of the time.
About Janet M Perry
Janet Perry is the Internet's leading authority on needlepoint. She designs, teaches and writes, getting raves from her fans for her innovative techniques, extensive knowledge and generous teaching style. A leading writer of stitch guides, she blogs here and lives on an island in the northeast corner of the SF Bay with her family
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