Updated October 16, 2020.
Describing overdyed threads can be a frustrating experience. You can see the thread and the color in your mind’s eye — but how do you describe it to someone?
What you call “X” your shop owner may call “Y” and a stitching friend will call “Z.” In this article I’ll be clearing up and suggesting some language about threads.
Threads with more than one color, or shade in them, commonly called “overdyes,” are very popular. While they can be any colors, let’s use these three skeins of Watercolours pictured here to propose three specific names for colors in these threads.
Borrowed from knitting, this term refers to any thread that has different values of one color, in a fairly narrow range, top. The threads we think of as “variegated” are not semi-solid because they have a wide range of colors.
“Semi-solid” is a term knitters use for these yarns and it’s one we should adopt. Some thread manufacturers use other terms for these threads, such as “shadow” or “Tone-on-tone.” I like semi-solid because it more precisely describes how these threads function.
Although you cannot stitch them in Basketweave, these threads can be substituted for solid threads on almost every canvas. Because the color variation can be slight, they will add depth and dimension to your stitching.
Virtually every thread company makes semi-solid colors.
Another big group of overdyed colors are those based on a specific type of color scheme. middle. Analogous color schemes are by far the most common. These threads will have 3 to 5 colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. The example here has two: pink, a tint of red, and lavender, a tint of violet.
Two other color schemes are also often found. Complementary schemes use complementary pairs. Red-green is by far the most popular of these. You can find this “Christmas” color combination in many different versions, often with white added.
Near complement schemes start with a complementary pair and move one of the colors over one. Blue and red is a common near complement. Red-white-and-blue or pink-and-blue are two common versions of near complements in thread.
Remember when evaluating threads for color schemes to leave white and black out of your thinking. They are neutrals and do not count.
There are many overdyes that have too many colors to be a color scheme or a semi-solid. “Rainbow” threads, bottom, are one example. These threads are multi-color.
While often compelling in the skein these threads can be difficult to use. The best tactic is to focus on one or two shades in the thread for additional threads to make them the dominant color.
Do you want to feel more confident in your choice and use of threads, colors, and stitches? Do you want to feel as if the results you get in your needlepoint are more predictable and less of a surprise? Do you wish you knew what elements to choose to get the results you want?
You can learn lots more about overdyed threads and their use in my book Makig Overdyed Threads Behave (available here).