You can use overdyed and hand-dyed threads on painted canvases, in fact they are very effective. I love how they add richness to the needlepoint without having to use lots of different threads.
But you need to remember two things
1. You control the thread, it doesn’t control you.
2. YOU CONTROL THE THREAD, IT DOESN’T CONTROL YOU. (think of The Producers)
The first aspect of this comes in the choice of overdyes. I divide overdyes into two types, based on the color scheme. The first type I call multi-color. You can tell these overdyes immediately because there is more than one color in the skein. They are lovely, but they can be problematical on a painted canvas. You can deal with them (more about that later). The second type is what I call semi-solid (a term borrowed from knitting yarns). These overdyes only have different shades of the same color. To a very large extent you can substitute a semi-solid thread for a solid thread in needlepoint, just about anywhere.
Dealing with Overdyed and Hand-dyed Threads in General
- Whenever you have a thread which has changing colors, no matter how subtle, you need to be careful of any stitch done on the diagonal. The color changes will also happen on the diagonal. This does not happen in nature. Our eyes are attracted to changes on the diagonal, so the unnatural characteristic of the change is even more apparent.
The way you overcome this is by changing the stitch or method of stitching to stitch only on the vertical or horizontal. For Basketweave, substitute Continental, for Mosaic, stitch it in rows.
This is an easy thing for most stitchers to do and it makes a world of difference. By doing this you control how the color changes because of your method of making the stitch. So you might stitch a sky in horizontal rows, but a tree trunk in vertical ones.
- Overdyes and hand-dyes can often have colors in their sequences which you don’t want. In that case, cut them out. This will usually make for shorter stitching lengths, but it’s worth it. This is one important way to control the thread.
Dealing with Multi-color Threads
These threads will almost always attract more attention to themselves than almost any other kind of thread, so you need to use that to your advantage. First pick a combination that will work for your canvas. I once did a lovely sky background for a mini-sock which used a multi-color overdye, but the colors were all pale and by stitching the background in horizontal rows, it looked like the sky in the morning. A thread with more variation in it might be good for a printed dress if you clumped the colors together while you stitched. Or you could use something like Caron‘s Mediterranean and a darning pattern for a lovely tropical sea.
If you pick a stitch suited to the area, then pick a thread suited to the area, you’re more than halfway there. The key is to figure out how to make the stitch so that the color changes reinforce what you want to depict, not fight against it.
But these threads are always more difficult to use on realistic painted canvases (not abstracts or geometrics) than solid and semi-solid threads.
Dealing with Semi-solid Threads
These are much easier to use and they give a lovely depth of color to needlepoint which doesn’t happen in solid threads.
One really easy way to use them works for all stranded threads. Just switch the direction of half the strands do that the colors change in the opposite direction of the other strands. I did this for the background of the Needledeeva nativity figure, above. Most of the time, this breaks up the areas of color. What you get when it’s stitched is a definite change in color, but it’s impossible to see where this changes.
Another easy thing to do to moderate them is to combine them with some strands of a solid thread in one of the shades. This does the dame thing as reversing the strands except that it will reinforce the color where the overdye and solid threads match.
When it’s a single strand thread, you can’t use that trick, so you need to deal with them the same way as you deal with multi-color threads, by controlling the method of stitching. The thread may look pretty much solid to you but, trust me, those color changes will stick out alarmingly one you do an area in Basketweave, I know. I keep this canvas of Jesus and St. Joseph on my desk to remind me.
This canvas, from Happy Heart Designs uses mostly semi-solid threads for the background. Both the blue and the green are overdyes, stitched in horizontal lines. The color changes but not in a pattern, so you get lovely washes of color.
I find, to some extent, the fussier the stitch, the easier it is to use a semi-solid thread and stitch in the normal way. Right now I’m stitching a dress with a complex divided scotch and using a hand-dyed thread. I can see the color changing, but I can’t figure out where. I just love the effect.
If you’re in doubt I’d try a bit of the stitch on the margins of the canvas and see what you think.
You can learn lots of effective techniques for using these threads in all your projects in my book Making Overdyed Threads Behave, available here.