Updated February 5, 2021.
Let’s start this blog post by looking at a random skein of overdyed thread in your stash. If it’s in a skein, unwind it and take out about a yard of the thread.
Look at it. See how the thread has one color for a while, then it changes to another color. The distance between colors is called the color run.
Depending on the company, and sometimes the thread, the color run can be short or long. Knitting yarns, in general, have longer color runs. Threads for embroidery have short to medium color runs.
The length of color run makes a difference to your stitching. If the run is too long, you might find that most or all of a stitched area is in a color you don’t want. If the run is too short, the thread color seems to change constantly. That means more attention will go to areas stitched in this thread, it will look more textured. It will be great for a focal point or it will create a focal point in itself.
Realizing the relative length of a color run is one thing. Seeing how it behaves in a stitch is another. That’s why I often test overdye threads by stitching an ornament with them, such as the Caron Byzantine ornament shown here in several versions.
The top ornament uses a vintage Leah’s overdyed pearl cotton. In the skein, I thought blue-violet was dominant and that the transitional color, red-violet, was more prominent. But stitched the two main colors are about equal and the transitional color appears only for one or two stitches. This thread would not be a good choice where I wanted subtle colors and gradual change, but it would be great for a bold focal point.
This ornament uses Threadworx overdyed Vineyard Silk (blue) and Filomell overdyed Au Ver a Soie from Gloriana. Here there are several main colors (blue, pink, green, and gold), but the transitions here are very gradual and long. In fact, the changes are so subtle, it’s hard to tell where one color ends and another begins. Because of this subtlety, this thread would be a great choice for an area where I wanted lots of color but where it needed to be a similar tone to the other threads. A focal point stitched in this thread would still draw attention, but it wouldn’t shout “Look at me!” as the top ornament does.
This last ornament uses Threadworx’ overdyed Au Ver a Soie. Not only is the color much brighter, but it is also very unbalanced. Lime green dominates. There are occasional bits of turquoise and pale aqua, but they are almost unnoticeable. Because this thread has shorter color runs and transitions that are almost non-existent, it will be a hard one to use outside of geometrics. With the colors changing every two or three stitches, this thread will attract attention. Turn this characteristic into a virtue by putting it when you want attention and combining it with other threads and embellishments to give it more bling.
As you can see by these three ornaments, they look very different, and not just because of color. The color run influences how they look. Use this characteristic of overdyed threads to enhance your needlepoint projects.