We have been having a discussion recently on social media about threads for a canvas when purchased as a kit. One huge concern is that the threads cost more than the canvas. Today I would like to look at what goes into the cost of threads and why the cost can be high.
I’ll use a 4″ round travel ornament as my example. It’s a small canvas, but there are many small elements, meaning lots of colors. At least there won’t be a need for multiples of any color. I’m just going to guess that there are about 20 colors in a typical travel round. It costs $75.
Let me say that it is surprising how many colors even a simple canvas has. I just bought one of the Pippin crows. They are about as simple as you’ll find these days. Even so, it has five colors. Rarely will you find a new canvas with fewer colors, the vast majority have more.
It’s important to remember that the price of threads for a particular canvas is directly related to the number of colors and the cost of the threads specified. We know we have many colors. So what we’ll pay for threads varies significantly with thread choice.
I know that these canvases have lots of little areas on them and therefore lots of colors. Let’s say there are 20 colors in the piece, that’s 20 threads. My calculations are based on thread prices at an actual needlepoint shop. While these prices are not out of line, please do not take them as “suggested” prices of any kind. Shops have different pricing policies and costs, so prices on thread vary.
The next thing to ask is what threads are called for. If it’s 20 skeins of embroidery floss, it would be less than $20 because floss is under $1/skein (20 x $1 = $20). Because floss is the least expensive thread, this is the base cost for a completely kitted canvas.
But many shops and designers don’t like to see cotton floss in a stitch guide, so switch it to silk. Even inexpensive silk is $4.20/skein, so now it’s 20 x $4.20 = $84.00 for the threads. All we did was make a simple change and the thread now costs more than the canvas.
Let’s say you switch out some of these silks for the less expensive Rainbow Gallery threads (from $2.70 to $5) and pearl cotton ($2.15). If you replace just 10 silks with these specialty threads. With each thread replacing five of the silks, here’s the price calculation:
- 5 x $2.15 = $10.75
- 2 x $2.70 + $3.85 + $4.65 + $4.15 = $18.05
- 10 x $4.20 = $42.00
For a total of $70.80
Replace a silk with one Kreinik metallic ($4.70) and add $.55.Pick a different silk, Au Ver a Soie and it’s $4.55, but for a smaller amount, so if you use silk for the background, you’ll need to add a skein. To make this change, add $8.55 to the total (10 x $.40 = $4.00 + $4.55) Without tax and, if needed shipping, the cost for threads for our canvas is now $79.35!
You can see thinking about it this way, how the price adds up.
Years ago a needlepoint shop owner I knew told me that you should expect to pay at least as much as the canvas cost for the threads. It sucks but when I price out threads, over 25 years later, I still see that.
How Do I Cut the Cost?
My first rule for any canvas is to shop your stash first. Many of the colors in a canvas use small amounts of thread, often less than a yard. Do you have these colors on hand? Use them, don’t buy new. If you replaced three silks this way, you loped over $12 off the thread price.
You might also have one of the main threads in your stash. If the metallic you needed was gold and you had gold on hand, you would save another $4.70.
My second rule is don’t be afraid to change the stitch guide. The stitch guide may call for silk for the background, but you really like the look of pearl cotton or you just love this thread’s shade of blue. Substitute. If you changed out the background silk (2 skeins) for a skein of pearl cotton, you saved $6.
Finally keep must have threads in your stash. Areas such as faces, eyes, and metallics, can use many colors. If you keep on hand flesh colors, your favorite shades of gold and silver, and brown metallic for eyes. You can spread the cost over dozens of canvases instead of buying new each time. Add to this some skeins that will work as background threads and you have lots of projects waiting to be stitched without buying as many threads.
Is it all about the cost?
No, of course not. But that does not mean we should be clueless in our purchases.
Needlepoint is about the pleasure it gives you both in stitching and in looking at the finished piece. To a great extent those things are not about the cost of the threads. When we are prudent about our thread purchases and shop our stashes we are accomplishing two wonderful things.
First, we are using threads we have invested in already. Just like a smart business we are using our capital goods wisely. Second, it frees up money for you to buy new canvases. And what could be better?
This week we will celebrate threads. Tomorrow learn about my Essential Thread Inventory. Wednesday, learn about a new Internet Resource on threads. Thursday get me review of a new thread book. Friday learn about substituting threads. Saturday get links to some great projects for trying out threads.