What is hand dyed floss and how do I use it?
Hand Dying techniques
There are many different ways of hand dyeing embroidery floss. Broadly speaking these techniques fall into two categories:
Vat Dyeing – the skeins or hanks of floss are immersed or dipped into a container of liquid dye
Space Dyeing – where coloured dyes are placed along different parts of the floss skein or hank.
Vat Dyeing is where you make up a liquid solution of pigment or dye, and then you dip part or all if your floss into it, or when you drop your floss into it, giving it a bath. You can tie loose knots in your floss so that the dye penetrates some areas more than others. This is the easiest range of methods for mottled threads or subtle dye variations.
Space Dyeing is where coloured dyes are deliberately added to specific sections of the floss skein or hank. Usually the dye solution is added to the floss. Space Dyeing methods are mainly used to create colourful rainbow threads.
There are many different types of dyes and pigments used to dye floss. Some are powders that must be mixed into water or oil, some are already liquid, some are derived from plant materials, or squished insects, others are made in a laboratory. Some require a “mordant” to hold the colour to the floss, others do not. Often different dye processes are used on synthetic fabrics such as rayon and nylon to those processes used for cotton, silk, cashmere, wool etc.
Every different dyer uses their own type of dying process and dyes or pigments. This is why some hand dyed threads are colourfast and others are not. Read the label carefully if you are planning on stitching a large design or a small travel piece, as the threads may not be washable at the end.
If you do need to clean an item that has non-colourfast threads on it, here’s how to do it.
- Turn on the tap over your basin or sink.
- Use tepid or cold water.
- Do not put the plug in.
- Rinse your fabric under the water, thoroughly wetting it.
- If any colours run, this is usually excess dye leaching from the thread. Leave your stitching under the running water until the water runs clear.
If you put the plug in or swirl this fabric through a basin of standing water then that excess dye lands on your fabric and stains it. If you leave the water running without a plug then the water carries the free dye down the drain before it can land and stain.
Photographing floss and Colour Vision
The same issues we discussed in the Hand Dyed Fabrics article apply here. There is no possible way for either monitors or printers to accurately reflect the full range of colours that our eyes can see. However, you can often get a good idea of the range and variation in the shading.
Hand Dyed Means Unique
Again as discussed in the Hand Dyed Fabrics article, there are just some variables in the hand dying process that you can never plan for: The minerals in the water used in the dye bath, the temperature of the water versus the temperature of the ambient air on the day, the humidity levels or how the floss was dried. All of these factors can these can subtly change the characteristics of the final piece.
If you are buying variegated threads for a specific project, ALWAYS BUY THE WHOLE AMOUNT OF FLOSS AT THE SAME TIME . Wherever possible, ask that the skeins are supplied from the SAME DYELOT.
This is particularly important if you are planing to stitch a large piece in hand dyed floss, By requesting skeins from the same dyelot, you will know both the shade and patterning will be consistent throughout your piece.
How do you stitch with hand dyed threads
The way you stitch with hand dyed threads makes a significant difference to the finished effect. To show this, I have stitched a sampler to illustrated some of the more common stitching styles. I have used a skein of Carrie’s Jelly Fish as there are many colour changes.
Left block and first long strip were stitched:
\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ then ///////////////// (yes I was taught by a left-hander)
In both the block and the row, some of the colours are barely seen because they are used on the bottom \\\\ and others are shown more because they are solely used as the top ////, This can create an unusual look for your piece. I do like the interplay of colours with the yellow over pink add the purple over green.
I’ve only see one pattern that deliberately asked to be stitched that way; “Is it my Eyes” by Susan Saltzgiver. Most of these blocks have the bottom \ in a different floss to the /, Usually light over dark but sometimes dark over light.
Middle block and middle strip are stitched one full stitch at a time, so \ then / then \ then / The rows are stitched:
01, 02, 03 … 09, 10
20, 19, 18 … 12, 11
21, 22, 23 … 29, 30
40, 39, 38 … 32, 31 etc
Although it doesn’t look much different in the block, the row shows how this can lead to a stripey stitched effect. This method best reflects the real patterning in the hand dyed thread. One such as this:
Right Block and third strip were stitched via my way. I’ve developed a habit of stitching two stitches, then going to the next row and stitching the same two stitches, and then back up to the previous row and stitching another two stitches, then down to the next row and stitching two stitches etc. So the block was stitched like this:
01, 02, 05, 06 … 17, 18
03, 04, 07, 08 … 19, 20
38, 37, 34, 33 … 22, 21
40, 39, 36, 35 … 24, 23
41, 42, 45, 46 … 57, 58
43, 44, 47, 48 … 59, 60 now there are three rows left so
86, 85, 80, 79 … 62, 61
88, 87, 82, 81 … 64, 63
90, 89, 84, 83 … 66, 65
This produces more of a mottled effect instead of stripes:
Or you can throw all of that out the window and cut your hand dyed threads so that you choose where each section of colour goes. In this case, I stitched the left project using my usual two stitches method. On the right, I cut the thread so that the colours went where I wanted them to.
Hand dyed thread will always produce an effect that is guaranteed to be unique. No two stitchers will create exactly the same outcome and often this variation creates some truly beautiful finishes. Ultimately, you can stitch with your hand dyed threads any which way you please. It all depends on the effect you want for each project.
Places to Buy
These are threads that are available in most cross stitch stores:
Anchor Multicolours. Anchor Embroidery Floss is spun from the world’s finest 100% Egyptian cotton. Anchor offers you 24 multicolours that are completely washable and offer outstanding colorfastness.
Caron Waterlilies Hand-dyed 12 ply spun silk. 6 yard skeins. Easily divided, use two plies for cross stitch over two threads on 28 count fabric.
Caron Wildflowers A single strand hand-dyed cotton in variegated colors. It has more of a matte finish when stitched. 36 yard skein.
Classic Colorworks (formerly Crescent Colours) A hand dyed floss that begins with 100% cotton DMC six strand floss and gentle fabric dyes designed specifically for cotton. Available in a variety of beautiful colors that work well with cross stitch. 5 yard skeins.
Classic Colorworks (formerly Crescent Colours) Belle Soie Silk Floss These silks are hand dyed with the same creative eye and flair you’ve come to enjoy in their cotton flosses, with a softness unmatched in other silks. They start with a 12-stranded spun silk, and package them into 5-yard skeins.
Dinky Dyes Now based in the United States, Dinky Dyes started in Western Australia. Luxurious hand-dyed 6 strand spun silk sold in 8 meter skeins.
DMC Color Variations These give you the look of hand dyed floss with the added quality and reassurance that they are made by DMC. Twenty-four beautiful multi-color and tone on tone shades that are colorfast.
Gentle Art Sampler Threads Six Strand hand over-dyed floss. Sold in 5 yard skeins.
Gloriana This spun silk has silk’s beauty, luster, and shine but doesn’t catch on your hands. Gloriana Silk is soft and remarkably easy to use. 12 strand silk, 6 yard skein.
Gloriana Florimell Au Ver a Soie Soie d’Alger artisan-dyed 7 strand silk by Gloriana Threads. 5 yard skein. Hand-washable in cold water.
Needlepoint Inc Northern Lights 8 Strands. Colourfast. 100% Pure Chinese Silk. Overdyed to create this wonderful range of multicolour silk threads.
Thread Gatherer Silk N Colors 100% silk, 12-ply, 6 yard skeins. Silk N Colors initially separates into 3 groups of 4-ply. Before stitching, separate and put together the desired ply. Cross-stitching: we recommend 1-ply on 30 count or finer, 2-ply on 28 count linen.
Threadworx Overdyed Floss A premium quality, six-strand embroidery floss made from the finest long-staple, 100% Egyptian Giza cotton. Sold in 20 yard skeins.
Threadworx Vineyard Silk Artisan dyed by ThreadworX. 100% Pure Chinese Silk. Twisted. 20 yard skeins.
Valdani Superb Hand-Overdyed colors in Cotton Floss for the “matte” look. Embroidery Floss Skeins in 6-ply cotton for cross-stitch
Weeks Dye Works Hand Over-Dyed Floss. 5 yard skeins. The colors are variegated enough to be noticeable, yet subtle enough to blend naturally. Because it is pliable, this fiber is perfect for cross stitch and needlepoint on many counts of fabric and canvas.
Colour Streams Colour Streams hand dyed embroidery silk threads are available in 50 glorious overdyed colours.
Cottage Garden Threads Our passion is to produce hand dyed threads inspired by the diversity of colour among the flowers and foliage of a cottage garden.
Primke Threads are hand dyed cotton threads from Australia, they come in 72 colours.
Stitches and Spice is Australia’s only floss hand dyer. There are 56 colours in Naomi’s range and they complement her fabric colours. 5 metre skeins of Hand-dyed 6 stranded 100% cotton.
Annick Abrial creates beautiful hand dyed floss colours. 100% cotton, 6 strands stranded, hand-painted, which are capable of steam ironing. The colors are guaranteed in time and are 8 metre skeins.
Rainbow Fingers I’m a fiber artist living in France that has a passion for dyeing also.
The Silk Mill Our silk is 100% pure Chinese monofilament silk thread. The thread comes in skeins of six strands of 6.5 metres long, with a total skein length of 39 metres. There are 700 shades of silk to choose from.
Romy’s Creations Overdyed DMC floss in beautiful colours.
Nina’s Threads 100% stranded cotton threads, hand dyed with professional dyes, for embroidery and cross stitch. 8 meters / skein. Rinsed in neutral scent after dye.
Chameleon Threads are individually hand-dyed in South Africa using cotton, rayon and pure silk.
House of Embroidery Un-dyed cotton threads are imported from Europe and un-dyed silk is imported from Japan. Our threads are dyed in South Africa, using European dyes.
Crafty Kitten These threads are dyed to match our fabric colour range. Each skein is 5m in length. These threads have been hand-dyed on high quality DMC white stranded embroidery cotton.
Jodyri Designs Hand dyed cotton threads priced at 99p per 8m skein. These cannot be guaranteed to be colourfast
Polstitches Dragon Floss has some wonderful thread names. 6 strand cotton, 8 metre skeins.
Rainbow Girl Each item is unique, and cannot be reproduced. I use a low water immersion technique with procion dyes. Every item is thoroughly rinsed and washed in Synthrapol, after dyeing, but I cannot guarantee that they are colourfast.
Sparklies All my threads are full skeins of DMC, hand dyed to an overdyed finish. Currently these are mostly two-tone, but I hope to expand the range to include multi-tone colours in the future.
Stef Francis 6-strand cotton, length 10m. 12 strand Silk, length 6m.
Thread Pickerz Silkz Here you will find wonderful silks to help make your cross stitch projects stand out. Each silk skein has 50 single strand lengths of approx 0.96m in length.
Carrie’s Creation Threads All threads are 100% cotton DMC, and available in either the 6 strand cotton, the premium weight floss known as Floche, or Silk!
Dragonfly Lotus Produces hand dyed silk and wool threads.
Fiberactive Organics Our Shop Specializes in hand-dyed organic cotton products. We use low impact Fiber-Reactive Dyes to achieve the most vivid and fade resistant colors for all your project’s needs.
Fiberlicious is a Facebook only dyer. Cotton floss is 6 strands and 10 yards long (approx).Silk has 50 single strands of 1.2m long which is 60 m in total. They are dyed with variation of colors (not colorfast). My silk is Pure silk (Flat Silk, 2 plies), not processed silk with polyester so it’s pretty soft and delicate.
Garibaldi’s Needle Works is an ebay only store that produces beautiful mottled fabrics and threads.
Hand Dyed Fibers by Vicki Clayton. Silk floss comes in two sizes. Regular silk floss is about the same size as DMC. Premium floss is much thicker and has single strand coverage over 2 on 28 ct. – 32 ct. You can use the drop down box to choose which type of floss you would like. Vicki is swamped with orders and has taken down her floss pages for a couple of weeks.
Mo’s Sale a Facebook supplier that now has her own website. Often releases new colours in themes such as MockingJay and Harry Potter.
Rumple Beary Rumors On Facebook and Etsy. My skeins are hand measured and dyed/painted, so each will vary. 10 yards each of 6 strand cotton embroidery floss Most times you will get a bit more than 10 yards. My threads are hand painted/dyed on a DMC base white thread and are variegated.
Victorian Motto Sampler Shoppe On Ebay and Etsy. My floss is 20, one yard pieces, per skein.
Did I miss any good dyers? Please comment below and I will add them to the list. Also, what article do you want next weekend?
Did you like this Weekend Spotlight? Did it contain all the expected information? Is there anything you would like added or removed from this? Do you know of a particular chart, designer, stitch along or accessory creator you want to see featured here? If so, please head to the Suggestions page and let me know.
Last updated: 13 December 2014