Dyed and Gone to Heaven – An Online Magazine and Needlework Resource  

Thread Information Guide
By Lois Caron

In response to a number of requests for more detailed product information about our hand-dyed threads, we are pleased to share the following. It may be reproduced in full, or in part, for free distribution only, provided credit is given to The Caron Collection and nothing is quoted out of context. This material may not be used in printed matter that is offered for sale.

What makes your threads so special?
Our hand-dyed threads are all variegated. A single skein may incorporate two to seven different colors. Everything is done by hand and in small batches, so we can be far more creative in the blending of our colors than a large commercial operation. This also means that each batch of yarn we dye is unique - never quite like the one before it even though we've used the same formulas.

How are variegated yarns dyed?
There are a variety of methods. A technique similar to "tie-dye" where portions of yarn are tied off and dipped into dye solution is one method. This is also sometimes known as rainbow dyeing. In handpainted yarns, different colors of dye are applied in a random or controlled fashion. Dipping the yarn into a pot of dye and raising it out of the dyepot by degrees to achieve a graduated color sequence is known as ombre.

What kind of dye is used?
The kind of dye depends first on the fiber to be dyed. The chemical structures of wool, silk, cotton and manmade fibers are all different and each reacts best to specific types of dyes. A dye which will work on wool, therefore, may not work at all, or as well, on cotton.

End use of the product, cost, washfastness, lightfastness, color range, ease of use, types of mordants necessary are a few of the factors which influence dye selection.

What is a mordant?
A mordant is an agent which allows the dye molecule to react with the fiber. Some dye reactions occur best in an acidic environment while others require an alkali PH. Generally, an acid mordant (vinegar is a weak acid) is used with wool and an alkali (such as soda ash) with cotton. In either case, thorough washing of the fiber after the dye process has been completed is necessary to re move all of the mordant and any unreacted dye. Excess mordant left in the fiber could weaken it eventually.

Important note: You may have heard that a vinegar and water solution will set any color that runs. That may be true if an acid mordant was used. However, an acid will not alter colorfastness if an alkali mordant has been used.

It is much safer - regardless of the type of fiber - to rinse in several baths of cool to lukewarm water (no soap) until all excess color has been removed.

What kind of dyes are used on your threads?

Fiber reactive. The dye molecule actually becomes a part of the fiber molecule, forming what is known as a covalent bond - the strong-est type of chemical bonding that can occur. The result is a product which is extremely washfast, lightfast and colorfast. We have coordinated many of the colors in our various hand-dyed threads. Because of the different construction of each of the fibers, they each take the dye differ-ently, so the same colors will not look exactly the same on Watercolours, Wildflowers, Waterlilies and Impressions.

Are your hand-dyed colors permanent?
Environmental regulations over recent years have im-pacted the manufacture of dye substances and most dye manufacturers will no longer guarantee absolute permanence of their products.

Fiber reactive dyes are among the most permanent dyes on the market today, however, and in most cases you can use them with confidence. Reds should always be treated carefully.

Because they also form a covalent bond with water (a process known as hydrolysis) thorough rinsing after the dye process has run its course is required to remove any dye which hasn't formed a chemical bond with the fiber molecules. Although we are very careful about this, occasionally a red or dark color will bleed if exposed to moisture and heat during blocking.

It is always best to test your threads before stitching with them. Moisten a length of thread and place it on a paper towel. If the finished embroidery is to be blocked with a steam iron, briefly add heat from an iron. If any color does come out, agitate the skein of yarn in very hot soapy water until all excess color is removed. Ivory Snow, Ivory or Palmolive dishwashing detergent (be sure not to use lemon scented detergent) or Synthrapol, a special soap solution used commercially for washing yarn, are the only ones we recommend. After washing and rinsing, air dry the thread.

If you have already stitched your piece and any bleeding occurs, immediately rinse and agitate your em-broidery in a large sinkful of cool to lukewarm water (no soap) several times until all excess color is gone. Do not add vinegar, salt, or any other substance to the water. Salt or vinegar will not affect the colorfastness of fiber reactive dyes and it is never a good idea to add any substance if you are not sure of it's chemical reaction with your thread and fabric.

Can I wash my embroidery after it is stitched?
Again, be sure to test your threads before you begin stitching. All of your em-broidery can be wet blocked if necessary, provided any other materials you have used are also permanent and nonshrinkable.

If you have worked your piece in cottons and your ground fabric is washable, you can launder your em-broidery. If the ground fabric and any other threads you have used can withstand machine washing, this is fine for Watercolours and Wildflowers. NOTE: NEVER USED CHLORINE BLEACH. IT WILL HARM FIBER REACTIVE DYES. Soaps or detergents should be mild and not contain perfumes. For the silks and wool, occasional gentle hand-washing will not harm the threads. but be sure to avoid extreme temperature changes with wool. A quick change from very cold to very hot water or steam will cause the wool to felt. If the item is to be used for clothing or a home accessory that will require frequent laundering, dry cleaning is recommended.

Can I always expect the dyelots to match?
No. The creative element inherent in our process makes variations inevitable. Although we follow strict procedure each time we dye a color, many factors enter into the picture and make the probability of dyelots matching perfectly highly unlikely. Due to the labor intensive nature of hand-dyeing, our colors are dyed in very small batches. The mineral content of the local water supply, the natural fibers from the mill and the dye powders themselves all change, also affecting the final outcome of any dye batch.

Unlike working with solid colors, when stitching with variegated threads, dyelot differences should be of no great consequence in most patterns because the overall effect is created by the intereaction of all the colors. In cases where color uni-formity is crucial, enough yarn should be purchased all at once to avoid the dis- appointment of not being able to obtain the same dyelot later on.

If you are uncertain of the total yarn requirements, stitch a one inch square sample on the canvas or fabric you are using. Multi-ply the amount of yarn used by the total square inches of your design to get the total amount of thread required. For safety, assume that you will do some "unstitching" and that you'll use a little more yarn than you estimate is necessary.

In the event that you do run out of yarn in the middle of a project, do not despair! If necessary, save enough of the old dyelot and alternate it with the new one so the change in shade or tone is gradual and not so noticeable.

What does overdyed mean?
Just as the name implies, overdyeing is dyeing one color on top of, of over, a previously dyed color. A solid color can be used to overdye another solid color with the degree of change dependent on the original color and the strength of the overdyeing color. A group of unrelated colors can be coordinated by overdyeing them with another color.

A solid color can be used to overdye a multicolored fiber, or shades of one or more colors can be dyed over a solid base.

Are your threads overdyed?
No. We work only with natural or white yarns, carefully blending our colors on the yarns while they are in the dyepot. This is why we sometimes refer to them as handpainted.

What is Watercolours?
Watercolours is a three-ply pima cotton - a long-staple, extremely strong fiber. It is mercerized, which makes it even stronger and gives it it's characteristic sheen. Watercolours is not a pearl cotton. Pearl refers to the twist of the yarn, not the type of fiber.

The three strands are cabled, but are divisible. They should be separated even if working with multiple plies so that you can control the smoothness of your stitching. Watercolours has the same versatility as Persian wool and can be used for all forms of needlework including needlepoint, cross stitch, tatting, hardanger, darning patterns, knitting, crochet, and crewel.

Watercolours thread

How do I use Watercolours?
Watercolours comes in 10-yard, 40-yard and 100-yard skeins. Some of the colors have a lot of contrast; others are more muted. There are dark, bright, soft and pastel shades. In almost every case the colors blend into one another so there are no sudden changes.

To work with Watercolours, cut the skein at the knot to get one-yard lengths. If you find this unwieldy, untie the skein at the knot and cut the yarn to a comfortable working length.

To better control the smoothness of your stitching, separate the three plies even if you are using all three in your needle.

For needlepoint use one ply on #18 canvas, two plies on #12, 13 or 14 canvas and three plies on #10 count. Use one ply on Congress Cloth (#24) for bargello or upright stitches over several threads. One additional ply is necessary for bargello and some decorative stitches on larger counts of canvas.

For couching or certain decorative stitches Water-colours can be used just as it comes. The texture will be different than when the strands are separated and laid flat.

For cross stitch, in general use one ply on your fabric. Work cross stitches over one thread for #11 and 14 counts, over two threads on #18 and 20 counts.

For hardanger, use one ply of Watercolours for the kloster blocks on 18, 22 or 25 count fabrics.

For crewel the number of plies will be dictated by the design and amount of texture. Most times one ply is sufficient. If the ground fabric is very fine, the Watercolours may have to be couched down with a finer thread.

For knitting and crochet use the yarn just as it comes without separating the strands.

What is Wildflowers?
Wildflowers is a single strand cotton which we dye in all the same colors as Watercolours. It is between a #8 and #12 pearl cotton in weight - roughly the same as a flower thread. While Watercolours looks similar to a pearl cotton and has a silky sheen, Wildflowers looks more like a fine wool and has a matte finish when stitched. It can be used successfully on a wide range of fabrics and canvases. In addition to all of the uses listed for Watercolours, Wildflowers is excellent for lacemaking and tatting.

Although the same dye formulas are used on both Watercolours and Wild- flowers, the same colors on both threads may look different. Interesting effects can be acheived by using both threads in the same piece in the same color. Hardanger embroidery lends itself particularly well to the use of both threads.

Wildflowers thread

How do I use Wildflowers?
This cotton is available in 36-yard, 120-yard and 400-yard skeins. Cutting at the knot will yield all one-yard lengths.

For needlepoint use one strand on #24 canvas, two strands on #18, three strands on #16 or 13. Since Wildflowers is a single-strand cotton, you will always get a tweedy effect if you stitch with multiple plies in your needle since the colors will not match from one strand to the next. For a lacy effect, try one strand on 18 mesh. This can be particularly striking on a handpainted canvas.

For cross stitch use one strand over two threads on #32 -24 count evenweave fabrics. Use one strand over one thread on #18 and 14 count fabrics.

For hardanger, one strand is perfect for wrapped fillings on #22-30 count fabrics.

Like Watercolours, use a single strand for most crewel work.

What is Waterlilies?
Waterlilies is a twelve-ply silk. It's counterpart in solid colors is called Soie Cristale, which is also available from the Caron Collection. Most of the Waterlilies colors corres-pond to shades in the Watercolours and Wildflowers lines. Because there are fewer available dye sites on the silk, the Waterlilies colors are generally softer and more muted than the cotton threads.

The strands are divisible and this silk handles well, making it a perfect choice for embroidery on very fine fabrics as well as on larger counts of canvas and fabric.

Waterlilies thread

How do I use Waterlilies?
Cut the skein at the knot to get six one-yard lengths. If this is too long, untie the knot and cut the silk to comfortable working lengths. Waterlilies is also available in 40-yard and 100-yard skeins. As with any stranded fiber, Waterlilies should be stripped (separate all the strands and put them back together again). Much of the beauty of silk comes from the reflection of light off its surface, so smooth stitches are important. To help keep the strands perfectly flat and smooth, the use of a laying tool such as a tekobari, bodkin, collar stay or large tapestry needle is advised.

For needlepoint, use two plies on Congress cloth, three plies on #20 fabric, four plies on #18 canvas or fabric, six plies on #13/14 canvas. For long straight stitches add one extra ply (i.e. go to four plies on 20-count Jobelan, five plies on #18 canvas, etc.)

For cross stitch over two threads use two or three plies on 14-count fabrics, two plies on 18-count and one ply on 22-count hardanger or #25-32 linens. De-pending on the desired density of your cross stitches, one ply over one thread can be successfully worked on 28-count fabrics in small areas and on anything coarser than that.

Because of the generous number of plies in a strand of Waterlilies (12), you have enormous flexibility in the way you control the appearance of your embroidery. For instance, when working on a symmetrical design, you can shade all matching parts alike by threading your needle precisely the same way for each section. Illustration 1 shows a de-sign with four symmetrical parts. Using three plies of silk in the needle, it would be possible to work all four corners and/or petals alike. With six plies of silk in the needle you could do any two portions to match.

Waterlilies is well suited for many other types of handwork and may be used in any way you would use cotton floss.



What is Impressions?
Impressions is a 50% wool, 50% silk. Like Wildflowers, it is a single strand thread, but it is slightly thicker than Wildflowers. It is exceptionally soft and smooth, but extremely strong - a very soothing fiber to stitch with. It is available in both solid and hand-dyed colors. The solid colors are imported and correspond to Soie Cristale silk colors. We dye the variegated colors ourselves and they coordinate with Watercolours, Wild-flowers and Waterlilies. Because of the different properties of wool and silk, even solid colors will give a slightly heathered appearance when stitched, adding depth and texture to your needlework without changing threads.

Impressions thread

How do I use Impressions?
Impressions comes in 36-yard, 120-yard and 400-yard skeins and, like the other threads, can be cut into one-yard lengths.

One strand works well for most needlepoint stitches on 24-18 count canvas, although basketweave on Congress cloth should be done in small areas only. One strand is also fine for upright stitches on #24 canvas, but use two strands for upright stitches on 18 mesh. Slanted stitches, both long and short, are very defined on 18-mesh if one strand is used. The same stitches done with two strands are smooth and silky. Experi-ment for the right look for each piece of embroidery. 13-count canvas requires two strands for needlepoint stitches and two - three strands for upright stitches.

For cross stitch worked over two threads, one strand is suitable for 32-18 count fabrics. When doing cross stitch over one thread use 18, 16 or 14-count fabrics, including Aida. For decorative stitches on evenweave fabrics, one strand is best for most counts, although some stitches may be too bulky on very fine weaves. On 18 or 14-count grounds, two strands may be required for selected stitches unless a very lacy look is your goal.

Because of it's strength, smoothness and subtle sheen, Impressions can't be beat for crewel embroidery. Difficult stitches such as bullion knots are hassle free and the overall look of crewel embroidery worked with Impressions is delicate and elegant.

When using multi-color-ed threads, must each cross stitch be completed as I work?
The choice is yours. If you want a continuous flow of color, like a rainbow or fan, complete one cross stitch at a time. If you want a more homogenous mix of color, work your cross stitches in the traditional manner. Try both ways. Each one is appropriate in certain circumstances and your own personal preferences should always be your guide.

Am I restricted to using hand-dyed threads in geometric designs?
Absolutely not. Our hand-dyed threads are perfect for decorative stitches on all of your handpainted needlepoint designs and in crewel work. They can be used for background and/or for the design elements. The stitches you use will govern the way the color looks. The same color can come across very differently when worked in two different stitch patterns. Experiment to find the feeling or look you want for the project in question.

How do I handle backgrounds?
Variegated threads are easiest to use for backgrounds if you work with decorative stitches. However, they can be successfully used for basketweave backgrounds. Unless a diagonal striped look is your intention, try working in reverse directions or in small irregular areas as illustrated. There are additional suggestions in the next paragraphs.

With any variegated thread you will get a striped effect if you work your stitches in a linear fashion. Most of our colors are dyed so that they blend into one another and this lessens the striated effect somewhat. There are times when you can use striations to your advantage.

For instance:

  • worked in horizontal lines for a sunset
  • worked in basketweave for narrow columns or for a narrow border
  • worked in basketweave in alternating directions for backgrounds. This will create a sense of motion (See Illustration 2A above).

How do I avoid stripes?
A few suggestions follow, but keep in mind that there are no rules. Use your own imagination, experiment, and let the needs of the piece you are stitching be your guide.

  • if working with multiple plies in your needle, reverse strands or use unmatched strands
  • work rows of stitches that encroach upon one another. Encroaching gobelin, Parisian, diagon-al Roumanian and any half-dropped motifs are examples.
  • use stitches in irregular rows (Byzantine, diagon-al Mosaic, Flame, etc.)
  • select stitches with a large number of steps (Rhodes, eyelets, Queen, etc.)
  • if all your stitches are uniform (basketweave or tent, for instance) work every other stitch; then go back and insert the remaining stitches.
  • if you have a large area to fill and the stitch pattern you are using doesn't automatically distribute the color to your liking, work in small irregular areas until the entire space is filled (See Illustration 2B).
  • for a different effect, follow the above suggestions, but divide the space into an imaginary gridwork of geometric shapes such as diamonds and squares and fill each with basket-weave or the stitch or your choice
  • use stitches with multiple layers such as Rice, Herringbone or Spiderweb
  • use composite stitches such as Curtain, Checkerboard Cross, Petal or Tweed.

Should I work with the grain of the thread?
Not necessarily. If you want to continue your stitching with the same color that you just finished in your needle, then reverse the strands each time you thread your needle. Most times there is no need to control color -- it's far more exciting to just let the colors do their thing while you select your threads at random without regard for the "direction" of the thread.

If I am using two or more plies in my needle, must they always match?
Certainly not. The effect of matched and unmatched strands is different and there may be occasions when you only want matched strands. If you're working with two plies of Watercolours and want them all matched, simply save the leftover piece from each cut for another project.

For a subtle, but very exciting look, mix and match. For instance, if your work requires two plies of thread in the needle, use two plies from the same cut, then two plies from two different cuts, reversed strands, etc. The mixed and reversed plies will have a more tweedy appearance, but if the matched and unmatched strands are used in balance throughout, the whole piece will look right. Unless you wish to create a specific effect, avoid switching from all matched strands for one part of your work to all unmatched strands in another part.

What is the best way to work circular stitches such as eyelets?
There is no best way. A multitude of effects can be acheived simply by your choice of stitch sequence. A few examples follow.

(Work thin lines first, thick lines last)

Illustration 3

Can I mix and match different types of fibers?
Yes, of course. Many of the colors of Watercolours, Wildflowers, Waterlilies and Impressions coordinate with one another, but the unique properties of each will cause them to look differently when stitched. You can achieve very interesting effects by playing up the differences in textures and color intensity of these threads even if you stitch with only one color combination.

All of our hand-dyed threads work well with just about any other fiber you normally use in your needlework. The hand-dyed threads can serve as an accent to other threads or they can be the dominant feature in your embroidery.

You can also successfully stitch any of our hand-dyed threads with another fiber in the same needle. Try combining two different hand-dyed threads or one hand-dyed with a solid color of floss, metallic or silk.

Where can I find patterns using your threads?
We have a growing collection of instruction leaflets and teaching projects which are available through your local retailer. We also provide free patterns to shops and you can find patterns and classes on our website www.caron-net.com. More and more designers are using our threads and new designs become available regularly.

You can take existing patterns which call for traditional threads such as floss and substitue hand-dyed threads. Even using just one color of Watercolours, Wildflowers, Waterlilies or Impressions for an entire cross stitch sampler can be very effective.

Are hand-dyed fibers only for needlework?
Your imagination is your only limit. Here are some other ways our threads have been put to work:

  • tassels, braids and trims
  • fiberart tapestries
  • hair ornaments and shoelaces
  • weaving
  • embellishment for an-tique musical instruments
  • woven throughout nubby upholstery material
  • bargello "wallpaper"

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: No part of this feature story nor the included designs/charts can be reproduced or distributed in any form (including electronic) or used as a teaching tool without the prior written permission of the CARON Collection Ltd. or the featured designers. One time reproduction privileges provided to our web site visitors for and limited to personal use only.


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CARON email: mail@caron-net.com