Have Your Say

4th March 2022

The Clever Art of Substituting Threads

When we wrote about substituting threads in Thread Conversions Part 1 and Thread Conversions Part 2, we asked about your experiences and we were inundated with readers sharing their favourite tips, stories and some really useful advice. We have learnt so much ourselves, so we hope there will be some ideas here that will enhance your own stitching experience.

Alison Hickson shared a story about thread substitution. She was a teenager in the mid-1960s when she was handed a half-finished needlepoint project that her aunt had started in the 1940s. It did have the Anchor wool with it, but not enough to finish the piece. Alison did what she could, varying the stitch to be more economical, but soon ran out of wool.

It was then she discovered that the numbering system for Anchor had changed not once, but twice by the time she was doing the project! To make things worse, she was stitching in the ‘bright ‘60s’ not the ‘muted ‘40s’ and could not find any matches in the range. She couldn’t use DMC as the thread weight was different, so she ended up with a half-stitched cushion and no thread to finish it with.

So, Alison adjusted the design, completing the outer part of it in bright ‘60s colours which ended up setting off the muted 1940’s centre. To her delight, it looked great. When the project had been started, there were no kits available and you had to buy the threads you thought you needed without any way of judging quantity. But her creativity allowed her to finish a cushion that was used for years afterwards until it literally fell apart several decades later. Alison finished by saying:

‘I learned a good lesson; always buy enough thread at the beginning of the project!’

Mendie Cannon shared a useful tip for substitutions. She suggested that when you want to change threads, lay a sheet of transparent red plastic over them. This will help you see clearly if the thread is of the same value – light, medium or dark, and the same weight – thin, medium or thick. The red plastic takes away the distraction of the actual colour and allows you to really see other properties.

Roberta Kenney lamented the lack of consistency in colour description conventions. She told us about a method of describing colour that is used for pigments and dyes, called the Munsell Colour System. This system outlines the terminology used when referring to all aspects of colour. Roberta says that this would be a fabulous system to use when referring to colours of threads, as it would provide a clear way to cross reference between manufacturers. Unfortunately, as far as Roberta knows, these designations are not commonly used by thread manufacturers, so we usually have to substitute by eye.

Because she often stitches her own designs, Lynne Redderson doesn’t usually need a specific colour. However, if she doesn’t have the exact shade she wants, say of a pink or blue, she will use two strands of different pinks or blues that, when stitched, appear as a completely new shade. What a clever idea!

Sally Jorden has found that sometimes she needs perlé cotton or silk in a colour that has been discontinued. However, often that manufacturer will have a suitable colour in a stranded cotton or silk instead. She’s discovered that you can actually make your own perlé thread from stranded thread! She’s even recommended a PDF you can look at if you’d like to try doing this yourself.

Deborah Schwabel asked whether we knew of a conversion chart for Gloriana threads. Because Gloriana threads are hand-dyed, doing an exact conversion is always difficult. We found two conversion charts: one for Gloriana to Dinky Dyes and the other for Gloriana to Weeks Dye Works and Needle Necessities. If any of our readers know of any other charts, we’re sure Deborah would be very grateful.

Finally, Maryann Ashton shared her own experiences with substituting threads. She had received her grandmother’s threads and buttons when her grandmother passed away. This included a lot of Anchor threads that Maryann, who wasn’t an embroiderer at the time, wasn’t sure what to do with. When she started doing cross stitch, she occasionally delved into this stash, but not very often. In fact, rather than shrinking, it grew as left-over threads from cross stitch kits were added to it

A little while back, Maryann started a kit that she had had for some time. The threads were not identified by manufacturer – there was just a symbol and a colour name. Life took over and she put the kit to one side for a short while and when she got back to it, some threads had gone missing. So, she went to Grandma’s stash where she easily found ‘pale lemon yellow’, ‘slate grey’ and a number of other colours.

Maryann said:

‘My picture is nearly finished, and no-one but me will know where the ‘elderly’ threads are. Thank you, Grandma!’

We’re sure there are as many stories about thread substitution as there are stitchers. If you’d like to share your own experiences with us, or if you have any useful tips for our readers, don’t hesitate to write in. We love getting your emails, as it means all of us learn new things every week and we get to share the knowledge amongst close friends.

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