Thread Conversions Part 1 | Colours

21st January 2022

We received a query from a reader asking how best to work through the process of converting threads from one brand to another. This particular enquiry related to what threads one should use if the brand or specific type listed in the project requirements weren’t available in a particular place, or if they were no longer manufactured. 

This question comes up quite frequently and while there are conversion charts readily available for the major brands, they don’t cover off every situation and even so, it can still be tricky to get your substitutions right.

So, over the next few weeks we are going to cover this topic in parts, beginning this week with colour substitutions.

To start with, a lot of projects are worked using 6-stranded embroidery thread. DMC threads are ubiquitous in most places and many patterns and projects are stitched using DMC colours. However, not only is it uneconomical to go and buy new threads for every single project, especially when many of us already have a huge stash, but there are times when the colours don’t suit, dye-lots have changed, the threads are not immediately available or you simply want to use up what you have on hand.

Conversion Charts

The first thing to try is a thread conversion chart. A search in Google for ‘DMC to Anchor’ or ‘DMC to Semco’ or any other combination of stranded cotton brands will bring up a host of conversion tables. It is worth keeping these to hand, especially if you have a lot of different brands of threads in your collection. Print them off and keep them in a folder or save them to your computer so you know you’ll always have them. 

It is important to note that these conversions are not exact. So, the Anchor number offered as the DMC conversion will not be precisely the same colour. They are a nearest match, which is why, occasionally, different conversion charts for the same brands will offer different numbers. As such, your conversion chart should be a first port of call, but not the only one.

Once you’ve looked up a conversion, or, if you have threads from more obscure brands or which you don’t even know the manufacturer, take a look at them in relation to the other threads you’re going to use. Put all of your threads together and lay them out on the backing fabric.

This allows you to see if the colours are actually going to work together.

Usually, if a particular colour is jarring to the eye during this process, you know it is probably going to be a wrong choice.

Comparison by Eye

Most projects will offer a colour photograph of the finished piece, so you may be able to see the colour or colours you are trying to convert. Compare the thread you have carefully with the image. Is it similar enough? Is it too dark or light? 

Bear in mind though that photographs, particularly on a screen, may not give an exact colour. The picture may have faded, your screen may be adjusted differently or it may be difficult to really see the colour you’re trying to convert. This is where going back to studying a bundle of colours may help.

Nearest Number

There are resources online to allow you to discover the nearest colour to a DMC colour from within the DMC range. Thread Bare offer one tool, but this is where a colour card can come in handy. 

Colour cards for the major brands are available online, or if you are lucky enough to get hold of a printed or actual thread one, the colours will be even more accurate. These cards tend to group colours in shades so that you can find the nearest to the thread you want to convert.

Other Considerations

It perhaps doesn’t need saying but if you are going to do a replacement with threads from your stash, it is really important to ensure those threads are colour-fast and of good quality. 

If you are going to put the effort into stitching a project, the last thing you want is for the replacement thread to stand out because it lacks the sheen of the surrounding threads, or it has gone fluffy, or worse, the colour has run everywhere!

Test the threads out beforehand if you are not sure.

Furthermore, as described by our friends over at Lord Libidan, it is worth stitching a colour swatch, especially if you’re having to find a replacement thread to match a thread you have already used as closely as possible. There can be vast colour variations not just in dye-lots, but in threads over time that may fade or that were a slightly different colour to start with.

Even with a good conversion chart, you won’t know how exact that conversion is unless you try stitching the two threads side by side. The difference may be subtle but it could end up being huge in the finished piece.

A Final Thought

Although trying to find replacement colours can seem stressful, throughout you just need to remember that the piece you are stitching is your own. There are no needlework police who are going to come knocking at your door to tell you that the blue of the sky is a slightly different shade from the original pattern! 

Sometimes, near enough is good enough and you have to work with what you’ve got to hand and available.

What matters most is that you are happy with the effect at the end.

Next week, we’ll talk about what to do when more obscure threads are unavailable or no longer manufactured, but in the meantime, if any of you have any thoughts, ideas or advice in relating to substituting threads, we’d love to hear them.  

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