Cross stitch embroidery thread

As a child the one place I wasn't allowed near was my mother's box of cross stitch embroidery thread. she was a skilled needle woman but embroidery threads were a luxury item and many of hers were pre-war. They were not that freely available immediately after the war, as far as I could see.

I was told that when I was grown-up and responsible, I too would be trusted to use the contents of that wonderful work box. I am fairly certain she actually meant 'might' not 'would'.

When, as an adult, I began doing cross stitch, I was astounded at how many different colours of cross stitch embroidery thread there were and how inexpensive they were to buy. I feel I've finally got free access to something that, in childhood, was forbidden to me, even if I don't feel either that grown-up or particularly responsible.

There are three main manufacturers of stranded cotton (floss), the main cross stitch embroidery thread used today. They are Anchor, DMC and Madeira. Stranded cotton comes in skeins that contain six separate threads.

We've all got our own preferred length of thread that we feel comfortable stitching with. If it's too long the thread and tangle or fray. 18 inches is a recommended length.

Most cross stitch patterns call for two strands of a single colour or a blend of two different colours in the needle. Before you start check the designer's instructions for the number of strands to use. I have a lovely design that is paler than it should be as I only used two strands and the designer recommended three, something I didn't spot until the end. I wondered why I had so much thread left over!

A handy tip is to pull each strand from the cut length separately to prevent tangling.

You may, as a keen stitcher, come across bargain threads in all sorts of interesting places such as car boot sales (or garage sales), special offers in magazines or even local charity shops (goodwill shops). Handle these enticing offers with care! The three main manufacturers all guarantee colourfastness of their products and say that the finished product can be washed at up to 95°F.

Sometimes you will find unusual threads at craft fairs, but at least here you can interrogate the salesperson about the colourfastness of the thread and if it will be any more difficult to use than the usual stranded cottons.

One other point you may choose to swap a colour for similar coloured beads or a variegated thread and this can be very effective.

As a designer I love it when a customer rings me up and tells me that they had successfully substituted an alternative. They have taken my design and gone that stage further with it. However if you want to keep to the design, and want it looking at it does on the picture on the front, then you will need to use the type and colour of thread the pattern specifies, throughout. Sorry if that sounds obvious but down the years I have tried several cost-cutting exercises using cheaper alternatives and they haven't always proven successful. Interesting, yes, but rarely what I hoped for.

There are conversion charts that tell you the nearest equivalent colour in another manufacturers palette but it will not be exactly the same. As someone who has seen several of these conversion charts, I would have more confidence in them if the various compilers always agreed amongst themselves as to which colour in one manufacturers palette was a match with one in another's. Some designs, in particular, use very subtle shading and if you substitute the different manufacturers threads it can come out looking quite different.

Variegated cross stitch embroidery thread

These are those wonderful threads which change colour as you go down the skein length.

It used to be you had to go to craft fairs or search the Internet for them. However the main thread manufacturers are now bringing out an increased range of these threads and they are becoming easily accessible. It is still worth searching the Internet however for different textured threads over a wide variety of colourways. They are great for stitching sea, sky, flowers or in fact anything where the colour naturally fluctuates.

The thing to remember when stitching with a variegated cross stitch embroidery thread is in order to keep the variegation you cannot use the loop method to start. Therefore you must match the threads you put in your needle, whether it is two or three strands.

For the same reason when using these variegated cross stitch embroidery threads you will need to complete each cross stitch before going on to the next one. no more romping happily down the row of half cross stitches and then coming back across the row completing them. They are therefore slower to stitch with but the results are stunning!