Thread Matters: Choosing the Right Color

Welcome back to Thread Matters with Aggy Burczyk!

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“To see or not to see” – that is the sewer’s question when deciding on the right thread color for a project.

ThreadMattersBlog-1

In my classes I frequently get the question: “What is the best ‘invisible’ thread?” It’s not in reference to a monofilament thread, but rather a polyester or cotton thread that will match the color of the fabric perfectly and remains “invisible”.

As sewists, and especially quilters, we seem to have less of a problem choosing a thread color that values our work and highlights certain areas or shapes. Nonetheless there are certain rules which must be followed for best results and the color wheel is our best tool for this.

ThreadMatters-ColorWheel1

There are different color wheels with more or less detail available based on different primary colors. Please do not get confused searching the internet!

For the sewer’s purposes the RYB color wheel suits well, as it is also predominantly used in art and art education. It is made out of the three primary colors (Red, Yellow and Blue) and three secondary colors (orange, violet and green). While the primary colors cannot be mixed from any combination of other colors, the secondary colors are mixed from two primary colors. [Just in case you were wondering now about the six other colors in this color wheel: they are made by mixing a primary and a secondary color and are usually called tertiary colors.]

Do remember art class in school when somehow all of the colors that you mixed turned out to be a brownish color? I certainly do! Who would have thought that paying a little bit more attention would have been so helpful for our preferred hobby?

Now think about appliqué and giving your shapes a nice (visible) finish by machine or with a beautiful hand stitch. You have several choices, which rarely can go wrong applying the basic concepts of the color wheel:

  • Use the complementary color of the predominant color of the background fabric or the appliqué piece. Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel.
  • Use an analogous color of the predominant color of the background fabric or the appliqué piece. Analogous colors are adjacent to one another on the color wheel.
  • Use a triad harmony when dealing with a very distinct colored background fabric (like in the photo of the sample piece below). In a color triad the colors are evenly spaced and build a triangle.
ThreadMatters-ColorWheel3

Triad Red / Yellow / Blue

  • Use a different value of the predominant color in your appliqué piece.
    Value basically describes how dark or light the color would be if you took a black and white photo of it.
  • Use a different saturation of the predominant color in your appliqué piece.
    Saturation basically describes the brightness or intensity of a color. By the way, using a thicker thread of the color will often do the trick (Aurifil 50wt à 40wt à 28wt à 12wt)

It is fair to say that “value” and “saturation” are the hardest to differentiate, but with a little practice it will become more and more clear and natural to you

ThreadMatters-ColorRange

In this sample I played a little bit with above suggestions using five variations of blue in two different weights (the 40wt on the left and the 50wt on the right), a matching yellow color and the same color with a higher value and a background matching red color. All stripes are exactly (!) 1” – but look what a difference in appearance and subjective width the choice of the thread makes!

Still confused?

Please don’t be, as in reality all this theory is much easier in practice. When choosing a thread color “To See” I simply use my AURIFIL color card. The Mako 100% cotton range comprises now 270 colors and the color card is made with real thread.

ThreadMatteres-ColorCard

I can hear you now: “Just opening the color card will make me want them all!” RESIST!!

After consulting the color wheel and deciding on how much effect I would like to give, I will take different small fabric left-overs from my project and try to find the complementary hues (this simply translates as the color itself, e.g. red, blue, green, etc.) and will then decide on value and saturation.

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Now what about the “Not To See” thread color? Strangely enough this seems much more of a problem.

Let’s first speak about sewing and piecing.

Why is the perfect thread so important for sewing or especially piecing? Think of a four patch or better an 8 point star where all of those seams have to come together in one point. We are just human and some of the seams will inevitably spring open a bit – e voilà, I can see the thread used for piecing. This will attract the viewer’s eye even more and imperfections will become very visible.

When asked to bring a “neutral” thread to patchwork class students often will happily present a brand new spool of bright white thread on their machine. White seems to be considered of having “no color” and should therefore by definition be neutral! Or maybe not?

Where is white “invisible”? Yes, correct, only on white itself!

Many times our work is composed not of an analogous color scheme (colors next to each other in the color wheel) but of fabric in several complementary colors (triad or tetradic, etc.). By definition, would I use a matching thread color of any of these it would be very much visible in some areas.

What is needed is what I call a “chameleon” color which adapts to all.

First evaluate whether your fabric colors are predominantly warm or cool.

ThreadMatters-ColorWheel2

The best thread color to choose for piecing and sewing would be a light (low value) only slightly saturated color in a warm or cold hue depending on your predominant fabric colors. Remember these terms? Here is how I translate this.

My preferred warm “chameleon” Aurifil thread is an earthy tone, the # 2312 – my preferred cold “chameleon” Aurifil thread is a grey tone, the # 2620.

Actually these are among the most sold threads within the 270 to choose from, but you might prefer to go up or down in value and/or saturation a bit, depending on the specifics of your project.

Aurifil-ChameleonColors

“Chameleon” colors are very important to have in your thread stash (yes, dear husband – I do not only have a decent fabric stash but I am also a proud owner of a beautiful thread stash). Did you know that Aurifil offers this beautiful AND useful collection from Mark Lipinski? It’s truly all your heart needs.

If a Large, 12-spool collection is no in your budget, consider “Aurifil’s Best Selection” with 4 large neutral spools.

AurifilBasic4

Have fun choosing your thread colors and remember: Thread Matters and with that – also its color.

Ciao e a presto,
Aggy

8 thoughts on “Thread Matters: Choosing the Right Color

  1. Oh, my favorite neutral is a light gray or a beige (depending upon what I’m sewing). So nice to have my feelings validated!

  2. Some new thread colors to try out, Thank you, my favorite chameleon color is 2600 it seems to blend with everything, in fact I have it in my machine right now for some FPP 🙂

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