Thread Matters 2022: Machine Embellishment with Variegated Threads

Greetings fellow thread enthusiasts! As Master Educator and Aurifilosophy Program Coordinator I’m excited to once again introduce Krista Hennebury of  Poppyprint. Krista is a wonderfully skilled, award winning Canadian based Aurifilosopher that joined our thread education team in 2020. Her modern quilting aesthetic is fresh and fun! As a national educator, retreat host, pattern designer, and Instagram enthusiast Krista is admired by those that have benefitted from her informed and welcoming teaching style.

We know you’ll enjoy Krista’s adventure with machine embellishment using Aurifil’s June Color Builder collection Passionflower. Thanks so much for sharing your tips with us Krista!

Is your shop, group or guild looking for insightful, inspiring and educational information on thread? Consider booking a virtual or in-person program with one of our skilled Aurifilosophers. Learn more about Aurifilosophy and find your favorite Aurifilosopher here

Happy Stitching!
Karen L. Miller ~ Redbird Quilt Co.

When the call went out to the Aurifilosopher team for this year’s Thread Matters posts using the 2022 Color Builder Collections, I was quick to jump into June so that I could work with the gorgeous Passionflower set of threads. I love blue and since 2022 is the year of indigo for me, this set of three spools was an obvious choice. I thought by now, 5 months into the year, that I would be stitching on some newly dyed indigo cloth for this post, but cool spring weather has conspired against my outdoor dying plans! Not to worry, I decided to stick with my plan of trying out some decorative stitching on a new garment, but I’ve used white linen instead of indigo-dyed cloth.

When I lecture and teach about the various weights and remarkable 270 colours of Aurifil thread, often I’m asked about choosing and incorporating variegated threads into quilting work. There are many great posts and photographic examples of variegated thread used in quilting, embroidery and cross stitch available on, so I thought it would be fun to look at embellishing a garment with variegated thread.

I’d long been admiring the many great versions of Closet Core’s Cielo Top & Dress on Instagram using the #closetcorecielotop hashtag to search. I wanted to get in on that fun big sleeve energy! I chose some white linen from my stash to make a slightly formal summer top. To tie in the colors in the Passionflower thread set, I chose navy Essex linen for the accent sleeve cuff.

NOTE: For folks who know this pattern, I didn’t line the sleeve cuff as the linen has a lot of weight and structure by itself.

When choosing variegated threads for a quilting project, I suggest two approaches for testing which thread will give the results you’re looking for. First, look at the end of the spool, not the side. The end will give you a better idea of the overall distribution of each color in the variegation as well as the amount of contrast between the colors. Secondly, pool and swirl a few yards of the thread over your fabrics to get an idea of how the thread colors interact with each other and the colors of your fabric. For this garment project however, the true test was to just use the two variegated options in the Passionflower collection  to sew various decorative stitches onto the white linen. This way, I could see how fabric, thread color and stitch design all worked together.

I first tried the ombre white to light blue colour #3770 – Stone Washed Denim, to stitch the chain of circles. The contrast Essex linen I’d chosen for the sleeve cuffs is heathered navy, so my initial thought was that this spool was too light in color. I was looking for a bit more punch. Below it, you can see I stitched the same design using the white to navy variegated spool colour #4655 – Storm at Sea. I quickly noticed that the abrupt changes in colour from white to dark navy and white to medium blue didn’t suit this stitch design when sewn on white fabric; the white sections of thread made the stitching appear incomplete (although it does give cool moon phase vibes!). The same thing happened with the swirly design I tried next. Below that, I thought maybe the triple stitch would work, but again the sections of white thread on white linen made it look like stitches were missing.  The linked circles got me closer to a look I liked because as the design is stitched out, the threads overlap one another and blend, thereby mostly concealing the abrupt color changes. With that one however, I felt the motif looked too much like a string of pearls to go on the neckline of my top.

Finally, I settled on linked diamonds. This decorative stitch hides the color changes quite well because the diamonds are overstitched several times, thereby overlapping the thread on itself and blending the variegations so that there are no large sections of white thread. In addition, the Aurifil 50wt 2ply was crucial to a nice, fine crisp design without a big bulk up of thread, which can happen on a design that makes use of overstitching. This was a great lesson in testing threads AND decorative stitches on scraps of the actual garment fabric to find out which combination would give the desired result.  One unanticipated hiccup I ran into was the machine struggling to accurately stitch out the design over the thick seams at the shoulder. You can see this in the closeup photo, but luckily the variegated thread helps to conceal this issue quite nicely. Just something to keep in mind for next time! 

TECHNICAL NOTES: You can see in the photo that I used the beautiful medium blue colour #2715 – Robins Egg in the bobbin for the decorative stitching. In the event of any tension issues, I figured this thread would be less noticeable on the right side of the work, should it pull to the top anywhere in the stitch design. The rest of the garment was sewn with 40wt White color #2024, which nicely matches the weight of the linen threads woven into the cloth. The entire project was stitched with a universal 80/12 needle.

Garment making is relatively new for me, so I was excited to dust off my older Pfaff sewing machine and try out this idea. I’ve enjoyed embellishing machine applique with variegated threads in combination with decorative stitches in the past.  Now I think there may be more decorative stitch + variegated thread embellishing on me made garments in my future! 

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