Threads – Playing with Colour

As an exercise in colour theory and thread painting I stitched a colour wheel. It was interesting going through my thread collection and locating the appropriate colours, and a little revealing that I actually had them all (No, I do not have a thread buying problem!). I used a basic red-yellow-blue colour wheel for this exercise, and chose colours based on a colour wheel I found in a book I own called Color Magic for Quilters, by Ann Seely and Joyce Stewart.

Here is the colour wheel using single colours of thread. The primary colours (yellow, blue and red) and secondary colours (orange, violet and green) are stitched to the full diameter of the circle. The tertiary colours (blue-green, yellow-green, orange-yellow, red-orange, violet-red blue-violet) are only stitched part-way.


I used mainly rayon threads for this, and white quilting cotton backed by two layers of Sulky Totally Stable Iron-On Tear-Away stabilizer. I also put the stabilized fabric in an embroidery hoop. Even with all of this, I found that the dense stitching caused some distortion.

To finish off the tertiary colour areas, I stitched using the primary and secondary thread colours together to see how they would blend.

Here is the finished colour wheel:


I like the way the double threads blend together. It shows how easily you can create a new colour using threads you already own.

Some things I learned in this exercise:

  • for dense thread painting, either a very heavy fabric or lots of backing stabilizer are required.
  • loosen the thread tension to prevent the bobbin thread from pulling up. I found that this happened particularly when I changed direction. In the photo you can see my bobbin thread, a light beige, at some of the outside edges of the stitching, especially in the lighter colours. On the other hand, using a contrasting bobbin colour and allowing it to be pulled to the top can be a design feature.
  • be careful to use the right colour in the right place. Do test patches first if you are testing colours. Ripping out dense stitching is difficult and time-consuming (don’t ask).
  • some of those rayon threads are slippery and can be tricky to work with. Helpful things: topstitch needles, which have sharp points and large eyes; feeding the spool from either the top or the side, depending on how the spool is wound (if a horizontal spool holder doesn’t work, try a vertical one); a mesh thread net helps keep the thread from spontaneously unwinding itself into a big, tangled mess.
  • for colour blending with threads, you can try stitching with two threads at the same time as I did, or you can stitch with one first, and then the second one over top of the first. Try a little test patch to see if one way is more to your liking than another.two-colour-samples_0001 These samples were stitched on artist canvas. I found that the two threads together filled in a little faster and blended evenly, so that’s what I used for my colour wheel. Each colour was stitched at about the density of the single colour samples at the bottom.

For reference, here are the threads I used (some of the Sulky colour numbers are guesses. I have quite a few threads that I purchased in discount packs that don’t have proper labels on them).

Red: Sulky rayon 1147

Red-Orange: Sulky rayon 1078

Orange: Sulky rayon 1065

Orange-Yellow: Sulky rayon 1023

Yellow: Wonderfil rayon 2116

Yellow-Green: Sulky rayon 1063

Green: Wonderfil rayon 4156

Green-Blue: Sulky rayon 1252

Blue: Coats Twist rayon 740

Blue-Violet: Sulky Rayon 1534

Violet: Wonderfil rayon 5108

Violet-Red: Superior Threads Highlights polyester 714


5 thoughts on “Threads – Playing with Colour

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