All You Need To Know About Variegated Thread

What You Need to Know About Variegated Thread

Have you considered variegated thread? Variegated thread is perfect for unique, stand-out embroidery! These multicolored threads are a blend of colors in a single thread that can lend dimension and an element of surprise to your embroidery project. You can achieve striped, gradient, or random color effects with variegated threads, depending on the needle penetration pattern of your design and stitch length.  Additionally, when planning for a stitched area of multiple colors, a variegated thread can work on several different colors, saving time and space on the embroidery machine. There are several shades of variegated thread to choose from, some with subtle color changes and some with contrasting colors, and are most commonly available in 40-weight rayon and polyester. 

Variegated Thread and Stitch Type:  What You Need to Know For Best Results

When choosing designs for variegated thread, the most important thing to be mindful of is the type of stitches you will use.  The stitch patterns you choose and the length of the stitches themselves will affect color placement, color repetition, and, ultimately, the overall look of the finished piece. When you first admire your beautiful multicolored cone or spool of variegated thread, it is more challenging than you think to anticipate how the color repetition pattern will appear when stitched out. Preliminary experimentation and test runs using your chosen variegated thread and design combination are strongly recommended to achieve the results and visual impact you’re looking for. It is not unusual to find you might need to make a few design element adjustments before you settle on fabric color, design placement, and stitch type.

Common Stitch Types and How They Interact with Variegated Thread

There are three main types of automated stitches in machine embroidery. All three stitches create a different look and visual texture when used in embroidery designs (even with solid-colored thread). So, especially when using variegated thread, it is essential to think through and sample which type of stitch will work best for your project before committing to your final design.


Run Stitch

The run stitch is the most basic kind of stitch with a lot of uses and much versatility. Running stitches essentially look like regular dashes of thread following each other. Stitch lengths can be varied and can be layered on top of each other by the software being used for creative effects. The places where running stitches can be utilized is almost unlimited: contour stitches, outlines, decorative flourishes, small or thin details, underlay stitching, or in parallel rows to create areas of wider, less dense color fill.

When using variegated thread with the run stitch, you will see the repeated pattern follow each other along the stitched line. The color effect can look different depending on individual stitch length and whether or not you are using one length of a run stitch singularly or in a group of run stitch lengths laid out side-by-side. If you are laying down regular, repeating rows of running stitches side by side, you can achieve a subtle, airy gradient effect that has a softer look than the clear stripes of satin stitch.

Satin Stitch 

Satin stitch is a commonly-used type of stitch in which the stitches are laid down in a close, side-by-side repeating pattern more or less parallel to each other. Each stitch can change its angle if necessary for a wavy, feathered, or jagged effect, or if they are all kept in the same angle, satin stitches can make lovely, straight columns.  Satin stitches lie flat against the fabric and can create a glossy and flat or, with some layering, a slightly mounded texture. This type of stitch is also often utilized for areas of lettering, longer decorative stitches, contouring, or even for covering an area of fill stitch for a layered, dense effect. Using variegated thread with a satin stitch will result in a distinct striping effect as the different shades lie down on the fabric, making it easier to see all the colors in the variegated thread. Depending on the interaction between the multiple shades in the thread and the color of the accompanying fabric, this can be a very desirable and fun look, particularly when stitching lettering with decorative or chunky fonts. 

Fill Stitch 

A fill stitch is intended to provide dense cover over a large area in a design. Fill is laid down in closely-placed rows of stitches that create an overall pattern. Stitches in one area of fill generally go in one angle at a time across the fabric. However, a design can be digitized so that adjacent areas of fill can be angled in different direction for decorative effects, such as wave spirals, feathering, density gradients, and more.

Stitch length, density, angle, and edge shape can all change the look of an area of fill. When using variegated thread in a full stitch, the pattern and angle will interact with the amount and frequency of the color repeat and can make the area of fill appear to be striped, gradient, or even somewhat stippled or speckled. You can achieve a variety of interesting looks and cool effects with a multicolored thread; however, we can't emphasize enough how important it is to test run your chosen fill with your variegated thread so you can make any adjustments in angle, stitch length, etc.

Understanding Variegated Thread Color Styles


Multicolor thread is a dye pattern characterized by a series of long lengths of repeating colors. These can be either contrasting colors that stand out against each other or analogous colors that blend softly into one another. They result in a larger area of each individual color before the next color change. Multicolor threads are available in both the Classic Rayon line as well as the Polyneon line

Astro Colors 

Astro colors appear only in the Classic Rayon line.  Astro colors are dyed with much shorter lengths of repeating colors than the Multicolor threads and tend to contain bright, high-key colors and neons. While the colors are bolder, the changes between the colors have a subtler transition and overall look.



Ombré colored thread is dyed with shades from the same color family in a longer repeating pattern for a soft, subtle look. In French, ombre means “shaded.” When stitching with ombré, you will notice that the thread pattern will undulate from light to dark and then from dark back to light in the same color family. When stitched on a similar colored fabric, you can achieve a lovely gradient effect, where the colors blend into the fabric. This is often referred to as tone-on-tone, which can add a touch of sophistication to your embroidery.

 Using variegated thread adds fresh visual interest to your design for a multi-dimensional look. From subtle blending using the color-family gradations of ombré thread to the bolder stripes of multicolor thread, having a few of your favorite variegated shades on hand can help you create areas of beautiful, fun, and unique embroidery on a variety of projects.

  • Using variegated thread gives your project a unique look.
  • A single cone or spool or variegated thread can do the work of multiple colors, saving time and space on the machine. One thread does it all.
  • Each color repetition pattern varies from one type of variegated thread to another, resulting in a number of possible choices and color combinations.
  • Longer areas of color repeats can lend a bold and bright look to your project.
  • Shorter color repeats, particularly with muted, neutral, or pastel colors, can often result in a more subdued, blended look.
  • With the right fill stitch, you can substitute a variegated thread for a solid color when creating more random patterns in naturally speckled design elements, such as animal fur, tree trunks, stone, and more.