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How to Use Variegated Floss for Cross Stitch

The first time I heard of variegated embroidery floss, I was confused about the use and purpose of it. When I first discovered it, I didn't know that many cross stitch patterns recommend using variegated floss (also referred to as fancy floss and sometimes hand over-dyed). As I have learned more about variegated floss, I have learned to enjoy it and appreciate it as a great cross stitch thread option.

For cross stitch, variegated floss is used to make X's on fabric, which is the same main purpose as all embroidery floss for cross stitch. The main difference between variegated and non-variegated floss is that with variegated floss, the stitcher needs to be aware of what method of stitching they are using to get the desired color effect from the color changes within the embroidery floss.


What is Variegated Embroidery Floss?

Variegated embroidery floss is thread (often cotton) that has been dyed in a way that gives the floss an uneven color throughout the floss. The color changes throughout the floss can be subtle (changing between shades of one color) or dramatic (changing between completely different colors).

Another term for variegated embroidery floss is 'fancy floss' because variegated thread is generally more expensive that solid-color embroidery floss. It usually can be purchased in skeins that are made up of 6 easily separated strands (as most embroidery floss is sold).

Variegated embroidery floss is sometimes also referred to as 'hand over-dyed.' Hand over-dyed means it was not dyed with a machine and it was either dyed excessively or dyed with a few different colors. All hand over-dyed floss is not variegated though because some of it is dyed to be a solid color.


 Hand over-dyed embrodiery floss


English Versus Danish Stitching Method with Variegated Floss - Which is Correct?

In the stitching community, there is a debate about the 'correct' way to stitch with variegated floss. Some say variegated floss needs to stitched with the English stitching method, which is when both legs of an X are stitched before moving onto the next X. Many stitchers are afraid the variegated thread will lose its effect of changing shades or colors if the top and bottom of the X's are not stitched with an adjacent section of the thread.

Other stitchers believe you can use the Danish stitching method too and still get a variegated look on your piece with the floss. The Danish stitching method is when a stitcher completes the first leg of multiple X's in a row or column before adding the second leg to complete the X's.


My Thoughts on the Two Stitching Methods with Variegated Floss

I believe you can use either the English or Danish stitching method. Both ways have their pros and cons. To me, the English stitching method gives the piece a cleaner look because the top and bottom legs of the stitches are always close to the same color, but the Danish stitching method feels quicker to stitch and generally uses less floss.

I did test stitch multiple variegated threads both ways, so you can make a better judgement about what method you would like to stitch your pieces with. When test stitching, I started with one length of six strands of embroidery floss that I pulled two strands from to stitch with the Danish method and another two strands from to stitch with the English method. That way, for each test stitch of a color, I had the same length of floss and same level of variegation.

Below are the three variegated flosses I test stitched with. I stitched with two strands of embroidery floss over two threads on 32 count linen.


Hand over-dyed cross stitch embroidery floss


Danish Stitching Method Test Stitch - Stitched One Row at a Time

Variegated Floss Stitched with Danish Method

Notice that with variegated flosses that only change shades, not colors, the top and bottom legs of the X's still blend well together. If you have a variegated floss that switches between colors, the top legs of the X's stand out more.

All three colors do give a variegated look though, and when not close up, the harshness of the top leg of the blue and purple thread becomes less noticeable.


English Stitching Method Test Stitch - Stitched One X at a Time

variegated floss stitched with english method

Notice that the top and bottom legs of the X's are all close in color. This gives cleaner looking X's, but it does take up more floss due to more wasted floss on the back of the piece. When using the English method, 6% - 9% less stitches were able to be made with the same length of floss compared to stitching with the Danish method.


Danish Stitching Method Versus English Stitching Method Side by Side

I hope seeing the variegated thread stitched with the the two different stitching methods helps show that there isn't a wrong way to stitch with variegated thread. It is all up to personal preference.


Different ways to stitch with variegated floss


Stitching with Variegated Floss Versus Solid-Colored Floss

Pros of Stitching with Variegated Floss

  • It can give your piece a more primitive (or antique) look. The variegation in some threads can mimic the look of damaged/faded threads.
  • It can give more dimension to you piece. When analyzing a piece stitched with variegated threads, it can be fascinating to examine how the variegated threads added to the look of the overall piece.
  • Variegated floss makes stitching a large block of the same "color" of thread more interesting because there will be shade or color changes for the stitcher to appreciate as they stitch.


Cons of Stitching with Variegated Floss

  • Variegated floss can be a lot more expensive than solid-colored floss - sometimes more than 5x as expensive. Tip: in cross stitch patterns that call for all variegated floss, check the number of stitches for each color before purchasing the floss. If a variegated floss is only used for a handful of stitches, consider swapping it out with a cheaper solid-colored floss. The end piece will look very similar to how it would have looked with all variegated flosses, and you will save a couple dollars.
  • The dye lots between batches of variegated flosses can vary a lot. So, if you run out of a color in the middle of a project, you can't guarantee you will find a skein of that color that looks similar (even if they are supposed to look the same).


 Other Thoughts

When I designed my All Creatures Cross Stitch Pattern, I stitched it with variegated threads because I wanted to give the piece a little more visual appeal (something for the eye to examine). Plus, I wanted to make sure stitchers would have fun stitching the piece. I didn't want them to think they needed to stitch large chunks of the same solid color.

I stitched the whole piece with the English method, but variegation would still have been noticeable in the piece if I would have stitched it with the Danish method.

 Animal Cross Stitch Pattern

I hope this post helps you to better understand variegated embroidery floss and the different ways it can be stitched with and used in cross stitch.

If you haven't tried out variegated threads yet, I recommend you try them. Just to warn you though, they can get addicting to use!

If you stitch with variegated floss, I'd love to hear whether you generally use the English or the Danish stitching method. Please leave your preference in the comment section below.

As always, thank you so much for reading!



P.S. I want to thank you for making it to the bottom of this post. :) Use code ENDOFPOST10 at checkout to save 10% on your next order with Cross Stitching Supplies. Head over to the online shop ->


Margaret Daykin
November 20, 2020 at 13:55

Thank you for this info. I have a BAP that I am starting and was considering using variegated thread. Your article helped me decide to go for it.

Connie Vazquez
November 14, 2020 at 17:48

Your information is very helpful. I just used variegated floss for the first time, copying a pattern from a picture. I did the whole row before finishing the X, whereas the pattern had apparently been done completing each X before moving on. My picture was not as clear and crisp as the pattern. Next time I will try completing one X at a time.

July 21, 2020 at 15:14

Thanks for a very helpful and clear illustration!

Jacqueline Pombo
May 28, 2020 at 19:26

This info was so very helpful.I use both methods now especially when there isn’t much variation in the thread.When I first started using them it was like a rule you had to do the total x .Thank you for a very informative post.

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