Choosing Colours

Hello Everyone

This week I am going to continue with Stage 3 of our article Designing An Embroidery Project – CHOOSING COLOURS & PREPARATION.

In stage 2 we discussed the design outline and tracing it onto your fabric – the next stage is to choose the thread colours.  This is one of the parts I love!  I have drawers full of threads as you can see in the picture – I had these designed by a kitchen manufacturer to fit the cupboard in my office, in fact it was my Christmas present to selfJ  They are made of Perspex so I can see through them and admire them from afar – so pretty:)   On one side is DMC and the other Anchor and they are grouped by colour, i.e. reds, oranges etc in one drawer, so all I need to do is rummage through and find what I am looking for.  When I have finished a project I throw the skeins back into the relevant drawer.  It works well for my needs.

Perspex thread drawers
Perspex thread drawers


In the case of the pansy basket the colours were interesting – they ranged from magenta pink, to red, then orange and finally yellow as shown in the picture.

Autumn Pansy Basket
Autumn Pansy Basket

 One of the pansies used all these shades so I needed to make sure the shades blended well.   To do this I had to choose what I call a “merging” shade.  This is a middle shade that includes a tone of each colour so they merge without a big leap.  This big leap is often the cause of our shading looking wrong.  Here is an example – the one on the left leaps from orange into pink and the one on the right uses a shade that has a tone of orange and a tone of pink to merge the shades.

merging shades
merging shades

When choosing colours from a photo or illustration you basically want to match the shades as closely as possible to the original but there are a few guidelines:

1.       1.  If in doubt choose a duller rather than a brighter shade

2.      2.  Ensure that there is enough contrast in the shades otherwise it will look flat and dull

3.      3.  When applying contrast to an object where there is not a big difference between the light and dark shades use bright and dull shades to provide contrast.  Here is an example of this in one of the pansies:

contrasting shades from bright to dull
contrasting shades from bright to dull


At this stage I will choose a variety of shades that I think will fit well, put them in a plastic bag, label them Autumn Pansies so I can refer back to them when doing the instructions and prepare my stitching – here are a few tips:

1.      1.  The fabric should be mounted into the hoop so that it is drum tight – if you flick it with your finger it will sound like a drum.  If the fabric gives or has any loose spots you are in trouble – your work will look puckered and horrible.

2.     2.   It is best to work under a very bright daylight or magnifier so that you can see your stitches clearly.

3.      3.  Make sure you are seated comfortably and get up and move around every now and then – look at your work from afar as this will give you a more unprejudiced view.


This is where I am happiest, I often take this opportunity to catch up on TV series or Rre-watch BBC movies such as Emma, Pride & Prejudice etc as they inspire my creativity.  I generally do all the administration first thing in the morning and set myself a goal to be seated in my chair just before lunchtime, this gives me a couple of hours of peace before I collect my daughter from school and the homework and afternoon activities start.  After supper if I get the chance I try to fit in another hour before bed. 

Once I am seated and have my light on I will choose the thread colours from my bag of skeins.  I will line these up and try different combinations till I find the one that I think is right.  Of course as I am stitching I often alter the shades as I am going along and even unpick a few if they don’t look right. 

Next week I will show you the first stitching process.  Meantime wherever you are be it winter, spring or summer have a wonderful week and many happy stitching hours.  Trish


11 thoughts on “Choosing Colours”

    1. Hi Megan this is interesting and a good question. Without sounding too critical the long and short stitch is worked in rigid rows – I would say that they have not split back enough into the previous stitches and that is why there are lines of demarcation in the stitching of the petals. The direction of stitches on the petals is fine except on the turnover of the left mid petal – to get the direction of a turnover one needs to cut out a paper template of the petal , draw in guidelines and then fold the paper over to see what direction the stitches should go.

      Also the embroiderer has used only one shade of white so there is little or no contrast which makes it appear dull. White is actually a very difficult colour to shade with as it reflects so much light that each stitch tends to stand out on its own making the stitching appear rough. I would use various shades of white & ecru to achieve the right effect. I think the piece is worked in silk – satin stitch in silk is gorgeous but I find silk tricky for long & short as the shine tends to defines each stitch, it seems to work better with the sheen of stranded cotton. Perhaps they were limited by their range of colours or perhaps the lighting was not good, they often worked by candle light and certainly did not have magnifying lamps which helps us to see our stitches in detail – or perhaps we have just made strides with long & short stitch in our time:) I hope this helps and thanks for the question. Trish

    1. Thanks for the great answer on the L&S petals, Trish. It was very elucidating. I thought the same thing about the colours, having poured over your camellia many times. (I love camellias).

  1. Thank you Trish, again you open my mind on choosing colours!!!!!! Your blog and of cause your embroidery is out of this world. I start with with the first course on internet from the 25Th April!!! I Can’t wait to start. For everybody that did not done a course with Trish. follow my lead!!!!!!!

  2. Hello Trish , I ‘m looking forward to read your article everyday . Today I just get the DVD from u after we have long long weekend in Thailand . Your DVD is great and worth more than money which I paid . Thanks for all detail especially the supplier which you buy things . It’s very important for me who live in the land that have no embroidery fabric
    or some frame hoop as you have . Thank you so much again . I ‘ll start to practice more and more . And please keep on writing in your block , it’s the great information .

  3. Dear Trish I check your blog daily and I’m a great fan of needle painting and our work! Thanks for sharing such practical information on chossing colours. Your work is inspiring!

  4. Thanks so much for this informative and helpful article, Trish. I am learning much from you and other stitchers as I get back to my embroidery again. Many of us love to embroider, but that doesn’t mean we’ve ‘studied’ or ‘know’ colors as art majors do. We just know what we like, but your helpful articles, such as this one, encourages us to ‘think’ about colors and gives us some ‘ahh moments’ as we create our own beautiful sewing and works of colorful art! Putting colors together has been my favorite research lately–handy learning in this blog today. I can’t say thank you enough for this info. 🙂

  5. I am also a new comer to your blog and love any kind of embroidery and stitching. Thank you. I also choose colors to work with, but leave them together for at. Least 24 to 36 hours, looking at them periodically, amazing how the colors change in different light, especially day and night

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