How do you choose your colours?

What type of stitcher are you? Do you go with gut instinct to select your threads for embroidery, or do you agonise over the decision, second guessing your choices?

Whatever type of stitcher you are, we all know that choosing the right colour of embroidery thread can make or break your design!

Personally, I am a safe person. If you pay attention to what I stitch out, you will see a lot of colours that I know go well together, and seem to work, being used over and over again.


I have fallen in love with this palette of copper and teal from Pinterest, and have already added a stock of Copper Thread to my specialty threads.  Now I just need the perfect designs.


As a digitiser, the worst part of my job is to make colour guides. I feel like I am telling you what colours you HAVE to use (and I truly don’t ever want to do that).  For me one of the greatest parts of my job is seeing other people’s interpretations of what the designs should be, and how they are used in different people’s homes.

Many psychologists and designers have developed scientific ways of selecting colours, and whilst there are a couple of simple rules to make colour selection easier, gut instinct can never be ignored.


I would not think of using this blue and green together, but how amazing does this image look.  I am planning a new set of “On The Tiles” – this may be the colour palette


Studies have shown that it takes us as customers approximately 30 seconds to evaluate a design. To increase our chances of people liking our work, selecting appealing colours is important.

Many patterns call out for certain hues—skin, leaves, fruit and so on. That doesn’t mean your colours are chosen for you. With thousands of colours of embroidery thread available, the choice can be quite overwhelming.

The science of choosing colours.

One of the simplest scientific ways of selecting threads, is to use the Thread Manufacturers colour card guide, and a colour wheel available as a download from the internet, or from most art supply stores.

Using the Colour Wheel


I downloaded this colour wheel from Pinterest, and love the descriptions at the bottom as well.


There are many technical terms for colours and their variations, but you should be aware of some of the basics. The simplest tool to select colours is the colour wheel. Colour wheels can be simple or complex, but they all do one thing; they take a variety of colours and put them in groups that blend into each other.


Cool and warm colours are a bit of a joke in our house, ever since I refused to let hubby purchase a black leather jacket as he has a creamy beige skin tone, and needed a warm colour to suit him (he now loves his Brown leather jacket)


Complementary colours for embroidery threads

Complementary colours are the easiest to work with. Using a particular base material? Find the colour on a colour wheel. The complimentary colour is right straight across the wheel. That will be the hue of your applique. This method works beautifully. Use it to make the most eye-catching designs.


Most colours include shades that genuinely work well together. Use a colour wheel to get them, just by seeing where they fall on the colour wheel. Complementary colours are the safest colour schemes to choose since they are two colours directly across each other on the colour wheel.

Analogous colours: neighbours on the colour wheel

Analogous colours are more detailed than complementary colours. They are three colours next to each other on a colour wheel. For example, three colours of yellow could be yellow-green, yellow, and yellow-orange.

You can combine analogous colours, but it helps to add in a complementary colour also. With one of the yellows, it would be nice to add a purple, the complementary colour will work well!

Triadic colours: adding a little contrast

Triadic colours are colours equally spaced on the colour wheel. Many triadic colours schemes can be used purposefully to produce a slight contrast, almost like a split-complementary colour scheme, yet remaining balanced. Red, yellow and blue are the most notable example of triadic colours.

Now the fun part: choosing creative embroidery thread colours!

The fun starts when you find variations on the basics. Instead of using a “true” version of a colour, maybe you can use a shade lighter or darker. Take the triadic colours of red, yellow, and blue, but use different strengths.

Another part of choosing colours is the colour temperature. It can make a significant difference in your design.  For example, blues/greens are considered “cool” and reds/oranges as seen as “warm.” Each colour has warms and cools which can be found with the help of a colour wheel. The next shade towards blue or red will determine if it is the warm or cool tone. Keeping colours warm or all cool can help your embroidery designs look fantastic.

Embroidery thread colours, the “non-scientific” way!

Yes, colour wheels and colour schemes are a good starting point. Ultimately, you must “feel” the colours you want. Colour grouping starts with complimentary colours, but then you need to take it to the next level. Go with your gut and add a few more shades.

Check out boards on Pinterest, such as the link I have here, on colour trends to see different colours placed together in inspiring formations.


After all the technical terms and working hard to select colour schemes, now you will discover the “unscientific” secret to choosing colours of embroidery threads.

Find colour groupings in a design you like, something that has been found and put together already. Use your thread chart, and match up the colours, noting which thread comes closest to the existing design.


That may go against colour theory “rules”, but if you like it, then go with it.

I hope you have enjoyed this look at Colour.  Unit next time, have a Stitchin’ Day.  Julie.

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