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Painter's Threads Secrets

Of course, the Painters Threads Secrets won’t tell you how we make our treasures… we’re giving you some information that will help you understand all the ins and outs of hand-dyed threads a little better.

Painters Threads are made exclusively by hand in our small dyeing factory. We use so-called fiber-reactive colors. Reactive because they “react” with the fiber, ie create a new chemical compound. As a result, they guarantee relatively high color stability, good fixation strength and high washout of excess color.

However, the word high for color fastness has to be put into perspective when it comes to hand dyeing. Hand dyers are only allowed to use a little chemical additives that anchor the colors even better in the thread. In industrial dyeing, the dye is shot into the threads at high pressure, penetrating deeper into the fibers and asking more atoms of the fiber to form a bond with it. With hand dyeing, the color is applied to the surface of the thread and thus pressed into the thread with only as much pressure as the person standing behind can exert. This means that more fiber and color molecules automatically remain in their old connections. Kind of in contrast to modern human relationships…

These molecules then obviously don’t want to stay with the thread anymore and simply wash out…. And again this similarity with human behavior….. . Of course, much to the chagrin of light-colored fabrics and white T-shirts in the same wash cycle, which do not like this behavior of the molecules at all.

Vegetable fibers, ie fibers based on cellulose, are fixed with a base. Animal fibres, ie protein-based fibres, are acidic fixed.

These two basic principles of hand dyeing are responsible for the different characteristics of the color that appear in our colors, as well as in all other dyed threads. With the threads from the Painters Threads Collection, these differences are reinforced by the special hand painting.


Cotton – Stranded Cotton


Cotton – Cotton á Broder


Silk—Soie d’Alger


Wool – Crewel Wool


Rayon – Shimmer


Rayon – SingleLoop


cupro polyester
Braided Metallics # 4


brown paint powder slightly moistened

This chemical reaction during dyeing also explains why each material renders color differently.

Our example: the color 129 Friedrich

Silk and other threads made of protein, e.g., all animal fibers, for example, usually reproduce the color as a reddish tone, while cotton makes the brown appear lighter than rayon.

We deliberately showed a brown color here, because brown is something very special anyway.
We put a small amount of powder on a white cloth and dissolved it in some water. Just as it is done for dyeing, where the colored powder is processed into a liquid solution in water. Here you can see very nicely how many individual colors this color consists of. All these little pigments now react with each other during the dyeing process. If we now mix this mixture with another color, then even more unpredictable connections are created!

Likewise, each material absorbs the color differently. Even fibers made from the same base material render colors differently depending on their processing (spun, filament, twisted, etc.).

The best way to tell the difference between industrially dyed and hand-dyed threads is to cut through the threads: hand-dyed threadss, especially if they are thicker threadss, usually have a lighter core because the color does not penetrate all the fibers. It is only applied to the surface, the dyeing liquid does not always penetrate through the entire thread.

Humans can’t deliver the same precision as machines either – fortunately! Isn’t it an artistically inspiring moment when I can keep discovering different colors, although they should actually be the same? Heide Stoll-Weber, owner of “farbstoff” and internationally renowned artist, who developed a beautiful hand-dyed fabric collection, once said to me: ‘And then it’s always so exciting when you’re waiting in front of the washing machine and don’t know what the fabric will look like today!’

Of course, humans cannot work as precisely as a machine when applying the colors. When applying three colors to a thread, it’s relatively easy to keep the spacing relatively equal…but I can’t stop the color from running very quickly into an area that I’ve actually already colored with a different color or have yet to do so. And there you go the yellow and red become orange, or the yellow and blue become green.

Hand dyers are artists like those who then use our products. We don’t really like the perpetual sameness of our products and would like to encourage many other needleworkers to embrace the many variations that the use of hand-dyed materials makes possible. And the individual results that can be achieved with it.

At a time when globalization means that I can still find MacDonalds or H&M and Aldi in the furthest corners of the world, it’s nice that we have the chance to reflect on our very own individuality. Working with hand-dyed materials is one way to get there.


Various manifestations of color 101 Macke (shown in silk – Soie d’Alger). This is one of the most difficult colors because it contains yellow as well as red and blue. A fact that every hand-dyeing book warns against compiling…

We can’t influence the result of the subsequent washing either, as the water always runs downwards. Here, too, dyes are transported, which in turn change the colors. Smaller sections that have one color applied to them will bleed together much more than just two or three sections next to each other.

The colors often also contain pigment parts that stubbornly remain in the dyeing solution, are no longer perceptible to our eyes, but then fully unfold when washed. Then suddenly there is a brown spot in the middle of the red or a blue spot in the middle of the brown. With our dyeing method, which we call more painting than dyeing, each meter is treated more or less individually, so the distribution of the colors varies extremely. Even if the blue is sometimes dark, sometimes light, the red sometimes more pink, sometimes more magenta. All our colors always harmonize wonderfully with each other and can also be mixed well with solid-colored threads. No matter how often the shades of Painters colors change.

TIP: always buy one or two spools/bags more so that you don’t end up missing a few strands of a dye lot. With the leftovers, you can quickly create small works of art for yourself or others with just a few stitches.


109 Picasso in Pearl Cotton 8 – sometimes light – sometimes dark – although the mixture of dye liquid has not changed


115 GrandmaMoses
top: Pearl Cotton 8 (mercerized cotton)
below: Soft Cotton (non-mercerized cotton)

There are many things that influence the result of a dye bath that have nothing to do with the artistic creativity of the dyer: the nature of the water (soft water gives stronger colors), the humidity of the air (high humidity makes it harder for the colors to penetrate textile material), the pretreatment of the threads (in the case of cotton, for example.  the amount of mercerizing liquor on the fiber can vary and affect the color reaction) and last but not least the cosmos: root days are quite bad, flower days good for cotton, fruit days good for silk….believe me, I tested it for months!…and much more.   

The dye powders that we now need to make the dye solution are also not consistent. The color Jade is once more jade blue, once more jade green, the color lemon once more yellow, once more green-yellow. It also happens again and again that powder colors are no longer available from the manufacturer. Then the trial and error starts all over again… and often the color simply cannot be restored to the way it was before. Our students sometimes have the following theme as a brief for a project: “Change is the only constant in life”  – nothing captures the complexity of hand dyeing better than this phrase!

The nature of the colors also changes from delivery to delivery: what used to feel like colored sand is more like flour the next time. Many of us hand dyers don’t work with grams, the measuring accuracy is difficult to achieve with regular scales and very complex, but with measuring spoons. Now, a spoonful of sand is much heavier than a spoonful of flour, and flour quite consistently refuses to dissolve properly… and all the tests were almost in vain!


This color powder is one of our most important basic colors: green

On the left you can see one delivery, on the right the next delivery. In addition to the color, the consistency has also changed (see above), floury on the left, sandy on the right.


Sometimes you’re lucky and the coloring still looks similar. Unfortunately, that was not so in this case. What was previously blue-green is now yellow-green.

You can certainly imagine that we would actually have to retest all mixtures that contain this color….


The color 121 Cezanne, which uses the green shown above as the base color, now looks so different…
above: old color powder – below: new color powder

Many of you know the most well-known fiber-reactive colors “Procion MX” – MX stands for mixture. There are few pure colors. Although these blends are machine made, even these blends can vary.

In order to achieve a certain color nuance, we now mix our favorites together again from these mixed colors. And if you now imagine as an example that we use a mixture of two sand-like colors, and one of these two colors is then suddenly floury….the ratio then has to be determined from scratch. The mixture also cannot be shaken evenly, since the heavier color always sinks to the bottom naturally. To our eyes, everything then looks “as always”, but the final result is often a little different….

A few more examples of difficult colors, sometimes looking one way or another...


Braided Cotton color 117 Niki


Silk ribbon color 102 Kandinsky

grandmamoses shimmer

Shimmer Color 115 GrandmaMoses

We wish you a lot of fun with our products!

If you have questions about a material, a technique or courses, write us an eMail or browse through the seminars of the International School for Textile Arts or the information on the pages of the German Embroidery Guild.