That which distinguishes two of the same embroidery designs from each other, is the use of colour.  Everyone seems to think that someone is going to knock on their door with a search warrant if they don't use the exact colours a designer used in the test sew out or the colour numbers used in the stitch directions.

Not so. If you don't think outside the box and use the colours that you enjoy, or just prefer, you are really missing the real fun of machine embroidery! Not only do you expand your design library, but you make each design a personal experience and the bonus is that you definitely won't see anyone wearing the same design!

Here are some tips to help you to think outside the box:

1. One misconception is that changing the colours of a design violates a designer's copyright. I don't think that any designer has a "colour change" clause in their copyright terms.

2. If you like the colours the designer used, don't fret if you don't have the exact same colour in the thread brand used or the brand you prefer. Colours do not have to be exact.  A colour shade lighter or darker, or even a different tone will not be noticeable when the design is finished.

3. Learn to adjust thread colours for different fabric colours! Have you ever finished stitching a design on denim & wondered why it didn't look like the image shown on white? All colours take on a different look each time they are stitched on a different colour background. If you have the background colour change feature in your embroidery software, use it to help you determine when you will need to make a colour switch to help the design show up better. If you don't have this feature in your software, keep various colours of felt or fabric on hand to test-stitch your designs before putting them on a project. There's nothing worse than being disappointed with your finished project.

4. Try stitching some designs in various shades of a single colour instead of the numerous colours a designer uses. There are many designs that would lend themselves to an outstanding tone-on-tone design by just using your imagination! A tone-on-tone motif puts any design in a class of its own.  Imagine how striking the trunk and branches of a dark brown tree would look on a biscuit-coloured fabric.

Another example is a single red rose with a green stem & leaves. Test that same rose using thread colours in either lighter or darker shades of the fabric colour, or use a dark fabric and a beige or white thread.  If the design has shading, substitute darker shades of the same colour for the shading.

5. Look through your entire design library to see where you can change the look of a design by just changing the colour! I doubt you have even one design that couldn't be given a "designer" look by a colour change, even fruit!

6. Avoid using too many different colours. Usually, a more than 3-4 colour family in single design is too much. If you need more colours – add lighter or darker shades within one colour family

7.  Sometimes it's easier to change the fabric, than to update the colour scheme of the entire embroidery design. If you still prefer to stick to your original fabric choice - try to do the following: Go to or and try to find colour suggestions using your fabric colour as base colour. These tools are very nice and absolutely free. So, unless you're blessed with natural talent for matching colours, they can help you a lot.

8.  Another really foolproof way to match colours, is to use the same colour of your basic fabrics, and play only with the colour intensity of the thread. This method doesn't fit all designs.  Some designs will look dull and boring this way, but some will look great. For example, most fonts, especially antique style initials, will look wonderful if embroidered in this way.

Remember, think outside the box, or you will be missing out on the enjoyment and ability to expand your creativity to optimize the use of your designs!