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Color Names Are Hard. And Weird.

Updated: Aug 13, 2022

There is often a story or some history behind an unusual color name. Many times, color names are nature-based. Amaranth is an intense red-pink that is based on the flowers of the amaranth plant. Sepia is a warm brown that's named after the pigment collected from the Sepia species of cuttlefish. Carmine is a deep red whose pigment was derived from boiling beetles in ammonia. The word "carmine" comes from carminic acid, which some insects produce to deter predators. Magenta is one of the earliest synthetic colors. It was developed in 1859 by British chemists, and it was named after the Battle of Magenta (a town in Italy), which was much in the news at the time. And believe it or not, a 16th-17th century pigment called Egyptian Brown that was much favored by pre-Raphaelite artists was actually made by crushing up mummified remains, both human and feline. Historically, demand for this brown sometimes outstripped the available supply of true Egyptian mummies, leading to occasional substitution of contemporary corpses of slaves or criminals. In 1564, a mummy seller in Alexandria displayed forty specimens he claimed to have manufactured himself. Umm, what?! It's even more wild that this color persisted until the early 20th century when decreased availability of mummies and more widespread knowledge of what it was actually made of made it fall from popularity.

My history with color names is nowhere near as interesting or dramatic, but years ago when I was a whippersnapper, I worked at Jockey International -- yes, the underwear maker! -- as an admin assistant in the Sportswear division. I shared an office wall with the department's designer. Her job was to create each season's color and print palette for T-shirts, polos, woven boxers, and golf clothing. One of the things we often did together was to come up with names for colors, and gosh ... sometimes it was really difficult. No repeats were allowed, of course. And I'm smiling as I remember how we would get stuck on themes. Trying to figure out color names before lunch? We were much more likely to come up with names like Candy Apple, Arugula, or Pomegranate. Watched a neat sci fi flick the night before? Bring on the Deep Space, Night, or Sunset types of names. And sometimes we would draw a complete blank and just stare at each other ... "I have no idea. Can it just be yellow?" (Short answer: No. It could never just be yellow.)

Today, I've been adding new threads to the shop, so I've been up close and personal with a whole bunch of new color names. As I was adding them and looking at the colors, I found myself thinking about the names ...

  • Are trout really that color? *google trout pictures* Huh. I guess they are.

  • What's Bagby and why is it green? *more googling* It's an official military color designated by The Institute of Heraldry. I feel like I should have known this, since I have a son-in-law proudly serving in the USAF. I bet he knows.

  • Were the thread designers really hungry when they did this naming session? Taffy, shortbread, raisin, cappuccino, eggnog, pepper, lime ... lots of food happening!

And color is so subjective!

Glide threads are organized into color families and their color numbers adhere to these groupings. Numbers that begin with three are blues, greens are sixes, and reds are sevens, for example. When I add threads to the site, though, I group them into named color collections so that you can more easily see all the blues or greens at once.

But when I do that, I often find myself slightly at odds with the thread designers. Something that is a designated blue might look more green to me ... or more purple. I find myself thinking ... "that's a really purple-y red." So often I will put threads in two categories ... because I don't know how your eye will see any particular color, and I don't want you to miss a color that would be perfect for your project because you were looking under "green" and I marked it as "blue."

There are more than 350 colors of Glide thread available in the shop now. There is a perfect shade for your project! Here are some of the newly added ones! To celebrate having these on the website and off my to-do list, let's have a sale! Use coupon code GLIDE10 at checkout for 10% off your thread order.

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