Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the craft store...
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| Embroidery thread... all those colors. There are bins or carousels of them in the craft store, one of the favorite haunts of many fly tiers where ideas swirl like leaves on a windy street. You may have seen these bundles of thick thread in those wonderfully color-coordinated displays, or perhaps you already have a few for woven flies. There are hundreds of colors to choose from and you can get three or four bundles for a buck. Sometimes you can pick up a variety pack with dozens of colors for three or four dollars.|
This technique uses embroidery thread to build any shape of body or head, in solid colors, two-tone, patterned, or mottled. It is similar to tying in deer hair on fancy bass bugs, only the fibers don't spin or flare... they pretty much stay where you put them. It is ideal for wide/flat bodies, without having to build a foundation underneath. This will work very well on larger nymphs, from about #12 on up, like dragonflies, stoneflies, and hexes. Then there are the heads on streamers like sculpins, muddlers, and bass flies. Lots of possibilities! The thread is very absorbent, so this is only suited for underwater imitations.
| If you are even moderately familiar or skilled at spinning/building deer hair bodies, this will be very easy for you. Otherwise, it may be a good idea to try the technique out on a bare hook. Just take your time on the first couple to become familiar with the subtleties of the technique and the material. Once you get the hang of it, it takes surprising little time to create fantastic flies. |
| To illustrate this technique, I'm going to create a nifty two-tone Woolly Bugger, using the clipped thread to replace the standard chenille body. The hook in the photos is a size 10 3x long (Mustad 9672).|
First, tie the fly up to the point of the body (or head if that's where you'll use this). Here I've tied in the marabou tail, the wire ribbing, and the hackle. Note that I've already tied-in and clipped a small amount at the bend so the hackle can be tied in at the appropriate spot.
| Embroidery thread consists of about six inter-woven smaller threads. For this article, I'll call these the strands, and this is what we'll be working with. Each of these strands is, in turn, made up of even smaller twisted strands, which are created from the cotton fibers, and this will give us a soft, filled-in body that can be clipped quite smooth or left somewhat rough.|
For tying on a bare shank, it takes from 36-60 strands, depending on the size, the shape of body you want, and how full. For this #10 fly, it will take about 48 strands. Since the thread has six strands, I simply need eight pieces of thread, four for the top and four for the bottom of a different color. Clip these pieces to about an inch long or as long as is easy for you to handle.
| To separate the strands, gather the pieces of thread (in the photo at right and above right you see the four pieces of thread that will be used on the underside of the fly). Hold one end of the bundle of threads with a finger and use an old toothbrush to brush out the strands. It will only take a few gentle passes. Grasp the strands at the brushed-out end and brush out the strands at the other end.|
Note: For a mottled appearance, use two or more colors of thread and place these together. Brush out the strands all at once, and they will mix on their own.
| Stroke the strands so they are gathered together. You will notice the bundle will retain a rather flat shape. Hold this on top of the hook shank at the tie in area, either at the bend, or just in front of the tail, etc. Take a turn of thread over it in the middle. Use your fingernail to move the strands around as needed to distribute them evenly around the top half of the shank. You can ease the tension on the thread and push back the strands and their precise tie-in point if necessary. Take another tight turn of thread to secure. (*Click on the photo for an enlarged close-up.)|
| Repeat this process for the underside. Make sure the thread wraps are directly on top of those used to tie in the topside bundle.|
Note: To create patterns, divide the number the strands used into the appropriate colors and make sure each color is in the proper position, or tie them in separately. For instance, on the dragonfly nymph at the top of the page, I used a few strands on top, a couple strands of a lighter color directly on the sides, and a couple strands of the brown in between. I repeated this all along the top half, using a solid color for the underside, for each section of strands tied-in until the body was complete.
(*Click on the photo for an enlarged close-up.)
| When the strands are evenly distributed around the entire shank, pull them back and take a couple tight turns of thread directly in front to secure them. For the first section apply a small drop of thin cement at the the base of the strands. This will help significantly when the first section is at the bend, with very little to hold it in place. Apply the cement on top and bottom, but be careful to avoid touching the strands with a lot of it... the embroidery thread is very absorbent and will wick it right up, which may cause problems when you clip the body, or create a "hole" where the strand does not lay down. (*Click on the photo for an enlarged close-up.)|
Notice how the strands stay angled to rear and do not flare forward like deer hair does to get in the way of the next section.
| Continue to add sections, tying each one as close to the last as possible. Remember you can ease the tension on the thread and push the tie-in point back a little. Add enough sections to complete the body... it takes surprising few sections. For this fly it took five sections, not counting the small one I put at the bend.|
Note: To create a "natural" segmented look on stoneflies or other nymphs, use a few less strands than is need for a full-bodied look, and take several extra turns of the tying thread when lashing the strands to the shanks. This makes the tie-in area wider. When the body is clipped, continually fluff up the strands so they stand straight off the shank, and trim straight across. When the trimming is complete and the strands lay back, the body will take on a segmented look.
| Whip finish the thread and clip. Clip away at the strands until you achieve a rough outline of what you want, then use fine, sharper scissors to smooth it out as desired. I find it best to trim the strands all the way around to the widest point of the body, then shorten areas to create a taper (heads) or a wide, flat profile (nymph bodies). While trimming, periodically fluff up the fibers with a dubbing needle or your fingers. Keep in mind that the fibers (that make up each strand) will separate and lay back, so make your body or head a little wider/taller than what it should look like when fished. Note: this feature also makes the fly 'breathe' and pulsate slightly on an active retrieve, which makes it ideal for dragonfly nymphs.|
| When the body or head is clipped to shape, reattach the tying thread and complete the fly.|
|Dragonfly nymph: pattern effect. Here I've also used embroidery thread strands for the wingcase.|
Flatback Shad (above) and Muddler Minnow (below): mottled, two-tone effect. For the Flatback, unclipped embroidery thread strands help make up part of the body. Notice I kept the standard hair collar on the Muddler, lashing the butt ends to the shank to help build up bulk.