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Oh, the beauty of a gorgeous design constructed with metallic embroidery thread! I love how adding that little bit of sparkle to a project can turn it into something so special.
However, something I avoided as a beginner embroidery enthusiast was using metallic thread. I was quite simply afraid of machine embroidering with metallic thread because I had heard so many horror stories. However, once I learned how to troubleshoot potential issues, it became effortless to add metallic thread into my designs!
If you’re frustrated with metallic threads, I’ve written this in-depth tutorial to give you tips for how to embroider with metallic thread successfully every time! Don’t you love my “Sparkle Wherever You Go” towel below? Just think of the possibilities!
How Metallic Threads are Made
Let’s start by talking about how metallic embroidery threads are made so you can then understand why they can cause so many issues.
Above, I pulled one apart to show you the two layers. As you can see, metallic threads are made with a layer of metal foil wrapped around a strong nylon or polyester inner thread core. It’s not too difficult to separate the layers by hand, which means your machine will joyfully separate the layers for you if not set up properly.
Despite the wrapped foil, these threads should be relatively smooth to touch. However, if they don’t run through two fingers smoothly, they’re not likely to run through your machine smoothly either!
Why is metallic thread so hard to embroider with?
Think of your machine needle stitching up and down at a fast speed and how this can affect that thin layer of wrapped metal. If the thread rubs up against the fabric, the needle, or the inside of the machine too fast, the metal foil can break away.
To make things even more complicated, metallic thread tends to twist, kink, and coil as it comes off the spool (see above.) As such, if kinky thread reaches the tension disks of your machine, it gets stuck. This also causes the thread to split, shred, and stretch in front of that tension disk.
With the foil splitting away, this leaves just the polyester or nylon core entering your fabric and the metal foil backing up at the point of blockage. Ultimately, the inner core snaps soon after the foil is stripped away and you’re left with a big mess.
Metallic Thread Variations
Threads come in SO many fun, metallic colors, though! There are the usual gold and silver colors, but there are also gorgeous pinks, turquoises, and even variegated metallic threads.
Some machines can be temperamental with different brands of metallic thread. I’m using Thread Nanny metallic thread right now, and it’s been great. (Here’s their website link and an Amazon link if you’re interested.) There are lots of brands to try with your machine, though!
Also, the most common thread weight for metallic thread is 40 wt, which is the standard weight for machine embroidery thread. With some effort, you can find metallic threads in different weights if you want a different thickness of thread for your project. (Learn more about thread weight in this post: types of embroidery thread explained.)
How to Machine Embroider with Metallic Thread – Tips
Now, let’s go through the parameters and process for getting a great embroidery stitch-out with your metallic thread.
Best Machine Embroidery Needles for Metallic Thread
Metallic and topstitch needles have extra-large, elongated eyes to decrease friction and prevent metallic threads from shedding and breaking. Metallic needles also have a larger groove and larger scarf to protect the delicate metallic thread as it passes through the eye of the needle. (Confused about needles? Check out: types of machine embroidery needles explained for beginners.)
In terms of sizes, if you are embroidering on a thinner fabric and using 40 wt thread, start with an 80/12 needle. If you are embroidering on a thick fabric or using 30 wt thread, start with the bigger size 90/14 needle.
Why You Need a Thread Stand or Alternate Spool Set-Up
To prevent kinking of the metallic thread, avoid horizontal thread set up where the thread comes horizontally off the top of the spool. (See below.)
When unwound horizontally like above, metallic thread curls more than when unwound from a vertical position. Over time, the thread gets more and more twisted until it breaks.
If your machine, like mine, only has a horizontal thread holder, you need to find an alternate way to orient the thread. I have a monster Embroidex thread stand (below) that I use to line up my threads. It also works great for unkinking metallic threads.
I also have a smaller thread stand that works well enough when I place it farther from my machine. I rarely use it, though.
The further (within reason) that you position the thread stand from your machine, the more time the thread has to unwind and relax before it feeds into the machine. If you can go a foot or two away, that’s great! However, my embroidery space is constrained, so I make do with the space I have.
Simply getting something like the spool holder below to attach to your machine’s bobbin winder will orient the thread better for even feeding.
If you don’t want to purchase a thread stand and instead want to MacGyver it at home, you can even make your own thread holder easily!
Thread nets are common for serger thread and other specialty embroidery threads. Using a thread net helps obtain even feeding and keeps the thread from falling down the spool and tangling up. These nylon nets also aim to remove the thread twisting before the thread gets fed into your machine.
I usually have good enough luck without a thread net and just a thread stand, but this is something else to try if you are continually having issues with even feeding. Just make sure the thread net covers the entire cone.
The faster your machine stitches, the more likely you are to have issues with the thread breaking or shredding. If you have a very fast machine, I’d recommend decreasing the stitching to the lowest possible when you first start troubleshooting. My machine will go down to 350 spm, which is what I use with metallics. Even though slower stitching means the design takes longer to stitch out, it’s much better than having to rethread every few minutes when threads break!
Slowing down the stitching speed not only decreases issues but also allows you to catch any errors more quickly and fix them before they cause problems with your design.
Choose your stabilizer based on the properties of the design you are using and the fabric that you’re embroidering on. If you have options, choose a cut-away or no-show mesh instead of a tear-away stabilizer. The former two types are softer and more pliable than tear-away, meaning less possibility for shredding as the thread continually pierces through them.
As the metallic embroidery thread comes off the spool, it soon reaches the tension disks of the embroidery machine. Loosening machine tension decreases friction at these discs, preventing stretching, backup, and breakage of the thread as it passes through.
Embroidering with metallic thread is one of the few times where you may need to loosen your machine’s tension to achieve the best results.
This adjustment will be machine-specific, fabric-specific, and even specific to the brand of thread, so there’s no set “best” tension for metallic threads. Your user manual will have instructions for how to adjust your machine’s tension from default tension.
Make small changes rather than big changes at first. Without doing a stitch-out, you can test how tension changes affect thread feeding by trying to pull your thread through the machine by hand with every change you make.
Pick designs carefully when using metallic machine embroidery thread. (And, always do a test stitch before you start embroidering on an expensive or non-replaceable fabric.)
For instance, dense designs with overlapping stitched areas may not work out the best. Stitching through an extra layer of stitches in addition to fabric and stabilizer makes the thread more likely to catch and break.
I usually like stitching most of my designs in regular embroidery thread and adding metallic thread at the end of a final pop of detail. There are certain instances where it won’t be as obvious that you’re using metallic embroidery thread. For instance, black metallic embroidery thread…looks like regular old black polyester embroidery thread to me!
Clean Out Your Machine
If you can’t troubleshoot your problems easily, clean out the bobbin case and examine the upper thread path for any debris. Sometimes this simple fix can make all your embroidery headaches go away!
Automatic Thread Cutter + Cutting Jump Stitches
If you embroider frequently with metallic threads, consider turning off automatic thread cutting. The reason for this is those wiry metallic threads can blunt the blades of your built-in thread cutter. Meaning, you have to replace it sooner.
When it comes time to trim jump stitches, you might have more difficulty because the threads are thin and unruly. I recommend a nice sharp pair of curved tweezers (like mine below) to get underneath the jump threads and help hold loose ends away from the fabric. Then, snip with a small, sharp pair of scissors.
Uh-Oh: Fixing Errors From Metallic Thread Shredding
If your thread starts fraying and doesn’t break immediately, you might notice areas with poor stitching color and quality. Since the foil’s backed up somewhere in the machine, basically, you’ll get areas that have just plain thread in them.
If you want to fix these areas and not start a new project, simply restitch over that section! Use the interface on your embroidery machine to move back as many stitches as needed until you find the place where the threads frayed. Then, have your machine start stitching again.
Thank goodness for easy fixes!
And, that’s all I have for now. Any other tips for machine embroidering with metallic thread you want to share?