Machine Embroidery with Metallic Thread

By on October 29th, 2019
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Back in 2009, my three-year old wanted her name embroidered on her new beach towel, so I let her choose the thread. Naturally – she chose the option with the most bling: the dreaded metallic thread. In her defense, the silver metallic thread did match the color of the shark on the towel. But I had heard horror stories about machine embroidery with metallic thread. So I was a little bit nervous.

When I purchased the metallic thread, I got some tips from the fabric store ladies. They told me to keep the spool of thread a larger distance away from the machine than you normally would, and I would be fine.

Well, not so much…. Embroidering with metallic thread was a disaster. After the thread snapped at least a dozen times, I gave up, and I stitched over my metallic name with a neon green embroidery thread.

While I did lose the bling factor, I did still manage to match the colors of the towel. The towel returned out fine, but the biggest takeaway for me was to avoid machine embroidery with metallic thread at all costs.

embroidering a name on a towel
Notice how I’m not stitching this name with metallic thread even though it would have matched perfectly?  It’s because I gave up! I took this picture back in 2009 when I officially swore off of machine embroidery with metallic thread.

Why metallic threads are tricky for machine embroiderers

I have often wondered why metallic threads are so notoriously challenging to embroider with. Based on what I have learned about the structure of metallic thread, I now understand why. Metallic threads are composed of several layers: a center core covered with metal foil which may or may not be coated with a metal alloy, and then a polyester film. Some also have coating of rice paper pasted over the center core that helps bind the core to the metal.

There is a lot of variability with the manufacturing of metallic embroidery thread. So, while one brand may work great with your embroidery machine, others might not. Therefore, it’s a good idea to experiment to find the metallics that are the most trouble-free in your machine.

Another attempt at embroidering with metallic thread

Recently I was sent a lovely 6 pack of metallic threads from Designs in Machine Embroidery (DIME) to test out.  I have to admit that my first response was dread.  But then I pulled on my big girl pants and decided to give it another try.  Maybe there was something I was missing? Was there a secret tip that makes embroidering with metallic thread a breeze?

metallic thread from Designs in Machine Embroiidery
A six pack of metallic thread form Designs in Machine Embroidery

Tips for embroidering with metallic thread

Turns out, there are a lot of tips for embroidering with metallic thread. And yes – moving the thread away from the machine is one of them. However, at the time of my first attempt I had no idea how to do that.  I had never even seen a thread stand. But now, I have that covered.

Anyway, here are some of the suggestions I uncovered to make embroidering with metallic thread a breeze.

  • Slow down the machine
  • Use a metallic needle
  • Place the metallic thread on a spool holder or thread stand
  • Place the metallic thread far away from machine so that it has room to straighten out before it passes through the needle.
  • Apply a bit of Sewer’s Aid
  • Hold the thread in your hand and let it unwind out of your hand.
  • Reduce the tension in the machine
  • Place the metallic thread in a glass cup and let it unwind from the cup.
  • Avoid very dense designs
  • Make sure you are using embroidery bobbin thread.

Ok – well now this gives me a bit to work with and I’m ready to try again!

Attempt #2 embroidering with metallic thread.

To test out the metallic thread from DIME, I decided to stitch out one of my favorite designs that requires a bit of bling: my disco ball.  While I would normally stick to silvers, I went a little nuts and tried out three of the metallic colors that came in the six pack.

I followed many of the aforementioned tips: using a metallic needle, putting my thread on a thread stand and moving it far from the machine. I also reduced the speed significantly.

disco ball machine embroidery design

And… guess what?  No breaks.  Yippeee!  While I don’t know if its the thread or my improved techniques, this was a major win. And, I’m no longer afraid of metallics.  BRING ON THE BLING!

What to make with metallic thread?

Now that I’m a master of metallics, I am ready to add a bit of bling to just about everything. And, with the holidays soon approaching there is no better time to get blingy. Some great uses for metallic thread include Christmas ornaments, names and details on stockings and Christmas tree skirts and even details on dressy apparel.

Ready to learn more about machine embroidery with metallic thread?

A created a video of my experience embroidering with metallic thread so you can see exactly how I did it.

Happy stitching everyone!

Julie

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 disco ball machine embroidery design
 

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