Superior Education

Mastering Metallic Thread Embroidery

  • Embroidery
  • Metallic Threads
  • Tension
  • Thread Delivery

One of the most common problems, even for the most experienced machine embroiderer, is successful stitching with metallic thread. We’ve experienced it all: fraying, looping, tension problems, and continual thread breaks are enough to discourage anyone and it’s such a shame for two reasons—- everyone loves a bit of bling that metallic thread offers, and second, absolutely anyone with any machine should be able to stitch, sew, or quilt with metallic threads successfully! So, at this time of year, when all is shimmering outside, let’s take it step-by-step and highlight the process of embroidering a snowflake with gorgeous metallic thread while recommending solutions to common problems.

Start off by making sure your machine is set up correctly (this only takes a few minutes) and you’ll be stitching metallics happily for hours. We’ll examine three areas where metallic thread can get snagged up:
#1 - At the spool (or cone)
#2 - Inside your machine
#3 - At the needle
Let’s start right at the spool. What is wrong with this picture?

metallic thread curling
Metallic thread will curl when unwound off the end
metallic thread on a vertical spool pin
Spools of metallic thread should unwind from off the side

Curls may have made for a great 80s hairstyle, but you’ll be tearing your hair out if you see this happening during embroidery. If you’ve ever experienced twisting in your thread while hand sewing, your thread can twist a tiny bit with each little stitch until you end up with a kinks and big knot. Now imagine the same process with a machine running at over 1,000 stitches per minute! It’s no wonder why metallic thread breaks when this extra twist is added with every stitch. So how do you straighten the thread out? Thankfully, it’s really easy. Spools of thread that are stack wound (also called parallel wound) should always unwind off the side of the spool. Cones of thread should only unwind over the top.

When stitching with a spool of Metallic thread, use the vertical spool pin. If your machine doesn’t have a vertical spool pin, we recommend our Superior Thread Holder when embroidering with cones and spools of metallic thread.

Superior Thread HolderSuperior Thread Holder img

Now let’s think about what is going on inside an embroidery machine, specifically what happens as thread passes through the tension discs. Most embroidery machines have electronic automatic tension and it’s preset from the factory to run a generic embroidery thread. As smart as your machine is, it has no way to tell that you are stitching with a metallic thread instead of a standard polyester embroidery thread. We recommend loosening your top tension (override your automatic tension settings) all the way down to 1.0. Metallic thread is one of the most delicate threads due to its unique construction, so a loose top tension is required for frustration-free stitching. Friction and metallic threads do not make a good mix. Refer to your machine’s manual to learn how to override the default tension settings.

digital tension
Reduce your machine's top tension setting to 1.0
broken thread
If your needle is too small, thread can easily shred or break

The way metallic thread is made follows a unique process. Strands of thin metal foil are delicately adhered to a film and wrapped around a strong nylon core. When embroidering, you have a high number of stitches per minute rapidly creating tiny stitches in a dense design. The thread is moving back and forth through the eye and groove of the needle, rubbing against the metal surface in a fast manner. All it takes is for the delicate metallic foil to break, and only the nylon core will be moving through the eye, as your beautiful metallic overlay starts to push back up into the machine. Again, thankfully the solution is very easy: use a needle with a larger eye and deeper groove. We recommend the Topstitch 90/14 needle. Superior Topstitch needles have a longer and wider eye, deeper groove to protect thread during stitch creation, and a thin layer of titanium-nitride that resists friction and keeps your needle sharper much longer. Compare the Topstitch style to any of your embroidery needles and you’ll see the difference.

Difference between the Topstitch and Embroidery needle styles
metallic thread embroidery
Metallic thread is available in many colors, not just Silver and Gold

Now that we have addressed the most common problems and recommended solutions to each problem, we’re ready to stitch! Starting with Silver and look at that – not even one thread break in 3,500 stitches! It’s time to take it up a notch and have some colorful fun. If you think of metallic threads as just silver and gold, you’d be wrong. There is an entire spectrum of metallic thread colors waiting for you to try, now that you know how.

We had to use several different colors for our design because no two snowflakes are alike, right?! Look at our first completed snowflake below.

Now that you have become a metallic thread master, look for opportunities to showcase them in your embroidery, quilting, and sewing projects. You will find that metallic threads add a lot of dimension to a stitched design when mixed with other types of threads, such as this Blue Jay that was stitched with Superior Magnifico [LINK]. The blue metallic thread was almost an exact match for the blue color of polyester that was called for in the design.

finished snowflake designbr>Finished snowflake design with Superior Metallics
blue jay embroidery
Magnifico and Superior Metallics combined

We substituted the blue metallic thread for a blue polyester thread, and the Blue Jay’s crest now has a glorious shimmer as he looks over the snowy mountain. Remember to loosen your top tension when stitching with metallic thread, then tighten it back up when stitching with regular embroidery thread. There’s no need to change needles, as the Topstitch #90/14 needle is perfect for Magnifico as well.

We hope we’ve shown how a few simple adjustments can make metallic thread embroidery amazing! Please share your next project with metallic thread on your favorite social media website.

finished embroidery design

The snowflakes and Blue Jay designs are from San Francisco Stitch Co. To learn more about their fun, fresh, and amazing designs, please visit their website

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