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Embroidering with Metallic Threads

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Embroidering with Metallic Threads

Embroidering with metallic threads will add glamour and glitz to your holiday décor items as well as to your wardrobe.

Embroidering with metallic threads is not as complicated as you may have been lead to believe when you have an understanding of a few basic principles. Metallic thread is created by actually wrapping a metal strand around a polyester core. Because the metallic is a separate strand it can separate from the core and be shredded if too many stitches or too short of a stitch lengths are in a design. Needle sizes need to be adjusted based upon the weight of the metallic thread so that there is sufficient room in the eye of the needle for the thread to pass through easily.

Metallic threads come in 50, 40, 35, 30, 20 and 15 weights. You want to make sure that you know the weight thread that you are working with. 40 weight metallic thread is the most popular size to work with and is considered the standard weight. Though the 40 weight metallic thread is equal in weight to 40 weight rayon, it is slightly thicker. Therefore, for optimum stitch quality you want slightly less density in the design and you want slightly longer stitch lengths. Use a size 11 needle with 40 weight metallic thread.

Designs that specifically say Metallic in the color chart of the designs such, as the Metallic Baroque Swirls; Christmas Night; and Metallic and White Christmas, are already adjusted to have the proper stitch lengths and densities for the use of metallic thread. If you have a design that is not made for metallic thread, but you want to stitch it in metallic, enlarging the design 10% to 20% without having your software adjust the density may make it possible. 50 weight metallic thread is a relatively new metallic thread. It is smaller in diameter than the 40 weight metallic. Therefore, if you have a design or elements of a design that you wish to run in metallic and do not want to have to enlarge the design this thread will generally fill the bill.

50 weight metallic thread is recommended for all metallic lettering that is under a third of an inch tall. Use size 9, 10 or 11 needles with 50 weight metallic thread. 35 and lower numbered weight metallics are thicker than the 40 weight metallic. The threads get thicker with each reduction in weight number. I have not seen any home market stock designs digitized for these weight threads. These threads do come in marvelous solid and variegated colors. If you wish to use them choose designs that do not have fill areas and enlarge the designs without density adjustments so that the density and stitch lengths grow with the design to allow space for the thicker threads. For 30 and 35 weight threads use a size 14 needle. For 20 and 15 weight threads use a size 16 needle. For size 40 weight thread you may need to loosen your top tension just a little, but as the weights of the thread reduce in number, i.e., 35, 30, 20 and 15 weights, loosen your top tension a little more for each weight change.

As all machines run a little differently run samples of satin stitches to determine when your machine is adjusted properly. The back of a properly tensioned satin stitch column will have approximately 1/3rd of the column width showing the bobbin thread on the back of the work. Speaking of bobbins, use a plain polyester bobbin when stitching with metallic threads. Choose soft stabilizers when working with metallic threads. Soft mesh type stabilizers like Poly-mesh and Weblon are good choices. Since your designs should have relatively low stitch counts these soft backings will provide enough support. Use softer fabrics such as cottons, denim, quilting cottons, knits and sweatshirt fabrics for decorating with metallic thread. Very firm fabrics such as some of the extra strong canvases that gym bags are made of are rough and may cause the metallic thread to ravel.

Many machines stitch up to 1,000 stitches a minute, slow your machine down to 600 stitches per minute or slower when using metallic thread. Use a vertical spool stand when using metallic threads. Using a horizontal spool holder generally results in looping of the thread before it enters the machine thread path as metallic thread is just not as flexible as regular embroidery thread. When you embroider metallic designs that will be worn next to the skin, fuse knit interfacing on the back side of the embroidery to avoid the metallic thread irritating your skin. Just one little tidbit to complete the things you need to know about embroidering with metallic thread – it is metal – it does conduct electricity.

Years ago I had a company that installed alarm systems. They insisted on having a metallic gold shield embroidered on the left sleeve of their staff shirts. One employee was installing an alarm and had live wires hanging from the wall. He turned to select another tool from his bag and his left sleeve emblem touched the live wires, he received a nasty electrical shock. I only mention this to make you aware that this can happen so common sense should be applied to the use of the thread. The beautiful embroidery achieved with metallic thread is well worth the time involved to learn these few principles.

Christmas table runners and ornaments; garments from sweatshirts to evening gowns will all look spectacular with metallic embroidery.

For the love of embroidery…
Pat Williams

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Meet The Author: Pat Williams
Award winning Digitizer, Embroidery Educator, Author and a Consultant to the Industry, Pat Williams has 20 years of experience in the embroidery industry. Pat has won multiple awards for her digitizing expertise including the 2007 Impressions Awards Grand Championship, Best of Show as well as the 1st and 2nd Place Awards.. Pat’s love of digitizing has afforded her the opportunity to write many articles for Impressions magazine in the United States and Images Magazine in Europe. She also has authored her own digitizing training CD series, “Digitizing Steps to Success.” In 2001 Pat was named “Embroidery Educator of the Year.” For many years Pat lead digitizing seminars at the ISS Shows in Long Beach, CA and for Compucon software. Pat retired from the commercial embroidery arena in 2010. She now resides in Sierra Vista, AZ. She can be reached at

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susan b Jan 25, 2016
Dear Pat, I am new to the world of embroidery and can't tell you how fascinated I am with it. I am also intrigued with metallic thread. Read your article and learned a few aha's. I have had a difficult time with the metallic thread I was using and after reading your excellent article I learned I was using the wrong weight. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise. Cheers!!

Jane B Oct 17, 2016
Will you have the phrase Merry Christmas for metallic thread to go with your metallic ornament design for sale any time soon? I was going to purchase the one you have (in red) until I read the information about the correct way to stitch design with metallic thread. Would appreciate it if you if you could let me know if this could be able to get before Christmas, as I would like to incorporate it with the ornament design. I would prefer to buy it separately and add myself because I may have to hoop it twice for t to fit. My largest hoop is 5x7. My format is PES. Thanks. Awaiting for your reply.
Pat W Oct 18, 2016
Jane, I will work on that for you.
Pat W Nov 07, 2016
The Merry Christmas design for metallic threads is now available at

Jane B Oct 18, 2016
Thank you so much for giving your immediate attention to my request. Also, is there anyway you could digitize a more masculine design, I was thinking maybe a reindeer and sleigh, or something in metallic that I could embroider on a black sweatshirt for my grandson, for Christmas? I love all the metallic designs you have done so far and will be purchasing all of them now that I will be able to get the Merry Christmas in metallic and add it to the other designs. Thanks again. Please notify me if possible.
Pat W Oct 18, 2016
I will search for appropriate commercial artwork and will do if I find some before Christmas.
Pat W Nov 07, 2016
I haven't been able to find appropriate artwork for this idea yet, so this isn't going to be available this year. Sorry.

Jane B Oct 30, 2016
Are white and black threads also metallic or just regular 40 weight rayon thread? Thanks!
Pat W Nov 07, 2016
Metallic threads are available in colors, but usually golds, coopers and silvers. There are heavier weight metallic threads in colors but watch the weight and needle size, they are generally 30wt and require a size 14 needle.

Laura S Aug 03, 2017
I just tried my first metallic thread project after reading this article...I'm sure you saved me some aggravation!! Thanks for that! Can't wait to do more!
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