6 Keys to Metallic Thread Success in Your Fabric Art

metallic thread art liz kettleI love the sparkle and shine metallic thread gives to my fabric art, but the hassles–shredding, the curling, the broken threads–give me such a headache. I always approach metallic threads with trepidation, and I could swear the spool can smell my fear.

According to Liz Kettle, that may be true.

"Don't tackle free-motion stitching with metallic threads when you are stressed. The thread will know," advises Liz, a mixed-media and textile artist.

I don't doubt it.

As the author of two books on threads and fabric embellishing, she knows firsthand the frustration that including metallic thread in your textile art can produce. But with research and a lot of practice, she has learned to tame this beautiful, shiny beast. So when I was looking for someone to offer a primer on how to use metallic threads in the second edition of our eMag In Stitches, Liz came to mind immediately.

liz kettle fabric artIn her interactive In Stitches article, Liz details what she calls her 6 Keys to Metallic Thread Success. Here are the highlights:

1. Bobbin thread is very important. I have the most success with an ultra-fine polyester thread with a weight between 100 and 70. You could also use #100-weight silk thread.

2. Tension is the second key to success. Reducing the upper thread tension is critical when using metallic threads. If you are using free-motion stitching, a reduced top tension is even more important.

3. Using a metallic needle is helpful but not mandatory. Depending on the type of stitching you are doing, a size 90 embroidery or 90 topstitching needle will work just fine.

4. When working with metallic thread, stitch slower. This is especially important when free-motion stitching with metallic threads. When you are free-motion stitching, either embroidery or quilting, you become part of your machine's tension system.

5. You can control how wiry your thread is by modifying your thread path. If it springs off your spool when you unwrap it, you should probably consider using a thread stand or placing the thread in a cup or jar a little distance away from the machine.

6. Stabilizers are very important when using metallic thread as a surface embellishment or for embroidery in your fiber art projects. Which stabilizer to choose depends on the surface fabric and the amount of stitching you want to add.  

metallic thread artLiz goes into more detail on each of these tips on In Stitches. The article also includes video of Liz stitching with metallic thread while she gives advice, samples of her work fiber art you can zoom in on, a handmade stitch samples book you can flip through, and more about her favorite threads and stitching supplies.

I found Liz's metallic thread advice extremely helpful. I can now approach those gleaming spools with confidence, not fear!

P.S. What are your struggles or successes with metallic thread? Share them in the comments section below.

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12 thoughts on “6 Keys to Metallic Thread Success in Your Fabric Art

  1. I have no problem with metallic thread as long as the thread is coming off the spool from the side, not the top. This keeps the thread from kinking, which reduces breakage.

    On m Pfaff that means using the vertical thread spool, rather than the usual horizontal one. Bernina recently came out with an adapter for the 8 series which gives you the ability to change how the thread comes off the spool.

  2. Reading of your trepidation regarding metallic threads I had to whisper ‘Amen, Sister!”. I own quite a few spools of sparkling delights, but use them very rarely, as the hassle is seldom worth the fight. Occasionally I have had success running the metallic, paired with clear monofiliment thread, giving it more strength…but only occasionally. :?} Liz’s emag article will give me renewed hope! Thanks.

  3. I second the comment about working slower with metallic thread. When I do and things are going along so nicely, I have a tendency to speed up. After all I want to see how great it will look when more is finished. And, yes, that’s when the thread breaks.

  4. I frequently use metallic thread for free-motion quilting in my mixed-media projects. I have had very few problems quilting with metallic thread since switching to Wonderfil metallic thread. I use the same metallic thread in my bobbin. That, a metallic thread machine needle and a slower speed seem to do the trick for me. I am very happy with the results now.

  5. all the suggestions are good.
    another comment – not all metallic threads are created equal.
    some will stitch easily, others with a bit more care, others are just a pain in the……, and i put those in the bobbin.

    some brands i am familiar with – very user friendly – (use standard needle, and fine for satin stitching – which means running at high speed) – are

    – yenmet – this is my go to metallic thread, when i do not want any problems. stitches fine with 12 quilting needle, high speed, poly or rayon in the bobbin. found at bernina dealers
    – reflections is almost as easy to use. a little harder to find.
    – the solar reactive and glow in the dark metallics – have stitched easily for me

    a little more work – but still pretty good are
    – sulky metallic (not sliver or holoshimmer – those go in the fussy , problem category). slow down your speed a bit, 14 quilting needle , poly or rayon in the bobbin.

    a hassle(through the needle) – but sometimes worth it – are

    -sulky sliver or holoshimmer
    – all other flat, ribbonlike metallic threads.
    -superior metallics – some work a bit nicer than others.

    for these threads you need to slow down, and use a large topstitch or metallica needle. and smooth bobbin thread.
    you can occasionally get a badly made spool of thread. slowly and gently pull a long section of thread away from the spool – does it come smoothly or does it catch and release? if it catches on itself, it is not gonna run through the machine nicely – every time it releases, it is gonna jam and break.
    also – know your machine – some machines (my bernina) has a very tight, sharp last thread guide. it shreds the thread. and if you try to bypass it, the machine kicks the thread into the guide in 2 or 3 stitches and shreds the thread anyway.
    so i had it removed from my machine. so if your thread is being shredded, check your thread guides.
    my mothers machine (also a bernina) has a wonderful, large smooth bar that allows the thread to smoothly and freely run over it. fantastic for all threads.
    maybe someday the people making the machines will wise up and quit making hassles for us? because not everyone sews with steel like polyester thread.

  6. I read the first 2 lines of your post and thought, ‘Perfect, I can mail Pokey my metallic thread, as that is exactly what happens to me’.

    I think I need to buy this book.

  7. great tips, thank you ! have tried most of them but do tend to sew quite fast and get stressed so those will be the next things to try and amend!!

  8. It seems as though my problems depend on what brand I am using. I bought some WonderFil at the quilt show. I love their colors and they just have so many to choose from. I was really looking forward to using them. I took a thread painting class this weekend and took my new threads with me. But, the teacher recommended a different brand–Superior Threads. I decided to first try the Superior Threads. I had no problems whatsoever. Then, I decided to try the WonderFil. Almost right away, my needle broke. My thread also broke a couple of times. Then, the second needle bent. I decided not to give up and bought a thread stand to try at home. I tried it tonight. This time, instead of the top thread breaking, the bobbin thread kept breaking. I have given up on WonderFil with this machine. I will try it with my other machine and even let my daughter try it on hers. But, I am really disappointed and will probably never use it again.

  9. One thing that helps a lot is to pay attention to how the spool is wound. Most metallics I’ve seen are stack wound (all the winds are parallel to each other, not criss-crossed.) These are designed to come off the spool as the spool turns. This is best for a vertical spool pin, and not very good for a horizontal pin.

    If they’re cross-wound (criss-cross each other – like a gutermann poly for instance), they’re meant to come off the top of the spool. Great for a horizontal pin, and not very good for a vertical pin. This actually has a little bit to do with why my cross wound thread used to jump off the spool pins on some of my vintage machines.

    Now I use a spool holder for my cross wound thread if I’m using it on a machine with a vertical pin. Problems solved.

    Superior threads has some great reference material about this on their site, and a great youtube channel too. Their “threadology” series is where I learned a bunch of this.

  10. I have used metalics for many years on a 20 year old Bernina. I have found the wonderfil brand the absolute best I have tried., and I have tried many. In the bobbin I use filament thread and I decrease my top tension and sometimes my bottom depending on the project. I have found if I’m going to have any issues it will be on a warm to hot day with higher humidity. Cold days no problem. I love using metalics and rayons too, makes your work look extra special.