Stitching with Metallics

'Oh no - not metallic thread'. How many times have you heard THAT in production?

Metallic thread can be a very difficult thread to embroider with, as it could have the tendancy of constantly breaking and fraying. Some embroiderers actually discourage their customers from using Metallics and try to find a similar colour from either their rayon or polyester range. But if you follow the pointers below, you do not have to worry about using metallic threads.


Metallic threads are normally made from a polyester, viscose or nylon core, wrapped by a coloured metallic foil.

Poor quality metallic threads shred on the machine and even if it can be stitched, the core tends to show due to the foil splitting, hence not leaving a solid clean stitched metallic finish.

But there are quality metallic threads on the market nowadays, so there is no excuse to avoid embroidery with metallic thread! 

Checking the quality

The best way to check the quality of metallics is to test a sample of cut thread. Whilst holding it in one hand, pinch the thread with your other hand and run your fingers down the strand, if strips of metal fall off, the thread will probably shred when sewn. Find a quality metallic instead!

To lubricate or not to lubricate

With metallic threads in particular, please do not use any types of lubricants or spray on needles or thread as this can cause the metallics to rust. If you are using a good quality metallic there is no need to use any type of silicone or lubricant spray as the actual thread has had several coats of finishing. This makes the thread feel softer, whilst helping it run smoothly through the machine. 

Metallic & Needles  

Needles are also very important with metallic threads, which are fairly sensitive and require the use of a very clean or fresh needle. Choosing the correct needle for metallics is absolutely crucial. The style MXK5 or DBXK5 in sizes 75 to 100 are the preferred types of embroidery with metallic threads. The size should be selected also in consideration to thickness of the thread used in the design and of course the fabric to be stitched.   

Metallics & Digitising

Designs for Metallics should be digitised slightly differently than those for standard thread. A fine 50 thickness metallic thread can stitch down to 3mm, or even smaller, so can go around corners and stitch very small letters. Otherwise the significant factor about metallics is that they don't normally like small stitches, or to go around tight corners - so digitise accordingly.

Again, when planning your embroidery design you must carefully work out a stratergy path when digitising. Do not rely upon your computer to automatically work out the design for you or more problems will occur. The computer isn't aware you may be using metallics in various weights - unless you tell it!

Different metallics

The most popular size of metallic thread is a Number 40 thickness. Other available weights are the fine 50 thickness or 35, 30, 20 & 15 which are all thicker than 40. With the thicker thread the stitching density or guage needs to be slightly widened. The opposite applies to the finer 50 weight, which is best for shorter stitches and fine designs.. This time the stitches need to move closer  to give the embroidery design a superior coverage, so the density is reduced.

Metallics are not just supplied in gold and silver. If you look at Madeira's modern shadecards there is a vast collection of beautiful jewel like colours with some in fabulous tonal shades, multi colours and in fascinating textures,

Washing instructions vary for metallic threads too. Quality metallics can be washed at 60º and some withstand harsh washing and even be stonewashed or used for swimwear. 

Good quality Metallic thread can be used on childrenswear too, as quality threads will have high rating Oeko-Tex standards which means they are perfectly safe.   


Just when we have convinced you to use metallics, you need to be aware that even when all above factors are considered, the thread may still not perform on the machine the way you think it should. An annoying problem with metallics is looping and twisting, especially as it comes off the cone whilst running through the machine. Many embroiderers have their own techniques to prevent the metallics from looping and resolve the curling problems. 

One novel method is a plastic or paper cup! A very  small hole is inserted at the top of the cup and the thread pulled through. The cup is placed on top of the thread on the machine. This prevents the thread from twisting as it is used.

Tody the most accepted method is the use of mesh sock or thread net over the cone or cop on the machine. Make sure the sock is long enough to cover the whole cone or cop, to prevent the thread from falling off and catching under the cone. As a consequence you might have to adjust your tensions to make up for the hold the sock puts on the thread.  

If possible, try running a sample first to see which tensions need adjusting. In general, for metallic threads, the tensions need to be loosened. But there are no golden rules except try to use the best quality thread available to improve results.  

The way forward

Many embroiderers over the years are gaining confidence and becoming more ambitious with metallics. As a result they are creating fantastic designs and and are no longer facing the production problems of the past.

You can use metallic embroidery in anything - from fashion to sportswear, promotional to corporate wear and home interiors to fine art. And don't forget - metallic thread can be combined with any other type of embroidery thread to create an original design. 

If you remember the main points - select a good quality thread, digities the design to accommodate the type of thread, use the correct size and style of needle, adjust (normally loosen) tension and sample first - you will achieve perfect results - every time.

Good threads suppliers should offer a stitching programme designed for their different thread types and textures, so experiment with these first!