How to: No Need to Dread Metallic Embroidery Thread

These 10 tips will help take the worry out of working with this thread type

By Laura Gomez, Contributing Writer

Metallic thread can be challenging for commercial embroidery decorators to work with, but the results are more than worth the effort

June 1, 2022

Typically seen in home décor, holiday gear, performance costumes and more, metallic thread adds a sparkly sheen and pop of color to all kinds of embroidery projects, be it on hats, shirts or other apparel.

While it’s tough to argue that metallic threads aren’t beautiful for decorating, it’s easy to agree on one thing: They’re difficult for machine embroiderers to use for embellishment. The reason is the threads’ anatomy. Thicker and coarser than standard thread, a metallic foil layer is wrapped around the core to form metallic thread. This makes it more prone to breaking or shredding — especially because of the way it comes off the spool, which causes more twisting.

The good news is that, like all commercial embroidery decorated apparel projects, a few simple adjustments can be made to ensure a high-quality finished product and a smooth production process.

1. Use the right embroidery needle

Plenty of specialty needles are designed for different thread and fabric types. Metallic embroidery needles have a larger eye, which allows the thread to pass through more smoothly. This extra room reduces the friction between the needle and thread, thus eliminating thread breaks and shredding.

If using a specialty metallic needle isn’t possible, use a larger embroidery needle, such as 80/12 or 90/12 sharp-point needles, depending on the thread’s weight. For instance, a 50-weight thread may not require an 80/12 needle, so a 75/11 needle may suffice.

However, a 40- or 30-weight metallic thread will require a needle that is a size or two bigger. In any case, it’s best to use a larger needle — if it’s available — as long as the fabric also is considered. Remember, larger standard embroidery needles will poke larger holes in fabric.

When possible, use a specialty metallic thread needle because it won’t puncture a larger hole.

2. Slow down the embroidery machine

Regardless of an embroidery machine’s make or model, its speed must be slowed when working with metallic threads. Higher speeds cause more friction, and the goal when working with metallic thread is to reduce friction as much as possible.

Machines can be set to a speed between 500 and 600 stitches per minute. Depending on the needle and fabric, it’s possible to run metallic threads at higher speeds — but only occasionally. Other times, however, will result in thread breaks and shredding that will ultimately slow down production in the long run.

3. Reduce thread tension

To reduce friction and stress on metallic embroidery thread, loosen the tension of the top thread of the working needle. Make small adjustments to your tension and test the design on a similar piece of fabric until the machine is comfortable with the combination of thread, backing and fabric. For more on thread tensioning, click here.

4. Choose the right embroidery design

Choose simple and open designs without heavy or dense fills. Heavy stitch-count designs most likely will cause thread breaks. Also, choose longer stitch lengths; the shorter the stitches, the easier it is for the thread to shred and break.

5. Store your metallic thread in the freezer

It’s true that threads are prone to breaking if stored in a warm environment, so does that likelihood decrease if they are stored in the cold? For years, embroiderers have sworn by storing metallic threads in a freezer for 30 minutes to an hour before putting using them. Because the thread twists as it’s coming off the spool, the cold helps it feed more smoothly and not twist as much.

6. Use Sewer’s Aid lubricant

Because the ultimate goal with metallic thread is to reduce friction, needle lubricant is another way to get the thread to glide smoothly through both the needle and thread path. While Sewer’s Aid lubricant is meant to be used on the needle to reduce friction between the eye and the thread, try placing a thin layer on the thread spool itself. You also can place a drop on a strand of thread and run it through all areas of the thread path. This will help reduce friction in those areas, rather than the needle only.

7. Keep your embroidery machine polished

Any burrs in the thread path will cause immediate breakage — especially with metallic threads. While minor burrs won’t be too detrimental when working with regular thread, the machine must be in tip-top condition when working with metallic threads. Any burrs in the thread path eyelets or openings should be polished with crocus cord.

8. Materials matter: softer fabrics and backing

Metallic threads are less prone to breaking on softer fabrics and backing. Also, steer away from winding your own bobbin, if possible; pre-wound bobbins are more consistent. Use pre-wound size L bobbins for best results.

9. Try a horizontal spool pin

When all other adjustments fail, try buying or creating your own horizontal spool pin. Typically, the thread feeds into the machine in a vertical direction, causing it to twist. When you turn the thread horizontally, it will redirect the thread to feed off the spool the same way it was wound, which means it no longer will twist and cause breaks.

10. Beware of delicate fabrics

When embroidering a very delicate fabric, such as silk, metallic thread may be too rough, causing the fabric to rip. Be careful when embroidering large designs using metallic thread on baby clothes, as this may irritate the baby’s skin. If you do use metallic thread, try using a soft fusible backing after embroidering to cover the stitches and avoid irritating the skin.

Laura Gomez is a content specialist at Ricoma Embroidery Machines. The company regularly creates blog and video content to enable both beginners and experts to start or grow their custom apparel businesses with embroidery. For more information or to comment on this article, email Laura at laura@ricoma.us. Updated May 22, 2023,

Embroidering with Metallic Thread

The biggest challenge when using metallic thread for apparel decoration is that it likes to kink up as it spools off the cone due to its coarse texture. Additional tension helps with this a bit, but sometimes more steps are necessary.

For instance, try positioning the metallic thread as far from the embroidery needle as possible. On a typical multi-needle embroidery machine, this means putting the thread cone on the holders toward the back. Some professional embroiderers even put a problematic cone of metallic thread on a shelf behind the machine or on the floor. Those are more extreme circumstances, but you get the idea. The thread needs time to literally work the kinks out.

Another even better solution to aid with the kinks that may form in the thread, as well as its springiness as it unwinds (which often causes the kinks as well), is to place a thread net over the cone. This accessory keeps the thread tighter against the cone as it spools off so that it doesn’t create the looseness and loops that cause kinks and other problems. The thread spools smoothly out of the top of the net.

Thread nets are available from most commercial embroidery stores that sell thread. Some machines even come with them included in the tool kit. Some embroiderers use other options that accomplish the same thing, such as panty hose or the netting around flowers when they are delivered to florists. The idea is that you want something around the thread to keep light pressure on the cone so it unwinds smoothly. — Impressions Archives; updated May 22, 2023