Like many machine embroiderers, I have a love/hate affair with metallic embroidery thread. I love the way it shimmers and shines and can add a little extra 'pop' to a design. But sometimes it can be very frustrating to sew with. Having just finished a pair of jeans with one leg entirely embroidered in metallic threads (I get a little carried away sometimes), I thought it would be timely to share some tips and techniques - or perhaps just a reminder! - with you to make your metallic thread project less frustrating and more enjoyable.
Buy quality thread. I prefer a metallic thread with a polyester core. Run your finger over the spool - how rough is it? Does it fray easily? My jeans project used threads from Robinson-Anton, Superior and YLI. Other favorites are Yenmet and Jenny Haskins. You may have other brands that your machine particularly "likes" to use. If you've given up on using metallic threads because of past experiences, you might find that the newer threads are much more forgiving.
Use a needle designed for metallic threads. Special needles marked "Metallic" or "Metalfil" have larger eyes and a specially designed scarf to help prevent metal threads from fraying.
Use a vertical spool holder. Using a vertical pin keeps the metallic thread slightly under tension as it reels which keeps the thread straight. When fed horizontally, the thread tends to spool off in coils, which then wrap themselves around your takeup lever, causing thread breakage and frayed tempers. When I have to use a thread stand, as with some of my larger cones, I either position it at an angle from the machine or run the thread through more than one guide to put that little bit of tension on the thread to keep it from looping.
Use thread nets. Thread nets also help to prevent thread unspooling too rapidly. If you are unsure how to properly place a thread net on a spool, ask a sewing expert at a Quality Sewing store.
Try a glass cup. According to embroidery expert Jennifer Stern, If you're still getting stuck and the spool is almost finished, you can try skipping the vertical spool in favor of a glass cup. Place the spool in an empty glass, and position the glass behind and to the right of your sewing machine (thread as you would normally). Sometimes, if the spool is allowed to tinker freely in a glass, it will behave while you’re embroidering.
Slow down. Reducing your stitching speed will often be kinder to fragile threads.
Watch your design density. In my experience, higher stitch density embroideries cause more thread breakage. The threads are being stitched in very close proximity or on top of one another, causing more friction and therefore frayed threads. 3D and 4D Embroidery Software has a feature called "Stitch Advisor" that can scan for stitch density and reduce it to a lighter density if desired.
Use a thread lubricant. Sewer's Aid is a silicone-based stitch lubricant that can help tame metallic threads. Apply a thin line of lubricant to the thread spool. Never apply directly to the machine! Use sparingly - I have been told horror stories about having to have it cleaned out of tension disks. Mark the bottle with bright tape or fingernail polish so you do not mistake it for Fray Check.