Metallic Thread: How To Keep It From Breaking (And Other Useful Tips)

metallic thread

How To Keep Metallic Thread From Breaking

Looping, fraying, tangling, shredding, and breaking are all part of the potential frustrations when using metallic thread. But the sparkle and sheen added by this embellishment can make the risks worth it, and there are ways to minimize common issues.

Metallic thread is used for both hand and machine embroidery work. Although there are different methods for keeping embroidery thread manageable, hand and machine work do have a few common tips to follow:

  • Use quality thread
  • Use a stitch-friendly pattern
  • Use the right needle
  • Control the amount of tension on the thread

Hand-sewing With Metallic Thread

Choosing Thread

Choosing a high-quality brand metallic thread is essential for minimizing fraying and breaking. Krienik is one such reliable brand for hand sewing. Other brands to consider are

  • DMC light effects
  • DMC diamond
  • Guetermann Sulky (for either hand or machine use)
  • DMC metallics

Krienik offers two basic types of metallic thread: braided and blending filament. Braided thread consists of a wire-like center wound with a metallic covering. Braided thread is heavier and offers greater textural contrast.

Blending filament has a synthetic center thread supporting a wound metal filament. Blending filament construction is common among metallic threads, though some are metal alone. Unsupported metallic thread is much more delicate to work with and has an increased tendency to fray or break.

Each type of thread has a different overall effect. Some are more glittery than others. It may help to add a glittery accent on top of regular thread for a more pronounced contrast. Only experimentation will show you which metallic thread will provide the desired outcome.

Metallic thread tends to twist as it is drawn in and out of the fabric. Solve this problem by letting the thread dangle and unwind often. 

The Right Needle

Since most metallic thread has highly disparate parts wound together, threading them through the eye of a needle can be a challenge. Dampening the end may help. And choosing a needle with a larger eye helps both with threading and with lessening the tension on the metallic fibers.

Japanese embroidery needles have larger-sized eyes for easier use with many embroidery threads, including metallic. Any larger, rounder-eyed embroidery needles are a good choice for metallic thread. 

Larger or wider needles also help the thread pass through the fabric with less direct stress. If your thread keeps breaking at the needle’s eye, there may be a slight burr or other irregularity there. Try using a different needle to solve the problem.


Reducing thread tension is a major consideration when using metallic thread. It’s almost like trying to sew with foil Christmas tree icicles. Every effort must be made to keep the thread in one piece until the work is done.

Even the simple act of the thread being pulled through fabric adds stress and wear, causing it to break more quickly. Using shorter lengths of thread will keep stress breakage to a minimum and is less trouble than trying to repair breaks and frays. 

Tension is also controlled by not pulling the stitches too tight. It takes practice to sew metallic thread so that it is neither too loose nor too tight. Practice on a test piece when using a new type of thread to find its natural limitations. Using a thread conditioner can also help against fraying and breaking.

Keeping your fingers directly over the eye of the needle decreases the number of times a length of metallic thread slips back and forth through the eye of the needle. This trick is helpful when using fine, purely metallic thread.

Machine Embroidery with Metallic Thread

Successfully using metallic thread with a machine is all about reducing tension and friction. Before you begin, thoroughly clean and lubricate all machine parts, especially along the thread lines. Debris such as lint can become a surprising obstacle along the path of a fragile metallic foil.

Choose a simple, open pattern for metallic thread. Close, narrow stitching, such as small monograms, may prove disastrous with metallic thread. But open designs shine since there’s more space for light to glitter off each strand.

Choosing Thread 

Research suggests that Thread Nanny is one of the best metallic threads for embroidery work, though Amazon rates some other brands higher. Only personal experience can determine your preference. Other possible brands to consider  include:

  • KingStar 
  • Brothread
  • Simthread
  • Robison-Anton

Metallic machine embroidery thread will be a two-ply blended filament with a nylon or polyester core wrapped in metallic fiber. Passing through the sewing machine’s mechanism add tension to fragile metallic wrapping, making a high-quality choice even more critical.

For thinner fabrics, a regular 40-weight thread should be sufficient. Thicker fabrics may require 50-weight to prevent breakage.

Oddly, many experienced sewers extoll placing metallic thread in the freezer for at least a half-hour before use. The cold helps the thread run more smoothly with fewer twists. Conversely, storing metallic thread near heat means more frequent breakage.

The Right Needle

As the movements of the needle and the thread passing through it are impossible to see at average speed, we don’t stop to think that a length of thread moves back and forth through the needle’s eye a surprising number of times before it enters the fabric.

All this movement adds accumulative friction to the thread, especially at the point where it passes through the needle. This is the point of most significant breakage potential. Choosing the correct needle is paramount to help ease that friction and smooth the journey for metallic fibers.

Use a topstitching or metallic thread needle for metallic thread. These needles are wider in shape and have extra elongated eyes, creating an easier path along the needle and a wider hole for it to enter the fabric.

Schmetz Metallic, size 80/12, is an excellent needle choice for most fabrics. For thicker material, use a 90/14 size. 

Easing the Way

As with hand sewing, metallic thread tends to twist. When machine embroidering, the twist can become greater and greater when the thread is pulled vertically off the end of the spool. 

To alleviate this issue,  try a DIY or store-bought thread director that turns the thread so that it is pulled horizontally, or directly from the side instead of off the top, of the spool. Thread directors are also out there for multi-spool embroidery machines. 

A thread net might also help control metallic fibers that are constantly trying to fly off the spool and tangle. Thread nets are used for vertically-fed threads, so they cannot prevent twisting as the thread enters the machine’s threaded mechanism. But they can be a big help with tangling if a vertical feed cannot be avoided.

When using lightweight fabric, add a stabilizing layer to ensure even stitching throughout the design. Don’t use spray-on stabilizers, which only increase the effort required to pass through the material. A non-tear-away netting or similar fabric works best. But it’s best to avoid trying to machine embroider delicate fabrics with metallic thread.

Loosening the machine’s tension is also helpful for lessening stress. Metallic fibers can rip and fray along the way if overly pinched by tension wheels. Also, increase the stitch length as much as possible while maintaining stitch integrity.

One other important suggestion: SLOW DOWN. If your machine has adjustable speed control, slow it to the lowest setting. Jerking metallic thread through a machine at high speeds dramatically increases the chance of breaking and making a mess in the machine.

Test pieces are essential to success. It’s the only way to properly adjust your machine’s setting without affecting the finished work. 

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