Sunday, October 4, 2009

Working with Metallic and other difficult threads

I think the best advice I ever got about using difficult threads was from Linda Schmidt in her Quilt University class:
  • Use Sewer's Aid lubricant on the spool (a few drops every once in awhile)
  • Straight lines/walking foot will have less breakage than using curved lines/free motion
  • Play with the top tension....usually need to loosen the tension
  • Go slow
  • Try the difficult thread in the bobbin and quilt from the back.
  • Have low expectations. Know that the thread will break periodically and celebrate when it doesn't break for a couple minutes!

I've noticed that Sliver or Glimmer (which isn't metallic, but mylar strips) stretches a bit, so doesn't break as easily as metallic thread. No need to lubricate mylar threads.

My favorite brands: Sulky Metallic (the variegated tri color #143 is pretty cool); Superior Metallic and FS Madeira Metallic (which is metallic wrapped about a black core of regular thread which helps with the breakage and looks like tiny beading)

So share your frustrations and successes here!


  1. Make sure you have a new needle in the machine and that it has a large eye for thread, I use a metallic needle type 90/14. Also Sew Slow, heat is often what causes the breakage and the thread going through the needle quickly will cause the needle to heat up.

  2. One of the main things with metallics is that the thread has to stay straight so it won't kink. So, it may mean you have to rig something so the spool is standing up, especially if your machine has a horizontal thread holder.

    Often you have to have more guides in the thread path to help keep the thread straight. On my old machine, I noticed it flopped around alot in the space above the clip on the shank and where it came out of the tension slot. So, I stuck a safety pin with blue tack to the machine and threaded it through there as well. It really helped.

    I also found that some machines need another guide between the spool and the first place you put the thread round/through.

    I do free machine embroidery a lot with metallics. I even stack them on one thread holder and mix them!

    Some do break alot, but if you run them through with a pale rayon that can blend with it, that helps to give it strength.

    Sandy in the UK
    some people do swear by the silicone stuff, but I haven't used it.

  3. Its funny but I tried most of these suggestions over the years. Even with the current challenge, I played with the tension, used different needles, place it on a thread stand etc. Nothing worked without it breaking every 30 seconds or so. I think it might be that I'm sewing too fast. Still with free motion quilting you have a rhythm and the thread needs to match that. With all the pretty threads out there though- I've decided that if I can't get one of them to be my friend - well I'll just get another friend LOL!

  4. I frequently quilt with metallic threads of all kinds, and I have gotten it down to a routine. Lower the top tension, use a topstitch needle, size 12 or 14, and always use a thread net over the spool. This makes the thread come out more evenly. I also test each metallic on a sample sandwich before I try it on my quilt.

    Sulky Sliver seems to give me the most problems, but sometimes it happens to be just the right color and I need to use it. With Sliver, I always need to sew quite slowly. Superior's Glitter, a mylar thread, is one of my favorites for ease of quilting. Also, I once had a particular spool of Glitter which seemed to be breaking every ten inches. I sent it back to Superior and they replaced it very quickly. The new spool worked fine.

    I find that I can usually fiddle around with tension and needles enough to successfully quilt with almost any metallic thread, but I admit that my success rate went way up when I got my Janome 6500 several years ago.

  5. Go Slow, for me that's the best advice. Speed puts friction on the metallic thread and it starts to shred, stretch and break. I also use a 90/14 topstitch needle. The thread lays in the 'notch' again causing less friction.
    Great subject Cynthia.