Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Stitching with Metallic Threads

The Lavender & Lace Celtic Spring design that I am currently stitching is positively encrusted with gold metallic thread.  The pattern calls for 4 cards of Rainbow Gallery's Petite Treasure Braid:

I have heard many complaints about how difficult it is to stitch with metallic threads, and I thought I would report on what is working best for me.

The main principle is to reduce the drag on the thread as much as possible.  I'll give you the summary first, and then the details:

  1. Stitch the metallics first.
  2. Pull the thread straight up and straight down.
  3. Keep the tension a little looser.
  4. Slow down.
  5. Use short lengths of thread.
1.  Wherever possible, stitch the metallic stitches before you stitch any adjacent stitches.  If you have already stitched the surrounding stitches, the fabric will be much tighter and there is a lot more pressure on the metallic thread.  On Celtic Spring I left all the gold crosses on the dress until the end, and it is chewing up the thread.  I'm not sure that I had any other choice, though, so I am just using very short lengths.  On the hems, though, I am doing all the gold first, and it works much better.

2.  If you pull the thread to the side when you stitch, there is more drag on the thread.  Eventually it will fray, but even before that the thread gets flattened, or "ironed out," very quickly.  The Treasure Braid gets its sparkle because it is crinkled, a lot like old Christmas tree tinsel.  This is not a great photo, but it gives you the idea:

As soon as the thread gets flattened it loses its sparkle.  So with that in mind,

3.  Keep the tension loose.  The braid has a tendency to spring up, but pulling it too tight to counter that is a bad idea.

4.  Slow down.  While the crinkles in the braid make it sparkle, they also tend to catch on the fabric.  Slowing down your movements decreases the chance that a strand will snap as it catches.

5.  The universal advice that you hear is to keep the thread lengths short.  I usually use an 18" length of cotton floss when I am cross stitching.  I started with a 14" length of braid, but it had already frayed when there was still 8" on the needle.  When I am able to stitch the gold with no surrounding stitches, I find an 11" length works well.  I am using an 11" x 17" Q-snap frame, so I just measure against that.  For the crosses in the dress where I have already stitched the other stitches, I am using just enough to stitch one cross at a time, which is a little painstaking, but worth it to keep the bright gold sparkle against the dark purple dress.

Another common piece of advice for stitching with metallics is to use a thread conditioner.  Right now I am not, and I am coping pretty well.  I'm not sure what a conditioner would do to the crinkles, so I am not in a rush to try it.

The gold thread looks much better in real life than in any photos I have seen.  Even though it may seem daunting, it is well worth a little extra effort!  For me the best thing is to do a little at a time - two or three lengths of gold, and then back to the cotton floss for a while.


  1. I have never found that thread conditioner did much of anything for metallics. What did seem to work, in addition to your tips, was to use a size larger needle than usual. The larger needle tends to open up a bigger path for the metallic thread. It helps some.

  2. Thank you, Mary Ellen, that is a good idea! I have been using a small needle so the thread stays on it better, but I think I will switch, at least for the crosses in the dress, which are very tight.


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