My Machine doesn’t like Metallic Thread…🤯

One of the most common problems – even for the most experienced machine embroiderer – is successful stitching with metallic thread. We’ve experienced it all: fraying, looping, tension problems, and continual thread breaks are enough to discourage anyone and it’s such a shame for two reasons—- everyone loves a bit of bling that metallic thread offers, and second, absolutely anyone with any machine should be able to stitch, sew, or quilt with metallic threads successfully! So, at this time of year, when all is shimmering outside, let’s take it step-by-step and highlight the process of embroidering a snowflake with gorgeous metallic thread while recommending solutions to common problems.

Follow the THREE Golden Rules of Metallic Thread and let us know how you get on!

#1 – At the spool (or cone) – When stitching with a spool of Metallic thread, use the vertical spool pin. If your machine doesn’t have a vertical spool pin, we recommend using the Superior Thread Holder when embroidering with cones and spools of metallic thread.

#2 – Inside your machine – Most embroidery machines have electronic automatic tension and it’s preset from the factory to run a generic embroidery thread. As smart as your machine is, it has no way to tell that you are stitching with a metallic thread instead of a standard polyester embroidery thread. We recommend loosening your top tension (override your automatic tension settings) all the way down to 1.0. Metallic thread is one of the most delicate threads due to its unique construction, so a loose top tension is required for frustration-free stitching. Friction and metallic threads do not make a good mix. Refer to your machine’s manual to learn how to override the default tension settings.

#3 – At the needle – The way metallic thread is made follows a unique process. Strands of thin metal foil are delicately adhered to a film and wrapped around a strong nylon core. When embroidering, you have a high number of stitches per minute rapidly creating tiny stitches in a dense design. The thread is moving back and forth through the eye and groove of the needle, rubbing against the metal surface in a fast manner. All it takes is for the delicate metallic foil to break, and only the nylon core will be moving through the eye, as your beautiful metallic overlay starts to push back up into the machine. Again, thankfully the solution is very easy: use a needle with a larger eye and deeper groove. We recommend using a Topstitch #90/14 needle. Superior Topstitch needles have a longer and wider eye, deeper groove to protect thread during stitch creation, and a thin layer of titanium-nitride that resists friction and keeps your needle sharper much longer. Compare the Topstitch style to any of your embroidery needles and you’ll see the difference. Having more space in the eye of the needle helps reduce the stress placed on the thread as it passes at a high rate of speed through the needle and creates a stitch.

“This thread keeps shredding, I’m never using this brand again 😡”

Matching Needle Size to Thread Weight

When sewing, using the correct needle type and needle size for the top thread thread is as important as having a perfectly balanced top and bottom tension. If too small a needle is used, the thread may fray, shred, or break. There’s not too many things more frustrating than having the top thread constantly break while sewing or quilting.

With many different needle types and sizes available, how do you know which needle to use with a particular thread?

Our favorite needle to use on a home sewing machine is our Superior Topstitch needle. The Topstitch needle style has a longer eye, deeper groove, and rounded sharp point. It’s the go-to needle for the quilting pros and we understand why! The larger eye allows for greater tolerance of the top thread while a stitch is being formed and the deeper groove keeps the thread against the needle, avoiding excess friction as it rubs against the fabric.

When a thread is shredding or breaking on your machine, find the point of origin. It will probably be at the needle or just after the tension disc area. If the problem is at the needle, change the needle to the next size larger (if using a #80/12 needle, change to a #90/14 needle). The most common reason why thread shreds, frays, or breaks at the needle is because the eye is too small to accommodate the thread, causing stress and friction, which results in shredding or breaking the top thread.

If you match the correct needle size with the thickness (weight) of your top thread, you will find more joy in sewing, quilting, and embroidery due to less thread breakage and better stitching capabilities.

“I can’t get the tension right on my sewing machine 😡”

Sewing machines are factory preset to have the top and bottom thread form even stitches. If the top and bottom threads are identical in fiber and weight, adjustments should not be necessary. However, if we use cotton on top and poly underneath, or metallic on top and poly underneath, or a heavy thread on top and a thin thread underneath, it is necessary to adjust the tension settings. It is fine to use different thread types and weights on the top and bottom.

Think of the top and bottom thread as having a tug of war. If the threads are identical and you are sewing on a single layer of fabric, both sides have equal strength and the result will be a draw. The sewing should therefore produce perfectly even stitches with no top thread showing underneath and no bobbin thread showing on top. However, in the real world, the teams are rarely equal. One team will be stronger or bigger or faster than the other. We use decorative threads on top.

We often use different fibers for the top and bottom threads. We also add stabilizer or batting. Sometimes we might use a cotton bobbin thread and other times we use a polyester bobbin thread. All these factors make it necessary to adjust the tension for each project. By adjusting the top tension either up or down, we are able to add or take away strength on the top thread team to equalize the tug of war battle.
How much you tighten or loosen your tension is individual to your machine. Simply test it at either a decreased or increased tension depending on what problem you are having until you achieve an even stitch. Don’t be afraid to change the settings.