Metallic threads
Sewing Tips

Tips for Sewing with Metallic Threads

Metallic threads

For the last couple years, I have been obsessed with metallic threads. I love how they add just the right amount of pop to my piece, whether it is a little bling to a pencil skirt, sparkle to a landscape quilt or adding the dazzle to a Christmas tree skirt, I can’t get enough of these fabulous threads. I NOW love sewing with metallic threads but I didn’t always. I used to shred them, break them, curse them and then switch to an ‘easier’ thread at the expense of the look that I truly desired. Learning how to sew with metallic threads was really important to me and now that I know the right tips, I can sew all day long without a single shred, break or bad word. Here are the tips that made my life easier. I hope it helps you too.

Metallic thread on vertical spool pin

  1. Vertical spool pin – Because metallic threads do have metal in them, they act a little different than other threads. Sulky Sliver™ and Sulky Holoshimmer™ Threads are made from a thin, flat, ribbon-like polyester film that is metalized with aluminum or a holographic foil to make them brilliantly reflective.  But since they are flat and should remain flat (untwisted), putting them on the vertical spool pin and having them come off the front of the spool and then through the machine is your best bet. This ensures that they don’t fold over on themselves or twist which can cause breakage. With Sulky Original Metallic threads, I put this on my vertical spool pin also, but I have a friend who needs to put the thread on a separate thread holder a little further away from the machine. Give yourself some time to test it out on your machine and see what works best for you.

  2. Adjust your tension – The kind of metallic thread you are using and how you are sewing with it will help you determine where your top thread tension should be. When I am doing regular sewing with Sulky Sliver or Sulky Holoshimmer (the flat metallic thread), I adjust my tension down to about a 2 or 3. If I am doing free motion, I take my tension down to a 0. If I am using Sulky Original Metallic, I have my tension at a 3 or 4 for regular sewing and a 1 or 2 for free-motion. The best way to figure out what will work for you on your machine is to take a practice piece of fabric and just try the different tensions. Be sure to take the time to check the back and the front at the different tensions.  Also, most machines will perform better with a spring-loaded free-motion foot.

  3. Needle – For Metallic threads, you can use a 90/14 Metallic needle, but most often I use a 90/14 or 100/16 Topstitch needle. Mostly because I usually already have that needle in my machine. I personally love Schmetz Needles. I like that they are color coded, I love having the Schmetz App on my phone and I know the quality is great.

Sewer's Aid

  1. Sewer’s Aid – Oh I love my Sewer’s Aid! Put a dot of it on your finger and rub along the needle. This little bit of lubricant just allows that thread to flow through the needle without any issues. You can also run a bead of Sewer’s Aid on the spool of metallic thread itself. Sewer’s Aid is great stuff. It doesn’t leave any residue  on your fabric or the thread, but check with your machine dealer to see if this type of lubricant is okay to use on your machine.

Put Sewer's Aid on your needle

  1. Sew Slow! – This one took me years to learn and it’s true about most sewing. If you want something to look better or perform better, more often than not, sewing slower is the key. I myself still like to kamikaze sew but if I am using metallic threads, going slower often means I finish faster, because am not stopping to deal with breakage caused by excessive speed.

  2. Have the right bobbin thread – My favorite is to use Sulky Bobbin Thread, but if I want the bobbin thread to match more closely, then I use Sulky 60 wt. PolyLite in the bobbin. If I am doing machine embroidery, I almost always do this. You can use Sulky Invisible thread as well, but be SURE to wind it very slowly onto the bobbin, and only about 1/2 full.

  3. Thread quality matters -When it comes to any decorative thread, the quality matters. Let’s face it. If you can see the thread, then I want it to look great; it should be able to handle normal wear and tear; and I want it to be easy to work with. This is especially true when using metallic threads. Have you ever started using a metallic thread and suddenly, you look down and the thread is showing through a little bit of white? That is the core thread showing through. Most metallic threads are foil-wrapped thread around a core thread. Often that core thread is white. Not Sulky Metallic thread. Sulky matches the core thread as closely as possible to the color of the metallic. That way if for some reason the core does peek through, it doesn’t ruin your project. Sulky metallic threads are also machine washable, dryable and can be ironed with low heat.

Machine Embroidery with metallic thread

8. For Machine Embroidery, slow down – When I asked our resident expert, Sulky Vice President of Consumer Relations, Patti Lee, about machine embroider with metallic threads, this is what she said, “One of the most frequent questions I get is:  ‘When embroidering a design using metallic thread is the design digitized to use metallic thread?’  Unlikely most of the time.   Although metallic thread requires more ‘room’ than a 40 wt. rayon thread, I have found that most designs that have been well digitized and if they are not too dense, will adapt to metallic thread fairly well.  Sometimes you may need to enlarge the design slightly to accommodate the metallic thread.  BUT MOST IMPORTANT:  SLOW YOUR MACHINE SPEED DOWN.  Most machines will use metallic threads fairly well in a design if you slow down the machine – and you may need to use a thread lubricant.  A poorly digitized design, however, may not ever do well with metallic threads.  Very dense designs, even if well digitized, may not be able to accommodate the thicker metallic threads.  However, I have made it work in some pretty dense designs with patience.”

9. Longer stitch length – Metallic threads don’t like abrasion and they are meant to really be seen, so a longer stitch length is a great way to lesson the abrasion and allow mroe of the beauty of the thread to shine through.

sewing with metallic thread

  1. Practice – Like most things in life, practice makes perfect. Just the other day I sat down at my machine and was able to use metallic thread for free-motion quilting for 4 hours straight without a single issue. Partly that is because I used all these tips above, but part of that is I have practiced doing free-motion with metallic threads a lot! I have tested the theory over and over and it still proves itself true: Practice really does make perfect.
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  • Diane

    I also love metallics and have done a lot of the tips you reccomend. But I never saw till today to put sewers aid on the NEEDLE! Gonna try it next time.

  • Robin J

    9. Longer stitch length – Metallic threads don’t like abrasion and they are meant to really be seen, so a longer stitch length is a great way to lesson (lessen) the abrasion and allow mroe (more) of the beauty of the thread to shine through.

  • Sharon Koss

    Can’t tell you how much I appreciated this article. I was stitching a practice project with the Sulky metalic thread and the Sulky holoshimmer metallic thread and the thread kept breaking. Read and followed your instructions the practice stitching came out beautiful so I will use it in a project. Thanks!

  • Myrna Goguen

    Thank you for your tips on using Metallic Threads. I have tried the slowing down my machine and having the thread in the vertical position and it has stop breaking the thread.

  • Jane Holbrook

    Thank you! What a clear, concise tutorial for sewing with pretty and finicky threads. I recently acquired a box of 104 spools of Sulky rayon thread in a carry case. I can’t wait to start using them! Your explanation or specifics really helps. Happy Sewing!

  • Melanie

    I have followed the tips but I am still having difficulty with the Holoshimmer thread. The test stitches were fine, and it started fine on the project, then halfway through, I can see the bobbin thread (sulky bobbin thread). Adjusting the tension hasn’t helped. I have also tried using it with a Thread Director.

    • Patti Lee

      Hi Melanie – It’s a little hard to diagnose without seeing the problem, but what I suspect is that the spool may have “whipped” and some thread went around the spool pin. Be sure you use a felt pad underneath the spool to help prevent this. You can’t even see when this happens sometimes, it ends up under the spool. But the fact that you said bobbin thread was pulling up, implies that there is suddenly too much top tension (which happens if that thread gets wound around the underside of the spool pin). Re-thread your machine, and be sure that the presser bar is up when threading (always). If this isn’t the issue, please contact me at and we’ll troubleshoot this a little more. There is no reason that these threads shouldn’t perform well for you. I’m sorry for the issue.

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