Metallic threads – sparkle up your quilt!
I use metallic threads all of the time. On my machines! And by hand! I like to quilt with them, blanket stitch with them, zig zag raw edges, add a little sparkly embellishment, and couch them down.
I must have been a crow in a previous life, because I do like the sparkly stuff!
As the Threadmonger, I try all of the metallic threads I can and I sell the ones I find easiest to use. There are a number of great metallic threads available and you can add subtle or brash metallic effects to your quilted pieces. Are you ready for some basics on using them? Here we go!
Longarm quilted with silver metallic thread!
Domestic machine quilted (FMQ) with red metallic thread!
WeightI find that metallic threads fall largely into two categories of weight: The ones that will go through your machine needle and the ones that are too big. The threads that will go through your machine needle are usually 40-weight threads, or thereabouts. If there is a weight printed on the spool/cone it is usually about “40” and if there is not, you can probably treat it as a 40 and you’ll be fine.
Flat, “hologram” threads are not assigned a weight like traditional round threads, but you can usually treat them like a 40-weight thread, too.
Raw edge applique with hologram thread on a domestic machine.
The much heavier threads, like a size 8 or 12 (similar to pearl cotton) must be applied to your quilt in a different way:
1. Hand sew with them.
2. Bring them up through the bobbin.
3. Couch them down.
I find that bringing them up through the bobbin (and quilting your piece upside down) is both challenging and slow. Mostly because the heavy threads take up so much space in the bobbin that you can’t get much on it. And bringing heavy threads up through the bobbin takes practice! You probably want to finish your piece and start another one! Do your practicing with pearl cotton.
In the meantime, if you just want a little touch of heavy metallic thread, hand sew it! Easy and quick.
Another effective way of applying heavy metallic thread is to couch it down. Couching Decorative Threads is a separate topic that I’ll address in another blog post. But you can easily couch a metallic thread with another metallic thread, or a thin one that virtually disappears, or a heavy thread that makes a dual statement with your metallic. It’s easy, quick, and very precise.
The tusks are outlined with an 8-weight white metallic thread,
couched down with a 100-weight white poly.
Metallic threads that will go through your machine needle are MUCH easier to use in the current day. If you are still swearing at the metallic thread you bought in 1989, give it a rest. Set that thread aside for another project (more on that later) and get ready to sparkle!
Here are my best tips for using metallic thread in your machine:
1. Use a thread from the new crop of metallic threads that are manufactured now. The round threads usually have a poly or nylon core and the metallic fibers are wrapped around them. The flat threads are manufactured by applying the metallic media to an extruded, flat surface using electrostatic technology.
Each of these types is using the most current methods for manufacture and if you haven’t tried a “modern” metallic, please do!
Don’t use nylon thread in your quilt if you ever expect it to be ironed, washed in hot water, dried in the dryer, or displayed where the sun will heat it. Nylon is heat-sensitive and it will melt, turn yellow, and/or fracture over time.
2. Use a needle that is rated for metallic threads. Generally, that means a topstitch needle, because they are designed for decorative threads. Many are coated, have a deeper “scarf” for guiding the thread, and have a bigger hole. Always use a needle that is sized for your thread weight. For 40-weight threads, that means a 90/14 needle in your domestic machine. Possibly a 100/16 if you feel the need to bump up a size. Longarmers usually use a size 18 needle.
3. Use something as smooth as possible in the bobbin. Metallic threads are inherently rough on the surface. You want to oppose that with something very smooth. Poly, silk, and rayon are all good choices. The polys give you the biggest choice in thread weight; a 60-weight, 80-weight, or 100-weight poly for the bobbin could be the easiest to find. When you buy your metallic thread, buy a bobbin thread in a color that is friendly to your metallic color, so that if it pops up to the surface during quilting you won’t notice the change. Usually that means a gold or silvery gray color. But remember that metallic threads come in a full range of colors and you’ll need something compatible for each one.
Now that I have told you this, I will admit that I often use cotton in the bobbin with metallics and have no adverse effects. The new cotton threads are delightfully smooth. Just not quite as much as a poly and I want you to have good results the first time!
4. Sew a little slower. Metallic threads are decorative threads and you want to treat them with loving care. If this means stopping down your machine speed a little, then do it. Enjoy the process. Breathe.
5. Here it comes: You must be “willing” to adjust your tension. Know your machine well enough to be able to adjust the tension for each set of top and bobbin threads. You want that perfect join in the middle of the batting, where it is supposed to be. Take a class. Make samples. Play your machine like a musical instrument. Know it well. Even if your machine has automatic tension settings, you still must know if you are getting the result you want. As we say in the computer biz, you must be smarter than the computer. Well, you must be smarter than your sewing machine, too!
6. Practice! If you want to make a practice piece for free motion quilting or using some of your machine’s decorative stitches, here’s a tip: Make your quilt sandwich out of a pretty top piece, a chunk of leftover batting, and any cotton on the bottom. Do your practicing until your stitches and your tension are just right. Then set that practice “quilt” aside and come back later and make it into a tote bag. Nothing is wasted. Give it to a friend who will not mention the quality of the quilting. They’ll just think it’s beautiful and be glad you thought of them.
So many usesI love to use metallic thread to emulate water or waves. There are some especially pretty blue metallics available. I use metallics liberally on Christmas quilts and table runners because, well, it’s CHRISTMAS and we can go over the top at that time of year. I outline with it either with a straight or decorative stitch
Raw edge applique with gold hologram thread.
Veins applied with 100-weight poly.
When you lay down a single strand of metallic thread, as you probably do when free-motion quilting, you will get a subtle effect. If you want more bling, lay down more thread!
Sparkle or shine?Finally, think about whether you want to sparkle or shine. Metallic threads give you the sparkle. But if what you really wanted was shine, a poly or rayon will give you a lovely, glowy shine without sparkle. I made that choice recently, when I had planned to quilt a wall hanging with a 40-weight silver metallic but when I looked at the quilt, I decided that a metallic would overwhelm it. I used a 60-weight silver-gray poly which had a recessive effect but gave it the texture that I wanted.
In another blog post I’ll give you some ideas for using up that metallic thread you have been holding on to since 1989. Until then, hold on to it a little longer!!
In this little quilt, the only metallic thread is the buckle on the collar.
Hologram thread. Domestic machine.