Metallic thread is used for a variety of hand-sewing and machine-sewing techniques and design elements and has been popular since ancient times, when it was designed for use by people of nobility and world leaders. The metal, often gold or silver, is combined in some way with another fiber in order to add strength and long-term durability to the thread. Today, metal-colored thread is available in a wide array of hues as well as a variety of weights and finishes. Some of the most common uses of metallic thread include clothing embellishment, quilting, embroidering and needlepoint. Overall, metal thread is used to add decoration, dimension and appeal to a sewing project.
There are a variety of techniques for producing metallic thread. In some cases, metal thread is made by wrapping metal around a fiber core such as cotton, polyester or nylon. Alternatively, some metallic thread is made by coating metallic filaments with polyester or plastic; this is sometimes a process of lamination, which results in thread that is exceptionally durable and color-fast. Coating and laminating prevents the thread from tarnishing over time, and it even protects the metal when it is exposed to salt or chlorine water. Ultimately, the thickness of the core fiber, whether metal or otherwise, will dictate the thickness of the finished thread.
In fact, the thickness of a metallic thread signifies its intended use, in most cases. Thread Tex is the unit of measurement by which the weight of thread is measured; smaller Tex numbers indicate fine thread, and a larger number signifies a thicker thread. The range of sizes is from Tex 10 to Tex 90, with metallic threads usually falling in the range of Tex 12 to Tex 50. Metallic thread with a lower Tex rating generally is very strong and suited for use in high-speed sewing such as embroidery. Threads with higher Tex ratings are often used in hand-sewing, because thicker threads tend to fray at high speeds.
Metallic thread is beloved for its unique appearance, but thread breakage can be problematic. There are multiple ways to combat this problem, most notably the use of a needle intended specifically for use with metallic threads. Metallic sewing machine needles have a larger eye and a special groove to accommodate the thread, thus reducing breakage. In place of a metallic needle, a top stitch needle or a jeans needle can be substituted. Many seamstresses have found that using a silicone-based lubricant can help to prevent fraying and tangling of metallic thread, both of which can lead to thread breakage.