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What is Metallic Thread?

By Meagan Michi
Updated Jan 23, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By anon288891 — On Sep 01, 2012

Metallic sewing thread is great to use on denim, and the strength and thickness are very important. Looking for metallic thread doesn't really give any metallic sewing thread. It's so hard to find!

By orangey03 — On Jun 02, 2012

@Perdido - Thick metallic thread is great for using with denim. Some thread is just too weak to hold it in place, but the thicker varieties look great on jeans.

I have a friend who makes earrings using denim and metallic thread. She cuts a circle of denim and glues the edges to a metal hoop. Then, she uses metallic thread to embroider designs on the denim, and she usually just does one design per earring, because more than that would be overdoing it.

I have a pair of earrings made from orange denim with a metallic red-orange zinnia embroidered onto the surface. The center has gold metallic thread. They are very unique and crafty, and I get a lot of compliments on them.

By Perdido — On Jun 01, 2012

@StarJo - It’s strange that even your fabric store didn’t have any thicker metallic thread than that. Perhaps they were just out of stock. Did you ask someone who worked there?

Every fabric store I’ve ever been to has had plenty of metallic thread thicknesses to choose from. I like to work with the thicker thread, because it is easier to handle and results in a more noticeable weave.

I have to hem the bottom of every pair of jeans that I buy, because I am too short to be able to find jeans that fit. I like to use metallic thread and throw in some embellishments while I’m at it. I have to use a thick metallic thread for this, as well as a big needle to penetrate the denim.

By StarJo — On May 31, 2012

I’ve done some hand embroidery with metallic thread, and it wasn’t easy. The only metallic thread I was able to find in the fabric store was much thinner than ordinary thread, and I couldn’t keep it straight as I was sewing.

It wanted to curl around itself and get all crinkled. The thread was so thin that it was impossible to keep it turned in one direction, and I ended up with a botched project.

I’m sure there must be thicker metallic embroidery thread out there somewhere. I’ve just never seen any in the stores I’ve visited.

By wavy58 — On May 31, 2012

I remember wearing metallic hairbows in elementary school. My friend’s mother made them and sold quite a few to kids.

She would make the base of the hairbow with ribbon, but she would then embroider designs on the ribbon with a matching metallic embroidery thread. I had a hot pink bow embellished with metallic daisies that I treasured.

These hairbows were pretty cheap, considering the time that must have gone into embroidering each one. The lady was smart to use metallic thread, because shiny things always appeal to children.

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