Silver Threads Among The Gold
Byline: Barb Geer
I just love metallic thread! I used to think that someday I might tire of its glitzy shine, or that it might simply go out of style, but with each passing year that I am involved in embroidery, I love it more.
I especially like silver metallic thread when used as chrome on vehicle designs. The vehicles take on a very realistic look. Metallic thread also gives embroidered “jewelry” a nice hint of realism. Just for fun and fashion, I like to use metallic threads to create a more elegant look.
But I’m kind of fussy about the use of metal-lic thread. I like cool colors in combination with other cool colors and warm colors paired with warm colors. Therefore, I like silver on blues and greens and gold on reds and yellows. Since there are several choices in the hues of each metallic color, I also prefer the colors to be in the same family.
The Metallic Thread Factor
Unlike me, many embroiderers do not like to use metallic thread in designs and charge more for its use. There are actually two reasons for this. First and foremost is thread breakage. Some embroiderers claim they experience more thread breaks using metallic thread than with rayon or polyester thread. Solving that problem is what we are going to discuss in this article. The second reason is the cost. Metallic thread costs considerably more than either rayon or polyester thread, sometimes as much as five or six times higher. There isn’t anything one can do about the cost of the thread, unless ordering larger quantities is an option. However, since metallic threads are used with less frequency, that’s not advisable.
I personally don’t charge more for metallic thread in a design. At my shop, we don’t have a problem stitching metallic thread and have no more thread breaks than with any other thread. As for the cost, we purchase 5,000m cones and, even though metallic thread is more expensive than regular thread, when you consider how little thread is used in a design and how long that cone will last, the cost does not seem unreasonable.
The Digitizing Process
I don’t digitize any differently for metallic thread than for any other thread. However, as you may already know, I specialize in digitizing with a low stitch count whenever possible, doing away with many problems that might otherwise occur. When an embroiderer is using metallic thread and experiences thread breaks, it can usually be attributed to a density that is too high.
The solution is simple. A reduction in density in the areas where the metallic thread is used is all that is necessary. Most default densities in digitizing programs are set too high, especially in this scenario. You might have to experiment if you want coverage, but you also want to maintain efficient production. A reduction as little as 10 percent might solve the problem, but that number, too, depends on the original digitizing setting for both fills and columns. With some stock designs, I have reduced the density of a given area as much as 25 percent.
Friction on metallic thread is what causes breakage, so reduced densities in fills and columns eliminate much of the friction of thread against thread. As for run stitches, a slightly longer stitch length is desirable, again causing less abrasion on the thread.
When you compare the feel of metallic thread to either rayon or polyester, you will notice that it seems thicker and not as flexible. In the construction of metallic thread, the metallic portion is twisted with another very fine thread. Upon close inspection, you can actually see how the thread is wound. You can feel it, too, when you run a piece of metallic thread through your fingers. It’s not as smooth as rayon or polyester thread. That’s why you will notice when it breaks (even on a clean break), the thread actually appears to fray as the tension is released and the thread pops back. That also occurs if you have a problem threading a needle.
Another way to reduce friction is to use a needle with a larger eye. The standard 75/11 works well for most purposes, and I wouldn’t suggest using a smaller needle for this thread.
Consequently, I wouldn’t recommend metallic thread for very fine text. Thread breaks occur when stitch lengths are too short, columns are too narrow and densities are set too high. These seem to be the same rules as digitizing for any other thread, with the exception that, for metallic thread, the levels are slightly different.
Editing Stock Designs – Time Well Spent
As you know, I think most stock designs are too stitch-intensive to start with, so I usually spend a few moments editing them before we put them into production. In most editing and sewing programs, there is a function that will do a blanket increase or reduction of density for a design. Since, when you embroider with metallic thread, you usually use it for only a portion of the design, a blanket selection will not be desirable. A more skilled editing process must be engaged so that only the portions of the design that will be stitched in metallic thread will have lower densities. You select the color block, reduce the density for that block only and save the design with the new parameters.
Does that sound easier said than done? It’s really very simple if you possess a program that allows you to make those changes. If you do not, you may have to solicit help from a digitizer or someone with editing capabilities. Once again, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of editing a design to eliminate production problems. A thread break that keeps recurring during a large order can add hours to production time. On the other hand, fixing the problem before stitching takes only a few seconds. A few minutes of editing can eradicate the problems and save valuable time, allowing the embroiderer to move on to another project with the time saved, essentially increasing the profitability and workflow of the entire shop.
For Every Problem There Is A Solution
Many embroiderers treat metallic thread like the plague, but, as you can see, there is no reason to do so. A few simple tricks can solve all possible problems. To sum it up, lower density, longer stitches and the size of the needle are the variables that can be changed to ensure successful embroidery with metallic thread.
Metallic thread “pops” off a garment and adds a special quality to the designs in which it is used. For that reason alone, I believe it is worth the extra effort that it takes to make the designs run well.
Barbara E.Geer owns Grand Central Graphics, Middle River, Minn., an embroidery and screenprinting business, and Grand Slam Designs, a stock design company. She has been in the embroidery industry since 1990.
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