It’s not just that metal thread is very tricky to use, it’s that sometimes what appears to be the right technique to use just doesn’t work at all! It all depends on the effect you want to achieve as to not only the technique to use, but also the type of metal thread to use.
Types of Metal Thread
Filament is a very fine strand of metal thread that you use with your normal thread – a strand of filament threaded through your needle with the thread you are stitching with. This will give a flash of metal in your work, rather than a full metallic line of stitching. You can stitch with this alone, but because of the fineness of the filament, you need a number of strands and it doesn’t tend to lie very well.
Passing Thread is the most common thread used in metal thread embroidery. It is a fairly traditional type of metal thread and is comprised of a thin strip of metal wound around a silk or (more commonly) cotton “core”. Passing Thread is the thinnest of the threads used for metal thread couching work, yet it is fine enough to be preferred for use when using underside couching (where the thread is couched down, the couching thread comes up and then back into the same hole, and the thread is pulled tight enough that the coughing thread and the section of the passing thread is pulled through that hole). It is also fine enough to be ended by pulling through the fabric to the underside of the fabric and secured. Two strands of this type of thread are often used in couching.
Metal Embroidery Thread is a fairly recent innovation. It comes in spools for machine embroidery and skeins for hand embroidery. Personally – I dislike it. I’ve tried both the spooled and skeined varieties and it seems to combine all the problems of metal thread, with no benefits.
Jap or Japan Thread is probably the most common of all metal threads. It is similar to passing thread, but is of slightly lower quality and the core is a tightly rolled strip of paper. As it is cheaper than proper passing thread, it is the most commonly used thread for metal thread techniques. Jap comes in various sizes, from very very fine through to about 1mm diameter.
Purl (also called Bullion) is a coil of metal – usually gold and looks like a spring. This can come in sizes as small as a watch spring, and up to an inch or more in diameter, and as thick. It comes in both gold and silver. Purl is what is usually used to do the metal embroidery on military uniforms. It can be stretched and bent around corners, or cut into smaller pieces and applied like beads. If it is not cut into smaller pieces. It can be applied as a curl, or flattened slightly. Purl is usually stitched down by having the couching thread between the wraps of the Purl. Purl can be gold or silver, and comes in both shiny and matte versions. Pearl Purl (also called Jaceron) is similar, but it has been rounded prior to purling, and it looks like a string of pearl beads. Check purl is purl that has been crimped at intervals, giving it a faceted look.
Purl is a very interesting and versatile type of metal to use and can provide a number of different effects in your work.
Rococco is similar to passing thread in that it is the wire tightly wrapped around a cotton core, but the wire has been crimped at intervals, giving it a wavy appearance. Like Passing Thread, you couch this thread down, however it is usually too thick to pass through to the back of the fabric for finishing and starting.
Milliary Wire is a very interesting variation on both purl and passing thread. It is a combination of both, with the purl stretched and laced to a passing thread. This is actually very easy to make yourself, and the same effect can be achieved by stretching the purl along the passing thread, and then couching the two down together. The row is finished by passing the thread through to the back (whilst the purl remains on the surface and is stitched in place). It is fun to experiment with this, especially if you use one of the different types of purl, and experiment with a long stretch or a shorter one.
Plate is a strip of metal between 1 – 2 millimeters wide that is laid flat and couched down. It can be folded and shaped and thus used to fill small shapes, with the couching stitches hidden under the fold.
Tools for Metal Thread Embroidery
There are a few specialist tools that you should add to your workbox if you want to do a metal thread project. Some of them, you will probably have already, others are specialist tools.
Laying Tool Everybody should have a laying tool. It is useful in laid and couched work, as well as when doing large areas of satin stitch. In metal thread work, it helps you to lay the threads flat and beside each other, rather than overlapping slightly. A laying tool with a sharpened end can also be used as a stiletto. In Japanese metal thread embroidery, a laying tool is also called a Takaburi needle.
Stiletto A stiletto is used to punch a hole in the fabric at the end of the couching to pass the metal thread through (only passing thread and filament are fine enough to be passed through using a needle) to finish it off at the end of the couching (or the end of the cord).
Velvet Metal Thread/Beading Board A slightly padded usually black velvet covered board used in metal thread embroidery and beading. It allows the metal thread or beads to be placed there for easy access. The pile of the fabric keeps the pieces in place, and the dark colour enables them to be easily seen.
Metal Thread Scissors/Snips Don’t spoil your thread scissors/snips cutting metal thread! You need a small pair of pointed nose scissors to use solely for metal thread embroidery. They should be kept very sharp, to cut through the thread. You will find that they need sharpening before you start any project as a clean cut of the thread is important for the look of the work.
Mellor A mellor is a specialist tool used to turn metal thread. One end is a rounded point and the other is a flattened oval, often with a cleat in the end that assists in folding metal plate. Once you have one of these useful little tools and used it, you will wonder how you managed without it!
Tweezers with a fine point are very important in metal thread work. You should try to ensure that you do not touch metal threads with your bare skin, as it can tarnish them. Using tweezers will assist to keep the threads bright, and they can also be used in conjunction with the mellor and laying tool to turn threads.
Goldwork Techniques, Projects & Pure Inspiration
Beginner's Guide to Goldwork
Goldwork Embroidery: Designs and Projects (Milner Craft Series)
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© 2013 Megan McConnell