Taming Metallic Threads

Tis the season of glitz and glitter! That means using metallic threads and, with them, plenty of headaches.  Here are some tips for less thread breaks and more enjoyable machine embroidery with metallics!

Slow Down the Machine

Reduce the speed of your embroidery sewing machine and you will have less thread breaks.

Reduce Tension

Machine tension may also need to be relaxed to lessen pull on the thread as it is stitching.

Use the Right Needle

Use a metallic or topstitch needle. They have a longer (and larger) eye that reduces friction on the metallic thread and helps to prevent fraying. Also, don’t be afraid to pop a new needle on your machine at the beginning of a project.

Relax the Thread

Being wound on a spool affects how the thread performs, especially with metallic blends. The distance between the spool and the machine can alleviate curling and thread breaks.

Use a thread stand or drop your thread over the edge of a table and put it in a cup on the floor. Then, thread your machine as usual. By the time the metallic thread is fed into the machine, it has an opportunity to relax.

Still having trouble? Sometimes, turning the thread spool the opposite way on the spool pin makes a difference too.

Use a Quality Thread

Not all threads are created equally and a bargain is not a bargain if it does not work well. The manufacturing process is different depending on the brand, so if one brand is giving you fits, do not give up on metallic thread altogether. Try another brand.

What tips do you have for embroidering with metallic thread?

Freestanding Lace Photo Ornaments

These freestanding lace photo ornaments, by Ace Points Embroidery, make sentimental gifts. They are a perfect way to commemorate special family events, like a birth, marriage, or other celebration. You could even use them as a gift tag!

A lace back keeps the photo in place. They also stitch out fast, making them a really nice last minute gift.

Freestanding lace is stitched on water soluble stabilizer and is digitized so that the threads all intertwine and stitch over each other with bound edges. When the embroidery is finished, the stabilizer is rinsed away to reveal lace.

Start by hooping two layers of fabric type water soluble stabilizer. Stitch out the design using the same thread in the bobbin. When finished, remove the hoop from the machine.

Clip around the designs, being careful to not cut into the embroidery. Rinse away the water soluble stabilizer, just enough so that it disappears. You want some of the stabilizer to stay in the stitches so that the lace is stiff when it is dry.

I did not stitch out the back. Instead, I printed out a template of the back design using embroidery software, like Hatch. I traced the template on clear plastic and used that to center the photo to the embroidery.

Cut around the edges of the photo and run a thin bead of glue along the edge. Place the photo behind the frame and let it dry.


Add a hanger, and maybe even some crystals or beads, and you have a cherished ornament that will serve as an annual reminder of family milestones!



Using Embroidery Toppers

As if stabilizers are not confusing enough, embroidery projects also add toppers to the equation. What are embroidery toppers and when should you use them?

What are embroidery toppers?

Toppers are of two types: water soluble and heat away. Both are very thin and have the appearance of clear plastic. Both can be pulled away from stitches after embroidery. For final removal, water soluble toppers are rinsed away while heat sensitive toppers can be brushed away after being heated by an iron.

When should embroidery toppers be used?

Embroidery toppers keep the stitches from sinking into the item being embroidered. That makes them useful for projects stitched on felt, like the Ho Ho Christmas Cookies set by Hatched in Africa seen here, or the Snowman Snowflakes set by Wind Bell Embroidery seen here.

Just pin them in place (outside the embroidery area) or run a basting stitch to hold them in place.

When embroidering on fleece or knits, like t-shirts, sweatshirts, or sweaters, toppers are necessary to keep stitches from sinking out of site.

You may think that a topper is not necessary when embroidering on a regular t-shirt, but embroider a design like this one from the Trees With Tradition collection by Ravens Nest Embroidery with and without a topper and you will see a significant difference in design details.

Any embroidery design with fill stitching benefits by sitting ever so slightly above the fabric upon which it is embroidered.

Even applique designs with satin stitched edging, like this snowman from Christmas Blocks Set 3 by Anandas Divine Designs benefits from a topper.

Toppers are particularly useful when embroidering on toweling or fabrics with a definite nap. The film holds fabric fibers down so that stitches sit on top. That was necessary when stitching the black-faced sheep from Sweet Heirloom seen here.

Start using embroidery toppers and you will see an improvement in your stitching.

Personalized Christmas Stocking (Free Pattern!)

Adding personalization to a stocking changes it from a mere decoration to a family heirloom. This stocking is made from scratch (download and assemble the free pattern here), but you can easily add embroidery to store-bought stockings too.


Cut two sets of stocking pieces, right sides together. One set is the outside and the other set is the lining. Sew each set together, right sides together, leaving the tops open.

If desired, use a fusible fleece for padding. It can also be quilted if you like.

Turn the lining set inside out and slide it inside the outer stocking fabrics, tucking in the toes and aligning the tops.

Cut cuff material 21.5“ x 10.5“. Hoop a firm tear-away stabilizer. Embroider the name on the cuff, centered horizontally and vertically. Get a great font here.  

Use fabric larger than what is needed for the finished size, then cut it down to size. Sometimes, that is an easier way to have the name perfectly centered on the cuff.

With right sides together, sew/serge the short ends together to create a tube. If you added fleece to the body of the stocking, add a piece to the cuff also. Cut it 5.25” x 21.5”. Fold the cuff tube in half, right sides out, matching raw edges.


Place the cuff inside the stocking matching all three raw edges the whole way around the top. Pin in place and serge/sew together around the top of the stocking.


Pull the cuff out from inside the stocking and fold down over the top of the stocking to cover the seam and form the cuff.


Cut a piece of fabric for the hanger and tack it to the stocking.




Fussy Cutting for Applique

Applique is so much fun, in part, because you can really get creative with the fabrics you use. Fussy cutting is often used with applique to highlight designs in the fabric. That means cutting fabric so that a part of its design is centered in the applique space. How do you do that without a lot of trial and error? Read on!

The applique technique uses a series of placement stitches (to show where the fabric will go) and tack down stitches (to secure the applique fabric to the base fabric). You can use the tack down stitches as a template for fussy cutting applique shapes. Templates will work with any applique designs.

Most embroidery editing programs, like Hatch, allow you to print out design images and color sequences.  In the diagram above, the star block features a center square and eight outside triangles, all appliqued.

In editing software, save your design and add “template” to the file name. Use that file to create your fussy cutting template so that the original design is not changed.

Delete all parts of the design except for the placement lines. Print out the file (use a card stock as it is more rigid than plain paper) and you will have a line diagram like the star above. Use it like a stencil.

If you want to fussy cut the center fabric, cut out the center of the square.

If you want the triangles to be fussy cut, cut them out.

Make the cut out areas slightly larger by cutting outside the lines. That way, there is enough fabric to catch the tack down stitching. After tack down, cut fabric to the stitch line as you would with any applique.

Position the stencil over fabric until it shows the fabric design you want to feature. Draw around the inside of the stencil with a chalk marker and then cut fabric on the lines you traced.

Be careful when using fabric that includes wording or directional stripes. Fabric arrangement should be consistent to maintain a polished look to your design.

Another way to create a cutting template is to hoop a tear away stabilizer and tape a piece of card stock on top, then embroider the tack down stitch for the square or triangles (don’t use thread). The needle will cut a rough stencil for you.

Fussy cutting allows you to add an extra “wow” factor to applique embroidery without the guess work!

Poinsettia Tea Lights

These gorgeous Poinsettia Tea Lights by Mar Lena Embroidery will be perfect additions to your holiday table. Position one at each place setting as a take home gift for your guests or use them as decorations on the tree or in a wreath.

Start by hooping a fabric type water soluble stabilizer. Float two layers of organza on top and baste them to the stabilizer.

Stitch out the petals, then hoop more stabilizer and stitch out the leaves.

When petals and leaves are stitched, carefully trim away organza and stabilizer close to the stitching.

You can also use a stencil burning tool to remove organza. If so, make sure to use a thread other than nylon as it will melt.

Clip away organza inside the middle circles of each piece. Soak away excess water soluble stabilizer and lay pieces flat to dry.

The instructions said to align layers and stitch them together by hand or in the hoop. I found that they were snug enough on the tea light “flame” that I did not need to glue or sew them.

Assemble, light, and let your guests be amazed!

Snowman Ornament

This ornament is so quick and easy, the kids will be able to help finish them! I chose the closeup snowman design in the Snowman Snowflakes set by Wind Bell Embroidery but any of the designs will work.

Start by hooping a layer of fabric type water soluble stabilizer. Spray the back of a piece of felt with a temporary spray adhesive and gently press it in the hoop on top of the stabilizer.

Lay a piece of film type water soluble stabilizer on top of the felt and baste it in place. Float a piece of sturdy tear away stabilizer under the hoop. Embroider the design.

When embroidery is finished, remove the basting stitches and the film type water soluble stabilizer.

Take everything out of the hoop and remove the tear away stabilizer. Cut a piece of double sided fusible, like Steam A Seam 2 Light, and fuse it on the back of the embroidery. Add another layer of white felt and fuse it to the back of the embroidered felt.

Trim close to the embroidery. You could add hot fix crystals or beads if you like. Then, add a hanger and it is ready for the tree!


Quilting With Magnetic Hoops

Quilting with your embroidery machine couldn’t be easier than when you use a magnetic hoop when embroidering quilting designs like  the English Rose Quilt Blocks by Embroidery Weekly.

Magnetic hoops like the Snap Hoop Monster make it really easy to hold layers of fabric and batting, much more than traditional hooping methods.

Magnetic frames are particularly useful for quilting edge to edge designs like Gradient Quilt Blocks by Designs by Celeste.

They are also handy for lining up designs with corner components like Mandala Quilt Blocks by Allstitch.

One of my favorite parts of using a magnetic frame for quilting is that it holds fabrics and batting firmly without pulling it super taut. That allows more dimension in the quilting details and makes English Rose Quilt Blocks  look more like hand quilting.

Christmas Cookies

The Ho Ho Christmas Cookies set by Hatched in Africa is really fun for holiday sewing. Using the freestanding applique technique, the designs can be made into ornaments, cookies, or candy cane holders.

Start by hooping two layers of fabric-type water soluble stabilizer.

Adding multiple files to a larger hoop allows you to get a whole “batch” made up at one time!

The first color stop shows placement lines for the applique. You can use fabric, but I chose to use a gingerbread colored felt. Place your fabric over the placement stitches on the front and the back.

Run the tack-down stitch and trim on the front

and the back. Continue embroidery as instructed.

Add a film-type water-soluble topper before embroidery. Just tape or baste in the hoop. It keeps stitches from sinking into the felt.

When you are done, clip excess stabilizer and soak the rest away.

As an alternative, you can skip some of the decorative stitches and swap them out for beads or hot-fix crystals.

Let your pieces dry and pop them on a plate!

Things to Consider When Buying a Machine

You have done your research and have found a great embroidery machine dealer. Now what? It all comes down to the options and features available. Here are the big ones:

Warranty and Classes

Make sure you get a warranty, especially if buying a previously owned machine from a dealership. Having a certified repair person on site is extremely valuable.

The dealer should offer classes for new owners and, much of the time, they are free.

Hoop Size

Size does matter in machine embroidery because you are limited by the size of your hoop. Designs are digitized and sold according to hoop sizes. Standard hoop sizes are 4×4 up to 9×14 and beyond.

That doesn’t mean that you have to purchase all hoop sizes for your machine (most machines come with two hoops), but you want to be able to use bigger hoop sizes if desired.

Design Transfer

Design cards and conversion boxes are old school. Make sure you can either download designs directly to your machine via a thumb drive or USB cord connected to your computer.

Another consideration is the computer you use. Most design formats are PC compatible. If you use a Macintosh or Apple computer, you may need additional software to transfer design files to your embroidery machine.

Home Use or Business Use?

In addition to embroidery, do you want to be able to also use your machine to sew? Many machines have the capability to both embroider and sew.

When quilting, the throat width (area between the needle and the body of the machine) is important.

If buying a machine for business, you may want to consider a multi-needle machine.