Have you tried Japan Threads?


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There’s one thread type that has stood the test of time—it has been used since embroidery began, practically. It had an affair with silk thread in a few cultures, then came it’s wool-complement years, back to silk, and so on. Now, in our age of fiber affluence, it is rising in popularity again, although it never went away in guilds, artisan schools, and textile conservation. I’m talking about real metal thread, and it’s gorgeous.

For surface embellishment, real metal thread offers today’s needleworker a few exciting qualities:

  1. Light, since it is a metal
  2. Dimension, since it sits on the surface
  3. Texture, since it comes in smooth or faceted varieties
  4. Historical significance, since it has been used in embroidery for centuries.

It can also offer today’s stitcher a little frustration since it can be hard to find and expensive. There are not that many companies making real metal threads anymore, and with the price of silver and gold high in many economies, accessibility can be an issue.

These negatives have plagued needleworkers for about 50 years, and they are why the Kreinik family began making metallic threads back in the 1970s. Metallics are synthetic versions of real metals, so they are less expensive, readily available, and tarnish-free. I’m all about metallics, but you know that from my other columns. Let me tell you today about something in between: Japan Thread, a synthetic fiber that has a percentage of real metal in it—and it looks gorgeously similar to real metal threads.

Designer Joan Eidman created these designs for Needlepoint Now magazine. Each uses a variety of Kreinik Japan Threads in Braid and Ribbon sizes. They show just how similar Japan Threads are to real metal threads—but more accessible, available, and affordable.
Designer Joan Eidman created these designs for Needlepoint Now magazine. Each uses a variety of Kreinik Japan Threads in Braid and Ribbon sizes. They show just how similar Japan Threads are to real metal threads—gorgeous, stunning, accessible, available, and affordable.

Japan Threads have a history too: centuries ago, real metal was pounded down to a super thin layer and wrapped around horse hair. The concept is the same today: a thin layer of synthetic metallic is wrapped around a polyester core. Since these are wrapped threads, you don’t stitch in and out with them as you would metallic floss (at least not much, only for specialty stitches). You lay them on the surface of your fabric or canvas and couch them down with a matching (or contrasting, for fun) color of a thinner fiber. Couching is a simple, easy, and versatile stitch: it’s basically just tacking down a larger thread, and can be a simple straight stitch or a decorative stitch depending on your design goals.

Strands of Japan #5 or #7 (the number indicates a size) are laid side by side on the surface of your design and couched, or tacked down. You can use metallic or silk thread for the thinner couching fiber. Lay your straight couching stitches evenly spaced as in these photos, or in a decorative stitch pattern depending on your design goals.
Strands of Japan #5 or #7 (the number indicates a size) are laid side by side on the surface of your design and couched, or tacked down. You can use metallic or silk thread for the thinner couching fiber. Lay your straight couching stitches evenly spaced as in these photos, or in a decorative stitch pattern depending on your design goals. (Models are from the Kreinik thread museum)

Kreinik’s line of Japan Threads includes several sizes, listed here in order of thinnest to thickest: Japan #1 (the thin Cord-like fiber you can use to couch the thicker ones), Japan #5, and Japan #7. In addition, the company makes Japan thread into Braids of various sizes plus two sizes of flat ribbon. (“Braid” is a fancy word for, well, a thread; just use it straight off the reel, stitch and go.) Having many sizes available in the Japan Thread line means you can stitch a variety of real metal embroidery looks, in a variety of stitches, for the utmost variety of stitching options.

Kreinik makes Japan Threads in several Braid sizes for use on various fabrics and canvases, in a variety of stitches. They aren't smooth like Japan #5 and #7, so they offer a different look to replicate real metal threads. The design on the left is by Janelle Giese, available at https://www.kreinik.com/shops/Golden-Butterfly.html. The design on the right is by Anna-Marie Winter from the Kreinik museum.
Kreinik makes Japan Threads in several Braid sizes for use on various fabrics and canvases, in a variety of stitches. They aren’t smooth like Japan #5 and #7, so they offer a different look to replicate real metal threads. The design on the left is by Janelle Giese, available at https://www.kreinik.com/shops/Golden-Butterfly.html. The design on the right is by Anna-Marie Winter from the Kreinik museum.

Take a look at these photos to see how beautiful Japan Thread can be, and how similar they are to actual real metal threads—you can even use them next to real metal threads as complementary textures. They won’t tarnish like real metals, but you do want to take some care: dry clean projects embellished with Japan Threads, and store them in acid-free tissue paper (I’ve seen yucky things happen when rubber bands are wrapped around Japan spools).

These two designs from the Kreinik museum show silver Japan Threads in Braid and Ribbon versions used with silk threads. Notice the visual effect of a shiny thread next to a silk thread—gorgeous. The silver complements so many colors, and looks beautiful next to silver (or clear) beads.
These two designs from the Kreinik museum show silver Japan Threads in Braid and Ribbon versions used with silk threads. Notice the visual effect of a shiny thread next to a silk thread—gorgeous. The silver complements so many colors, and looks beautiful next to silver (or clear) beads.
Japan Threads come in a variety of colors, from the classic metal colors to bright neon shades. Use them all for elegant, visually interesting surface embroidery. Photos show Kreinik Japan #5 and Japan #7.
Japan Threads come in a variety of colors, from the classic metal colors to bright neon shades. Use them all for elegant, visually interesting surface embroidery. Photos show Kreinik Japan #5 and Japan #7.

Long story short: try Japan Threads as an alternative or complement to real metal threads. Pick out Japan #5 or #7, get Japan #1 to couch them, and start experimenting today. You will love the way they look: rich, colorful, illuminating, elegant.

Japan sizes #5 and #7 are wrapped threads, meaning the metallic is wrapped around a core fiber. They work best (ie, won't strip) when you stitch in and out of the fabric the least, so use them as embellishment stitches. This photo shows a free pattern from Kreinik: http://www.kreinik.com/shops/Marching-Bands.html
Japan sizes #5 and #7 are wrapped threads, meaning the metallic is wrapped around a core fiber. They work best (ie, won’t strip) when you stitch in and out of the fabric the least, so use them as embellishment stitches. This photo shows a free pattern from Kreinik: http://www.kreinik.com/shops/Marching-Bands.html
Japan Threads are available in different colors. This free pattern from the Kreinik website features a pewter color of Japan #5. Since it is a wrapped thread, choose straight or long stitches rather than tight, in-and-out stitches which will strip the thread.
Japan Threads are available in different colors. This free pattern from the Kreinik website features a pewter color of Japan #5. Since it is a wrapped thread, choose straight or long stitches rather than tight, in-and-out stitches which will strip the thread. Design available here: http://www.kreinik.com/shops/Silvery-Stitches.html
Japan sizes #5 and #7 are ideal for long stitches that embellished stitched areas, as shown in this photo. This lovely stitched box is from Whisky Creek Designs, a company that is out of business now. However, it was given to Kreinik many years ago as a gift, and it has been one of the most viewed designs in the Kreinik museum.
Japan sizes #5 and #7 are ideal for long stitches that embellished stitched areas, as shown in this photo. This lovely stitched box is from Whiskey Creek Designs, a company that is out of business now. However, it was given to Kreinik many years ago as a gift, and it has been one of the most viewed designs in the Kreinik museum.
Japan Threads can be used in a variety of techniques, such as Temari (the photo on the left) and crochet (photo on the right).
Japan Threads can be used in a variety of techniques, such as Temari (the photo on the left) and crochet (photo on the right). (Models are from the Kreinik thread museum.)

KreinikGirl
Dena Lenham, aka KreinikGirl, is Creative Director at Kreinik Manufacturing Company, a family-owned, USA-based business that manufactures high-quality yarns and threads made of metallics, silks and real metals from their West Virginia factory. Dena’s monthly column, Kreinik Calling, sheds light on the fascinating fibres that we all use and love.
KreinikGirl

@kreinikgirl

Official thread news, tips, ideas and answers from Dena Lenham, Creative Director at thread company Kreinik Mfg. Co., Inc.
Reflecting on my fun time at The Beadworks in Lancaster PA 😉😁 https://t.co/hFGuOKp52r - 25 mins ago
KreinikGirl
KreinikGirl