Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Colored Metal Threads for Embroidery, or In Which I do Something Stupid


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Last week, we looked at goldwork embroidery kits from Benton & Johnson.

I have a little secret to tell you…

I did something really stupid.

When I bought the kits, I figured I was already in the soup for the overseas shipping from the UK, so I added a few extras to the order.

Benton & Johnson colored metal threads for embroidery

Buying extra goldwork threads and saving on shipping is not really stupid.

But this is the type of thinking that gets every hobby budget into trouble. And here I am, being a very bad example!

Still, I was curious to see Benton & Johnson’s colored passing threads, since I haven’t seen any of them up close. At the time, with the currency conversion, I wanted to see just how much thread I’d be getting for about $8.80 a spool (plus shipping, of course…)

So I could justify it, right?

I have absolutely no project in mind for these.


Benton & Johnson colored metal threads for embroidery

But the stupid part? I unintentionally ordered two of the same color.

At this point, I’d normally insert a Note to Self, but it’s so glaringly obvious, that I think I’ll skip it.

If you’re familiar with goldwork threads, these colored threads are the 371 threads, so if you have any gold 371 one hand, you can get an idea of the size of the threads. They’re quite fine – not thick, heavy threads. They couch quite nicely in pairs.

The Shipping Dilemma

For US stitchers looking for colored metal passing threads, this is the thing: While we have a good array of colored purls available already in the US (they’re available through needlework shops that stock them from Access Commodities – like Hedgehog Handworks and the like), I’m not aware of anyone distributing couchable colored passing threads in the array of colors available through Benton & Johnson.

(Just a note: Tanja Berlin does carry some colored passing threads – she’s in Canada.)

If you order them from Benton & Johnson in the UK, you have to order at least eight spools to bring your order total and shipping total into a 50-50 balance. In other words, for eight spools, you’re paying about the same price for the product as for the shipping.

What that means: with the current currency conversion, it’ll cost you a whopping $104 to get eight spools to your door. That comes out to about $13 / spool.

There are 170 meters on a spool (185 yards), which means the thread costs about $.07 / yard. So while the initial cost may seem incredibly high, when you break it down to cents-per-yard, it isn’t that expensive.

But the question is, are you ever going to use 185 yards of each color of passing thread? Unless you’re a designer, probably not!

The solution: an order pool.

Chum up with guild friends, stitching buddies – anyone who is interested in acquiring a supply of colored metal passing threads – and split the cost. Divided in half, and assuming you order eight colors, you’d have 92 yards of thread in each of eight colors, for around $52. Between three people, you’d each have 61 yards of each color. That’s a good bit of thread, for about $35 after the split. It still works out to about 7 cents a yard, but your initial layout is a lot less, and you still end up with plenty of thread to work with.

If you approach the overseas shipping dilemma with an order pool, the shipping becomes much easier to handle.

Of course, if you happen to live in the boonies and you don’t have stitching and guild buddies near by, it doesn’t help much. But, for those of you who are fortunate enough to have a group of stitching friends sharing similar interests, this becomes a reasonable solution.

Just don’t order duplicates accidentally, ok?


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(24) Comments

  1. Yikes! I do not know what passing threads are.

    Just googled the term and found this page on goldwork http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldwork_%28embroidery%29 with many terms that are new to me. And I see passing thread for sale many places, and that it is often made with metal wrapped over a fiber core for use in goldwork.

    Since metal wraps the core, I’d guess it is the strand that is couched, not the couching strand. But you mention it is very fine, which sounds more like it is the couching thread.

    Please help me understand this new-to-me term

    1. Hi, Jacqueline – Sorry! I meant to link to some previous articles on passing thread. But, in the meantime, passing thread is a metal thread with a thin strip of metal (or metal paper) wrapped around a core of silk or cotton or viscose. The thread is couched onto the fabric, often in pairs.

  2. Mary that sounds like a great idea for a Stitch-along, or a Follow-Along. Why not create pre-ordered kits for a few of your projects? Many of us could then join in. That doesn’t have to interfere with your current blog since it could be set aside for sporadic visitation. So we’d still get to see your random brilliant projects while working on the ones we enjoy and get to see pics of those who finished quickly!

  3. Ouch! Two spools with the same color! Can’t say I’ve never done that, but when I did it I wasn’t ordering from overseas. Hmmmmmm….. sounds like a give-away to me, hmm Mary? 🙂
    (They ARE beautiful colors)

    1. Hi Mary! I’m going to agree with both Laura & Maureen. Why not make lemonade with your lemons? A Blue on Blue project that includes the passing thread in a kit or a Give Away–say 10 meters each to 17 of your faithful readers (or some other breakdown). Not that you don’t already have plenty on your plate…

  4. If 35 metres is still too much you might want to check out the online shop The Golden Hinde (UK based). They sell passing threads in 5 metres and I know they do ship world wide. Not sure if Im allowed to post the website but you can check them out. They are on facebook too.

    1. Wow….I learn something new everyday…Iam so glad I found this website…my embroidery is a little rusty since I stopped for a few years…but Iam back in full force to have fun and meet new friends….Trish

  5. Well Mary, I am really glad for your article today! I had looked at these threads on the B&J site and couldn’t understand if you couched them or could use ‘traditional’ embroidery stitches… or if it was something to use for machine embroidery… I guess the colors sort-of threw me off as I’m use to associating ‘gold’ with passing thread. Could you tell me where to look for a matching thread to couch them down with? I couldn’t find anything from searching B&J and I’m just beginning to build up a silk ‘stash’ of threads. Thanks, csg

    1. Soie 100/3 by Au Ver a Soie comes in a very good range of colors and makes a good couching thread for passing threads. Check Needle in a Haystack’s website – they might have them indexed by color. But just remember, color matches made online are never absolutely guaranteed!

  6. Dear Mary

    These are lovely it’s good to know that you can buy different coloured passing thread especially in the UK and it would be great to use them with other coloured goldwork which I know Golden Hinde sell,. When I next decide on a goldwork project I do want to try different colours for an interesting affect. I hope you show us what project you will be using the coloured passing thread for I’d love to see it. Thanks for sharing your new goldwork threads with us and for the information on the costs of them.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  7. When I saw your duplicate colour, my first thought was of the Hummingbird project. You must subconsciously want some bling on those birds!

  8. Don’t “should” on yourself, Mary! You’re doing great!

    For your overseas readers, the word “boonies” comes from boondocks, a Filipino word meaning mountains which American soldiers picked up sometime, probably in the WWII era. Now it just means hinterlands. Which of course you know already.

    I have an embroidery question that might make a blog entry: what computer software would help me manipulate images for hand embroidery, beadwork, applique and perhaps beadwork or counted cross-stitch? Bigger, smaller, mirror image, remove tendril, add curlicue, audition colors . . . I don’t draw. If the software also edits photos on a family or eBay level, that would be great. It’s a zoo out there with machine embroidery; I don’t even know what to google! Thanks!

    1. Hi, Mimi – it depends on what type of image you’re talking about. A line drawing? Vector image? You could do all of the things you mention in Photoshop, but not vectors. Gimp is a good image editor, too, and it’s shareware, so you could try that. I think the key is knowing how to work with layers, if you’re moving parts of designs around, etc. If you’re talking about clean, crisp line images that can enlarged, reduced, etc., without using clarity, you’d need a program that creates vector drawings, like Illustrator. A shareware version of that is Inkscape – it’s probably easier to learn than Illustrator, too. But if you’re ultimately just talking about jpg images, gifs, and photos and whatnot, a photo editor like Photoshop by Adobe or Gimp will do it. I don’t know that I would write a whole blog entry on that kind of thing, unless there was a keen and wide interest in it….. but those suggestions should at least get you started.

  9. How extremely rich and inspiring….
    My birthday is in June…
    I am open to all gifts! HA!

    Wowser… thanks for posting!

  10. Gosh, they are just beautiful colors. Being new to all this, I would have no idea how I would want to use them. I’ll await your future use of them with baited breath. 🙂
    As to doubles, well, I can feel your pain. Being a bit blonde (naturally) I do some pretty goofy things. So, I am glad to have that blonde excuse. LOL… What’s yours Mary, you’re not a blonde!!! Teehee!

  11. Ah, the accidental doubling of an ordered item. I’ve done that myself on occasion.

    Living in NZ I’m very happy to have the internet which gives me access to so many more supplies (although the down side is clear if you look at my bank account). But shipping can be a major hindrance, something I deal with by bulking out orders or waiting till I have need of enough ‘stuff’ to make an order worthwhile.

    The other down side I’ve found is that the things you receive do not always live up to the expectations built from a picture.

    Love the colours!

  12. Dear mary,
    From my experience as a goldwork embroidery teacher in belgium :
    Benton & johnson threads are of incredible good quality, texture and colours are wonderful with a fantastic choice, the leather and the beewax as well
    They are so friendly ( just send a message to neil and you will love his answer in the more than english style with efficiency altogether) and ready to help you in any way you expect with professional and very good advice
    If you are a good customer, ordering a lot, you can get a veeeeery interesting discount
    This altogether with charing the goods with my students makes it really very interesting to deal with them. I could not miss them. Neither would my students who find the prices incredible as i do as explained in you message.
    To give you an idea, i subscibed to a 2 weeks session this summer at royal school of needlework (you know, the one at hampton court…) and in their instructions, they ask to work with very good quality threads coming from… Benton & johnson
    Last but not least, if we want such suppliers/manufacturers (yes they make it themselves) to survive in a plastic and cheap/bad quality to throw away after use world, we have to help them by buying their products. Please let them survive…

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