The bobbin is the unsung hero of the modern sewing machine. Out of sight, out of mind, yet the bobbin is the key to locking in stitches and making them permanent. The bobbin has been around since 1851 when it was incorporated into a rotary hook system that replaced a shuttle hook. Prior to the addition of the bobbin to sewing machines, a single needle had to do all the sewing, which often required either a hooked needle or a chain stitch.
Which Direction Should The Bobbin Spin
Front Load Bobbin
How your bobbin works depends specifically on your machine and the placement of your bobbin. If your machine has a front load bobbin, it should spin clockwise. Front load bobbins load vertically on your sewing machine and have a case in which they must be placed. This case holds the bobbin in place. The good thing about front load bobbins is that you can easily change the bobbin if needed, even if you have a sewing project in the works.
Some challenges of a front load bobbin include being able to easily see the area unless you have a small light to shine toward it and maneuverability of large fingers in a small bobbin casing.
Top Load Bobbin
The alternative to the front load bobbin is the top load bobbin. Most sewing machines with a top load bobbin have a clear plastic cover that allows you to see how much bobbin thread you have on your spool. Top load bobbins are horizontal and must spin counter-clockwise. You will also notice that the top load bobbin does not have to be encased. The bobbin simply drops down into the bobbin nook.
The biggest challenge for top load bobbins is the probability that you will have to remove your sewing project in order to change the bobbin. Dropping the bobbin in place horizontally is, for me anyway, much easier than inserting it into the vertical front load style. With my front load bobbin sewing machine, I feel like I’m trying to slam the door before the bobbin case falls out. With the top load, it’s as simple as dropping the bobbin into place.
Look For the Diagram on the Bobbin Station
The good news about your bobbin station is that it generally offers a diagram to show you exactly how to insert the bobbin. Sometimes that diagram is embossed into the machine, printed directly on it, or added as a sticker. Over time, the print and sticker can rub away and be difficult to read. Likewise, some embossing is so small that it is difficult to easily read. (Hint: a flashlight and a magnifying class may help.)
Ultimately, whether you buy a sewing machine with a top load or front load bobbin is strictly your personal preference. When considering a sewing machine for purchase, take into consideration the sewing stitches and other possible uses (embroidery, serging, quilting) that it may also offer. If you have mobility issues with your hands, you will want to take that into consideration, too. Ask the sewing machine store representative to allow you to try both a front load and top load bobbin to see which is easier for you.
Maintenance and Usage Tips for Top and Front Load Bobbins
Keep The Bobbin Area Clean
Whether your sewing machine has a top load or front load bobbin, it is important to keep the bobbin area clean. Before each sewing session, use your small cleaning brush to whisk away any fuzz or thread giblets from the bobbin encasing. If your machine recommends a drop of oil, be sure to add it after brushing away any extra lint.
Use The Correct Bobbin Size
Make sure you are using the correct bobbin size for your machine. The easy way to do this is to use the bobbins provided in your sewing machine kit. If you bought or inherited a used machine and can’t be sure which bobbins are the right ones, check your sewing machine manual. If you don’t have a manual, look it up online. Most are available as free PDF downloads from the sewing machine manufacturer.
Make Sure Bobbin Is Made From The Right Material
In addition to using the right size bobbin, it is important that your bobbin be made from the right material for your machine. Some bobbins are plastic, but others are a metal alloy. Why does it matter? Using a plastic bobbin where a metal one is required can create tension problems in your bobbin and upper thread. Using a metal bobbin where a plastic one is required can also create thread tension problems, but it can also damage your sewing machine all together. Metal bobbins can wear grooves into your sewing machine’s bobbin encasing, which jeopardizes its sewing accuracy. Don’t forget that sewing machines are small pieces of very fine-tuned machinery. Every mechanism must be right in order to get the best results.
Wind The Bobbin Correctly
Make sure your bobbins are wound correctly. A good bobbin is equally threaded with no mounds in any particular area. The bobbin thread should also be solid, not spongy. If your bobbin thread is soft enough to indent or is not evenly wound, you will be better off rewinding it before you start sewing.
Use Same Weight Thread
For best results in your sewing, use the same weight thread for your bobbin that you are using for your top thread. Using the same weight as both your top and bottom thread guarantees the best results for getting a good, tight stitch in your sewing project.
Most pre-wound bobbins you buy are a polyester thread. As long as they are approximately the same weight as your top thread, you should be able to use them just fine (as long as they are the correct size and on the right bobbin style (plastic or metal).
Stay Away From Using Metallic Thread In the Bobbin
If your sewing project calls for metallic thread, do not use it for your bobbin thread, too. Try lightweight thread instead. The metallic thread is usually more expensive, so this will save you money. But the real reason for not using metallic thread in your bobbin is that it can break easily. Using it as both the top thread and the bobbin thread can create a lot of friction that would make breaks or loose stitches problematic.