We’re talking bobbins today, the much neglected part of most people’s sewing armoury. I know, I know, everyone wants to spend their money on the pretty fabric and the nice thread but bobbins are pretty cheap, even for vintage ones, and you actually need them to be able to sew, like, you need several of them if you want to sew with more than one of those pretty threads. It astounds me the number of people that try and get by on one bobbin – my 6 Featherweights came with an average of 3 each, and it was clear that everything that had ever been sewn on those machines was wound on those 3 flipping bobbins. All on top of each other incidentally. I ran a fun challenge on Instagram a couple of weeks ago for people to guess just how much thread was on the 16 bobbins I had left to unwind (having done a couple previously so I could do some test stitches), this is what came off them:
So what should you do with your bobbins? One thread per bobbin. I know, it’s so tempting to just wind on top, but there’s several reasons why that’s not a good idea:
- It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get the start of the thread wound with good tension to start with if you’re winding on top of something else, which in turn will mean when you get to it that your stitches may go kind of wonky with uneven tension.
- If your previous thread is not nice and tightly wound, then there’s a good chance that the start of the next thread will get buried in it and get entangled, which will make for a very nasty noise as your machine gets to it, and you may need to cut the bobbin away to get out of the mess created.
- Your machine may try and pick up the start of the lower thread before the end of the current thread. Hello thread jam.
- Although it may seem like a great plan, don’t tie the end of one thread to another, your machine will not thank you when it hits that knot.
One of my beginner quilters a couple of years ago told me not to be ridiculous when I tried to suggest she not try this 2 threads on one bobbin trick, because her mother did it all the time. She did have the grace to laugh and tell me that I could say ‘I told you so’ when she got the most almighty thread jam about 30 minutes later ;o)
And how much thread did come off those bobbins in the end? A whopping 13,186″, which translates as 366 yards and 10″. Here’s some funny stats for you:
- The most abused bobbin had 13 different threads on it:
- There were also bobbins with 11, 9 and 7 different threads on
- There were 5 which thankfully only had one thread on
- There were 3 with all the different threads knotted together:
- The fullest bobbin had 1341″ on it made up of 3 different threads
- The shortest piece of thread to come off was all of 2″
- One of them had what might better be described as 7 different types of string on, it was all incredibly coarse:
It was really an amazing waste of thread – just in case you weren’t aware, thread ‘goes off’, that is to say it will start to deteriorate over time and will snap easily, so you shouldn’t try using the contents of granny’s sewing basket that you inherited for anything other than decoration!
Another thing you should check for if you have obtained a vintage machine with original metal bobbins is that they are still in good shape, that is that they’re not dented or bent (2 of my inherited featherweight ones were, I can’t even begin to imagine how!) and that they are not rusting (as one of mine was on the inside). Both of these will affect how the thread comes off and will affect your stitching.
So anyone got any bobbin confessions to make? ;o)
It has never even crossed my mind to wind more than one thread on a single bobbin. I’m so unimaginative!
What!? A stitching no-no that I have not even thought to commit? I do need some more bobbins, but I never think of it when it might be convenient to pick them up.
I usually order mine on Amazon. You can even get boxes with foam cutouts pre-loaded with empty bobbins. I have three now; it’s my preferred bobbin-storage method. I got fed up with having only three bobbins very quickly when I started quilting seriously, so I make sure to always have enough bobbins that I never have to unwind one. Now half the time when I start using a thread again, I already have a partial bobbin for it!
I have never thought of doing that. If I do not have an empty bobbin, remove the thread and throw it away (terrible waste) or wind it in on a card. And use for hand sewing. What do you do?
I used to be a two threaded bobbin but I’m in recovery now . I must admit I do use thread from the mill my husband’s grandfather worked in for hexies hand sewing and it is rather brittle . From today they will be decorative family heirlooms only . Hoping you are over your chest infection
This was a fun post to read. Back in my early days of sewing, I used to do this. Like decades ago… Now I just have plenty of bobbins available – at least 20 – tho I have been know to use odd colors up on scrappy projects.
Whatever made you come up with the idea to measure the thread you removed from those bobbins? You really tickled me with this post. :0) I know how it is to inherit messed up bobbins. Why anyone would think it a good idea to keep a few feet or inches of thread rather than toss it is beyond comprehension. One of my treadle machines has only one bobbin because I’ve been unable to find anymore of the type it takes and when I was sewing on it I would have to unwind a lot. I saved the thread by winding it on a card and used it for basting. I never thought to measure how much I was unwinding. :0D
Hope you’ve gotten over your nasty chest infection.
It always amazed me when I worked in the local sewing shop how many sewers thought that all bobbins were equal and wondered why their tension and general stitching was wonky.
So if you have different brands of machine, keep your bobbins separate.