Way, way back in the mists of time, when sewing machines first roamed the earth, there was a simple upright pin to hold a spool of thread, and thread itself was wound straight onto its little wooden spool where each round sat snugly next to its neighbour in a little stack waiting to be woven into magical creations:

The vertical spool pins worked perfectly with these straight wound spools as the thread came off nice and smoothly to feed through the mechanism around the top tension and the upper thread path, and the only thing you needed to worry about was whether or not it might get caught on the little notch on one end meant to anchor the end of the thread so the whole lot didn’t unwind in your sewing basket.

All was sweetness and light in sewing machine land until engineers started tinkering with the design of machines, coming up with new ideas for space saving, including turning some of the spool pins on their side. Now there was a challenge, because if you turn a straight wound spool of thread on its side and try to pull the thread off it gets into a bit of a mess, including wrapping itself around the spool pin itself if you try it in a machine. What on earth were they to do? They thought and they pondered, and at last came up with a solution, and so the cross-wound thread spool was born. Cross wound thread is wound diagonally onto the spool, almost forming a figure of 8. Thread comes off the end of a crosswound spool beautifully, and it doesn’t get in a tangle round the spool pin:

And oh how pretty that cross wound thread was! It almost looks like it’s created from wee diamonds and with advances in fibre technology, it was glossy and shiny and sometimes even glittery and sparkly! Soon most of the thread manufacturers had leapt on board, and the market was flooded with little cross wound spools of thread.

But all was not well in some areas of sewing machine land. Those machines with vertical pins tried their little best, but the thread came off the cross wound spools jerkily when pulled from the side. If their users went too fast, the thread could get so agitated that the spool would jump off the pin, and all of this upheaval upset their tension and stitch formation:

What would happen to those poor little machines with vertical pins? If the thread manufacturers all wanted to make the pretty new thread, would they be consigned to history, or at the very least the loft, where they would be unloved and forgotten about? Well, as it happens, there is a way to use a cross wound spool with a vertical pin – use a thread stand! Thread stands were invented really so that people could use the hugemungous cones of thread that were made for manufacturing, but since you can’t exactly turn a cone on its side, you need to start the thread path going upwards first of all, then allow it to go on its way through the thread path. Some sit behind the machine on the table:

While others, like the Singer Featherweight Shop, were more enterprising and came up with little stands that slotted into oil holes on top of the vintage machines.  These are neater and more portable, and you can grab one of your own here.

And what of those rogue straight wound threads finding their way onto horizontal pins? Well the nice engineers popped wee caps into the accessories bag for those machines, so that the thread would be pushed past the end of the pin without winding itself round in a knot.

And lo, all of sewing machine land was happy!

So the moral of this tale, ladies and gentlemen, is to check how your thread is wound and load it on your machine correctly.