How Does A Sewing Machine Bobbin Work?

A sewing machine bobbin is one of those small components that look insignificant to the untrained eye but quite useful in the grand scheme of sewing. How does a sewing machine bobbin work, and what exactly does it do? Can you sew without a bobbin?

How Does A Sewing Machine Bobbin Work?

Sewing Machine Bobbin


In a typical sewing machine, a bobbin is used to hold the bottom thread in place, much like you would hold a long cable in a pallet or yarn in a ball. The bobbin sits just beneath the needle in its compartment,known as a bobbin case. Almost all sewing machines use a bobbin and top thread mechanism to create a complete loop while sewing. It is the loopthat ends up creating the perfect sew when hookedand passed through fabric with a sewing pin.

If you happen to look at a sew being formed, you will see how the needle reaches into the bobbin case and pulls a thread for each cycle, loops it with the upper thread, and creates a complete sew on the pressed fabric. So essentially, a bobbin is the second and must-have part of the sewing thread required to create a complete loop, and hence a sew.

Can I Sew Without A Bobbin?

I Sew Without A Bobbin

It’s impossible to sew without a bobbin in a typical sewing machine for several reasons. First, and quite obvious basedon theunderlying mechanism of a sewing machine, you wouldn’t really create a sew without a bobbin and top thread combinations. Instead, you would basically be pinning the upper thread and unpinning it from the fabric for each sewing cycle. Secondly, due to their construction and positioning below the needle, bobbin cases create the much-needed tension you need to create a perfectly tight knot on your fabric.  In essence, a bobbin, simple as it might look, is the heart and soul of your sewing machine.

Of course, you could practically run your sewing machine without a bobbinsay if you want to punch a series of holes on something as art, while training, or to guide you while you do some handsewing.Inmostsewing machines, you could also start without a bobbin thread and use the machine to spin a bobbin, but that doesn’t, in any way, equate to sewingwithout a bobbin. Instead,you use the machine to load/spin your bobbin thread.

That said, some sewing machines, such as chain machines, do not requirea bobbin. Chain machines are only able to work this way because their underlying mechanism doesn’t include a bobbin. Instead, they use a continuous thread mechanism to create a loose thread on some type of fabric. However, chain machines aren’t used that much, and you would be hard-pressed to find one used at home or a typicalsewing factory.

Does A Bobbin Use Special Thread?

Bobbin thread can be the regular thread you use for sewing or special bobbin thread used for embroidery projects or soft fabric. Special bobbin thread is normally thinner and mostly comes in a variety of colors. However, most sewing jobs don’t need a special bobbin thread. Instead, you will be rethreading the bobbin using the standard thread you use for each job.

Where Is the Bobbin on A Sewing Machine?

As mentioned in passing above, a bobbin is usually located in a compartment just below the base of the needle. However, the exactpositioning, housing, and mode of interaction with the needle vary from one sewing machine to another. A bobbin shouldn’t, however, be confused with bobbin casing or bobbin thread. A bobbin is the separate, removable, and replaceable component that holds the bobbin thread.

You can buy a factory-made bobbin replacement when the thread runs out, rethread it or use the ones that come with the sewing machine if it’s new. More importantly, you should only use the bobbin that is compatible with your sewing machine. Sometimes, buying a factory-made bobbin thread means getting a new bobbin with the thread, therefore, ensure you get the right size each time.

To access the bobbin, just open the loading compartment below the needle according to the usage instructions for your specific sewing machine and lift it off. It’s important to follow the user manual for loading and unloading bobbin as some sewing machines allow you to remove the entire bobbin case. In contrast, others have the case fixed in place, so they shouldn’t be messed with. Most of the problems associated with sewing machines have to do with improper loading, handling, and unloading of bobbins.

How Do You Rethread A Bobbin?

The most important and somewhat challenging activity for those new to sewing is bobbin rethreading. Almost every sewing machine brand or model has a different bobbin threading mechanism. As an example, older Singer Antique sewing machines have a simple quadruple-hook systemmaking it easy to wind/rethread a bobbin by hand.Newer machines may come with complicated rethreading systems but work more efficientlyonce you get the hang of it through experience.

To rethread a bobbin correctly, use the following guidelines regardless of the sewing machine you use:

  • Make sure you follow the right hookingsequence for the thread as per the user manual to avoid entangling or creating an uneven bobbin thread.
  • Make sure the bobbin is evenly wound;otherwise, you may end up with uneven threads when you use it or, worse still,have thread entangling or getting messed upin the machine.
  • Ensure you secure your thread on the pin before you start winding
  • Always leave some extra thread at the end when you attach it to the bobbin. You can always cut the extra bit off when the bobbin is reasonably rethreaded. This is the bit of thread that you will be holding onto as you spin the bobbin. Hold your finger below or to the side of the thread to make a strong wind on the side of the thread you are winding so that you can cut it off and continue winding.
  • Always remember to disengage the needle before you start winding the bobbin. Some modern machines do this automatically, while older ones have a switch or lever you can use to disengage the needle.
  • Never exceed the size of the bobbin when winding as it will not fit into the bobbin casing or may cause problems later.

How to Troubleshoot Bobbin Problems

Troubleshoot Bobbin Problems

Bobbin Thread Is Not Sewing

This usually happens when you are either using a wrong size/type bobbin or did not fit the bobbin into the casing properly. Changing the bobbin or winding another bobbin (ideally one that came with the sewing machine) will help. Also, try and refit the bobbin,as shown in the user manual that came with your machine, and see if it works.

Bobbin Is Stuck in One Place

It’s very common to end up with a stuck bobbin or one thatdoesn’t move freely thus causing uneven threading. If this happens, you might want to check if the bobbin casing is bent or scratched and also check that the bobbin itself is in perfect condition. Bent bobbin problemsare quite common where different types of bobbins are used on a sewing machine. Replace the problematic bobbin with a new one if it appears bent or scratched.

Bobbin Is Creating Uneven or Rough Threads

Bobbin Is Creating Uneven or Rough Threads

This normallyhappens because of the following reasons:

  • Unevenly threaded bobbin- Rethreading the bobbin properly will fix the problem
  • Wrong type or size of bobbin- Replacing the bobbin with one that has worked before will fix the problem. You can always wind another bobbin if you are not using special bobbin thread or order a new one of the right sizes.

Bobbin Is Creating Loose Threading, Bird-Nesting or Bunching

This can happen if the tension isn’t set correctly on the main thread or somewhere in the loop.  In most cases, reattaching the main thread with the right tension will solve this problem. You may also want to check that the needle tip is in perfect condition if the problem persists. Sometimes, a worn-out needle may lead to improper hooking and cause all manner of issues while sewing.

Final Thoughts

Sewing Machine Bobbin

As you can see, the bobbin is probably the most critical piece of the puzzle as far as sewing is concerned. Having the right bobbin and using it properly willdefinitely make it easier for you and also affect your end product.



I'm Jessica Flores, a professional fashion designer and an expert seamstress. Crafting has always been a deep-seated passion of mine, one that has flourished and evolved over the years. I've dedicated considerable time to both studying and practicing in the realm of fashion and sewing, amassing a wealth of experience and skills. It brings me great joy to share these insights and experiences with you all, hoping to inspire and foster a similar passion for the art of sewing.

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