Sewing Basics: All About Bobbins

When you first start sewing with a machine, you’ll need to learn about bobbins. Today, I’m sharing everything a beginner sewist needs to know about bobbins, including answers to twelve of your most frequently asked questions about sewing machine bobbins and tips for troubleshooting three common bobbin problems! I’ve even included a short video demonstrating how to wind a bobbin on your sewing machine. This post is part of my Sewing Basics series.

All About Sewing Machine Bobbins

This post contains affiliate links. I may receive compensation (at no added cost to you) if you make a purchase using these links. This post is sponsored by Baby Lock. All opinions and thoughts are my own. 

When I first started using a sewing machine, I was clueless about bobbins. I remember ordering some bobbins online and they didn’t even fit in my machine! I was so frustrated. Hopefully, this post will clear things up for you so you can spend more time sewing and less time being cranky about bobbins!

Answers to the 12 Most Asked Questions About Sewing Machine Bobbins

I’m answering the twelve most frequently asked newbie sewist questions about bobbins. Having these answers will give you more confidence as a machine sewist. After these answers, you can also find my troubleshooting tips for the three most common bobbin problems, so read on for details!

1) So, what are bobbins anyway?

In machine sewing, bobbins are plastic or metal cylinders with a ridge on the top and on the bottom. Thread is wound onto the bobbin and placed into a bobbin case in the lower part of the machine. 

Some machines, like the Baby Lock Jubilant that I use, have drop-in bobbin loading. (You can read my review of the Jubilant and watch the unboxing here.) I find drop-in bobbing loading easier to use as the bobbin quite literally is dropped into the bobbin case which is built into the machine. 

Other machines, like the Baby Lock Zest, have a front-loading bobbin case. This means that you insert the bobbin into the bobbin case, and then load the bobbin case into the machine. 

Baby Lock front-loading bobbin. Photo © Baby Lock.

If you’re buying a new sewing machine and have a preference, be sure to ask what type of bobbin case the machine uses. I’ve made a reference chart for eight Baby Lock models below.

Baby Lock MachineBobbin SizeBobbin WindingBobbin Loading
BrilliantClass 15Quick SetQuick Set
Jazz IIClass 15StandardTop Drop In
JoyClass 15StandardDrop In
JubilantClass 15Quick SetQuick Set
LyricClass 15Quick SetQuick Set, Top Loading
VerveClass 15Quick SetQuick Set, Top Loading
ZealClass 15StandardQuick Set
ZestClass 15Quick SetFront Loading

A “quick set” bobbin winder has a small thread cutter next to where the bobbin is wound so that you can trim the bobbin thread without using a scissor after you wind it.

“Quick set” bobbin loading means you can pull your thread through the quick set guide after you load your bobbin into the machine and the machine will guide your thread through. Quick set is a handy feature to have! 

2) What are bobbins used for?

Now that you know what a bobbin is, you may be wondering what it does. The thread on the bobbin will form the bottom of your sewing machine stitches, while the thread in the top spool will form the top of your sewing machine stitches.

3) What type of bobbins do I need for my sewing machine?

There are many different types of bobbins so unfortunately, you can’t just pop any bobbin into your sewing machine. You’ll need to get the right size of bobbin and in your preferred material. All eight of the Baby Lock sewing machines in my chart above, including the Jubilant, use a Class 15 bobbin. You can get Class 15 bobbins in plastic or metal. Personally, I prefer plastic.

Class 15 metal bobbins. Photo © Baby Lock.

Another bobbin size is M Class bobbins. These are quite a bit bigger than Class 15 bobbins and are used on longarm quilting machines.  

M Class bobbins. Photo © Baby Lock.

For any other sewing machine, it’s best to check your manual. If you have an older sewing machine, you can usually find the PDF version of your manual online, or email the manufacturer or your local sewing machine dealer to check which size you need. 

You can buy Baby Lock Class 15 bobbins from your local sewing machine dealer, or BobbinsRUs on Etsy or SewingMachinesPlus. Although many companies make bobbins, I recommend the ones made by your sewing machine manufacturer or a major craft brand, like Dritz. Sometimes the “generic” bobbins you can get online are just a little too small and they shake around in the bobbin case, or just a little too big and don’t quite fit. 

4) How do I wind the bobbin thread?

There are several ways to wind your bobbin thread. Modern sewing machines usually have a bobbin winder at the top. I made a short video to show you how I wind the bobbin thread on my Baby Lock Jubilant.

If you can’t see the video above, you can click here to watch it on Facebook. I also have a step-by-step photo tutorial for winding the bobbin thread on the Baby Lock Jubilant in this post if you need more detail, or you can watch a longer video on Baby Lock’s YouTube channel here.

You can also use a portable bobbin winder. These are small machines with one purpose — to wind the bobbin thread. You can buy portable bobbin winders on Amazon or at SewingMachinesPlus, and some higher end sewing machines and embroidery machines come with a separate bobbin winder. Some people find these easier to thread than the bobbin winders on the sewing machine. You might also want to wind a whole bunch of bobbins for a big project without turning on your sewing machine. Or, you might want to involve your children or your partner to help you wind bobbins with a bobbin winder while you’re still sewing.

5) What are prewound bobbins?

You can actually buy prewound bobbins instead of winding your own bobbin thread. I like to wind my own bobbins because I’m fussy about the thread that I use. I either want it to match my top spool thread, or I’m specifically looking for a different bobbin thread. However, prewound bobbins are convenient. They have more thread loaded onto them than you can get onto a bobbin you wind yourself. If you like to sew for extended periods of time, or if you find yourself using the same color and fiber content for your bobbin thread, you may want to buy prewound bobbins. Just be sure to pick the right bobbin size and the right fiber content for the project you plan to sew.

6) Can I reuse prewound bobbins?

Many prewound bobbins are not meant for reuse. Some are made from cardboard and will not hold up to reuse if you try to wind new thread onto them. Others are made from plastic and are designed for reuse; however, some people find that their machines don’t respond well to reused prewound bobbins. The reused prewound bobbin may continue to spin after you stop sewing because it is smoother than a standard bobbin.

7) How do I change my bobbin thread?

When it’s time to change your bobbin thread, you’ll need to remove the bobbin from its case at the front of your machine and insert another threaded bobbin. This is one of the reasons that experienced sewists keep extra threaded bobbins on hand, and why you may also want to wind several bobbins before starting a large project or use prewound bobbins.

This video shows you how to insert a new bobbin on the Baby Lock Jubilant, which uses a drop-in bobbin.

Other machines, like the Baby Lock Zeal, use a front-loading bobbin case. You can see how to insert a new bobbin into a front-loading bobbin case in this video.

8) How do I know when to change my bobbin?

As you get more experience sewing, you’ll start to have a better understanding of how long you can sew the types of projects you enjoy before you need to change your bobbin. Until that time, here are two ways to know. 

When you run out of bobbin thread (without knowing it), your machine will keep on going through the motions of sewing. When you remove your project from the machine, you’ll find that there’s no thread on the bottom of it because there was none left on the bobbin. I’ve done this before and it isn’t fun!

A less stressful way of knowing when to change your bobbin is to periodically look at it. This is why I prefer machines with drop in bobbins, and also why I prefer plastic bobbins. It’s very easy to see how much thread is left by just looking! In the picture below, you can see I have less than half of the bobbin thread left.

9) What kind of thread can I use in my bobbin?

You can use any thread for machine sewing, quilting, or embroidery in your bobbin. As you choose your bobbin thread, think about your finished project. Will the bobbin thread be visible in the finished project or will it be hidden? If it will be hidden, you won’t need to worry about the bobbin thread color. What fabric are you using and is there a particular thread fiber content that is best for sewing on this fabric? 

I mostly sew on 100% cotton quilting fabric and I usually use cotton thread for both the top spool and the bobbin thread. When the thread isn’t visible (for example, when I’m seaming quilt blocks together), I usually use solid white or black cotton thread in the bobbin.

10) Should I use a different thread in my bobbin and top spool?

You don’t need to use the same thread in your bobbin and top spool, but if you are a beginner sewist you may have trouble getting the right thread tension if you use threads that are radically different, such as threads in different weights or with different fiber content. If you like to experiment, you can try a stitch sampler using your basic sewing machine stitches with different threads in your bobbin and top spool to see what it will look like. This quick video from All People Quilt shows you how to make a sewing machine stitch sampler. For a bobbin stitch sampler, be sure to list the type of thread you used in the top spool and the bobbin.

11) Can I use decorative or novelty thread in my bobbin?

You can use decorative or novelty threads in the bobbins of most modern sewing machines. If you have decorative or novelty threads you’d like to try in your bobbin, you may want to experiment with bobbin work. Sarina at Sew Guide has a great post on how to do bobbin work to create surface designs with thread. You may need to adjust the tension on your bobbin case or your stitch length to make sure your stitches are even. Remember that you may also need a different type or size of needle for some decorative or novelty threads.

12) What’s the best way to store bobbins?

If you have a sewing machine with an accessory compartment, like the Baby Lock Jubilant, you will find several extra bobbins inside when you unbox your machine. 

Personally, I don’t like to store my bobbins in the accessory compartment. I like to keep more than just a few bobbins wound, and I prefer storage that keeps each bobbin separate so you don’t end up with a pile of tangled threads. I also like storage where the bobbins are visible, so I can see right away what color threads I already have wound onto a bobbin. Two types of bobbin storage that I use regularly are the ArtBin Bobbin Box and bobbin rings. 

The ArtBin Bobbin Box holds 30 bobbins in smaller compartments so they don’t get tangled. It closes on top so (ahem) it also keeps cat fur and dust out. Since the box is clear, I can easily see what bobbins I already have wound without even opening the box. You can buy the ArtBin Bobbin Box at Fat Quarter Shop or on Amazon.

Several different companies make bobbin rings, including Grabbit Bobbinsaver (available from Fat Quarter Shop or on Amazon), which is available in a range of colors and for different bobbin sizes. I’ve also used the Dritz Bobbin Ring. 

Troubleshooting Tips for the 3 Most Common Bobbin Problems

All About Sewing Machine Bobbins

Now that you know the basics about bobbins, you’re probably wondering how you can solve the most common bobbin problems at home. You may be asking yourself:

  • Why is the bobbin thread breaking?
  • Why is the bobbin thread loose?
  • Why isn’t the bobbin thread sewing onto my fabric?

Usually, if your bobbin thread isn’t sewing onto your fabric, you don’t have any more thread in the bobbin and it’s time to change your bobbin. There are several more reasons your bobbin thread might be breaking, loose, or not sewing onto your fabric. Here are the most common bobbin problems that you can solve yourself at home.

  • Your sewing machine isn’t threaded properly. Re-thread your needle (starting from the top spool) and try again.
  • You have lint in your bobbin case. After lots of sewing, you start to build up lint in your bobbin case. This video from Baby Lock will guide you through cleaning your bobbin case at home
  • Your bobbin is inserted the wrong way. Most modern sewing machines have a diagram near the bobbin case that shows you what direction to insert the bobbin so that the thread is moving in the right direction. Check that your bobbin is properly inserted.
  • Your bobbin is the wrong size. As I mentioned, some of the “generic” bobbins might be a little too small or too large, even though they are listed as the same size as your machine’s bobbins. Try a fresh bobbin from your machine’s manufacturer in the right size.
  • Your needle is too dull. Get into the habit of changing your sewing machine needles after every six to eight hours of sewing. Dull needles can cause the bobbin thread to break.
  • Your tension is off. When the thread at the bottom of your project is really loose, it can actually be due to the top thread being too loose. First, make sure your spool cap is large enough for the spool of thread at the top of your machine. Then, re-thread your machine and try again.
  • You aren’t using the right needle size or type for your thread size or fabric type. If you are using a thicker or thinner thread than usual, or a different fabric than usual, you may need to change your sewing machine needles to keep your top and bottom stitches even.
  • You’re pulling or dragging your fabric. For most sewing projects, the machine will pull your fabric at an even speed based on your speed settings and your use of the “Start/Stop” button or your foot controller (pedal) pressure. If your hands are pulling your fabric too fast, or dragging it to slow, it can lead to uneven bottom stitches. Let the machine do the work of advancing the fabric for you.
  • Your bobbin thread is breaking. If your thread is too old, has been stored in extreme temperatures, or is poor quality, it may have snags or breaks in it. Wind a bobbin with fresh thread.

If these solutions don’t work, consider bringing your machine in to your dealer for servicing, or reviewing your sewing machine manual for self-servicing tips.

I hope this post has answered all your bobbin questions and it has been helpful to you on your machine sewing journey! If you have other sewing questions you’d like me to answer in a future Sewing Basics post, let me know.

Leave a Comment

Subscribe to the newsletter to get my secrets and access to the subscriber vault!

5 Secrets for Improving Your Crochet Skills