What is machine embroidery bobbin thread?

By on July 15th, 2020
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When I first started doing machine embroidery – I was never sure of what type of bobbin thread to use. It seemed like a pain to keep changing the bobbin thread to match the embroidery thread on top, but that seemed like the right thing to do. But, boy – was I wrong. Eventually I learned that there was bobbin thread designed exclusively for machine embroidery! But, still, I wondered if it was really necessary. After doing a little research and a lot of embroidery and appliqué – I have found the answers to my questions: what is machine embroidery bobbin thread and why do you need to use it on an embroidery machine?

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How embroidery machine bobbin thread is different from regular bobbin thread

When I was taught to sew, I learned that my bobbin thread should always match my top thread. This is because your bobbin thread is exposed in your stitching.  If you are trying to get your thread to blend in to what you are sewing a mismatched top and bobbin thread is going to stand out and look sloppy. So I would wind a bobbin with the same thread as my top thread and use that for my stitching.

In machine embroidery, however, you don’t want to match your bobbin thread to your top thread. Your goal is to have an imbalance between your bottom and top thread. Keep reading and I’ll explain why.

But, first – let’s just thank the Lord this is how an embroidery machine works! Can you imagine if you had to change bobbin threads for every different color you embroidered?  In machine embroidery – you use the same bobbin thread for just about everything you embroider. And it is a special type of thread that is DIFFERENT from regular machine embroidery thread.

What is machine embroidery bobbin thread?

Machine embroidery bobbin thread is different from regular thread. First of all, It is a lot thinner. Typically, it is either 60 or 90 weight, whereas standard embroidery thread is typically 40 weight. And, a higher weight number means a thinner thread.

Another difference is that machine embroidery bobbin thread typically only comes in white. So, save your money on investing in a nice collection of machine embroidery thread colors, because the only colored bobbin thread you will need is white!

Why is machine embroidery bobbin thread thinner than regular machine embroidery thread?

There are a couple of reasons why bobbin thread for embroidery machines is thinner than regular machine embroidery thread.  One reason is that the thinness of the bobbin thread allows you to stitch out a design without having it bulk up. Why add extra weight to the design?

It seems a bit odd that the thread weight between the top thread and the bobbin thread would be uneven. I would have thought that the uneven weights would screw up the tension on the embroidery machine. But, the uneven weights are intentional, and, actually work in your favor when embroidering.  The imbalance in weight causes more of the top embroidery thread to be pulled to the wrong side of the stitched design, ensuring that you will not see the bobbin thread on the front side of the design.

It is because of this imbalance that the finished design looks so good. And if you are seeing bobbin thread on the front side of your stitched out embroidery design, you have a problem, which could be due to a number of different factors.

Because the bobbin thread should never show in machine embroidery, it’s never necessary to match the color of it to the top thread or the area of the embroidery design you are stitching.  Just buy a simple white bobbin thread designed for an embroidery machine either in pre wound bobbins or in a big spool and you are good to go!

One of the benefits of the bobbin thread being so thin is that it lasts a long time. You can wind a lot of bobbin thread on one bobbin – much more so than with regular thread. But, the downside is that it seems to take so dang long to wind an embroidery bobbin… it’s a lot of thread!

Should you wind the bobbins yourself or buy pre-would bobbins?

Well, it’s kind of up to you.  It’s a little annoying to have to stop what you are doing and wind bobbins, but, I personally don’t mind.  Pre wound ones seem a bit wasteful but if I were running an embroidery business, I’d probably consider investing in them.  Having a bunch of pre wounds around allows you to not have to stop what you are doing to wind a bobbin. Fans of  pre wound bobbins tend to be quite fervent, and often state that once they started using pre wounds, they would never use anything else.

An alternative to buying the pre wound bobbins is to buy a bunch of regular bobbins that fit your machine (check eBay for a great deal) and then wind a whole bunch at once.  Some people say they wind their bobbins while watching TV.

There are actually embroidery machines that will wind a bobbin while it is embroidering. If you are lucky enough to own one of these, you can wind away passively while you are stitching out designs.

What weight should I buy?

Check your manual! Although you can usually get away with using any weight, there is an appropriate weight for your machine. A thinner weight bobbin thread will allow you to articulate more detail in your design.

What happens if I run out of bobbin thread while embroidering?

Actually, it’s really not a big deal.  If you are paying attention to your machine while its embroidering, as you should be, you will immediately notice when the bobbin runs out.  When this happens to me, I stop what I’m stitching, insert a new bobbin, and then take a few steps back to where the bobbin ran out and start stitching again.  You can’t even tell the difference.

Happy embroidering, everyone!

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