Bobbin tension and bobbin thread selection…

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Sew…you have your project. 

You’ve picked your “top” thread. 

Now you are wondering, “What do I put in the bobbin?”

Choosing a proper bobbin thread is critical to the success of your project.
Yet there is no one-size-fits-all answer to bobbin thread selection. As with selection of the “top” thread, the choice of the bobbin thread is dependent upon the needs of the project (fabric type & weight), the function of the item being sewn, etc.

Heavier fabrics generally require heavier threads.  Choosing the same thread for the bobbin is absolutely fine if you want to wind your own.  Yet, SuperBOBs have the strength needed to match most all top threads in most all sewing situation (with the exception of very thick and heavy denims, upholstery, etc.).

Thread Tension:  It’s a balancing act. You want a balanced stitch and that means even thread on the top and the bobbin without either poking through to the other side.  The following picture is the best image I have ever seen demonstrating balanced tension and solutions (scroll down for a text link to a printable version):

SuperiorThreadTensionBalance

Click here for a printable document (PDF file) for this image.

The above image provided for your education with permission provided by Superior Threads. Copyright for the above image belongs solely to Superior Threads, all rights reserved. For uses beyond personal education (of the above image), please contact Superior Threads directly–contact information is provided on the image.

YES, you can adjust your tension (both on the top and on the bobbin) if necessary.  You own your sewing machine. You have permission.

Problem: Eyelashes and Loopies with thread breakage on top.

If you are experiencing problems when using a smooth and fine bobbin thread, like The Bottom Line or SuperBOBs, it is likely that your bobbin case’s factory settings are not applying the breaks correctly when you come to a stop. The bobbin thread
causes a backlash (continuing to unwind, forming a loop) then when you start sewing again the force of motion will whip forward causing the thread to break.

Solution? Tighten your bobbin case tension just a smidge (less than 1/8th of a turn).  Remember the clockwise “turning” rule:  lefty loosey, righty tighty.

Hint: Perform the tightening or loosening adjustments to the bobbin case inside a large ziplock bag.  This way you can see what you are doing but in the event you accidentally turn it the wrong way or turn it too far and the little screw pops out you won’t have to search forever to find it.

Problem: The bobbin thread keeps jamming and snapping.

Solution? Using thick, heavy and/or decorative threads in the bobbin requires LOOSENING the bobbin case tension.

Problem: Have you ever experienced frustration from knowing you have the correct bobbin tension setting but the top thread still breaks?  You loosen the top thread but then you get loops?

Solution? Try just very slightly loosening BOTH the top tension and the bobbin tension.

Timesaver IDEA: If you sew with all different weights of thread in the bobbin on a regular basis, keep 2 or 3 different bobbin cases, each set for the weights of thread you use most.  Be certain to mark them so that you choose the correct one each time.

OKAY…sew, what do I use in my bobbin?

For piecing and most general quilting I personally tend to use the same thread in the top as in the bobbin.

I have used Presencia 50wt, Presencia 60wt, Masterpiece,So Fine, and The Bottom Line in the top AND bobbin for both piecing and quilting.

I have also mixed SuperBOBs (which is The Bottom Line Thread in pre-wound format) in the bobbin with all of the above threads and when quilting with King Tut.  King Tut is not recommended for piecing.

When quilting, topstitching, thread painting or embellishing with Glitter, Art Studio Colors, Living Colors, and LAVA, I like to use The Bottom Line (or SuperBOBs) in the bobbin.

When doing Razzle Dazzle bobbin work (reverse quilting with Razzle Dazzle in the bobbin), I usually use a blending Bottom Line thread on the top.

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What thread should I use? How do I decide?

It’s all so confusing.  How do you decide what thread to choose?

“All Purpose Thread” implies that it’s good for ALL purposes, right?  Wrong.  There really is no one size fits all thread. All Purpose Thread may be OK for a wider range of purposes than other (specialty threads)–or maybe not.

QUALITY COUNTS!

Real quilters only use cotton thread, right? Wrong!  Historically…20, 30, 40+ years ago, women primarily used cotton threads for quilt making because that was the best product available at the time.  The very early (old) poly threads were not very good quality (same with most old polyester fabrics).  Those old poly threads either did not hold up over time or they were so “hard” they might damage the quilt.  Therefore cotton was the best (only good) choice at that time.  But fast forward 20 – 40 years and look at what technology has given us!  Just look at the gorgeous poly fabrics that are available now.  There are so many that are very high quality and simply gorgeous.  The same goes for poly threads.  It is perfectly fine to use poly threads as long as you choose a good quality thread that is appropriate to the task you are performing.

To determine what thread to use in your project, you need to ask yourself some questions:
  • What sort of project are you sewing?
  • Piecing a quilt top?
  • Heirloom sewing?
  • Applique?
  • Garment construction?
  • Craft or home dec projects?
  • Quilting?
  • Surface embellishment?

Quilt Top Piecing

Personally, I use and recommend a good quality 60wt or 50wt cotton thread for quilt piecing.  I like 50wt Presencia, 60wt Presencia and 50wt Masterpiece.

I prefer cotton over polyester because I don’t have to concern myself with checking my iron temperature every time I press. I like nice flat, crisp seams when I piece so use a HOT iron.  When the fabric content and the thread content are the same, they can withstand the same heat.

If you like using polyester for piecing (like 60wt Bottom Line or 50wt So Fine), that’s perfectly fine.  HOWEVER, if you choose to use polyester for piecing you MUST BE CAREFUL when applying direct heat to the seam.  An iron set at high heat (Cotton) can melt right through polyester.

Heirloom Sewing

I recommend 60wt Presencia.

Appliqué by Hand or Machine

I like  50wt Presencia, 60wt Presencia or 60wt Bottom Line.
For folk style applique where you hand blanket-stitch around the outside edge, I recommend taking a look at Perle Cotton. The weight of perle cotton you choose will depend upon how you want your finished project to look.  If you want a “heavier” thread look, choose the “lower” number weight (i.e., a size 8 perle cotton is heavier than size 16 perle cotton).

Garment, Craft & Home Dec Construction

Here, you must carefully consider the fabric content and weight and about the function/stress put on the seams of the item.

For example, if you are sewing denim or fleece that will be worn or the seams may experience stress from pulling or wear, you probably do NOT want to use a light weight cotton or poly thread.  The thicker the fabric, the heavier thread you will want to use.  For denims and fleece I like So Fine.  If you are surface embellishing denim or fleece, you can use just about any thread you choose that will provide the look you want.

For construction of garments and projects using light weight fabrics, I generally use  50wt Presencia, 60wt Presencia or 60wt Bottom Line.

Quilting and Surface Embellishment

For quilting, you may choose whatever thread you wish based upon your own personal preferences and the look you wish to achieve.

Using “invisible” threads such as Monopoly keeps the focus away from the thread and puts it strictly on the design itself.  Sew Art is a nylon and there are known cautions about using nylon (may yellow, become brittle, etc.) but I know many people who have used it successfully for years.  Monopoly is polyester and does not have these issues, but it is shiny and catches the light. So you must consider the qualities of the thread with regard to your project needs and then decide which product you prefer.

A fine (light weight) thread like 60wt Presencia or 60wt Bottom Line will tend to “blend” into the background placing the emphasis on the quilting design (rather than the thread used to create the design).

Using heavier threads such as King Tut, Art Studio Colors, Living Colors and LAVA will change the focus to the “threads” used to create the design.

Embellishment thread such as Razzle Dazzle is not meant to go through your machine needle.  Please do not attempt to use Razzle Dazzle in the top.  Razzle Dazzle is gorgeous when couched on to the surface of your project.  Or, use it in your machine bobbin.

HELPFUL HINT: BEFORE you start your project, always test your “selected” thread on a sample swatch of the same fabric you are going to use in your project.  This will help you identify any potential issues or special considerations before you are invested in having to make that thread work no matter what.

Sewing with Slippery Threads…tip

When sewing with slippery/decorative threads have you ever experienced the thread sliding off the spool and winding around your spindle?  Do you know how it feels to be stitching merrily along…everything looks great…then all of a sudden the tension seems to be going out of whack and then the next thing you know you end up breaking a needle?  “What the *@#^^ is going on!?!”, you mutter to yourself.

Threads like Glitter, metallics and many of the trilobal polyesters often present this challenge.

Here’s a tip: 
Use a mesh thread net (also known as thread sock).  If you’re using a smaller spool (rather than the large cone) and your thread net is too long, simply cut the length to fit. 

The light tension/support of the thread net will make your life a lot less stressful when using slippery, tricky threads!