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What’s Sew Special About Bobbin Thread?

by MaryCatherine McCoy

Have you ever wondered if you ‘really’ have to use special bobbin
thread for embroidery? Or, if it’s OK to use regular sewing thread in
your bobbin? Or even if you can use the same thread in your needle
AND your bobbin at the same time?

These are just a few of the questions that frequently perplex machine
embroiderers. Although there are few hard and fast rules, there are
good reasons to review bobbin thread.

First and foremost it should be noted that when you make thread
choices that don’t involve the selection of a type of thread intended
for use on embroidery machines, while they will likely stitch
acceptably, you will also experience more bulk and likely more lint
build up (amongst other issues as well) because regular thread as
compared to machine embroidery threads are manufactured differently.

In any case though, let”s answer those questions. First, you don”t
absolutely have to use “special” bobbin thread for machine embroidery,
though you will probably want to use a lightweight
thread. Thread that”s typically referred to as “bobbin thread” is
usually 60 weight (wt.) white polyester thread and used extensively in
slips, bras & panties.

Second, yes, it”s OK to use regular sewing thread in your bobbin, but
you probably won”t want to, because as mentioned above, it can add to
the bulk and the expense of stitching, not to mention unwanted lint
build up. Sewing thread is usually 30 or 40 wt. cotton or cotton/poly
thread which is heavier than 60 wt. bobbin thread. So, yard for yard,
ultimately sewing thread can cost more than bobbin thread.

And yes, you can use the same thread in your needle AND your bobbin,
however you usually won”t want to or need to but there are a few
exceptions, as in the case of ‘Free-Standing Lace’ (FSL) designs and
wherever reversible embroidery might be employed.

Here are a few more helpful hints regarding why it”s a good idea to
consider using “special” bobbin thread for machine embroidery:

1) With 30 or 40 wt. thread in the needle and 60 wt. thread in the
bobbin, the tension between the 2 different thread weights is uneven
during embroidering – which is a good thing. This causes a little of
the needle thread to pull to the bottom or wrong side of the stitched
design. More importantly, uneven thread weight means the bobbin
thread will NOT show on the top (the front) of the stitched design (if
bobbin thread is showing on top, then it”s troubleshooting time:
check the machine”s tensions needle and bobbin).

2) For traditional sewing, a stitcher usually changes bobbin thread
color with each new project or spool color. Since “special” bobbin
thread doesn’t show on top, there”s no need to change bobbin thread
color with each color change. Just drop in a bobbin and stitch - what
a time saver! Just imagine having to un-hoop your project, then
change the bobbin each time you change thread color in the needle and

But, did you know that bobbin thread is actually available in dozens
of colors? For example, Superior Threads offers Bottom Line bobbin
thread in over 50 different colors! Visit their site to see:
http://preview.tinyurl.com/grznn or http://tinyurl.com/grznn

3) Since 60 wt. thread is lighter than most thread used in the
needle, more thread can be wound on the bobbin. Additionally,
pre-wound bobbins pack more even more bang (or thread) for the buck.
Many stitchers buy pre-wound bobbins in bulk to save even more.

4) Most “special” bobbin threads for machine embroidery are
polyester, a long-lasting colorfast fiber.

Since there aren”t any ‘real’ bobbin police, ultimately every
embroiderer can decide what type and color thread to use for each
project. Though, as mentioned earlier in this article, there are some
projects that lend themselves to other bobbin thread choices.

Free-standing lace (FSL) and other free-standing designs (not lace)
are ideal projects for using identical thread in the needle and bobbin.

Designs By SiCK offers over 30 different collections of FSL and other
free-standing designs. Visit the following link to see them all:


Reversible embroidery is another situation for matching bobbin thread
with the thread in the needle. What makes an embroidery design
reversible? Redwork and color line designs are ideal candidates. The
open design and few color changes (sometimes only 1 color) make such
designs into ‘reversible’ designs. Just imagine how great some tea
towels would look – both front and back — with some of these redwork


Here”s what to avoid when choosing designs for reversible embroidery:
filled designs and designs with lettering.

Filled designs may overlap and become especially dense if reversible
embroidery is attempted. So, just stick with the windmills and
not the filled designs in a set such as this:


Lettering in designs can be almost illegible on the back of a
reversible application. Try designs that are offered with AND without
lettering like:


Just use the designs without lettering for reversible embroidery at
its best.

To sum up, you don”t have to use “special” bobbin thread for machine
embroidery, but there are so many good reasons ‘to’ use it. And a few
occasions not to go ahead, try them all!

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8 Responses to What’s Sew Special About Bobbin Thread?

  1. Karen says:

    GREAT article!! I wish this article was around years ago when I started to do machine embroidery, it is all very good information that I had to learn by trial and error!

  2. Teacher of Machine Embroidery (Formally Educated) says:

    I appreciate that the author means well, but may have inadvertently mislead some folks reading this article.

    Often “lingerie” thread is NOT 60 wt 2 ply, rather it is a finer thread than that. There are caveats about using finer lingerie wt thread in the bobbin that need to be considered depending upon the type of embroidery project.

    Yes, there are choices for what thread is used in the bobbin and the design choice and medium the design is sewn out on will greatly influence the choice of bobbin thread.

    Finally, changing a bobbin is never that big of a deal–if doing embroidery you just disconnect the hoop, but please do not un-hoop a project until the project directions clearly state to do so (perhaps for moving the material being embroidered on along for continuous embroidery) or until you are all done with embroidering out a design. Insert the new bobbin and then re-attach the hoop to the machine.

    I doubt the author would want to mislead readers, so I hope a tiny bit of clarification will be understood in the spirit it is offered.

  3. Eunice says:

    Sewing thread is usually 50 or 60 weight, not 30 or 40 as mentioned in your article

  4. Jackie says:

    The higher number in thread makes the thread thinner?

  5. carylanne says:

    Yes Jackie, The higher the # the thinner the thread. Embroidery threads start at #12 actually there are thicker # 8 but I have yet to find purpose for those. My embroidery threads are mostly 35 and 40 wt. The higher #(60 wt 2 ply) is the perfect balanced bobbin thread. there are several of these though as well. You can purchase a 60/2 poly thread or a 60/2 polynylon filiment.. CLEAR.. for embroidery as well. There are those that use the #70 for projects such as sewing designs that you will eventually cut the bobbin thread to frill the designs, Coats and Clark makes a 50, 60 & 70 wt bobbin thread. Check the bottom of the spool to make sure what you are buying. As some embroiderers use the pre wound bobbins, I purchase the extra large bobbin thread spools on line and wind my own using that newish notion the spool winder. I find that there is no difference in the amount I can wind myself and of course the cost is so little the time is worth it. I hope this helps you in making the right choice in thread uses. One more thing, I find that the #12 threads are so beautiful in Red work designs that you might want to buy a spool or ball as they come. It is expensive but so well done the designs just pop off the fabric. Tension on my Janome 10001 adjusts automatically but you may need to check your machine, or ask you dealer.

  6. Beverly Brown says:

    I was told by a Janome dealer that you can use serger thread in the bobbin. I tryed it and it works fine..

  7. pc-speed says:

    Thank you for this post ! It was really helpfull !
    Could you provide me some extra info regarding this subject?
    Searching for some articles?
    free iphone ebooks

  8. mike says:

    any one can tell me where to buy 40 to 50000 yard cones for 60-2 wt white color

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