How to Insert a Bobbin in a Front-Loading or Top-Loading Sewing Machine

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A lot of people write to me to ask me technical questions about sewing and probably the most common one I get asked is, “Why is the thread tangling up under the fabric when I sew?” Most of the time it’s because the bobbin hasn’t been loaded correctly in the sewing machine. So today I’m going to show you how to insert a bobbin in the two types of bobbin setups: front loading and top loading (or drop in).

Learn how to insert a bobbin in a front loading or top loading (drop-in) sewing machine. Correct bobbin insertion is crucial to successful sewing. The video and photo tutorial show all the steps to correctly load the bobbin in both types of machines. #bobbin #sewingmachine

Before you learn how to insert a bobbin, though, you first need a wound bobbin to insert. If you haven’t yet learned how to do that or if you don’t know what a bobbin is, go see my tutorial on winding a bobbin on a sewing machine.

What’s the difference between front load and top load bobbins?

Learn how to insert a bobbin in a front loading or top loading (drop-in) sewing machine. Correct bobbin insertion is crucial to successful sewing. The video and photo tutorial show all the steps to correctly load the bobbin in both types of machines. #bobbin #sewingmachine

Glad you asked! There are two types of bobbin mechanisms. My Elna Lotus, seen above to the left, has a top-loading (or drop-in) bobbin, while many other machines, like the Singer Simple* seen above to the right, have a front-loading bobbin.

Learn how to insert a bobbin in a front loading or top loading (drop-in) sewing machine. Correct bobbin insertion is crucial to successful sewing. The video and photo tutorial show all the steps to correctly load the bobbin in both types of machines. #bobbin #sewingmachine

In both systems, the bobbin is inserted into a bobbin case inside the sewing machine. In top-loading machines, the bobbin case always stays inside the machine, while you must remove it in a front loading machine in order to insert or remove the bobbin.

In both types, a mechanism called the shuttle moves the top thread around the bobbin case, picking up the bobbin thread and pulling it up through the needle plate to twist up in the fabric. The result of this action is what we call a stitch.

Most top-loading sewing machines (but not all) have a rotary shuttle hook, meaning that the shuttle spins continuously in the same direction. The bobbin is in a horizontal position. The animation below (from Wikipedia) shows how the the rotary shuttle works. (Just imagine the bobbin and shuttle horizontally.)

The movement of the rotary shutter hook around the bobbin of a sewing machine.
Image source: Wikipedia

Most front-loading sewing machines (but not all) have an oscillating shuttle hook, meaning that the shuttle moves back and forth to bring the top thread around the bobbin case. The bobbin is in a vertical position. The animation below (from Hobby Couture) shows how an oscillating shuttle works.

The movement of the oscillating shutter hook around the bobbin of a sewing machine.
Image source: Hobby Couture

(If you don’t know what the bobbin, needle plate, or other parts of the sewing machine are, I highly suggest you read this lesson on sewing machine anatomy.)

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Neither bobbin system is intrinsically better or worse than the other. Some people claim that one type works better than the other, but I honestly think that it depends more on the overall quality of the sewing machine.

Top-loading, or drop-in, bobbins are easier to load, so better for beginners. If the machine’s bobbin cover is transparent, like the one on my Elna Lotus that I show in the post, you can also easily see how much bobbin thread is left so you can more easily avoid running out in the middle of an important section of stitching.

Bobbin thread tension screw to regulate the lower thread tension in a front-loading sewing machine.

A nice thing about front-loading bobbins, though, is that you can easily adjust bobbin thread tension. All sewing machines have thread tension control in the top part of the machine, but a lot of sewists don’t know that you can also adjust the tension in the bobbin. This is much easier with front-loading bobbins because there is a little screw on the outside of the removable bobbin case to change the tension (shown above with the arrow). However, I suggest you not touch it if you don’t know what you’re doing because it’s more complicated to adjust than top thread tension and hard to find the default position once it’s been changed.

How can I tell if my sewing machine is top- or front-loading?

Simple: just look at it. If there’s a little latch or switch to remove a small rectangle just in front of the needle plate and needle, you’ve got a top-loading or drop-in bobbin. If not, see if there’s a little door in the front vertical surface of the machine that opens up to reveal the bobbin. (You might need to remove an accessory case or other part of the machine to see this door.)

Also, read your sewing machine manual. This will tell you what system your machine has and will also give you specific instructions on winding and loading the bobbin. Remember that EVERY SEWING MACHINE MODEL IS DIFFERENT and you MUST read your manual to make sure that you are using it correctly!

Watch the video or continue reading to learn how to insert a bobbin correctly in your sewing machine!

How to insert a bobbin in a top-loading sewing machine

How to insert a bobbin in a top-loading sewing machine with a drop-in bobbin. #bobbin #sewingmachine

We’ll start with the drop-in bobbin system (top-loading) because it’s easier. Remember that your machine might be different from what you see here. Consult your manual!

A. Push the button or lever to release the bobbin cover. In my Elna Lotus, you have to push it to the right.

B. Remove the bobbin cover. Now you can see the built-in bobbin case.

How to insert a bobbin in a top-loading sewing machine with a drop-in bobbin. #bobbin #sewingmachine

C. Hold the bobbin so that the thread comes off of it towards you and to the right, as the arrow shows.

D. Drop the bobbin inside the space (the bobbin case). Hold the bobbin in place with your left index finger while your right hand brings the thread towards the left. There will most likely be two slots in the side of the metal bobbin case, shown here with arrows. You need to make the thread go out the first and back in the second. This picture shows the thread going through the first slot.

How to insert a bobbin in a top-loading sewing machine with a drop-in bobbin. #bobbin #sewingmachine

E. This picture shows me pulling the thread back into the second slot.

F. Bring the thread towards the back of the machine with your left hand.

How to insert a bobbin in a top-loading sewing machine with a drop-in bobbin. #bobbin #sewingmachine

G. While you hold the bobbin thread in place with your left hand, put the bobbin cover back in place with your right hand. The arrow shows how the thread comes up through the space between the bobbin cover and the needle plate.

If you haven’t yet, thread the sewing machine. (I have a tutorial coming soon about that!)

The next step is one that a lot of beginners don’t realize that they have to do. (Read my separate tutorial on how to pull up the bobbin thread if you want extra details on this.)

H. Hold the top thread (the black one in these pictures) with your left hand while you slowly lower the needle by turning the handwheel. Then raise the needle again with the handwheel.

How to insert a bobbin in a top-loading sewing machine with a drop-in bobbin. #bobbin #sewingmachine

I. At this point, the top thread will have pulled up the bobbin thread, which you can see looped in the top thread under the needle. Hold the top thread against the needle with your right index finger (shown by the arrow) while you gently pull the top thread up through the opening in the front of the presser foot. This will pull the bobbin thread all the way up through the opening in the needle plate.

J. Hold both threads with your left hand and pull them back under the presser foot through the opening (shown by the arrow), and towards the back left.

Now you’re ready to start sewing!

That might have seemed complicated, but I promise that, once you know how to do this on your machine, it’ll take you maximum 5 seconds to do!

How to insert a bobbin in a front-loading sewing machine

How to insert a bobbin in a front-loading sewing machine. #bobbin #sewingmachine

Now let’s move on to the front-loading bobbin system. Again, remember that your machine might be different from what you see here. Consult your manual!

A and B. Locate where to access the loading area from. In many machines, you have to remove an accessory compartment. Doing so opens up the free arm and exposes a little hinged cover that opens to the bobbin.

How to insert a bobbin in a front-loading sewing machine. #bobbin #sewingmachine

C and D. Open up the cover to access the bobbin case.

How to insert a bobbin in a front-loading sewing machine. #bobbin #sewingmachine

E. Here’s a closer look at the bobbin case inside the shuttle.

F. Lift up the metal latch in the center of the bobbin case so that you can hold on to it and pull the bobbin case out.

How to insert a bobbin in a front-loading sewing machine. #bobbin #sewingmachine

G. Here you can see the bobbin inside the bobbin case.

H. Turn the bobbin case upside down so that the bobbins falls out. Pull it to completely remove the tail of thread from the case.

How to insert a bobbin in a front-loading sewing machine. #bobbin #sewingmachine

I. Hold the new wound bobbin so that the thread comes off to the left in a clockwise direction.

J. Put the bobbin inside the bobbin case, keeping the thread in the same clockwise position.

K. Gently pull the thread through the slot along the edge of the bobbin case.

L. Now gently pull the thread under the flat “finger” until it slips out into the opening on the side of the case. There are two little “teeth” at the end of the finger which reach around the edge and into that opening. Make sure you pull the thread past those teeth. You’ll hear a little “click” when that happens.

The bobbin inserted into the bobbin case for a front-load sewing machine

Hooray! The hardest part is over and your bobbin is successfully loaded into the bobbin case. Hold the bobbin by that little metal latch.

Now, let’s insert the bobbin case into the shuttle.

How to insert a bobbin in a front-loading sewing machine. #bobbin #sewingmachine

M. Hold the bobbin case with the hinged latch towards you. You might want to place a finger so that the bobbin doesn’t fall out.

N. Position the bobbin case inside the shuttle opening with that long “finger” pointing upwards.

O. Push the bobbin case, rotating it a little bit if necessary, until it snaps into place.

P. Your bobbin is successfully loaded!

Now thread the top of the sewing machine (my tutorial will be published soon!) and pull up the bobbin thread. This is the same as the instructions I gave for top-loading bobbins, but I’m showing it again because we can really see the movement of the shuttle with this type of machine.

How to insert a bobbin in a front-loading sewing machine. #bobbin #sewingmachine

Q. Hold the top thread to the left with your left hand and start turning the handwheel to lower the needle. You’ll see the shuttle start moving around the bobbin case.

R. As you raise the needle, you’ll see how the top thread gets pulled over the bobbin case, from the right to the left. (Shown by the arrows.)

How to insert a bobbin in a front-loading sewing machine. #bobbin #sewingmachine

S. Like before, hold the top thread against the needle with your right index finger as you pull the top thread up through the opening of the presser foot, which pulls the bobbin thread up from under the needle plate. The arrow shows the bobbin thread looped up over the top thread.

T. Pull both threads under the presser foot, through the opening, and pull them back towards the left.

How to insert a bobbin in a front-loading sewing machine. #bobbin #sewingmachine

Close the cover to the bobbin loading area and replace the accessory compartment, if you had to remove it. Now you’re ready to start sewing!

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Learn how to insert a bobbin in a front loading or top loading (drop-in) sewing machine. Correct bobbin insertion is crucial to successful sewing. The video and photo tutorial show all the steps to correctly load the bobbin in both types of machines. #bobbin #sewingmachine

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