Winding a Bobbin on a Sewing Machine

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Some people buy a sewing machine on a whim, and others after months or even years of toying with the idea, but there’s one thing that often confuses beginner sewists right from the start: winding a bobbin and then inserting it correctly.

Learn about winding a bobbin on a sewing machine. Knowing how to wind a bobbin is very important and needs to be done for every spool of thread you sew with, and can be different for every model of sewing machine. Video tutorial included! #sewing #bobbin

I get a lot of emails from my readers asking for advice on various sewing-related issues and very often the source of their difficulties is faulty bobbin insertion or even winding. So today we’re going to put an end to it! But first…

What is a bobbin?

Learn about winding a bobbin on a sewing machine. Knowing how to wind a bobbin is very important and needs to be done for every spool of thread you sew with, and can be different for every model of sewing machine. Video tutorial included! #sewing #bobbin

Sewing machines have one needle (unless you use a double needle, but don’t worry about that if you’re a beginner!) but their sturdy stitches are formed with two threads.

The top thread comes from the regular spool of thread (seen to the left in the picture above), which is placed on a special holder on top of the machine and threaded through various slots and levers and goes through the hole in the needle. (I will soon have a tutorial about threading a sewing machine.)

The bottom thread is a smaller spool, called a bobbin (seen to the right in the picture above), which gets wound from the regular spool of thread so that both threads are the same color. (Though you can actually use two colors if that’s the effect you want.)

The bobbin gets inserted underneath the needle plate of the sewing machine. There is a mechanism, called the shuttle, which either rotates or oscillates, depending on your sewing machine model, bringing the top thread around the bobbin case and catching up the bottom thread from the bottom, so that they can be interwound. The animation below (from Hobby Couture) shows an oscillating shuttle.

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.)

Two sewing machines with different bobbin loading

There are two types of bobbin setups. 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.

I talk more about those in my lesson on inserting a bobbin in the sewing machine. Today, we’re focusing just on winding a bobbin on a sewing machine.

The bobbin winding mechanism is similar on most sewing machines, however I want to stress the fact that EVERY SEWING MACHINE MODEL IS DIFFERENT! I always tell my readers to read their sewing machine manual, because their specific model could very well have a unique set-up.

For this reason I’ll show you the different ways of winding a bobbin on two very different machines. And at the end of the tutorial, I’ll also show you how to store bobbins along with the spools of thread so that they don’t get mixed up.

Watch the video on winding a bobbin, or continue scrolling to read the tutorial below!

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Winding a bobbin: a classic setup

Learn how to wind a bobbin on a Singer Simple sewing machine, as well as an Elna Lotus. Video tutorial included! #sewing #bobbin

Here you can see a Singer Simple* sewing machine, whose bobbin winding setup is pretty typical and similar to most sewing machines.

The spool of thread first is inserted onto the spool holder on the top of the machine. (Use the cap to block the spool in place if your machine has one.) Then the thread gets pulled first under a little clip to the left of the spool, then down and around a set of disks, then over to the bobbin winder on the right.

Learn how to wind a bobbin on a Singer Simple sewing machine, as well as an Elna Lotus. Video tutorial included! #sewing #bobbin

When you’re threading the machine, either for winding the bobbin or for sewing, you need to keep the thread taut. To do this, I hold it between two hands as shown above, like I do with dental floss. This ensures that it fits in correctly between the disks or inside the slots.

Learn how to wind a bobbin on a Singer Simple sewing machine, as well as an Elna Lotus. Video tutorial included! #sewing #bobbin

A. After putting the thread through the clip and around the discs, get your empty bobbin. There is one (or two) little hole on a flat edge. Stick the end of the thread through the hole, hold the end in place against the outside of the bobbin with your left hand, and wind the thread around the inside of the bobbin about 5 times with your right hand. (I show this more in the video above)

B. When the end of the thread is secured enough that it won’t slip out from the hole, pull the bobbin to the right, towards the bobbin winder. On most machines, the thread needs to go over the top of the bobbin so that it gets wound clockwise, as shown above. However it can be the opposite in some machines. Check your instruction manual to make sure. In that case, just flip the bobbin upside down so that the thread goes over the bottom of the bobbin, in a counter-clockwise direction.

C. Stick the bobbin on the bobbin winder, with the thread going in the direction indicated in the manual or in the drawing on the machine itself (described in step B). Turn on the machine, if it is off.

D. Push the bobbin winder to the right to engage the winding mechanism.

Learn how to wind a bobbin on a Singer Simple sewing machine, as well as an Elna Lotus. Video tutorial included! #sewing #bobbin

Press the sewing machine pedal, and the bobbin winder will start turning, thereby winding the thread around the bobbin.

(Top image above) Stop pressing the pedal when the bobbin is almost full. (In some machines, the bobbin stops turning properly when it’s almost full, at which point you should stop.) Don’t wind the bobbin too much! If the thread goes over the edges, it will not be able to rotate well inside the sewing machine and you will have sewing problems!

(Bottom image above) Pull the bobbin back to the left and pull it off the winder. Then cut the thread.

Learn how to wind a bobbin on a Singer Simple sewing machine, as well as an Elna Lotus. Video tutorial included! #sewing #bobbin

Ta-da! Your bobbin is ready to be inserted into the sewing machine! Now you need to:

Winding a bobbin: an unusual setup

Learn how to wind a bobbin on an Elna Lotus sewing machine, as well as a Singer Simple. Video tutorial included! #sewing #bobbin

Just to illustrate what I said before about how bobbin winding differs in different sewing machines, I’m now going to show you how to wind a bobbin on an Elna Lotus. This is the machine that I currently use and it is set up differently than most other sewing machines.

Unlike most machines, the Elna Lotus holds the thread spool on the left of the machine. The disks to wind the thread around are also hidden on a part that needs to be raised.

Learn about winding a bobbin on a sewing machine. Knowing how to wind a bobbin is very important and needs to be done for every spool of thread you sew with, and can be different for every model of sewing machine. Video tutorial included! #sewing #bobbin

A. Pull the lever towards you to make the spool holder pop up. Insert the spool of thread so that the thread is coming off of it towards the right at the top (clockwise). Then put the spool holder over the spool, push the spool down and push the lever back into place.

B. Pass the thread through the hook in the lever, then through the little metal spiral. Lift up the part with the disks and wind the thread over the top of the disks and down through the clip under it. Then pull it towards the bobbin winder on the right.

Learn about winding a bobbin on a sewing machine. Knowing how to wind a bobbin is very important and needs to be done for every spool of thread you sew with, and can be different for every model of sewing machine. Video tutorial included! #sewing #bobbin

C. From this point on, it’s all the same as described before for the Singer machine. Put the end of the thread through the hole in the bobbin and manually wind it a little bit.

D. Bring the bobbin towards the bobbin winder, with the thread going over the top of the bobbin, clockwise.

E. Put the bobbin on the bobbin winder. Turn on the machine if it wasn’t already on.

F. Push the bobbin winder to the right.

Learn about winding a bobbin on a sewing machine. Knowing how to wind a bobbin is very important and needs to be done for every spool of thread you sew with, and can be different for every model of sewing machine. Video tutorial included! #sewing #bobbin

Press the pedal (or push the start/stop button) to start winding the bobbin.

Stop winding when the bobbin starts slowing down. Pull the bobbin to the left, remove it from the winder, and cut the thread. And your bobbin is ready to be loaded into the sewing machine! Now do the following:

How to store bobbins after winding:

Learn about winding a bobbin on a sewing machine. Knowing how to wind a bobbin is very important and needs to be done for every spool of thread you sew with, and can be different for every model of sewing machine. Video tutorial included! #sewing #bobbin

Once you’ve been sewing for a while, you’ll have accumulated a lot of different colors and types of threads. So here are two pieces of advice for you:

  1. Get a lot of extra empty bobbins. It’s a waste of time, thread and money to unwind bobbins so that you can wind up the color your need for your current project. Brand-name bobbins cost a lot, but you can buy no-name brand bobbins for much cheaper. These bobbins* work great for both the Singer and Elna sewing machines I show in this post. Just make sure before buying that they are compatible! Some machines use plastic bobbins while others use metal bobbins and there are different heights/sizes of each. Check the dimensions given and also the compatible brands/models given in the product listing.
  2. Use bobbin buddies to keep your bobbins with their “mother” spool of thread. Then you won’t have to search around to find the bobbin that matches the thread you want to use after you’ve stored them and you’ll have less of a mess. I used to have a horrid mess of tangled threads in my thread drawers, but since I’ve started using these bobbin holders*, my life has been a lot easier!

How to use bobbin holders:

How to keep bobbins and spools of thread together: Use bobbin buddies or other bobbin clips to hold them together!

A. Get your bobbin holder, spool and wound bobbin.

B. Push the bobbin holder into the center hole of the bobbin. You might have to force it a little bit.

How to keep bobbins and spools of thread together: Use bobbin buddies or other bobbin clips to hold them together!

C. Push the end of the bobbin holder into the center hole of the spool of thread.

D. Done! Now store the spool and its matching bobbin in a drawer, box or old tin of cookies!

Learn about winding a bobbin on a sewing machine. Knowing how to wind a bobbin is very important and needs to be done for every spool of thread you sew with, and can be different for every model of sewing machine. Video tutorial included! #sewing #bobbin

Awesome! Now you’re an expert on winding a bobbin!

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If you liked this lesson on how to wind a bobbin, check out the other lessons that are part of the FREE Cucicucicoo Learn to Machine Sew beginner’s sewing course! And don’t forget to share pictures of your work in the Cucicucicoo Creations Facebook group, or on Instagram or other social media with the hashtags #cucicucicoo or #cucicucicoopatterns!

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Learn about winding a bobbin on a sewing machine. Knowing how to wind a bobbin is very important and needs to be done for every spool of thread you sew with, and can be different for every model of sewing machine. Video tutorial included! #sewing #bobbin

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