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What Is a Bobbin?

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  • Written By: A Kaminsky
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2014
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A bobbin is the little plastic or metal wheel that fits underneath the needle plate of a sewing machine. Thread runs off it, gets picked up by the needle’s thread, and forms the bottom part of a seam. The bobbin is an essential part of a sewing machine. It enables the machine to form a seam from two threads, which makes a stronger, smoother, neater seam. Even the best hand sewer cannot duplicate the look of a machine seam.

In one form or another, bobbins have been around for years. They have always been a part of the sewing machine, even in the old treadle machine days. Using the name for this implement probably dates from the days of weaving, since the weft threads of a loom are wound around bobbins. The word is of indeterminate age and origin, which in English, means it probably dates back at least to Middle English.

The sewing machine bobbin was wound by hand for early machines, but the advent of the electric motor sewing machine meant that it could be wound on the machine itself. After all, the motor turned, so it could be put it to another useful purpose.

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Depending on the sewing machine, a bobbin may be wound on top of the machine or underneath the needle plate. Winding it on top of the machine is not difficult, but the operator must make sure to wind the thread in the right direction. Putting the bobbin on upside down will wind the thread off the wheel.

Some sewing machines require the user to put the bobbin underneath the needle plate, hold the needle thread, and turn the handwheel until the needle thread “catches” the bobbin thread. Other machines have a “drop-in” bobbin, so the user only needs to make certain ir is oriented correctly and drop it into the correct place. The machine then picks up the thread on its own.

A sewer should make sure that the sewing machine’s bobbin is of the proper size for the machine. A plastic one should not have cracks or splits. Bobbins are available for most sewing machine models in stores where sewing machines and fabrics are sold, as well as online.

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