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All About Thread

We're learning all about thread right here! From embroidery threads of all types, to how to get colors right, and even the thread you don't think about  (until it's a problem) -- the bobbin!

Is there only one kind of bobbin for your embroidery machine?

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Rayon or Poly?

In either poly or rayon thread, the standard wight is 40. Poly thread is colorfast.  It used to be true that rayon thread was shinier, but poly threads these days either rival or improve upon that.

Thread Weight

Ok, so we don't actually weigh threads when we use them. For our stitching purposes, it's clearer to think of weight as thickness or thinness.  A higher weight thread is actually thinner (more length of the thread fits in a unit of weight).  A lower weight thread will be thicker.  Wool threads and cotton threads are usually thicker, for example, and have a lower thread weight number. If you are stitching fine detail and want to improve the results, you might try a higher weight (thinner) thread.

The Right Needle

If you are using a specialty thread, you might need a special needle.  This handy chart helps you to tell which one.

Metallic Thread:

Between Friends with Eileen recently demonstrated you how to test your metallic thread before you stitch to see how well and smoothly it will run:

At 18:16 Eileen shows us how to test metallic thread to check quality.

Lift up the spool, and let it puddle. If it pools in circles, the thread it smooth and won't kink and break. Many metallic threads will kink, and spool off in more of a polygon pattern.  If the thread you are testing has a zig zag or box pattern when it unspools, that's going to kink on you while stitching, too. Having issues with kinking metallic thread?  Try Kingstar metallic. There's no kinking, and you can tell by using Eileen's test: Kingstar comes unspooled in rounded loops. 

If you are using a thread (such as Kingstar) that has no ridges or notches on the cone, to preserve the fine, metallic thread, how to you store the thread tail to keep it from coming unspooled during storage?  Here's a tip: 

  1. Undo a couple of feet,
  2. Hold it in your hand to form a loop,
  3. And make a couple of twists
  4. Then put this loop aorund your spool
  5. And pull the end -- not too tight! 

Eileen suggests on multi-needle, wind the Kingstar around the tension disc twice before threading the needle.

Wash it, press it, iron it.  You don't need to baby Kingstar metallic threads.

Wool Thread

If you ever wanted to embroider with wool thread (also known as Lana or Monet) but needed guidance, you're in luck! The thread is relatively easy to embroider with, As you'll see, on our Machine Embroidery with Wool Thread page, you just need to follow some simple tips for great results.


This is a very fine, higher weight thread.  Used in typical designs, it might look sparse.  But it is perfect for fine details and small lettering.

Variegated thread

There are so many ways that variegated thread can enhance embroidery. It lends itself especially to elements from nature such as leaves, flowers, and feathers. You can use it for thread "painting," for quilting, for freestanding lace,  Here's a demonstration of how variegated thread creates patterns in different kinds of fills. Eileen also shows her method of selecting variegated thread for different colors of fabric:

Here's an example of using variegated thread for quilting:

Twist Threads

Twist threads consist of two different threads, twisted together on one spool.  There's a way to DIY that if you like the look and want to create twists from your own thread collection. EIleen explained how to do it in her Variegated Thread video. Click below to hop right to that point:

Wrong colors shown in file

Sometimes when you open an embroidery file, the colors are all strange looking. Surprisingly, that's not a problem or a defect.It's just a fact of machine embroidery.  This page explains it, and shows you how to choose good colors in spite of it.


Which bobbin type does your machine take? Many table top machines use Style A (Class 15) bobbins, and can use Style L with an adapter.  Cylinder arm machines use Style L. Longarm machines and Janome multi-needle machines use style M. 

Style A and L are both the diameter of a nickel.  Style A is the taller of the two.  If you need to, you can use L in a machine that takes A... but use an adapter. Style M is the diameter of a quarter, and not as commonly used in embroidery.

Bobbins come in many different material types.  You'll see plastic sided single use bobbins, plastic sided re-usable bobbins (so you can wind your own), paper sided bobbins, and magnetic core bobbins that have no sides at all.  Of these, magnetic core bobbins use the bobbin thread most efficiently. 

Magnetic core bobbins work only on cylinder arm machines, because of the direction of magnet and the orientation of the bobbin case. The magnet controls the spin with uniform performance throughout the life of the bobbin. 

This video breaks down all the kinds of bobbins and bobbin cases for us.

Bobbin cases tend to collect lint, and do need some cleaning.  Here's how to accomplish that: 
Use a folded over pipe cleaner to rub the inside and bottom of the bobbin case to remove the dust.  For the bobbin case spring or tension plate, clean under it with something thin and pliable, such as a business card, or a flexible plastic ruler.

So what is the perfect tension for bobbins? You can tell by the underside of your embroidery whether you have the right tension or not. It should look like this:

Notice that the colored thread is visible on both sides of each column, with bobbin thread visible in between. Approximately 1/3 of the column should be bobbin.

What about winding your own bobbins? It's a good skill to have; there are times when you will need to do it to get the right color for freestanding projects, for example. Typical pre-wound bobbin thread weights are 70 or 60 weight. Certain machines use a 90 weight bobbin.  Switching weights is worth experimenting with; it won't break your machine, and the results can vary.  When choosing whether to use pre-wound or winding your own for projects generally, there are a couple of marks in favor of pre-wound bobbins. Pre-wound bobbins generally have more yards per bobbin and have very consistent tension.  If you're struggling with your own home-wound bobbins, try a pre-wound. It might make all the difference. Particularly look at trying spun poly pre-wound bobbins. The spun poly bobbin thread tends to grab the top thread well.  

One thing that affects your results with bobbins is the bobbin case:  Sometimes your machine has more than one bobbin case, especially with Babylock/Brother machines: You can tell them apart by looking closely at the screw on the casing. A green screw is for embroidery.  The grey one is for bobbin work (using decorative heavy weight threads and wind them upside-down), the one with the unpainted screw is for sewing.

Would you like to learn to adjust your bobbin tension? Eileen and Deborah explain how the bobbin case works, so you can  learn to do it well. This video covers all about bobbin cases:






Dianne K.

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