The most commonly used sewing machines in the household are lockstitch sewing machines which you can also use if you prefer sewing on the floor. And they always come with bobbins. Bobbins are essential parts of lockstitch sewing machines. So, yes, they do come with bobbins, or else they cannot sew at all.
Some types of sewing machines are distinctly designed not to have bobbins. A particular example of this kind is the chain stitch sewing machine. This machine uses the needle thread to loop itself and create chain stitches that can hold the fabric together.
The chain stitch sewing machine is typically used for the inseam and side seam of clothing. But this type of sewing machine is not used often.
To usually sew fabrics together, you will need a lockstitch sewing machine. The lockstitch sewing machines need bobbins to make it work.
Sewing machines may look intimidating because of the many tiny things you see on the surface, apart from its inner workings. If you are a newbie at sewing, let me introduce one of the essential parts of a sewing machine. And if you have sewed for quite a while, let me refresh you with one fundamental part of the machine that can make or break your sewing project – the bobbin.
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Can you use a sewing machine without a bobbin?
You cannot use a sewing machine without a bobbin. The bobbin gives the thread that loops with the needle thread to form a stitch called a lockstitch. Lockstitch is the type of stitch that is most commonly used by domestic or industrial sewing machines today. These lockstitch machines need bobbins to provide the thread to loop with the top thread.
Your sewing machine will not simply work without a bobbin. If you try sewing without bobbin thread, it is like you are not sewing at all. Sewing using only the needle thread will not work because it will not stay in place with no thread to loop with.
The lockstitch sewing machine needs an upper thread and a lower thread to create tight stitches on the fabric. You can easily see the upper thread on the needle, while the lower thread is hidden in the bobbin below the needle. You cannot see the bobbin as you sew, so it is crucial to secure the bobbin thread before you stitch away.
The upper thread and lower thread should loop together and remain intact as you sew the fabrics.
What does a bobbin do?
A bobbin is a small metal or plastic wheel which holds the thread. The thread is wound around the small cylinder with the two thin circular sides at both ends.
Apart from the sewing machine, a bobbin would serve only as a regular spool of thread. When you use a sewing machine, you make a stitch when the bobbin thread and the needle thread loop together. The bobbin is a second spool of thread located below the needle plate of your machine. The bobbin thread needs to loop with the needle thread to hold the stitches on your fabric in place.
A bobbin may be such a small and hidden part of your sewing machine, but it makes all the difference in sewing. The bobbin is an indispensable part of the sewing machine because it is one of the two thread sources you need to sew using your sewing machine.
Are all sewing machine bobbins the same?
When you look at sewing machine bobbins, you may think you have seen them all. Most of them may look alike, but they definitely cannot be used interchangeably. Not all bobbins are the same because there is no such thing as a universal bobbin.
Those who have been sewing for quite some time can still be bothered with bobbin problems. For a newbie, you must know early on that there are over 60 types of bobbins available and that you cannot use them at a whim.
It is still best practice to use the same bobbin type that came with your sewing machine. Else, you will have issues with your stitches or, worse, with your machine. Get to know your different bobbin types here.
Three of the most common bobbins used in the majority of household sewing machines are:
- Class 15 (A-Style)
The Class 15 Style, also called the A Style bobbin, is about the size of a US nickel with a diameter of 20.3 mm. It has a width of around 11.7 mm or a little bit under half an inch. The top and bottom sides of the bobbin are entirely flat. The Class 15 bobbin is available in both plastic and metal.
- L Style
The L Style bobbin is also around the size of a US nickel and flat on both sides. The difference between the L Style bobbin to the Class 15 Style is the width. The L Style bobbin has a width of 8.9 mm, but you can use it in Class 15 sewing machines. You cannot use a Class 15 bobbin in an L Style machine because it would be too tall to fit in the bobbin case.
L style bobbins are typically used in industrial and semi-industrial machines. They come in plastic, metal, and as a Magna-glide core. An L Style bobbin also has a little hole where you can see how much thread you have left around the bobbin.
- M Style
It is easy to distinguish an M Style bobbin due to its size. It is about as big as a US quarter (24.9mm) and has a width of 10.7 mm. Similar to the two previous bobbins, the sides of the M Style bobbin are entirely flat. It is available in metal and as a Magna-glide core.
These three bobbin types are what 95% of household sewing machines use. Below are some bobbin types of some famous sewing machine brands that are not as commonly used. These bobbins are also worth mentioning because of their distinct and unique features. If you had been sewing a long time, some of these might already be familiar to you.
- Class 15J
The Class 15J looks similar with almost the same dimensions as a Class 15 bobbin. The difference is the slight curve on the top and bottom sides. The curve on the bobbin side is barely noticeable but is still significant. So, a Class 15J bobbin will not perform well in a Class 15 sewing machine. This type of bobbin is available in metal, plastic, and aluminum.
- Class 66
The Class 66 bobbin has a diameter of 20.5 mm and is also about a nickel’s size. It has a width of 10.9 mm and has a more pronounced curve on the top and bottom sides. These slight variances are significant when you use the bobbin in the wrong type of machine.
- Singer #163131
Singer #163131 bobbin is almost the same size as a US quarter and has a width of 6.7 mm. It is different from the regular bobbins because you can disassemble it by unscrewing the sides. This type of bobbin is only available in plastic.
Looking closely, you will find unique lines on the sides that state thread yardage. The innermost circle is equal to 2 yards, the middle line equals 10 yards, and the outermost ring is 20 yards marking a full bobbin. This bobbin type is used in the Singer Touch and Sew Series.
- Singer #8228
Singer #8228 bobbin has the most unusual design among the bobbins. Its diameter is 9 mm, and its width is 33.4 mm. Singer #8228 will only fit its bobbin case. This type of bobbin comes in metal only and is used in many Singer treadle machines.
- Bernina #0115367000
The Bernina #0115367000 bobbin is about the same size as a US nickel and has a width of 10.6 mm, and is explicitly used for Bernina machines. Its distinct feature is the neat crosshatch design on the bobbin barrel. It fits most of Bernina’s older sewing machines. The bobbin is only available in metal.
With the significant number of types of bobbins available in the market, it would take a long time to discuss each one of them. The most important take-away from all this information is that it is always best practice to use the same bobbin type as the bobbin that came with your machine. Your sewing machine will perform its best if you use the size and design of the bobbin designated for it.
What are bobbins made of?
Bobbins were all initially made of metal. Then plastic was developed and was used for sewing machine parts such as bobbins and bobbin cases. Today, bobbins are made of various materials like metal, plastic, or aluminum. Knowing what your bobbins are made of can help you with their care and maintenance.
Metal bobbins are the most common bobbins available and used in machines. They are made from treated steel. Metal bobbins are usually preferred over plastic and aluminum because of their durability and long life span.
Plastic bobbins perform just as well as metal bobbins. But to optimize the use of plastic bobbins, you should always use them with their plastic bobbin case. Doing so avoids wearing out the plastic quickly which may affect the quality of stitches.
Aluminum bobbins weigh lighter, thus, spin faster than metal and plastic bobbins. Many sewing machine users believe that aluminum bobbins perform better than metal and plastic bobbins. The disadvantage is that they are also easily scratched and damaged.
A modern type of bobbin is the Magna-glide Core. It is just a bobbin barrel wrapped with thread. The Magna-glide Core has the advantage of creating consistent stitches. Its magnetic-core prevents backlash which is commonly experienced with regular bobbins. Once the thread has been used up, the core can be thrown away or recycled.
It would be best to take care of your bobbin and bobbin case no matter what material it is made of. Keep your bobbins free from scratches and burrs which can cause skipped stitches and thread tangles. Run your finger along the sides of your bobbin and bobbin case to check for small scratches.
Replace your bobbin if you find burrs. You may buff out minor scratches on the bobbin case with sandpaper. If your bobbin is worn out, you may need to replace it with a new one.
You can only expect your machine’s best performance if you use the same type of bobbin that came with your sewing machine. Also, it would be best if you used bobbins with the same material as their bobbin case. (i.e., plastic bobbins with plastic bobbin cases)
Can you use plastic bobbins instead of metal?
The most reliable answer is NO. Plastic and metal bobbins are NOT interchangeable. Even if your plastic and metal bobbins have the same class size, you should use plastic bobbins in plastic bobbin cases.
The practical reason that plastic and metal bobbins are not interchangeable in that a metal bobbin can wear out the plastic bobbin case. And it may cost you more money to fix the damage.
Plastic and metal bobbins may differ in construction, making it hard to fit into bobbin cases if you use them interchangeably. Sewing machines are very particular, with minute details to work correctly and smoothly.
Metal may be recognized as a more durable material for a bobbin than plastic bobbins. But using a metal bobbin in a plastic bobbin case may be more disastrous than beneficial.
Plastic bobbins are not compatible with metal bobbin cases as they can get distorted, lose shape, and wear out quickly. Plastic bobbins are highly possible to get scratches or burrs, which can sooner or later ruin your stitching.
It is still best to follow the rule of thumb for bobbins that plastic bobbins are for plastic bobbin cases and metal ones are for metal bobbin cases.