BOBBIN PLAY- Hints and Tips

MarveLes Art StudiosBlogs, Tutorial 2 Comments

BOBBIN PLAY Hints & Tips— the following information is copy and pasted from a handout I give to all my students in the classes I teach on free motion and more… a continuation of tips in a previous blog post on 12/15/10 on Bobbin Quilting.

From “Frost on the Zinnias” by Leslie Ann McNeil

— Use a loosened bobbin case (for Berninas or for any machine with a separate type of bobbin case). For drop-in machines, by-pass the tension disk entirely

— Adjust your upper thread tension.  Normally, this will mean you “tighten” it by going to a higher number, testing on a sample as you try out different tensions until you like what you see!

— Wind a bobbin with thick thread. By-pass one of the two thread pass points, or “tensioners” and then, using your forefinger, apply tension to the thread strand as you are winding the bobbin at a lower speed. You may need to loosen your grip with your forefinger as the bobbin fills up. Do NOT overfill!!  You can wind the bobbin “by hand” as well, keeping the thread nice and evenly applied as you fill up the bobbin.

— Top thread.  I recommend a quality strong polyester for the top thread; a 40 weight is best.  You may also choose a 50 wt cotton, and even a 60 weight bobbin weight thread will suffice, but in such a case as the 60 weight thread, you will have to remember to allow for more adjustment, and there will be quite a disparity in the “tug of war” that will occur between the two threads. Adjustments must be made in the upper tension to accommodate such a difference in those type of thread weights.

Flower in heavy Bobbin Play — Detail from “Sunset on Highway 2 – 1976”

 — See the chart/handout on tension! You will find it here from 

Detail from “Frost on the Zinnias” by Leslie McNeil

— Use a needle that best suits the top thread you use; usually an 80/12 topstitch for 50 weight cotton, or 90/14 topstitch for a 40 weight polyester.

— Stitching.  In free-motion applications, stitch slower, using a longer length stitch. Be sure to drop your feed dogs and use the proper free-motion foot attachment of your choice. If you are applying decorative stitches, choose one that has a fairly open motif

– in non-free motion, choose ‘open’ designs in decorative stitching motifs.  For regular straight stitch or zig zag stitches, you may find it best to  lengthen the stitch as well.

— Sew from the BACK side of your garment, quilt or fabric item!
    ♡ Define your area from the backside of the quilt or just… ‘wing it’ and let yourself be surprised. If you want more exact placement, use pins carefully placed from the top of the quilt, in order to “see” where you need to go from the back…don’t hit the pin with your needle; that is not a fun surprise!  You could also use chalk to draw the space around your pins; then remove the pins.

— Have fun!  This is a creative process.  There is no “bad” tension except where it either causes your machine problems, or in that you don’t like it!  Notice how the top thread loops on top of the bobbin thread… I LIKE IT! It makes me ‘happy!’

— Keep in mind that some of the top thread will always show, and depending on the look you desire, so either blend your top thread with bottom thread or choose a contrasting thread if that is what you like!  I am not a fan of the ‘clear plastic-like’ threads… but there is only one I would recommend, and it’s made by Superior Threads.  Bob Purcell has an excellent DVD “Thread Therapy with Dr. Bob” so check it out! By the way, sign up for their free newsletter… it’s EXCELLENT.  And no, I’m not paid anything by Superior Threads (how I wish that were true!) HA.  EnJOY.

 Samples of threads that work great in the bobbin!  YLI Shimmer or Candlelight, YLI Ribbon Floss (you must wind the floss by hand).  Superior Threads Razzle Dazzle.  Valdani #8, usually a hand stitching thread is quite lovely in the bobbin, but you will want to wind it by hand.

 Notice how Superior labels their spools  (LIKE THIS ALOT!!)   Type of thread:  100% POLYESTER.  What’s it for:  “For Bobbin Work, Couching and Serger.”

Know of other types of “thick threads” you could have fun trying in your bobbin play?!  How about some of those silk ribbons!  Yup!  And other serger threads, like pearl crown rayons, are quite wonderful. Most serger threads will work, but eliminate those that have … s-t-r-e-t-c-h!  (NOT fun!)

 Ahhh…yes, don’t stop there with the bobbin play… adding a bit of silver glitter (for the frost) adds another dimension of extra eye sparkle!

All the beading you’ve seen in these pictures was done by machine.  I love it!  More to come in future blogs!


P.S. I’d love to read your comments!

Comments 2

  1. Ooh I just love all of your beautiful artwork and thank you so much for sharing. I have never quilted and I am so intriqued and inspired to learn since I have found your Blog. I do love Montanna too, so let me know if you ever have classes!
    Many Blessings,
    Sandy Wamble

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