The Free Motion Quilting Project: Bad Bobbin?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bad Bobbin?

free motion quilting | Leah DayI'm taking a break today to share about something that is really driving me crazy:

Bad Bobbins

Yes, there is such a thing! Have you ever been stitching along just fine, run out of thread, changed out your bobbin and suddenly found your tension going crazy?

Chances are you have found a bad bobbin in you collection.

Your tension should not change wildly whenever you change bobbins because if your top and bobbin thread stays the same, the stitch should remain consistent.

And who would even consider that a bobbin could be bad? I have never had this experience until quilting on the Juki and it's the only machine it's ever happened on.

So what do I mean by "bad"?

Well, with how much a bad bobbin effects tension, I assume that these bobbins weren't manufactured properly and may be slightly lopsided, making the bobbin spin unevenly in the case.

A good way to test is to load your bobbin into your machine and tug on it. The thread should glide freely and smoothly with no resistance. If it glitches up on you, try quilting a little on a sample square. If your tension is wildly out of whack, it's time to look for another bobbin.

I experienced this little annoyance today and unfortunately didn't realize it until I'd already stitched a very large part of this Dresden block.

See how part of the paisley designs are wanting to pull up and pucker? That's all due to this bad little bobbin.

On a regular quilt, I would have needed to rip all of this out because the stitches were so badly out of tension on the back.

So what do you do when you've identified a bad bobbin?

My first reaction was to throw that nasty little tension mangler in the trash, but then I reconsidered it and pulled him back out again.

It's not the bobbin's fault that he's gimpy and there are many uses other than putting it into your machine.

You can use bad bobbins to wind small amounts of thread for hand quilting, applique, or binding projects rather than take an entire spool of thread.

I really like to do this because I always use a magnetic pincushion and the metal bobbin case will stick to it and not get lost in the couch while I'm stitching.

You do need to know and be able to easily tell your bad bobbins from the good. Trust me, after this frustrating experience yesterday, this gimpy guy is never seeing inside of my machine again!

I labeled it as "bad" in big letters with a permanent magic marker on both sides.

I also went through and tested 3 other bobbins and found one to produce exceptionally smooth, beautiful stitches, so I labeled it with a "G" for good.

It's always good to know which bobbins produce your best stitches so when you're quilting with something finicky, like metallic thread, you can use a bobbin that won't make you tear your hair out.

So here's to weeding out all the gimpy, bad bobbins from your stash!

Let's go quilt!

Leah Day


  1. Excellent article! I had an issue with my longarm a few years ago and it took me hours to figure out it was a warped bobbin.

  2. I thought it was just me. I have bobbins I like better than others. I have then labeled 1, 2, and 3. 3 being the worst.

    Thanks for this article

  3. bobbins can also go bad if dropped on hard surfaces...seems to make them less round or something ;)

  4. I was in a "free motion with your sewing machine" class and the teacher said 1) use the manufacturers bobbins for your specific machine and 2) she has seen bobbins deformed/damaged by dropping them on the floor. On the relative scale of the cost of everything else, it is kind of silly to skimp on bobbins and fresh needles. Justine

  5. This is a good reminder to those of us who have had problem bobbin experiences. I helped a friend identify a bad bobbin on an old Featherweight sewing machine. And another tip is to NOT swap bobbins among different models of sewing machines. An old Bernina 830 bobbin IS different than a Bernina QE153 bobbin. Thanks for your good advice, Leah.

  6. very good point. thanks for sharing this tip.

  7. I had a problem with my embroidery machine once, caused by a bobbin in the pack that was the wrong size!

  8. Thanks for sharing this information. I recently developed a sudden tension problem on my viking so I switched machines. I better go and investigate further. I will remember to check the bobbin from now on.

  9. I found that one out by buying some of those prewound bobbins, NEVER AGAIN, from now on I'm sticking to the bobbins made by the same company as my machine.

    Interesting that dropping them can cause trouble too, I'll have to keep an eye out for that.

  10. Thanks for this... I'd never have thought of this and will now be on the alert!

  11. wow, thanks for sharing this with us!

  12. Dropping bobbins can knock them out of shape, but so can dropping things onto the bobbin, or squeezing them into storage or when packing them to take to a class.

    Plastic bobbins are more likely to become deformed if they are kept somewhere hot ..... like a hot car before or after a workshop.

    I figure bobbins are way cheaper than a machine, so every so often I check them, ditch any suspect ones and buy new ones.

    Judy B

  13. I recently found out that plastic bobbins can warp if you wind them too fast. I had a problem similar to what you described, but found or thought it to be caused by putting the spool of thread on the pin with the thread coming off in the wrong direction. I'll have to check that bobbin to see if it will wind properly or is truely warped. It is plastic, but I ususally wind bobbins around half speed. My HuskvarnaViking man says that winds a smoother bobbin. Thanks for the info. We all love to sew and hate to sew when something is not working right!
    (been gone for a month and catching up on reading posts)

  14. I'm glad to read this, I thought I was going crazy when one bobbin I was trying to use was doing terribly. I even borrowed another bobbin case because I thought my case somehow screwed up! It turned out, though, my bobbin was a little messed up- it was tight in the bobbin case even though it looked, to me, identical in size to my 'good' bobbins!

  15. Oh my goodness you just saved me almost giving up on my new free motion skills and thinking I was horrible at it! It was going so well and then I switched my bobbin and I had horrible problems - I wound a new bobbin and it looks great!!! Thanks!


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