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Bobbin Work: When Threads Are Too Thick for the Needle

Bobbin work takes on a new dimension with all the wonderful threads available today.
Bobbin work takes on a new dimension with all the wonderful threads available today.

Bobbin work takes on a new dimension with all the wonderful threads available today.

by Sharee Dawn Roberts
from Threads #97, pp. 64-68

If you don't want to embroider by hand but can't resist all those incredible decorative threads and ribbons that won't fit through a sewing-machine needle, why not try bobbin work? It's an old technique that you can use on garments as well as soft home furnishings, but it takes on a new dimension with all the wonderful threads available today.

Bobbin work adds surface texture
  Bobbin work adds surface texture and highlights the quilting on a vest with random rows of silk ribbon and varied weights of thread.

Essentially bobbin work amounts to sewing upside down-the decorative thread goes in the bobbin, and you sew from the wrong side- therefore the embellishment thread doesn't need to go through the needle. You can use various types of stitches-straight, programmed, and free-motion-but, whatever your stitch choice, there are things to consider to get the desired effects. I'll show you this easy technique and introduce you to threads you've probably never considered using in the sewing machine.

You can use threads that come on spools or skeins
There are many types of threads and ribbons that can be used for bobbin work, and you'll find some of them in craft stores, yarn shops, and your local fabric store. I group bobbin-work threads into four categories: decorative sergers threads; needlepoint, cross stitch, and embroidery threads; knitting yarns and crochet threads; and craft and miscellaneous threads.

Threads to choose from
With bobbin work, you're not restricted to conventional sewing-machine threads. For unique stitch patterns and hand-sewn textures, experiment with decorative serger threads; needlepoint, cross-stitch, and heavy embroidery threads; knitting and crochet threads; and other craft threads.

Decorative serger threads
include those like Halo from Superior Threads, Décor 6 from Madeira, Pearl Crown Rayon from YLI, and Ombre soft metallic from Kreinik. Among needlepoint, cross-stitch, and embroidery threads are those such as Watercolours (four-ply cotton), Waterlilies (12-strand silk), and Wildflowers (one-ply cotton) from the Caron Collection, Kreinik silk and embroidery threads, Madeira four-strand silk floss, and YLI silk ribbons (2mm and 4mm).

Knitting yarns and crochet threads include those like DMC pearl cotton and Cordonnet, and Knit-Cro Sheen and Cro-Sheen from Coats & Clark. And craft and miscellaneous threads include such things as the designer threads from Threadline and fine novelty yarns from On the Surface.

The listings here are just a few of the current offerings. New threads are emerging all the time, and you already may have great possibilities in your sewing basket. Most threads will work as long as they fit through the throat plate of the sewing machine. Stay away from threads and yarns that are too nubby and coarse, like bouclé yarns. And don't try to use grosgrain ribbons, because they are not flexible enough.

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Comments (5)

Dominikafanya Dominikafanya writes: Lovely! I will definitely try this soon.
Posted: 12:53 am on May 25th

sewphisticated sewphisticated writes: I came to this article wondering "what the heck is bobbin work?"

I came away thinking "ahh, this looks fun and easy to do!"

And now I'm off to gather the bits I need for my first playful project.

Thank you Sharee Dawn Roberts for this intelligent, well written and instructive article!
Posted: 12:44 pm on November 6th

mbzaj mbzaj writes: Thank you so much for this article. I have been interested in purchasing a foot for couching, but at 50.00 a foot, I think this is a great alternative for not more than I would be doing it. Thanks!
Posted: 12:55 pm on February 6th

LadySewWise LadySewWise writes: I am going to try this. Thanks for sharring.
Posted: 8:36 am on August 11th

PapayaStudio PapayaStudio writes: What a great idea I'm going to try this out!
Posted: 3:25 pm on July 29th

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