Machine Bobbin Work

For those of you not familiar with this decorative technique, it is the process of winding threads too large for the needle onto the bobbin. The work is then stitched with the wrong side up. Those lovely large threads then appear on the right side of the work. It’s a bit scary because you don’t know what’s happening until you take the work out of the machine and turn it right side up.   The technique has other names. I just can’t think of them at the moment.

Nearly 3 months ago, I purchased Viking’s “Speciality Bobbin Case” for  my HV Designer Ruby. It is a kit which consists of an exterior box, a bobbin case which replaces the factory installed case; a screw driver and a large fold out printed back and front ( in multiple languages) which tells you very little.   The only thing of interest in the fold out is the diagram showing the screw which can/should be adjusted to apply tension to your decorative element (thread).

That’s it. $47 plus change for a bobbin case and screw driver. I had in fact put this purchase off just be cause the cost seemed out of proportion to the items inside. To be fair, bobbin cases are never dirt cheap and you really don’t need this case to perform bobbin work at the sewing machine.  The advantage of having a 2nd bobbin case is that your factory-set-and-perfectly-tensioned bobbin-case used never gets messed with.  You slip this one in the machine, play with the tension screw as desired and then when done playing, you put your “real” bobbin case back in the machine.  I’ve seen several wonderful examples of machine bobbin work over the years. I’ve never tried it because I didn’t want to take the chance of ruining the tension and then need an expensive “tune-up” just to get the machine back to normal.  Because I really did want to play with heavier threads in the bobbin, I decided to make this a self-purchased Christmas Gift for 2013.

I’m not WOWed by my tests. I started with Perle Cotton #3. At this stage I was carefully notating the stitches tested and any settings changed from default.

I wound the bobbin two different times to produce the sampling above. Again, to be fair, each of these samples had at least 4″ clipped from the beginning and ending of the row of stitching. The thread might have gone further if I hadn’t been stopping starting and clipping.  I found that it wasn’t so much the backwards or forwards motion that affected stitch quality as it was the distance apart that the stitches were placed. Still I wasn’t WOWed especially since I had to stop twice and cut away the perle cotton which had wrapped around the throat plate.

I also tested 1/8″ polyester ribbon.

Nope. Wouldn’t use ribbon for any project.  The lovely sheen was totally lost as well as those three lines is all that 1 bobbin full produced.

My final sample used a YLI Candlelight (which I don’t think is available anymore.)  By the time I got to the Candlelight, I had given up on setting the tension screw and had totally bypassed all tensioning. After all that’s what worked for the perle cotton and the ribbon.

The Candlelight is prettier. Still I’m NOT knocked off my feet.  I was hoping to produce more heirloom stitches such as the chain stitch, candle wicking or cross stitch. Each of those created a knot of thread without any design.  The issue though is probably the stitch design rather than the thread.  My HV Ruby’s programmed stitches put multiple stitches into the same holes.  This builds up layers of thread that quickly prevent the foot from moving the work. Another confession, I used my B foot through out. Changing to the S-foot, candle wicking or other foot with larger channel underneath may have prevented my issues.

The Ruby does have some programming capability. I didn’t want to hoop up fabric and set the embroidery mode.  I’m envisioning either long straight lines or gently curved long lines of the same design.  While I do have the 14″ hoop, that’s not nearly long enough for what I want to do.   Ruby also has the capability for combining stitches and changing stitch direction which is a rudimentary programming method but it’s pretty onerous. I won’t rule out either of these options, but I’m not ready to do them either.

For now, I think I need time to digest the results of my testing and maybe plan a different project since I have a better idea of what my machine will produce. I also need to note that both thread selection and the fabric selected for embellishment will have a terrific effect on the end result.  For my testing I used fat threads for which I don’t have plans. My base fabric was a lightly starched, 100% cotton printed tone-on-tone.  Certainly, the yellow Perle cotton did not show well against the cream colored fabric.

In retrospect, I wish someone would have said “Don’t buy the speciality case until you try the technique by passing the bobbin tension.”  They could have saved me $47.



2 thoughts on “Machine Bobbin Work

  1. I wish someone had told you that too–not to spend the $$. I’ve done bobbin work on vests and pillows with my Janome and all I’ve done is just bypass the bobbin tension.

    1. I should have asked. But then I love tools and gadgets. I may have bought it anyway. Love to see some of your bobbin work. I’m mulling over how to use the technique.After all, I’ve paid $47and spent 8 hours working with it. I should at least create one project.

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