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Needles, Thread & Bobbins

Using the correct needle, thread and bobbin when sewing is very important in producing quality stitches for your projects. In this section I’ll discuss the basics of these three components, which will be used in your machine. I will advise you that using inexpensive low quality needles, thread and bobbins can also have an unfavorable affect on your machine. It may also give you unnecessary headaches. Low quality needles, thread and bobbins can cause a multitude of errors while you sew, including skipped stitches, bad tension, thread breakage, thread wadding in the bobbin and so many more errors I hope you never encounter.

[The following is a loose transcription of the video tutorial, which can be found at the end of this post]

The needle you choose for your project will be based on the fabric you use. There are many different types and sizes of needles. Additionally, there are many brands to choose from. I will be using Schmetz brand needles. Unless I specify otherwise, I will use Schmetz Universal Needles 130/705 H size 80/12. That’s a lot of numbers, right? Let me just briefly explain. The 130/705 H is just a classification of the needle type. 130/705 H is most commonly known as a “household” or home sewing needle type. However, the “H” does not mean “household”, it’s actually an abbreviation for a German word which means “with scarf”. The entire meaning of 130/705 H classification is “flat shank with scarf”.
So, what’s a flat shank and what’s a scarf? Lets look at the anatomy of a needle. Lets look at the front of the needle. This is the “tip”, and the hole here is the “eye”. The short area between the tip and the eye is known as the “point”. Later you will be inserting your thread through the eye. Along the top of the needle beginning at the eye, is called the “groove”. You can actually put your fingernail in the groove and run it up and down the needle. This is sort of a guide for the thread the follow to the eye. Along the sides of the groove is the “blade”, and up here at the widest part of the needle is the “shank”. The very top is called the “butt”.
So lets turn the needle over and look at the back. Look here are the shank on the back. It’s flat, like it’s been shaved off. This is the “flat shank” in the description. This flat part of the shank also helps you to insert the needle correctly. The flat shank side is the back of the needle. In most home sewing machines the backside of the needle faces to the back of the machine. Now, lets follow the blade down to the eye. Notice that the blade does not have a groove, but just above the eye you can feel the needle cut away. If you turn the needle to the side you can see that area more clearly. This is the “scarf”. This scarf area allows the bobbin thread to catch the needle thread.
So knowing the anatomy of the needle, clarifies the meaning of the needle classification “Flat Shank with Scarf”, which is most commonly used in home sewing machines.

Needle sizes range from 60/8 to 120/19, smallest to largest. The first number before the slash is the diameter of the needle blade, in hundredths of millimeters, which is the European sizing number. The second number is the American sizing number established by the Singer Sewing Company. If you understand fabric weights, then you’ll understand that 60/8, being the smallest size, would be used for very light or sheer fabrics such as chiffon or voile. 120/19, being the largest size, would be for heavy fabrics such as twill, canvas or denim. Also, in regards to the needle size, the eye of the needle changes size too. A smaller needle has a smaller eye. A larger needle has a larger eye. Which means you will need to use the appropriate size thread for your project.
I will be using a medium weight muslin fabric, so I will be using a size 80/12 needle.
Understand that the needle will make a hole in your fabric when sewing. So if you use a large needle on lightweight fabrics it will make a large hole, which will not make a quality seam. Likewise, using a small needle on heavy fabrics may not sew through at all, and may break the needle.
For more detailed information about needles, please visit the Learning Center at Schmetz Needles.
Here is a chart for needle size in relation to fabrics:

Just like needles, there are many types and sizes of thread. The thread size or weight of thread you choose should relate to your needle size; and of course your needle choice relates back to the fabric you choose.
Typically the thread weight should only be 40%-50% of the size of the needle eye. To test your thread for the appropriate size, thread the needle through the eye and hold the thread at either end away from the needle. Then spin the needle around the thread, pull the thread tight to stop the needle. Tilt the thread at an angle. If the thread easily slides down the thread, your thread should be a good fit for the needle. However, be sure that the thread is not too thin. If your thread is too thin it may break or skip stitches as you sew, as well as pucker the seam. Thread that is too heavy will not thread through the hole.
So, what should you look for when you’re at the fabric store? There are a couple of brands that will usually be on hand.
Coats & Clark are one of the most visible thread companies in America, although they are originally a Scottish company. For our purpose, since we’re only going to be working with medium weight fabrics look for Dual Duty XP All Purpose. This is 100% polyester thread. It’s a strong thread and the weight is perfect for the 80/12 size needle.
Gutermann is another well-known brand you may see at the fabric store. While there isn’t a lot of information on the spool itself, their specialty threads will be printed on the spool such as “Topstitch”, “Denim”, “Extra Strong” etc.…Their “Sew-All” thread doesn’t seem to have any markings on the spool, however check the display at the store where you select the thread, it should say “Sew-All” at the top of the display. This thread is also 100% polyester, strong and will fit well into the needle.
You may encounter threads on large cones like this. Read the labeling carefully. This particular cone says, “For Overlock Machines”; an overlock machine is the same as a serger, which we’ll get to in the more advanced lessons. Even though this says for overlock machines, you could use this in your sewing machine, but be aware that the size of thread may not be consistent which can cause irregular seam stitching.
If you live in an area where there is apparel manufacturing and you can visit a large thread supplier, you will not only be exposed to thousand of thread options, but you will also experience “sticker shock”. Not because of the prices, but because of the language on the sticker on the cone. There will be a lot of different numbers and abbreviations, which can be very intimidating. Don’t worry you don’t need to be concerned with most of it. Look for the word “Tex”, there should be a number next to that word, or nearby. Look for words together that say, “Tex 26”, “Tex 27” or “Tex 40”. Tex 26 & 27 is pretty common in the apparel industry. These sizes are comparable to Coats & Clark Dual Duty XP and Gutermann Sew-All threads. Tex 40 is a bit larger than normal, but is quite common in the quilting community and will work in your needle if you can’t find Tex 26 or 27.
Now of course there is tons more about thread I could educate you with, but I don’t want to make you nervous about starting to sew. So, I’m just giving you the most important and basic knowledge you’ll need to get started. Later, I will give a more robust lecture about threads when we get to more advanced projects.
If you are more interested in fibers, yarns and threads now, check out Coats & Clark, and Gutermann websites. They a have a lot of information about their processes. Also, my favorite site, which also offers a lot of educational-downloads about fibers, yarns and thread is American & Efird. Check out their “Technical Tools” dropdown menu.

Using the correct bobbin in your machine is very important to your quality of sewing and to machine health. You will need to refer to your machines operation manual for the specific type of bobbin you must use in your machine. There are several different types of bobbins, so don’t be fooled by bobbins that look alike. It is very common that bobbins are not interchangeable between sewing machine brands. If you are not using the correct bobbin you may encounter breaking needles, wading thread and inconsistent sewing.
Here are a few different types of bobbins. Some are metal and some are plastic. They all look similar and perform the same duty, but they are different in size and stature.
I’ve had several different types of machines and brands so I’m not exactly sure which machines these go to. However, this one is for the Brother machine I’ll be using in all of the projects. This bobbin came with the machine. Usually you get a few bobbins when you purchase a machine.
Lets look at the operation manual. On this page it actually explains the type of bobbin used and has a diagram with measurements. Specifically, this bobbin part code is SA156. There is also a measurement given, 11.5mm (7/16) width. If I search the Internet for this specific bobbin part code, the results I get are Brother brand bobbins. However, when you go to the fabric store they may not carry Brother brand bobbins. And to make things more confusing may not state they are compatible with part code SA156. The carton just might say “universal” or “fits x-y-z machine brands”. Don’t despair. Consider taking one of the bobbins that came with your machine and matching it up to the bobbins in the container. You could also bring a small ruler or tape measure and measure the width of the bobbin if you’re unsure. Again, read your operation manual for the specific type of bobbin you need.

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