Bobbin Drawing as Embellishment: A How-To

In The Thick of It

I really love adding a bit of surface interest to my sewing projects. Whether it’s through screen printing, appliqué, or embroidery, adding a bit of flair to an otherwise plain fabric is a way to make a project really special.

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Combine bobbin drawing with other surface design techniques to add layers of interest to a project.

Flowing and organic? Bold and geometric? The possibilities for stitching are endless.
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Flowing and organic? Bold and geometric? The possibilities for stitching are endless.


One technique I really love is free-machine embroidery. Using your sewing machine like a drawing tool gives you the power to add fabulous organic shapes and interesting textures to your project. It’s also a great way to loosen up and let your creativity flow!

While flipping through the digital pages of in Stitches 4, the latest eMag from our sister publication Quilting Arts, I was intrigued by an article by Elin Waterston about drawing with your bobbin. Using your bobbin thread as the focus of your embroidery? I had never heard of this technique before, but now that I have I’m excited to try it on my next machine embroidery project! Here are the steps so you can try out this technique on one of your own projects.

Drawing With Your Bobbin

Bobbin drawing is a technique of machine stitching from the back of a quilt, so the bobbin thread shows on the front of the quilt. This is a fabulous opportunity to use all of those gorgeous heavy threads that you might not be sure what do to with.

If a thread is too heavy to fit through the upper tension discs and/or the needle, you can still machine quilt with it, you just have to use it in the bobbin. Because you are able to use heavier-than-normal threads, bobbin drawing is a great way to achieve a strong line and add some dimension to your work.

Since this method requires you to work from the bottom, you can’t see what you’re getting as you sew. Also, thick threads don’t always behave themselves the way thin threads do, so no matter how careful you are, you may get some irregularities in the stitches. Just have faith that it’ll be okay, and then be okay with whatever you get!

The Stitch Process:


1. Wind heavy thread on the bobbin, by hand or (slowly) by machine.

2. Loosen the tension of the bobbin case. Oh, so scary! Not really, it’s just a screw that you can tighten and loosen at will. Just do it carefully. If this technique is something you decide you love and want to do all the time, it’s worthwhile to invest in a second bobbin case that is dedicated to bobbin drawing. When adjusting your bobbin-case tension, turn the screw a little bit at a time and test the tension each time, until you get the desired tension. When you pull gently on the thread, there should be a little drag-the bobbin should move easily, but not spin out of control.

3. Thread your machine with regular-weight thread. You can use either a matching or contrasting thread in the needle, depending on the desired effect. Since the bobbin thread is thick, it will tend to sit or float on the surface, therefore the thread that runs through the needle will show as little dots. If you want the bobbin thread line to appear solid and unbroken, use a thread on top that matches the bobbin thread in both color and sheen.

For another look, use a contrasting thread. With a contrasting thread, the dots will show a bit more. For instance, if the bobbin thread is black and the upper thread is white, the black line of the bobbin thread will be broken up by little white dots-a cool effect! Invisible thread is also an option for the upper thread.

4. Before starting on your actual project, do a test and practice a little. Determine the appropriate stitch length when you’re working with a walking foot and get accustomed to the speed of your movement when free-motion quilting.

5. When you’re ready to begin stitching, place the front side of the quilt sandwich facedown (against the throat plate) so the back side is up. Sink the needle through the quilt sandwich once and draw the bobbin thread through to the upward-facing side. Leave a tail of thread that can be knotted later. Hold on to both the bobbin and top threads for the first few stitches and begin sewing your desired design.

6. End your stitching line by drawing the bobbin thread to the upward-facing side again and leave a tail. Knot your beginning and end threads and either bury the thread between the layers or just trim the thread.

How cool! I really love the bold graphic lines that are possible with bobbin drawing, and I’m excited to try it out for myself!

Download the latest issue of in Stitches for lots more info and step-by-step video about this technique and try it out on your next project!

Happy sewing,

Other sewing topics you may enjoy:



About StefanieB

I'm the Managing Editor of Stitch magazine. I live in Fort Collins, Colorado with one fat cat, one very active dog, and lots of books, crafting supplies, and video games.

One thought on “Bobbin Drawing as Embellishment: A How-To

  1. I also use bobbin work to achieve very nice looking Sashiko stitches. I don’t make a quilt sandwich, but I do put tear away stabilizer on the right side of the fabric and draw my stitching line on the wrong side and follow the same steps you have outlined in your article. Thought I’d share this with anyone who doesn’t have the $$$ for a specialty Sashiko sewing machine, but would like to achieve nice prominent stitches using heavier threads.
    I always enjoy reading your blogs Stefanie!