Project Rewind: back to the 60s – Reuse your wooden spools

NOTE 2014-03-03:  This post left for posterity, but it’s superceded (functionality wise) by this post.

In the early 1970s, thread manufacturers stopped using the wooden spools for their thread.  This was strictly due to cost.  A wood spool cost them between 2.5 and 4.5 cents per, where as a plastic spool cost half that.

Financially, it made sense.  Unfortunately, the sewing experience doesn’t seem to be the same.  Plastic spools hop all over the place, they’re loud, and let’s face it, they’re ugly too.  I really think the older machines like the wood spools better too.  They’re heavier and harder to “spin around” and mess with the tension.

I have my grandma’s old sewing basket, it has a bunch of wood spools in it.  Some full, some empty, or close to it.  She used to keep them to wind the thread ends onto.

On the Quilting Board, we were discussing why you couldn’t rewind some of these old spools.  The easy answer is “there’s no product on the market that will do it”.

Today, I came across a photo of a Two Spools machine that was winding a wooden spool, and I decided it had to be possible for “the rest of us”, and if it was, I’d try to come up with a way to do it.

Note: This process will work better with a top mounted bobbin winder.  It may work with a side mounted winder, but it may limit the size of the spool you can use.  I can’t see a way it would work with a Self-winding bobbin.  It should work with a Side Winder too.  Also, for pretty obvious reasons, it won’t work with the long bobbins.  😉

I spent a little time with Google, and came up with a couple of hits that were interesting, including this one.  She does it to save a little cash on serger thread, which is a great idea. 

Down the road, I will build myself a stand alone one, based on some ideas I formulated today while working on this.  I’ll post when I have that in a form that you readers can enjoy.

So, I thought about it, there’s no reason it wouldn’t work with wood spools, except that I didn’t want to hot glue anything to them, it sort of ruins the authentic look to have a bobbin glued to the top.

Note: I made a video of this too that I will try to put up to YouTube, but it will take me time, because the old video camera’s not compatible with my current computer.  When It’s ready, I’ll link to it in this post.

Enter the “Hook and Loop” tape.  Or Velcro for those who like the brand names.

I have these little circular velcro disks, and they’re self sticking.  That’s important here.  Normally with a sewing machine, self-stick is the last thing you want.  Yuck, I did that once, what a mess that made.

Wood Spool Rewind – Materials

Step 1: Stick a little velcro disk onto the top of the bobbin, then the matching disk onto the wooden spool.  Try to get it centered, but it doesn’t have to be perfect.  You’ll have to hold the spool when winding it anyway. Now put the two pieces together like in the second photo.

Wood Spool Rewind – Preparation
Wood Spool Rewind – Preparation – Assembled

Step 2:  Install the bobbin where it belongs on your machine.

Wood Spool Rewind – Installed

Step 3: Set your machine up to wind a bobbin, per the manufacturer’s instruction manual.  If there’s a guide like the one you see below that helps the bobbin fill evenly, you may need to skip it.  It won’t help it in this case, so we’ll be manually making sure the thread is wound on evenly.

Wood Spool Rewind – Threaded

Step 4:  Wind a few rotations on. Make sure you wind in the right direction, or when you start to wind for real, it will just come undone.  The bobbin winder on the Singer 411G winds clockwise, so I wind the thread that counter clockwise before I start the wind.

The other thing you can do is tape the thread to the spool.  Make sure that you tape it in the right direction though, or the wind will take it off again.

Wood Spool Rewind – Taped on

Step 5:  Let ‘er rip.  In the photo below, you’ll notice that I’m not holding the spool.  This is for the photo only.  I found that when I got it moving fairly fast that the spool came off the bobbin and flew across the room.  It’s best to gently put a finger on top of the spool to stop it from lift off.  In the second photo below, where I’m winding a gutermann spool, you’ll see a method for holding the bobbin that should work.

Wood Spool Rewind – Partially wound
Wood Spool Rewind – Hold that Spool

Step 6: Once the wind is complete (either your wood spool is full, or you’ve run out of thread on the donor spool), you can remove the spools, and place the wood one on the spool pin, thread up your machine and start sewing with it. That’s it!  Happy Authentic-Looking Vintage Sewing 🙂

Wood Spool Rewind – Completely wound

A close up of the wound spool:

Wood Spool Rewind – Close Up

The other two spools I wound while shooting images for this tutorial:

Wood Spool Rewind – Denim Thread
Wood Spool Rewind – Invisible thread
Wood Spool Rewind – Invisible thread 2

2 thoughts on “Project Rewind: back to the 60s – Reuse your wooden spools”

  1. Fine for older machines where the weight of the relatively heavy spool won’t mess with your machine’s need to have thread tension light to null going into the machine. Not so great for automated tension machines. If your machine requires spools to be , fed horizontally off the top,(or put in a thread stand), your automated tension will be off. Be prepared to play with tension like you would with Grandma’s machine (shown above!). You’ll need to lessen top tension settings to accommodate the added tension caused by the weight of the spool. Also, most folks don’t know, cross wound spools should be fed off the “top” of the spool, while straight wound spools should be pulled off the side…(like toilet paper roll) , otherwise, you are adding twist to the thread, which can result in breakage, and kinky/uneven looking stitches.
    This is a Nice explanation for those whom the reenactment needs be vintage…

    1. Hi Karen,

      Thanks for dropping by. I’ve addressed much of what you mention here with subsequent articles. First, even an “automatic” tensioned machine isn’t automatic: Technically, no automatic machine will be right on if you use “other” threads either. They should also be played with when using other than the 50wt mercerized cotton that the machine was set up to use on “Automatic”.

      Next: Cross wound vs Stack wound thread:

      The process I talk about here works on a serger as well based on the post I linked to in my own post above. Sergers are far more sensitive about tension than any sewing machine that I’ve ever used or serviced. It’s really no different than “using up” a bobbin on your spool pin. A properly working tensioner will notice very little difference but if you were inconsistent while winding, it may cause a problem.

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