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Vintage wooden bobbins, cylindrical, empty of wound fiber, dimensions 16 in. high by 9 in. in diameter.
Vintage wooden bobbin, unflanged, wound with yarn and attached to a "shuttle" that fits it for use in a floor loom.

A bobbin or spool is a spindle or cylinder, with or without flanges, on which yarn, thread, wire, tape or film is wound.[1][full citation needed] Bobbins are typically found in industrial textile machinery,[2] as well as in sewing machines, fishing reels, tape measures, film rolls, cassette tapes, within electronic and electrical equipment, and for various other applications.[not verified in body]

Industrial textiles[edit]

Bobbins are used in spinning, weaving, knitting, sewing, and lacemaking.[citation needed] In these practices, bobbins were invented to "manage the piles of thread and yarn that would be mechanically woven into cloth,"[2] which would have originally been wound through the use of human power, but which eventually became machine-driven.[citation needed] In these applications, bobbins provide storage, temporary and permanent, for yarn or thread.[citation needed] Historically, bobbins were made out of natural materials such as wood,[2] or bone.[3] While not in principle an invention of the Victorian era—bobbins in the production of textiles were in earlier use[citation needed]—the machinery introduced in that era "were some of [its] greatest inventions" in that they "helped to revolutionize textile manufacturing".[2] In the machines used in such manufacturing,

The automated weaving machines would have hundreds of spindles operating simultaneously, with each spindle holding a bobbin that either released or collected the thread. Most mills had wooden bobbins made specifically for their machinery, which accounts for the many varied shapes and sizes of these spools.[2]

In more modern times, natural bobbin materials such as wood are no longer used in textile manufacturing,[2] instead having been replaced by metal and plastic.[citation needed] The traditional bobbins made, for instance, of hardwoods such as ash and birch are unsuitable for the machinery of modern manufacturing, given the higher speeds involved, and the synthetic materials that are used in weaving; as well, bobbins were relatively customised parts made for the specific machines of each mill (and so of varying designs, each uniquely shaped of wood,[2] with metal parts in places of high wear[citation needed]), thus requiring "a great deal of handwork" such that the cost of continuing to make them was unfavorable to modern textile business.[2]

Since the retirement of the machinery involved, such bobbins and related parts have become items used in craft productions, given the numbers of distinct types, and the fact that "[e]ach... has its own 'battle scars' that give it unique character".[2]

Sewing and lacemaking[edit]


Bobbin & bobbin case (obverse)
Bobbin & bobbin case (reverse)
Bobbin (right) and bobbin case for a shuttle hook sewing machine, introduced by Singer for the "Improved Family" model in 1895

The lockstitch sewing machine, invented and developed in the 18th and 19th centuries, forms a stitch with two threads: one passed through a needle and another from a bobbin. Each thread stays on the same side of the material being sewn, interlacing with the other thread at each needle hole thanks to the machine's movement. Tension of the bobbin thread is maintained with a bobbin case, a metal enclosure with a leaf spring which keeps the thread taut. The bobbin case has to be free-floating (not attached to an axle) in order to allow the top thread to pass around the bobbin completely and hook the bobbin thread.

Bobbins vary in shape and size, depending on the style of bobbin driver in the machine for which they are intended to be used. Long, narrow bobbins are used in early transverse shuttle and vibrating shuttle machines. These earlier movements were rendered obsolete by the invention of the rotary hook and the shuttle hook, which run faster and quieter with less air resistance. These shorter, wider bobbins are familiar to modern sewers, as the rotary/shuttle hook remains in use on modern machines essentially unchanged.


Bobbin lace requires the winding of yarn onto a temporary storage spindle made of wood (or, in earlier times, bone) often turned on a lathe. Exotic woods are extremely popular with contemporary lacemakers. Many lace designs require dozens of bobbins at any one time.

Both traditional and contemporary bobbins may be decorated with designs, inscriptions, or pewter or wire inlays. Often, bobbins are 'spangled' to provide additional weight to keep the thread in tension. A hole is drilled near the base to enable glass beads and other ornaments to be attached by a loop of wire. These spangles provide a means of self-expression in the decoration of a tool of the craft. Antique and unique bobbins, sometimes spangled, are highly sought-after by antiques collectors.[4][page needed]


In electrical applications, transformers, inductors, solenoids, and relay coils use bobbins as permanent containers for the wire to retain shape and rigidity, and to ease assembly of the windings into or onto the magnetic core.[citation needed] (Such coils of wire carrying current create the induced currents and magnetic fields required in these devices.[citation needed])

Bobbins in these applications may be made of thermoplastic or thermosetting materials (for example, phenolics).[citation needed] This plastic often has to have a TÜV, UL, or other regulatory agency flammability rating for safety reasons.[5][better source needed]

Miscellaneous applications[edit]

Bobbins are also used for fly tying and tidy storage without tangles.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary definition of "bobbin".[full citation needed]
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i TOFA Editors (October 21, 2011). "Wooden Bobbins: Woven in History". The Old Farmer's Almanac (Almanac.com) . Dublin, N.H.: Yankee Publishing. Retrieved February 3, 2022. Bobbins and the machinery they ran on were some of the greatest inventions of the Victorian Era. Originally created to manage the piles of thread and yarn that would be mechanically woven into cloth, bobbins helped to revolutionize textile manufacturing. The automated weaving machines would have hundreds of spindles operating simultaneously, with each spindle holding a bobbin that either released or collected the thread. Most mills had wooden bobbins made specifically for their machinery, which accounts for the many varied shapes and sizes of these spools. Traditional wooden bobbins have been retired from current manufacturing. Modern economics does not favor the use of wooden bobbins since a great deal of handwork is involved in making them. And wooden bobbins are not well suited for today's synthetic fibers and high-speed machinery. Primarily made from ash, birch, and other hardwoods, bobbins have withstood the test of time. Each one has its own "battle scars" that give it unique character.
  3. ^ Lemin, Brian. "ENGLISH LACE BOBBINS AND THEIR HISTORY. A BRIEF OVERVIEW" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 20 June 2023. Retrieved 21 June 2023. They can be made from wood (mostly), bone, brass, and more rarely pewter, silver and ivory.
  4. ^ Earnshaw, Pat (1984). A Dictionary of Lace. Shire Publications. ISBN 0852637004.[full citation needed]
  5. ^ Xmultiple Staff (n.d.). "Transformer Bobbins". XMultiple.com. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 29 December 2014.

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