Why is there a vertical and horizontal thread holder?

vertical and horizontal thread holderYou know sometimes how you just assume that everyone knows the same things that you know.  Just small little snippets of information picked up from random sources over time and just filed away? Often these can be bizarre facts about cats, random dates in history, or the funny middle names of celebrities – anything.  Then it comes up in conversation and it turns out that in fact, not everyone knows this – and you feel like a rock star!

Not saying I'm a sewing rock-star in any way, but as a newbie sewer somewhere along the line I'd learned a little-known fact about thread and why there are often two spool holders on your machine – one that lies horizontally and one that sits vertically.

vertical and horizontal thread holder

This thread is wound straight on the spool in one smooth line with each wind directly next to the previous one

photo credit: via photopin (license)


These are made to accommodate the two different types of wound thread spools.

  1. The regular spool of thread that our grandmothers would be most familiar with where the thread is wound round and round the spool smoothly in a single uninterrupted line, (pictured above) and
  2. What appears to be a more modern recent way of winding, where the thread crisscrosses over itself and makes a pattern on the spool like you usually see on cones of thread (pictured below).
vertical and horizontal thread holder

See how these spools of thread have a ‘criss-cross' pattern

photo credit: Threads via photopin (license)

These threads are wound onto the spools in different ways and that means in order to give you the best possible sewing performance, they should come off the spool in different ways too.  Spool 1 – the regular ‘smooth' wound thread should come off the side of the spool and the spool turns as it feeds off.  This should be placed upright on the vertical spool holder.

vertical and horizontal thread holder

Spool 2 – the criss-cross thread should come off the top of the spool in a circle and the spool shouldn't turn while being unwound.  This type of spool sits horizontally on your machine.

vertical and horizontal thread holder

However its hard to describe exactly how and why in words so check out this great video about what happens if you use the wrong one and how it affects your thread, giving it both unwanted tension and twisting.  Interesting to see it demonstrated with a reel of ribbon.

So now you all know this little snippet of information too if you didn't know it already. If you've had niggling tension problems or other problems with your thread, maybe this little tip might help.

But what if you don't have the horizontal thread holder, or your spool of thread won't fit on it for some reason?  Then you can buy a thread stand that sits at the back of your machine, and the thread spool stands on it, with the thread coming off the top of the spool correctly as it should.

Don't forget to pin and share this article and get the word out about the correct spool holder to use on your machine. Tell your friends, and look like a sewing rock-star!

Bookmark the permalink.

76 Responses to Why is there a vertical and horizontal thread holder?

  1. Gayle Edson says:

    Thank you! Very interesting. I have thrown out thread that I thought was old when it kept breaking, but this was prob the issue.

  2. pattiwalsh says:

    This is i teresting. I thought it was so that you had two thread holders for twin needle sewing.

  3. Elizabeth Taylor says:

    For those of you who have horizontal spool holders on your machines did you know that most of them swivel into an upright position? Try it!
    Also if your thread is catching as it comes off the spool ,turn the spool around the opposite way. It won’t catch.

  4. Claudia W says:

    My machine only has the horizontal thread holder, and I always buy the spools where the thread is wound on them smoothly. Is this going to make a difference or do any damage (no matter how big or small)?

    • heloise says:

      i am the opposite. my old machine wa slike yours..and i didnt know its not supposed to spin cos i am sur eit did….but i bought lots of cris cross for it..now this machine my new one only has vertical holder.. its kind of insane when they have needle threaders and thread cutters and all sorts of gizmos and gadgets that they should forget about the all important thread!!!! i cant see why a vertical one that didnt go sideway swouldnt work for both too… why do they face the pin towards across instead o fhaving it facing towards you so the thread is actually lying on its side and unravelling like the wya you unravel it if you hold it in you rhands.. you know holding the spool flat like it was lying down…. the wya when its on a table it rolls and has no problem.. why woudl they even make it so the damn thing was upright or sideways instead of unwinding from the spools side the wya all thread comes off whether its cissed or straght… god damn it makes me mad!!! nowi have to buy a thread holder …… unless you want to swap sewing basket swith me lol!!! also where do you buy the straight stuff i can tfind any!

    • Teresa L. says:

      Claudia, what can happen is the thread twists as it comes off the end of a smooth wound spool – like toilet paper twists when you pull it off the top (try it). This can cause the thread to break, or the twist jambs in the eye of the needle leading to the needle bending or breaking. Vertical spool pins are available for most machines. You could invest in a gadget called the Thread Director which fits most machine. You can also cut a plastic straw and fit it over your bobbin winder or poke it in one of the screw holes on your machine.

  5. Robin Townsend says:

    Wow! What a great tip. Thanks!

  6. Marsha Law says:

    I’ve asked teachers this question and never got a satisfactory answer. This is a total game changer for a geeky sewist like me who needs to understand the mechanics of it all.

  7. Susie J says:

    Thank you so much for the valuable link to “Dr. Bob”. He has so much information about sewing machines, needles and thread that is so helpful. I have been sewing for 60 years and he answered many of the questions I have had and dispelled many of the rumors and wife’s tales that have been circulated for decades. Watch all of his lessons and you’ll learn a lot.

  8. Roslyn Murray says:

    Did not know that, makes sense now, I thought it was just for sewing with two threads at the same time. Most of the time i have the threads coming off a connected extended thread arm, maybe that counter reacts the horizontal and vertical debate, and the same thing goes with my overlocker, maybe going up and around takes it off the table as well. thanks

  9. Sue says:

    my new machine has only a horizontal thread holder so what can I do about the thread that comes on a regular spool??

    • Erin F. says:

      The vertical holder for my machine was in the accessories bag (that is usually in the removable storage compartment). Check your manual in case you have the piece and just didn’t notice.

  10. Bee T says:

    JoAnn, serger thread is cross wound and meant to be pulled off the top of the cone, thus no horizontal pins.
    I always have pulled my embroidery thread off from the top, but Holy Cow! no one ever told me that the straight wound thread needs to be pulled off the side. Makes total sense when you see Bob’s ribbon explanation! So you can teach old dogs new tricks, been sewing since I was 8 (almost 50 years), made almost all my clothes from Junior High through college and beyond. I have made hundreds of formals over the years and I never dawned on me that thread breaking issues was because I loaded the thread incorrectly. To quote my 14-year-old self, “Well, duh!”.

  11. Diane Brown says:

    Just last week my granddaughter who just turned 20, was sewing on a project while on spring break. She asked about the vertical & horizontal thread holders. I’ve been seeing for several decades & didn’t know this. She returned to college but I I have emailed this info to her. Thank you for your article.

  12. Rhoda Bailey says:

    I feel like if I use a spool thread holder upright it won’t go into the machine correctly. If I flip the spool ot works a little while until the thread snags on the pladtic part of the spool. Wish the spools wete smoother all around.
    Thank you

  13. Dianne Biscoe says:

    Been sewing for well over 50 years…NEVER knew this!! thank you so much!

  14. Judi says:

    Consider me educated, I bet that is the cause of all my thread problems.

  15. Doris says:

    Thanks again for clarifying the need for both vertical and horizontal spools. So appreciated.

  16. Tina Powell says:

    Thank you! You are such an excellent teacher because you think of these little tidbits to share. This is one of those things that I learn and then get confused when I try to repeat it. I still wonder why quilting and embroidery cones are crosswound when they can only feed from the upright position? It certainly causes twisting and tension issues sometimes.

  17. Julie says:

    Thanks for this information! I knew there was a reason but didn’t understand why. My machine manual says that when sewing with a twin needle, use the horizontal and vertical spool holders. It seems that when I use the same type of wound thread it causes tension problems. Maybethis is why! If I use a smooth round thread, I would need some an additional vertical pin that sits on top of my machine, right?

    • Linda G says:

      When sewing with a twin needle, often the recommendation is to wind a spare bobbin (or two bobbins, if necessary) and use the bobbin(s) to feed one or more of the top threads, rather than using an additional spool. The bobbin(s) are then installed on the vertical thread pin and, in this way, they will unwind properly by spinning off the side of the bobbin. When you wind the bobbin, you are creating a “spool” of the first type, with the threads wound parallel rather than criss-crossed. Using this method, it won’t matter if the original thread spool is criss-cross or smooth wound, as long as the original spool is installed properly when you wind the bobbin from it.

      This should help with twin needle thread tension problems. It is usually fine to stack two bobbins on the vertical pin, if this is necessary. You may find it helpful to have them unwind in opposite directions (one from the front, one from the back of the bobbin) to help avoid tangles when feeding.

  18. Candy Benjamin says:

    Been sewing for 50 years and didn’t know this. Ha!

  19. Elizabeth Frigmanski says:

    Oh my gosh! My pet peeve is when thread catches in the little notch at the top of the spool. Maybe with a vertical thread holder that won’t happen? If so I need to look for one of these babies!

    • Gina Bisaillon says:

      When this happens I turn the spool to the side where there is no notch, i.e., the notch should be at the bottom.

    • Susie J says:

      One way to reduce that problem is to be sure that the notch is always on the bottom of the vertical spool.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *