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!

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

  1. Eppie Edwards says:

    Wow! I have been sewing for more than 75% of my life. I took 4 years of Home Ec in jr. and high school and two years of clothing construction in college. I never knew thread had a proper technique for usage. I’m going to buy a vertical thread holder ASAP. Thanks

  2. Sharon says:

    Maybe that is the reason for my tension problems! Thanks for the tip!

  3. Audrey Helton says:

    I wondered why my mother had one off those. This you. I know how to use it.

  4. Debbi Gerard says:

    I had no idea either. I’m now going to change my spool of thread.

  5. Mary says:

    I didn’t know this either! Thank you.

  6. JoAnn Ridenour says:

    Wait but my serger has upright places for the thread cones and no room to put them horizontal, but you’re saying I need to spread out four cones of thread horizontally when I use my serger…which was obviously made to hold the cones upright? Or is this just for regular sewing machines?

    • Brenda says:

      JoAnn, I think because the thread feeds off the rods above they are fine as is. I am sure serger companies knew what they were doing. I believe the difference is justfor your conventional machine

    • SDenney says:

      Sergers have hooks above the thread cone holders above – same principal as the tall separate thread holder. The thread pulls off the cone vertically as it’s supposed to.

    • Mom says:

      I think what this article is trying to say is:
      If the thread is cross-wound, it needs to slip off the end of the spool (or cone) with the spool or cone remaining stationary. Your serger does this – the cones do not spin as the thread is pulled off the top.

    • Andrea Letourneau says:

      Sergers have the equivalent of the cone thread holder built-in, so that’s why they’re vertical. If you rewatch the video, when Bob shows the cone on the cone thread holder, it’s spooling the thread off the top of the cone and through the metal hook above it. This is exactly how the serger’s thread is strung up before you put it through the tension discs. So, no, you don’t have to try to rotate your serger cones 90 degrees. They’re perfect as is.

  7. Michelle Dubarry says:

    Holy cow! I’ve been sewing all my life but I didn’t know that. Can’t wait to show off at my next sewing get together. Thanks for sharing this rockstar secret!

  8. Lori says:

    I really appreciate this information. I never knew this and will pay attention to this when I sew. Thank you again. You have such good information on here.

  9. Devora Krischer says:

    I’ve been sewing for 55+ years, and I never knew this! Thanks so much!!

    • Malia OSWALD says:

      Ditto, I have also been sewing for 55 years. Never new! Keep these, “What may seem trivial to some coming” please! I really enjoy your blogs!

  10. Julie Craven says:

    Holy Cow, I have been sewing for 20 + years and have never heard of this. Great info. Thank you

  11. lozzyrane says:

    great video. But how is standard thread, like Gutermann, wound? It looks crossed but I am always getting it twisted on my horizontal spool.

  12. Amanda says:

    For a newer sewist like me, this information is gold. I could tell that my normal thread in my Huskystar E-10 was extra-twisting and would eventually break, but I had no idea how to fix it. I figured out how to put in the bobbin so that it would turn correctly, but THIS- If this info was taught regularly, there would be less machine issues and more sewists, period. It may seem tiny, but like many others I put down my machine for a few years because of frustration with things like that. Breaking thread of better brands. This type of info makes a critical difference in how I see and work with thread! Luckily, my machine comes with an optional vertical spool in addition to the horizontal spool. I am trying that out tomorrow if I can.

  13. Cindy says:

    Thank you for clearing this up. This was one of those dah moments.

  14. S Cal says:

    I enjoy learning little snippets of information like these… guess it’s my perfectionist streak!! Thank you so much for sharing this. It is actually useful too. 🙂

  15. Kerrie says:

    Excellent…thanks. I didn’t know any of that….great to know!

  16. Candice says:

    This changes EVERYTHING!! For years I’ve always thought my machine was just picky and didn’t like “basic” thread. I thought she only wanted fancy thread. Once I get my sewing room remodel done I will have to give this a try.

  17. ncjeepster says:

    Awesome, this probably why I’ve been having so many problems recently, I tried the other type of thread. Thanks so much!

  18. Janet says:

    What a great video, definitely something to remember the next I want to throw my machine out 😉 lols

  19. Nagpal thread says:

    Thanks for sharing informative video ‘thread therapy’. Keep quality posting.

  20. Patti Evon says:

    awesome!! did not know this.. great info! thanks..

  21. Cindy Quinlan says:

    EUREKA!!!!!!! Actually, you ARE a rockstar!!

  22. Helen Mitchem says:

    Wonderful! You are a sewing rock-star. I’ve been sewing for more years than I care to count, and I never knew about this. Thanks for much.

  23. Hémiole49 says:

    Thank you for this very useful information !

  24. Sonja says:

    Wow thank you so much for sharing!!

  25. Carmella says:

    Wow, I never knew this and I’ve been sewing for decades. I love learning new stuff!

  26. Marsha Law says:

    Well, I’ll be damned! I never thought about that but it makes perfect sense. And it might explain why my horizontal-loading machine hates certain brands.

  27. twemyss says:

    Found this out the hard way but yes, I bought the cheap version for the thread and have no trouble with it! If it falls over I just put my paper weight on the other side of the spool. So when I go to classes and forget it I only lose $5, hahaha! Funny though, it is never returned so someone will have found out how handy it is!!

  28. aly says:

    Thank you so much for the information. This will help so many people including me.

  29. Sandy says:

    I worked at one of those “dealers” for some time. We were definitely taught the way he described! I knew that there was something about the “twist” of the thread,and you had to pay attention, but I was told that was a really old way that manufacturers used to wind their thread. I was taught that they didn’t really use that method in manufacturing any more. But in reality, this is the new “twist”! Thanks for the great info.

  30. Sewing Gracefully says:

    Great Information! I guess I too am “old school” at 61. I’ve been sewing since 1965 and never heard this. My original heavy metal Dressmaker machine only had a vertical spool and my Pfaff machine has a default of a horizontal pin. I never knew it made a difference. I’m off to see if I can locate a vertical pin for my Pfaff. Thanks for the information. The other related videos that come up in my window as a playlist afterwards look helpful as well.

  31. Nancy says:

    So interesting..I’ve been sewing for over 50 years and machines I learned on had only the vertical holders, so this is news to me. Thanks so much!

  32. Krista says:

    This was pretty interesting. I definitely learned something new– I’ve been doing it the opposite way for 20+ years! So, it can work (even if it’s not ideal).

  33. Primrose Bohne says:

    This is certainly something to be aware of, especially when you are having issues with your stitch. However, some newer machines have horizontal spools for regular (smooth wound) thread, like my newer Elna, and work just fine that way, with the thread spool turning as it sews. Thank you Mayra, good article.

  34. Diane says:

    Never, ever heard this before. My machine has horizontal thread holder and I do experience tension problems. I have a crochet needle taped to the back of my machine that I use with a double needle. Maybe I should try using it normally to see if there’s a difference.

  35. Barbara Schuller says:

    I have sewed for many years and did not know this! I really appreciate reading this article and seeing the video. Thank you so much for this good information.

  36. Marilyn Griffiths says:

    I have 2 spools on my machine but they are both horizontal!?

    • momof9 says:

      Mine are both vertical. … in fact, all five of my machines have vertical spool holders. I did find that the thread spools that kind of jump all over the place when you are sewing, tend to calm down when you put the little round felt piece over the spool so that the thread sits on it (kind of like a donut).

  37. Yvette Lawrence says:

    Thank you very for this article regarding the position of the spool. I’ve been seeing all my life and never knew this. I love this newsletter and I look forward to reading it every week.

  38. Pam (Swansea, Wales) says:

    I did A-level Needlework in 1970 and have sewn on and off since then, but had never been taught not heard this information. It perfect sense and explains why I’ve had issues when stitching sometimes. Thank you so much for another brilliant post.

  39. Sandy Woerner says:

    Thank you so much for this information. I am an old school sewer and never knew this, but have encountered the problems he described.

  40. Samone says:

    This is great! Thank you sew much! I always thought I was “crazy” because my thread spool worked better on top of my machine. Now I know why! This is elementary but yet can change results in how our creations turn out! Thank you again.

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