Tools Change Everything: Zigzag Bobbin Work

20u singerI believe in tools! 

Years ago I bought this 20U Singer industrial. It was under protest. I had burned the brushes off a very nice 930 Bernina. If you don’t know any of these numbers, take my word. 930 Berninas were war horses in armor.

So they told me that a 20 U was  a tough enough machine. I had mine calabrated to work with embroidery thread, and did a number of zigzag embroidery images on it. 

For a fast machine, it was still a tedious experience. This machine doesn’t really use a foot. So all the fabric needed to be hooped. And unhooped. And re-hooped. Again and again and again.

I simply stopped working with it at one point. I was considering selling it. 


179 The problem with princesBut people have always loved the quilts made through this technique. It allows for so much detail and coloration. 40 weight embroidery thread is ephemerally beautiful, and it shines when it’s laid in color layers.815 butterfly garden detail

Yesterday, I tried it with a felt stabilizer sandwich and a Halo hoop


halo hoopl


The Halo Hoop has been around for a while. I use them for any larger bit of embroidery I’m working on. It’s a weighted metal hoop with a plastic coating that grips the fabric. Instead of clamping it, you simply slide the hoop along.

My favorite stabilizer sandwich is ( from the back tp the front) a drawing in Totally Stable,  a layer of Decor Bond,a layer of polyester felt, and a layer of hand dyed fabric as my top. Anything that doesn’t iron down, I spray glue with 505 spray.



frog in process

I took this frog drawing and stated to color. I worked from the back for two reasons. My drawing was there, and I could tie off the ends.











frog in process  f2I didn’t get done, but I got far enough to know that between the stabilizer sandwich and the Halo hoop, the whole technique had been revolutionized for me.

Things I learned

  • My father’s old saying: if it’s too hard, too horrible or too long, you have the wrong tool.
  • You can use a hammer for a saw, but it’ s hard on the hammer and what you’re sawing.

Rethinking how to use your tools makes all the difference.  

You can work without a foot, but you need to use your fingers and a hoop. And hopefully your brain!finger positiona

And most of all, good tools change everything!

264 As Good as it Gets


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9 Responses to “Tools Change Everything: Zigzag Bobbin Work”

  1. He, he…LOVE that frog!!

  2. Susan Isaacson says:

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts Ellen. I find that I typically learn something from you each time you write. I appreciate you sharing parts of your method! I’m going to try your sandwich formula! Sounds so good and I have been having trouble! So thank you very much!

  3. Sharon says:

    You can use pretty much any high shank embroidery foot with a 20U. I have used a generic as well as a Brother and Babylock(QLP or Jane) free motion foot. Thanks for the info on the type of sandwich you use. I get puckering problems sometimes and I will try your method.
    Also, not sure if you are aware of it but the knee lever can change position from raising and lowering the presser foot to making the zig zag wider and narrower. I haven’t played with that aspect, but it is on my bucket list.

    • Ellen says:

      I wasn’t aware of that. Sometime I need to get a book on adjusting 20 Us There’s no good mechanic for them I know of in NW Indiana.

      • Sharon says:

        Did you get a manual with your machine? Many times they don’t include them any more. If not, I can scan the two pages from mine and e-mail them to you if you would like. It is an operator adjustment.
        I am fortunate to know a great mechanic locally. It has eliminated a lot of the fear factor in what I do with my machines. So far he has been able to fix everything I have done to them.

  4. Anne Clough says:

    Do you remove the Totally Stable? I have used it, and with dense stitching, very hard to remove.Thanks, Anne

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