A year or two ago I came across a tutorial for dividing serger thread onto empty spools to avoid having to buy so many cones of thread for small projects, and I thought – “What a great idea! Why didn’t I think of that?” I was able to remove the bobbin winder stopper on my Janome machine’s bobbin winder and stick an empty thread spool upside down right onto the bobbin winder without having to mess with attaching a bobbin to the spool. The spool didn’t fit on my older Singer’s bobbin winder, though. I filled a couple of spools and used them on my overlock machine, and it worked pretty well, but I ran into a couple of problems.
The first problem was that the thread built up too much twist as it unwound off of the small spools. After sewing for a while, the thread would kink up quite a bit. The other problem I had is I didn’t have any more empty spools, and I couldn’t find a source to buy any inexpensively. I tend to use serger thread in my sewing machine a lot of the time, so I don’t empty a lot of small spools. I know, I know, some people say using serger thread for general sewing is bad … but if it was causing my garments to fail, I’d stop doing it, wouldn’t I?
To solve these problems, I decided to make paperboard cones about the same size as the serger cones, so there would be less twist added to the thread as it unwound off the top of the spool. Since I am one of those irritating engineering types, I carefully calculated out the geometry and drafted out a pattern to make a perfect cone. I made a couple of these, with a cut-out circle of paperboard glued on at the bottom to keep the thread from going off the end as I wound the thread on. My solution for winding the thread wasn’t the greatest, but it sort of worked: I cut a piece of firm packing foam to fit inside the cone and hot glued a bobbin with the top broken off into a hole in the center of the foam. Well, not quite the center – it wobbled a bit when I used it on my sewing machine’s bobbin winder.
One day after making these spools I was eying the pile of toilet paper tubes that I’d been saving for kids’ craft projects, and I thought gee, those look sort of like the serger cones I spent all that time making. I cut slits most of the way down opposite sides of the cardboard tube, overlapped the upper edges about 1/4” (6 mm), and then glued and taped it back together. I traced around the bottom of the tube on a cereal box, then cut just inside that line and 1/4” (6 mm) outside of it to make a ring to fit on the bottom. I set the cones upside down and ran a bead of glue on the underside of the rings to keep them in place. In a few minutes, I’d made a half dozen cones. I felt kind of stupid for spending so much time designing and making the previous version.
To avoid having too much twist (or too little, depending on which way your thread is wound) build up in your thread, you need to unwind the thread from the original cone from the side, not the top. Here’s one way to do that:
My toilet paper roll spools didn’t fit on the foam and bobbin contraption, so I slipped them over the chuck on my drill and wound them that way. It worked really well. If you don’t have a drill, you can try winding the thread with a kitchen mixer. To wind the new cone, unwind the thread off the side of the original cone and wind it onto the new cone in the same direction than it is wound on the original cone. Looking at my serger cones, I noticed some are wound one way, and some the other way, so check each time which way the thread is wound. Another tip is to to use your hand to move the thread quickly back and forth as you guide the thread onto the new spool so the threads are criss-crossed. Otherwise you’ll end up with a tangled mess if tight outer threads get embedded underneath looser inner layers.
The cardboard spools are lightweight and don’t fit tightly on my overlock machine’s thread holders, so I wrap scraps of fabric around the thread holders until the spools fit tightly.