Comparing Sewing Machine Hooks - Oscillating, Rotary, Horizontal, and Vertical.

The hook design of a particular machine can be an important consideration when choosing a sewing machine best suited for a particular application as well as your personal preferences.

First, let’s discuss what the sewing machine hook actually does. When the needle comes down into the fabric and begins to rise, a little loop of thread is formed behind the needle. The hook picks up this loop, and wraps it around the bobbin thread by traveling around the bobbin case. Obviously, the hook plays an essential role in the formation of a stitch.

Now, lets talk about the different types of hooks. Realize that  they can all form a lovely, secure, balanced stitch.  When it comes to hook types, there are two primary characteristic by which they are categorized. The first characteristic is the type of motion the hook makes in the stitch formation process. It is either oscillating or rotary. An oscillating hook moves in one direction and then back again. A rotating hook continues around the bobbin in one direction.

Both types of hooks can get jammed up very easily through operator error. CAVEAT EMPTOR-  Sewing machine companies are keen to advertise machines as having a "jam proff hook".   Well, I have personally created thread knots and jams by way of user error on many machines advertised as having a supposedly "jam proof hook".  So, keep in mind that this claim has often proved to be little more than marketing hype. 

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Example of an oscillating, vertical hook 
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The Singer 99 has a horizontal, oscillating hook

Any machine will allow you to sew “off the fabric” as long as you are pulling along the thread tails. Quilters often do this when they are chain piecing. However, if you just start sewing air with any threaded machine, you are going to make some lovely jams. Threading errors can also cause Thread nests, jams and wads, and no hook type is immune to this.

Now let’s look at the hook orientation. A hook is either vertical or horizontal. A vertical hook can face toward the side (aka side or end loader) or toward the front (aka CB or front loading hook).

With a horizontal hook, the bobbin drops in from the top. This can be very convenient. However, the thread must make a 90 degree turn in the stitch formation process with a top loading (horizontal hook) that isn’t required with a vertical hook. For this reason, may quilters prefer a vertical hook for free motion work. Also, this makes most vertical hooks a little less fussy with heavier or oddball thread types.

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The Singer 401 has a horizontal, rotary hook 
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The Singer 221 Featherweight has vertical, rotary hook 

If you have trouble loading a vertical bobbin case into a machine, I hate to say it, but the problem isn’t the design of the machine, it’s your approach. Interestingly enough, removing the bobbin case rarely poses any problems for anyone. So, carefully examine the way you hold the bobbin case when you take it out of the machine and be sure to hold it in the exact same manner when you install it. Your finger should be pointed DOWN behind the latch. Also, be certain that the bobbin is all the way into the bobbin case before you open the latch to insert it into the machine.  

When purchasing a machine, be certain to discuss the types of sewing, materials and threads you expect to be using, and seek guidance on what hook style would be best suited for your aplication and why.  Keep an open mind as to what may suit your sewing applications best.  Personally, I own and use machines with a  variety of hook styles and orientations, and I find that each one has it's strengths and shortcomings.

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  • Saturday, March 21. 2009 Bill Racine wrote:
    After hours of research I have Discovered that no one really says what kind of grease to use on a model 15-91 singer . can you please tell me what you recomend,

    Thanks Bill
    1. Saturday, March 21. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:
      Hey Bill!

      I have an entire entry on my blog under the Repair & Maintenance Category  that is all about the products that I suggest using to oil and lubricate a sewing machine.  The 15-91 would be covered under that umbrella.   The entry is cleverly titled "Products to Oil & lubricate a Sewing Machine".  I'm a tricky one ya know! LOL!

  • Tuesday, March 24. 2009 Andrea wrote:
    that must be very informative, i must check it out
  • Wednesday, September 02. 2009 Gerry Lee wrote:
    Could you please help. I have a Singer 201 which has been working fine. I believe I have taken out the bobbin case and locking mechanism, could you tell me how to replace both items,
    1. Wednesday, September 02. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:

      In the manual for the 201, you will find an illustration and instructions already laid out for removing and replacining the bobbin case/holder.  I doubt that I could explain it any better. It's a real PITN the first time you do it.

      If you need a manual, there is a free one at the bottom of this page.
  • Wednesday, October 28. 2009 Danna wrote:
    That's a very insightful post as it contains information about hooks. I took my school diploma on ceiling hooks so that makes me pretty familiar with the hooking mechanisms.
  • Wednesday, June 09. 2010 steve wrote:
    Hi Jenny,
    Hopefully you will see this post and comment.
    1. How does a twin needle machine use only one bobbin yet is able to grab both upper threads? Do you have a picture you can post of the underside of the fabric when using twin needles?
    2. Other than the needle plate what prevents other machines say the 201, or 15-91 from accomodating two needles?
    2. Do you have a 306 machine in order to do a comparison to the 403? It would be great if you could provide differences like you do in your helpful reviews. The 306 was only manufactered for a few years, I have read some bad reviews, others love it and say its quiet, can you comment from experience?
    3. The 306 has a fiber timing belt with cleats, does the 403 have one of these belts? If not, is the timing handled with gears only in the 403?
    Thank you for your reply
    1. Wednesday, June 09. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:

      1. ) How does a twin needle machine use only one bobbin yet is able to grab both upper threads? -- It goes from one side to the other and ends up looking like a zigzag stitch on the underside. I don't have a photo handy. 

      2.)   Other than the needle plate what prevents other machines say the 201, or 15-91 from accomodating two needles?  --The machine has to be designed to make a sittch in the left and right needle postion (as in a zigzag stitch) in order to use a twin needle.

      3.) I haven't done a revieiw of the 306.  I'll put that on the "to- do" list.

      4.) The 403 does NOT have a timing belt.  It uses metal gears and linkages instead.

  • Wednesday, August 18. 2010 Linda Mooty wrote:
    I'm starting a new business making personal organizers and a bunch of other binder applications. I have bought two machines advertised as industrial that were not industrial. Both have 1 amp motors. They will not sew fake vinyl, a little padding, liner, about 1/4". I ordered a even feed foot for the Singer Fashion Mate 288 in hopes it could pull it thru. I haven't received it yet. Will the machine be able to sew on heavy layers, or will I ruin the machine. Do I have to spend more and get a real industrial?
    Thanks for your advice. BR, Linda
    1. Thursday, August 19. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
      This will help you understand what you are and are not buying a bit better:

      Industrial, Commercial Grade, Professional, Industrial Strength & More- Sewing Machine Buying Guide

      Too bad you didn't read this before you purchased the falsely advertised machines. 

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