Intro to Sewing Machines – The Basic Parts

So you’ve made the decision to buy a sewing machine and are comparing different models, but you have to ask yourself, “What exactly am I looking for?”

Most sewing machines come with a select group of basic features, while more sophisticated machines have more adjustment and stitch options, computerized controls, and more high-tech features that you don’t necessarily need right now. As a beginner, you should be looking for a standard machine with key basic features, but I wouldn’t say you should look for the bare minimum, because there are certain stitches I recommend that not every machine has. Here’s a guide to the most basic parts of a sewing machine and the features you should seek when buying a machine.

This is a basic sewing machine that can be used by any beginner learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

This is a picture of the sewing machine I use. It’s a pretty standard model, so most of its features will be found on the sewing machine you decide to buy.

This is the needle area of a sewing machine, which is important for any beginner learning to sew to study - Sew Me Your Stuff

This is a close up of the portion of the machine that actually stitches the fabric. Its parts include:
1. Needle – This needle pushes the top thread through the fabric
2. Feed dogs – These move the fabric through the machine with each stitch. You just have to use your hands to keep it on the right track
3. Presser foot – This presses the fabric flat as it moves through the machine. Pictured is a standard foot, but there are a wide variety of feet for different specialized stitches such as zipper stitching and buttonhole stitching.
4. Measurement lines – If you’re trying to keep your stitches a particular distance from the edge of the fabric or otherwise need to maintain a certain width to your stitch, use these lines to maintain your width. The 5/8 mark is usually emphasized because that is the standard seam allowance width.
5. Thread Cutter – This can be used to cut your thread when finished stitching. I usually take my scissors and cut close to the fabric without using this cutter to save a little thread.
Not pictured: Presser bar lifter – On this model the lifter is on the back of the machine. This is used to raise and lower the presser foot. Make sure you lower it before you start sewing and raise it when you finish!

This is the lower bobbin and case. This can be a tricky part of the machine for a beginner learning to sew. - Sew Me Your Stuff

This is the lower bobbin, which contains the lower thread. I mentioned in a previous post that sewing machines create stitches using two threads simultaneously, and this is what I was referring to. The bobbin has to be wound before you start sewing, usually with the same thread that goes in the top needle, but not always.

These dials are very important for a beginner learning to sew to understand before you start sewing with a machine. - Sew Me Your Stuff

1. Stitch selector – Use this dial to select your stitch. My machine is currently set to overlock stitch. This part of the machine varies from model to model depending on the number of stitches your machine can perform. At the very minimum you need a straight stitch and a zigzag stitch, but I also recommend overlock as it can be very helpful in finishing raw edges without a serger.
2. Stitch length dial – This dial allows you to adjust the length of your stitches. Mine is set to special stitch, but I typically use 1-2 length for my stitches to make them feel more secure.
3. Handwheel – This can be rotated to activate the needle and stitching function without activating the machine’s motor. Use this for very precise stitches because you can move more slowly through the fabric.
Not pictured: Foot pedal – Just like driving a car, a sewing machine motor is activated by pressing a foot pedal. Press lightly to go more slowly, and press firmly to sew more quickly.

The top of a sewing machine has many tools and objects that a beginner learning to sew should study before operating a sewing machine - Sew Me Your Stuff

1. Handle – Not every machine has a handle, but it is a helpful feature.
2. Spool pin – This is where you place the spool for your top thread. The semi-conical piece holds the spool in place.
3. Bobbin winding spindle & stopper – Place your lower bobbin on the spindle to wind it, and the stopper will make it stop spinning when full.
4. Threading guides and take-up – Your thread is guided through these in sequence to maintain the right tension as it’s fed through the needle into the fabric. My machine has numbers to show the sequence of threading, but if your machine doesn’t have these you should consult your manual.
5. Top thread tension dial – This adjusts the tension of your thread. See your manual for tension recommendations. The bobbin thread tension also sometimes needs to be adjusted, but this is done differently and you should consult your manual. On my machine, it’s done by rotating the screw on the side of the bobbin case.
6. Reverse lever – Hold this down while stitching to stitch in the reverse direction. Reverse stitching at the beginning and end of your stitch will hold your stitches in place.
7. Stitch width dial– Use this to change the width of your stitches.

This is just a brief introduction to all the different parts of your machine, but they’re all parts that you should know before you start sewing. Be sure to experiment on scrap fabric to get acquainted with your machine and feel comfortable with the way it operates!

Happy sewing!

Learni.st – Learn how to sew starting from step one
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