Getting to Know Your Sewing Machine

The first step in sewing is getting to know your sewing machine. No matter what brand or style you own, they are generally the same in functionality. I still own my very first machine from 30 years ago, and prefer to use it when constructing simple things.

Your machine should have come with a handbook or instruction book for using the machine. If you have lost it, don’t panic. Many times you can contact the manufacturer and request a replacement.

Basic Sewing Machine Parts and Controls

Balance Wheel: each rotation forms one stitch; can be used to manually move needle up and down

Bobbin/Bobbin Case: case holds the bobbin and bobbin holds the lower thread

Feed Dogs: metal “teeth” that go up and down with a forward motion to move fabric through when sewing

Light Switch: is usually used in conjunction with power switch; light allows for better viewing in needle/feed area when stitching

Needle: moves up and down carrying thread through the fabric to form stitches

Needle Clamp: holds needle securely on machine

Needle (or Throat) Plate: a metal plate located on the machine under the Presser Foot with openings for feed dogs and the needle

Presser Foot: holds fabric in place when sewing

Presser Foot Lifter: raises and lowers the presser foot

Presser Foot Screw: allows for changing machine feet including zipper foot, buttonhole foot, cording foot and more

Reverse Lever: lever or button to reverse direction of sewing

Spool Pins: one or more vertical or horizontal rods designed to holds the spool(s) of thread

Stitch Length Regulator: determines the length of the stitches; suggest using 10 to 12 stitches per inch for general seams, 6 to 8 stitches per inch for machine basting

Stitch Width Regulator: determines width of stitch when using zigzag feature

Tension Control: a dial or disk that controls the tightness of the upper thread

Thread Guide: holds thread as it moves from thread spool to needle; total number varies between different machines

Thread Take-Up Lever: moves up and down with the needle, taking up thread slack with each stitch; should be left in highest position when sewing stops to prevent thread pull out

For any plain straight stitch, there are common functions in all machines. First, there is the “precisely timed movement of needle and shuttle hook to manipulate a top thread and a bottom (bobbin) thread” that actually creates the stitch.

There is also the interaction between the presser foot, needle, and feed dog to help guide the material through the machine. As you familiarize yourself with your machine, you will notice that you have controls available to adjust all of these movements including thread tension, stitch length and width.

Some machines also offer special features including zigzag and stretch stitches. Be sure to consult your handbook before making any adjustments.