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How To Use a Sewing Machine: A Guide to the Parts

Updated on August 30, 2017

Sewing Machine Parts and Features: Where They are and What They Do

Sewing machines are essential domestic tools. Once considered to be a revolutionary industrial invention, sewing machines are increasingly under-valued by society, and sadly, some schools have even stopped offering home ec and classes that teach students how to sew. Unfortunately, one has to learn how to use a sewing machine before you can make a beautiful tailored shirt, and learning is not always accessible. But once you know how to do it, you can use your machine to sew hems, repair a ripped shirt or make beautiful homemade gifts. Fortunately, people like me are more than happy to show you what's going on.

I happened to go to an unorthodox school where both girls and boys were taught to use a sewing machine in eighth grade after a few years of hand sewing. Sure, my mom had a sewing machine at home, but she never taught me how to use it. Knowing how to use a sewing machine is handy--it can save you from making trips to the tailor or dry cleaners, and it's economically valuable. For me, knowing how to sew has given me a small stream of income for several years and it's getting better all the time. Whatever your reasons are, I look forward to showing you how to use your sewing machine.

* All photos featured on this lens are my own. Some content has been adapted from my video lesson, which you can find on YouTube or in this lens.

Video Lesson: How To Use a Sewing Machine - Here's my video tutorial for learning the parts of your sewing machine.

Check out my video tutorial where I cover all the basic parts and features that you'll find on the average sewing machine. I explain the significance of each feature, why it's there and what it does.

Learn about the basic features of your sewing machine and master their power in this comprehensive video lesson.

Features on the Side of The Sewing Machine - The Hand Wheel, Your Foot Pedal Plugs, the On/Off Button and the Power Cord

sewing machine side features
sewing machine side features

My Brother Sewing Machine

Brother Sewing Machine Computerized CE8080 Special Project Runway Edition
Brother Sewing Machine Computerized CE8080 Special Project Runway Edition

This is the sewing machine that I will be demonstrating the parts on. I've had this machine for almost a year, and it's really great. It has tons of features, lots of great stitches and is available with a lovely extension table. I compare it to a sports car, my other machine is like an old bomber.

 

Almost all modern sewing machines have an electronic foot pedal and power cord. The foot controller functions like the gas pedal in your car. It allows you to wind your bobbin, sew forward, sew backward and adjust your speed.

The power and foot pedal plugs, the hand wheel and the on/off button are all located on the side of the sewing machine. Sometimes, the foot controller will plug into the back of the machine instead. Any sewing machine can be operated manually by turning the hand wheel, which moves a series of drive shafts inside the machine.

The hand wheel also doubles as a clutch that activates and deactivates the bobbin winder and needle. In the normal position, the needle moves up and down and the feed dog pulls the fabric along. When you are winding bobbins, the up and down motion of the needle will stop. On most new computerized machines, the clutch is engaged automatically by moving the bobbin winder into the active position. On manual models, you need to pull the wheel outward as well. Note: Some machines have an inner knob on the wheel that needs to be engaged by turning it and keeping the main wheel stationary. This is a less common configuration that you probably don't need to worry about. Your manual will tell you the method for engaging your bobbin winder.

Features On the Top of The Sewing Machine - Thread guides, tension plates, the bobbin winder and more.

On top of the machine are the spool holder, bobbin winder, the thread holder for the bobbin winder, the upper tension discs and the tension adjustment knob. The thread passes inside the thread guide channels and hooks around the thread hanger, which is hidden under the cover. I looked this one up, folks. It's officially known as the thread uptake lever, but who calls it that?

Features on the Front of Your Machine

The tension knob, the reverse button and the stitch selector tools are all on the face of the machine. On a computerized model, you'll have complete control of over the stitch length and the stitch width on the main LCD display. Changing the width will alter the size of your zigzag stitch, but on a straight stitch, it changes the needle position, which adjusts your seam allowance. Mechanical models require a manual action to change stitches, and they have fewer stitch functions, but they still get the job done.

Are You a Sewist? - How Confident Are You?

Are You a Confident Sewist?

Features in the Needle Area

sewing machine needle area
sewing machine needle area

The needle area is certainly where all the action is. On this part of your machine, you'll find a thread guide, the needle, the presser foot, the presser foot lever, the feed dog, the throat plate, the bobbin and the bobbin chase. In case you're curious, your upper thread always comes from the spool and your lower thread comes from the bobbin.

Additional Sewing Machine Parts and Features - Click to View Images and Captions

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Here are two bobbin holders. Both have channels to control the tension. The left is for a vertical bobbin, and the right is for a top-loading bobbin,.This is the throat plate. Most machines have a metal plate with seam allowance markers and slots for the feed dogs, which pull your project along.Presser feet keep your project stable as you sew. You'll need special feet for some tasks. Left: standard, Center: Zigzag/Overlock, Right: Zipper footThis photo shows the throat plate and feed dogs as well as the bobbin/bobbin holder, which move in a circular motion inside the bobbin chase.
Here are two bobbin holders. Both have channels to control the tension. The left is for a vertical bobbin, and the right is for a top-loading bobbin,.
Here are two bobbin holders. Both have channels to control the tension. The left is for a vertical bobbin, and the right is for a top-loading bobbin,.
This is the throat plate. Most machines have a metal plate with seam allowance markers and slots for the feed dogs, which pull your project along.
This is the throat plate. Most machines have a metal plate with seam allowance markers and slots for the feed dogs, which pull your project along.
Presser feet keep your project stable as you sew. You'll need special feet for some tasks. Left: standard, Center: Zigzag/Overlock, Right: Zipper foot
Presser feet keep your project stable as you sew. You'll need special feet for some tasks. Left: standard, Center: Zigzag/Overlock, Right: Zipper foot
This photo shows the throat plate and feed dogs as well as the bobbin/bobbin holder, which move in a circular motion inside the bobbin chase.
This photo shows the throat plate and feed dogs as well as the bobbin/bobbin holder, which move in a circular motion inside the bobbin chase.

© 2013 QuiltFinger

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