How To Use a Sewing Machine

How To Use a Sewing Machine

What First?

If you are just starting out as a novice seamstress, using a sewing machine can seem a bewildering proposition.

You should spend as much time as you possibly can researching what the best model is for your own wants and needs.

There are 4 main types of sewing machine:

  • Mechanical
  • Electronic
  • Computerized
  • Overlocker

The more basic mechanical machines are fading out quickly. Overlockers are very specific pieces of kit. This means that most consumers make a choice between an electronic machine and a more advanced computerized one which will offer more versatility but comes at a premium.

By honestly analyzing what you expect from your sewing machine and what you will do with it, you can buy a model which will suffice for now while also lasting you for some time to come. If you are IT-literate and enjoy a challenge then it might be best to focus on computerized machines. If you are not the most tech-savvy person then why be put off by flashing screens and lights? If you are clear about your needs then you will be ready to buy the perfect model and start sewing...


A basic idea which cannot be underestimated: consult the manual which comes with your machine. Familiarize yourself with the contents and keep it safe for future reference.

All sewing machines have minor differences and it's crucial that you follow the instruction manual carefully.

You can always research online if you are stuck but the manual should be the first thing you consult.

Different Parts of a Sewing Machine

When you first encounter a sewing machine it might seem like Mission Impossible to get it up and running.

A very useful starting point is to fully get to grips with the different parts on the machine so that your confidence grows.

  • Power Switch: Before anything, you need juice. Although its location can obviously vary, the power switch is generally found on the body. It's more often than not on the right.
  • Speed Control: This monitor or control enables you to run the machine at an appropriate speed for your ability level. Sewing straight seams is straightforward at slow speeds. Ideally look for one with three speed settings.
  • Spool Pin: This little pin can be metal or plastic. It comes out of the top of the machine. The spool containing thread sits flush on top of it.
  • Thread Guide: This feature helps to guide the thread which comes from the spool on top down towards the bobbin winder. It's fashioned from metal and protrudes from the top. It sits to the left.
  • Bobbin Winder: On top of the machine, to the spool pin's right, is a second smaller pin (metal or plastic) adjacent to a little wheel. This is the stopper and the bobbin winder. This work in tandem with the spool. Before you start sewing they assist with winding the thread onto the bobbin.
  • Buttons For Adjusting Stitches: With many features, placement differs. Often on the front of the machine, though, just look for a screen with some accompanying buttons. You can use these to alter the kind of stitch, its direction - forward or reverse - as well as the length of stitch. Most machine come equipped with
  • Thread Takeup Lever: After winding your thread which is on the spool through the threading guide, it then goes around the take-up lever. This lever is grooved and situated on the left of the machine at the front. Usually, arrows or numbers help you to see how you should thread your sewing machine.
  • Tension Dial: This numbered wheel is found near the take-up lever. It's function is to control the thread's tension as you are sewing. Note: With tension which is a little too tight, you'll find that the needle is pulled somewhat towards the right. Too loose and your thread will contrive to loop on the the material at the bottom as you are working.
  • Needle Clamp Screw: The needle is held firmly down while you are working by this metal screw. It resembles a nail and is located beneath the arm sticking out from the needle on the right.
  • Presser Foot: Underneath the needle clamp screw you will find the presser foot. The metal attachment resembles a mini ski! You engage the presser foot, it holds the material in place as well as guiding it along the machine.
  • Presser Foot Lever: This lever will be either to the back of or right of your needle assembly. Moving it up and down the entire way will make adjustments to the presser foot. Practice using it so that it feels comfortable and familiar.
  • Needle Plate: This should be easy to spot. It's directly under the needle itself.
  • Feed Dog: This metal guide is on top of the needle plate. The feed dog will move the fabric through your sewing machine as you work away on your latest project.
  • Bobbin Cover/Bobbin Release: What is the bobbin? Well, it's simply a little spool containing thread. It's fed out from underneath and gives the needle its supply of thread. The cover is beneath the plate. The pin or button to release the bottom is sat right next to it. Make use of it to get the bobbin set up before beginning.

OK, now you are familiar with the various features which your machine has to offer, it's time to think about setting up...


  1. Start off by putting the machine on a flat surface. A heavy duty table or desk is ideal or a dedicated sewing cabinet if you have one. Make sure that the chair you choose is at an appropriate height. Set up your machine with the end of the needle to the left of you with the machine's body to the right. Do not yet plug the machine in.
  2. Put in your needle nice and securely. Since needle's come with one side flat, this means they can only be installed in one direction. This is normally with that flattened side towards the back. Look for a groove along one side. This must go in the way from which the needle's threaded. As it goes up and down through the material, the needle travels in the groove. Put the needle right into its post. Make sure you tighten up the thumbscrew.
  3. Next you want to wind the bobbin and insert it. Your sewing machine is equipped with two sources of thread. For winding purposes, simply place the spool on the winder. Using the guides, pull the thread spool's thread round the guide towards the bobbin itself. Turn the winder on. It will stop by itself when it's full. Pop the bobbin in the cage under the needle.
  4. You're now all set to thread your machine. You will find the spool at the top of the machine. First, you need to unwind it and attach it onto the needle. Pull the thread through the guide. Take it down next then around the take-up lever.
    Note: Look for arrows and numbers to assist you with this process. If in any doubt, consult the instruction manual or look out for guides which are printed on the machine itself. Practice makes perfect.

  5. Now you want to get out both threads. With the thread of the needle taut, hold it facing you in one hand. If you use your other hand to turn the hand-operated wheel towards you, this will make a complete revolution of the needle. Yank upwards on the thread you're holding. As the threaded needle traveled down and then up, the bobbin thread caught. It's now nicely looped and positioned over the needle thread. You have two choices in order to bring up the thread tail. You can simply pull the loop on one of the sides to achieve this. Alternatively, let go of the thread, put some scissors in between the plate and presser foot then pull the thread (which is now looped) out. Either way, you should end up with the ends of a pair of threads. One comes up from under the bobbin, the other from the needle itself.
  6. Now that you've set up, plug your sewing machine in. With many models, a built-in light indicates if the power is on. Don't forget to plug the pedal in too. Make certain it's in a comfy position for you to operate.

Get Some Practice In

By now you should be getting more and more familiar with the terminology and where things are found on your machine.

You've got yourself set up and are in the mood to get started. At this stage it pays to simply experiment but we will make it easy for you to take those first steps with some simple suggestions.

  • Have a look in your instruction manual. Choose two stitch lengths, straight and medium. The straight option is most frequently used for sewing seams. After this, the zigzag is used most often. This comes into its own for stopping fraying at the edge of the material.
  • Grab some scrap fabric. Go for something woven rather than knitted to make it easier on yourself. Also, make sure that it's light if you are just starting out.
  • Get the material nicely lined up. Make certain that the majority of the material is on the left. Untidy stitching can result from having too much crowded on the right hand side.
  • Let the presser foot come down onto the material. This is lowered or raised using a lever. To start with, keep loose ends in check by holding them.
  • Use your foot on the pedal. This is how you regulate the speed. Be cautious at first as you get used to things.
  • Check out how your machine operates in reverse. A lever or button will flip it so it goes backwards.
  • Cut off some thread. Use the notch provided or some scissors.
  • Have a go at a seam. Refer to your manual for precise instructions here as the procedure differs from machine to machine.

Once you feel more at ease with the machine, it's time to think about undertaking a project but before then it's time for some more advice...

Handy Hints

  1. Take plenty of time to practice. Controlling the pedal, moving the fabric and maintaining speed requires co-ordination.
  2. Test the diverse stitch options at your disposal.
  3. Consider a sewing class in order to practice and socialize with people who share your interest. Although the Internet is crammed with useful advice, there's no substitute for human interaction.
  4. Make sure you focus on things that you are passionate about. Being interested in what you are doing is critical if you do not want to get bored and frustrated. Sewing should be an enjoyable pastime.
  5. Steer clear of old needles and cheap thread. If it's cotton then ensure that it's mercerized for added strength. For heavy materials seek out upholstery thread. Match this thread up with the fabric you are working on unless you want it stand out for some reason.
  6. Make sure that you keep the area you are working in clean. This will prevent any stains on the material.
  7. Consider the importance of maintaining your sewing machine. Looking after it well will increase its longevity.
  8. Take care that the area you work in is adequately lit.
  9. Don't be afraid of making mistakes. Experimenting, trial and error are the best ways to progress.
  10. Avoid putting all of your needles in the storage spot. This will help you to steer clear of accidents.


  1. Make sure you don't get your fingers too near the needle.
  2. When threading your sewing machine, make certain it's unplugged.
  3. Never use force with the machine.
  4. When you are working, do not place needles on the material.
  5. Spend as much as you can afford on your machine: Buy cheap, buy twice.


This article should have got you up and running and now feeling quite confident with your new machine.

Now it's time to practice and to get creative. Only your imagination will limit the scope of projects you can enjoy immersing yourself in.

Take care and enjoy your new sewing machine!

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