A sewing machine enables its owner to alter and repair clothing and create new, fashionable personal designs. The machine also makes it easy to create home décor items, such as pillows, drapes, and table linens. The machine can be a basic model that sews only a straight stitch or a multi-function machine that is capable of a variety of stitches and patterns. People who normally sew by hand will discover that they can perform the same tasks much faster on a sewing machine. It also produces more professional and durable seams.
Learning to use a sewing machine may seem like an overwhelming task, but separating the process into smaller activities will make it much easier. The first step is to read the sewing machine manual. While most machines are similar, each model is slightly different. After the owner learns how to operate the machine, it will be easy to learn complex stitching techniques.
- 1 Spool Pins, Bobbin, and Bobbin Winder
- 2 Tension Regulator
- 3 Needle Clamp, Presser Foot, Throat Plate, and Feed Dogs
- 4 Bobbin Cover
- 5 Balance Wheel and Foot Pedal or Knee Switch
- 6 On/Off Switch and Stitch Dial
Parts of a Sewing Machine
The manual will provide detailed instructions on the features of the machine. Illustrations identify various parts and controls. The manual also contains information on how to operate and troubleshoot the machine.
Spool Pins, Bobbin, and Bobbin Winder
The spool pin is a metallic prong located on the top of the machine that holds the main spool of thread. If there is a second pin, it is designed to hold a spare spool. The bobbin winder enables the hobbyist to use the machine to wind thread onto the bobbin, a small silver-colored metal spool.
Thread travels from the main spool through the thread guide to the tension regulator. The regulator ensures that the tension between the main thread and the bobbin thread is equal. If the stitches pucker, the tension is too tight. A weak stitch indicates that there is too little tension. The thread passes through the take-up lever before reaching the needle.
Needle Clamp, Presser Foot, Throat Plate, and Feed Dogs
A sewing machine needle is different from a hand stitch needle. The former has the eye located near the point of the needle instead of the top. The needle clamp holds the sewing needle in position. Located near the needle is the ski-shaped presser foot that holds the fabric in place. A lever located on the side or rear of the needle assembly raises and lowers the presser foot. Opposite the presser foot on the throat plate are the feed dogs. These diagonal, metallic teeth pull the fabric through the sewing machine.
During operation of the machine, the needle will pass through a hole in the throat plate where it grabs the bobbin thread. A bobbin cover, located on the throat plate, enables a sewing machine operator to insert, remove, and change the bobbin.
Balance Wheel and Foot Pedal or Knee Switch
A balance wheel on the side of the machine enables the hobbyist to raise and lower the needle manually. The foot pedal controls the mechanical operation of the machine. When the pedal is depressed and raised, the machine turns on and off. The further that the pedal is depressed, the faster the sewing machine operates. Some sewing machines use a knee switch instead of a foot pedal. Pushing the switch to the right will operate the machine.
On/Off Switch and Stitch Dial
Some manufacturers equip their sewing machines with a light that indicates that the machine is on. Machines that do not have an on/off switch are on whenever they are plugged into an electrical outlet. Unplug the machine before threading the needle or performing other tasks that can cause injuries if the machine accidentally engages. The stitch dial enables individuals to select the tension, style, and length of the stitch.
Preparing to Sew
After reviewing the owner’s manual, place the sewing machine on a sewing cabinet or a sturdy, well-lit table. Ensure that the foot pedal is attached, and plug the sewing machine into an electrical outlet. Sit in a comfortable chair that matches the height of the table or sewing cabinet. The sewing machine should be positioned so that the needle is to the left and the balance wheel to the right of the operator.
Installing and Threading the Needle
Many manufacturers provide universal needles for sewing machines. Before using the needle on the fabric, use a scrap piece of material to verify that it is the right size. Delicate fabrics require small needles and thin thread, and dense fabrics require larger needles and thick thread.
Sewing machine needles are designed with a flat side so that they only go into the machine one way. Typically, the flat side faces to the rear of the machine. The needle also has a groove through which the thread will travel. This groove aligns with the direction of the thread. After inserting the needle into the machine, tighten the thumbscrew to secure it in place.
Follow the diagram in the owner’s manual to thread the machine and wind the bobbin. Most sewing machines follow a general threading pattern, which may be marked on the machine. The owner’s manual will also provide details on this pattern. The configuration of the machine will determine whether the needle is threaded from the back, front, left, or right. The final thread guide that is closest to the needle indicates the direction from which the thread should enter the needle. After verifying the direction, insert the thread through the eye of the needle.
Winding the Bobbin
If the sewing machine cannot wind a bobbin in the bobbin cavity, remove the thread from the needle first.
The owner’s manual will provide specific instructions on how to run the thread from the main spool to the bobbin winder. Generally, the thread originates at the main spool, winds around the tension post, and terminates at the bobbin. Use the wheel on the right side of the machine to dispense a small amount of thread onto the bobbin. Ensure that the thread is oriented in the same direction that the machine will spin the bobbin. Close the bobbin winder. Turn the machine on, and slowly depress the sewing machine foot pedal or knee switch. Threading a bobbin too fast will cause the thread to break. The winder will automatically open when the bobbin is full. The next step is to insert the bobbin into the cavity below the throat plate.
Basic Sewing Machine Operation
After placing the bobbin in position and threading the needle, turn the balance wheel to manually raise and lower the needle. When the end of the bobbin thread appears, pull it from the bobbin cavity, and lay it on top of the throat plate.
Ensure that the needle and presser foot are in the raised position. Practice making stitches on a piece of scrap fabric. Place the fabric on the throat plate. The bulk of the material should be to the left of the machine. Align the edges of the fabric with the hemline guide marked on the throat plate. The markings are set to standard hem widths. Lower the presser foot to secure the fabric in place.
If the machine has multiple settings, select the basic straight stitch. Gradually depress the foot pedal or knee switch, and slowly guide the fabric beneath the needle with one hand as the machine begins to sew. Use the other hand to gently tug the loose thread so that it does not become entangled in the fabric. The feed dogs will move the material from the front of the machine to the rear. Use sufficient pressure to keep the fabric straight. Operators must ensure that they do not pass their fingers beneath the needle.
After the stitches are complete, raise the presser foot. Verify that the needle is in the raised position. Remove the fabric from the machine, and cut the thread near the material. If the machine made interlocking stitches, the machine is threaded correctly. After the hobbyist is comfortable making a straight ¼-inch seam, it is time to experiment with more complex stitch patterns.
Sewing by hand is sufficient for a quick repair, but it is generally impractical for large projects, such as clothing, throw pillows, and bed linen. Larger projects require a sewing machine. Hobbyists can efficiently alter and repair clothing or create new items. With practice, a hobbyist can make complex stitches and intricate designs with confidence.