Understanding Parts of A Sewing Machine {how to sew}


Understanding all the parts of a sewing machine can be intimidating.  So it’s Ruthanne to the rescue!  She’ll be breaking down how to sew with pictured instructions on different parts of a sewing machine…

Overwhelmed by all the gizmos on your machine? No need to worry. I’m here to break it down just a little bit for you.

This will be a general overview with a few outside links to helpful articles, tutorials and explanations. I hope you find it helpful!

 Parts of A Sewing Machine

Stitch Width & Length – There are two separate knobs. One for selecting width and another for selecting length. The larger the number you choose, the greater the stitch width or length. It may take some playing around with this to find your favorite setting.

Stitch Choices – Your machine may not have as many different stitch options as mine or it may have a ton more. This is where you decide what you want your stitch to look like. Depending on your choice, you may have to change the footer.

On my machine, the stitches are broken up into four different zones:

{1} Red: straight, zigzag and utility stitches
{2} Green: Geometric, decorative stitches
{3} Blue: Buttonhole
{4} Gold: Stretch stitches

Stitch Selector – On my particular machine, there is a large knob on the side that when turned switches between the different stitches.

Reverse Switch Control – I use this bad boy all. the. time. As soon as I start a new stitch, I always “lock” it in place by pressing down on that button. It causes the machine to back up the needle over the spot you just sewed. This locks the stitches and makes it difficult for any unraveling to occur.

If you’re looking for a more in-depth explanation of stitch length and width, check out this article.

Handwheel – You can manually move the needle up and down by turning this knob. It also pops out to keep the needle from moving while I’m winding the bobbin with more thread.

Bobbin Thread Guide & Winder
– There is a small image on the top of my machine that explains how to set up the thread in order to wind the bobbin. I’m assuming most machines have something very similar to this. The winder itself is where you place the bobbin.

In my dreams, I imagine a machine that automatically refills the bobbin before it runs out. I never have to stop sewing to wind the bobbin. I just keep right on sewing.

A girl can dream, right? ::wink::

Extension Table & Free Arm Nine times out of ten you won’t need to remove the extension table . . . . unless you hem a lot of jeans and/or pants. Removing the extension table, makes it very easy to get smaller {tube shaped} items feed through the machine. Since I don’t hem all that many jeans {because that’s the thing nightmares are made of}, I don’t use the free arm feature very much, but it’s useful and there for me if I need it.

Kinda sorta related . . . . If you’re looking for a tutorial on how to hem jeans and keep the original bottom hem, look no further than here.

Bobbin – Some machines have a metal case you place the bobbin inside and others, like mine, just set down inside an inset. Please ignore the lint. I thought about dusting, but . . . . er, didn’t. ::wink::

Sewing Guides – Also called Seam Guide or Guide Lines. The lines on the needle plate help you measure seam width. Those lines are your friend. Use them. Um, that doesn’t sound right. I’m not suggesting you use your friends. ::snort::

Feed Balancing Dial – The only time you’ll need to use this is if your stitch pattern appears uneven or distorted. In the twelve plus years I’ve been sewing, I’ve only used this dial a handful of times.

Thread Tension Dial
– You’ll definitely want to make sure your needle thread tension is set correctly. If it’s too loose, the needle thread will show through on the wrong side of the fabric and feel bumpy. If it’s too tight, the bobbin thread will show through on the right side of the fabric and feel bumpy. Sometimes you may need to adjust tension depending on the type of fabric and/or number of fabrics you are sewing.

If you want to understand more, here is a great article on Understanding Thread Tension.

Some of these parts may look slightly different or be located in a different spot on your machine than mine, but this should be a good launching point. Your manual is your best friend when it comes to figuring out parts and functions. Well . . . . that and Google. ::wink::

Free Sewing Patterns:

How To Sew Series:

Step 1:  How To Thread A Sewing Machine {step-by-step}
Step 2:  The Needle and Thread Guide {all you need to know}
Step 3:  How To Use A Sewing Machine {fabric mug rug}
Step 4:  Sewing Machines ~ A Buying Guide
Step 5:  Understanding Parts of A Sewing Machine

You can find Ruthanne at Eclectic Whatnot.  You might be interested in know that Ruthanne home schools her many children, has been known to eat chocolate chips straight out of the bag, listens to classical music, loves the arts and is having a love affair with her sewing machine.


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  1. Hey, this is a very helpful and well written guide! Thanks so much for sharing this was just what I was looking for!

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