You have a new sewing machine and have no idea where to start?
Stop reading now! Go get that machine and dust it off. I will wait right here.
I will cover everything you need to know to learn how to sew on your new sewing machine.
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Recommended supplies for this lesson
Power cord and foot pedal
Unboxing your New Sewing Machine
The first step of getting to know your sewing machine is learning the names of the various parts and how to use these them. We are going to jump right in and learn these as we go.
Take the machine out of the box and plug it in. Depending on your specific model, you may have 1 or 2 cords to deal with. A combination pedal/power cord will have 1 inlet to the machine and separate into a power cord (to plug into your wall) and the pedal to control the speed. Alternatively, you may have 2 separate cords (power cord and foot control) which will plug into your machine.
Because all machines are slightly different, read your user manual and refer to it when needed.
Turn your machine on. The power button should be on the lower right side of the machine.
Once your machine is on, you will have a light above your sewing area. Some models will have a face cover that you can flip open to change the bulb. Chances are this is a new machine and the bulb is working fine.
Anatomy of a Sewing Machine
Let’s look at your needle. Even the best seamstress will break needles now and again. You will need to know how to change your needle. It is recommended to change your needle with each new project.
To change your needle, you will loosen the needle clamp screw located at the top of the needle shaft. This may be a thumb screw or require the use of a screwdriver which is often included in your accessories. The needle will be inserted with the flat side to the back.
To thread your needle, make sure your needle is in the highest position by turning the hand wheel located on the right side of the machine. The hand wheel allows you to raise and lower the needle when needed.
To thread your machine, follow the instructions in your user manual or you can also refer to Threading your New Sewing Machine (coming soon) for more detailed instructions including bobbin winding.
Threading your needle is often made easier with a built-in needle threader. Your machine may not have this feature. To use the built-in threader, simply pull the threader downward and gently guide it towards your needle. With practice, this set will become easy. Use the thread guide on the threader to gently guide your thread across the front of the needle and simply pull the threader back to pull the thread through the needle. You should then be able to grab the thread with ease and finish pulling it through.
Do not force the threader towards the needle as the threader contains a small needle which comes through the sewing machine needle. Forcing it into place can bend the threader’s needle and render it useless.
Directly below your needle, you will see metal teeth which are called feed dogs. The feed dogs are what “feeds” the fabric through your machine. You are simply guiding the fabric and should never push the fabric through.
Surrounding the feed dogs, you will find the throat plate (base plate). You may need to remove this to clear any thread jams and get better access to the shuttle area.
For top loading machines, you will find your bobbin area directly in front of the throat plate. These have a clear cover which is usually fully removable (and easy to lose). The bobbin holds the bottom thread and fits into the bobbin case which provides the necessary tension to create stitches. The shuttle loops the thread into the correct location to create the stitches.
The picture below shows a front-loading bobbin and bobbin case which you will find on most older machines.
Detailed information on threading your bobbin can be found in Threading your New Sewing Machine (coming soon).
Now locate your presser foot lever or take-up lever. This is usually on the rear of the machine behind the needle. Lift it to raise the presser foot and it releases the thread tension. You will want to release thread tension when threading your machine or removing the fabric. You may also want to raise the presser foot to change accessory feet.
The Presser Foot Ankle holds the presser foot in place. Most new machines have snap-on or magnetic presser feet. When the presser foot is attached to the ankle, this would be a screw-on foot and requires you to remove the standard ankle.
Modern machines typically use a low-shank ankle versus a high-shank. This is simply the height of the ankle between the screw and the foot.
Next, locate your pressure foot dial. This dial determines the amount of pressure that the presser foot applies to your fabric. You may want to adjust this if you are using a very thick material like leather or a very thin material like organza. However, your optimum setting will be somewhere in the middle and often marked on the dial itself.
We will discuss thread length and width in a later lesson. For now, locate where these selectors are on your machine. You may have dials or buttons depending on whether you have an electronic or computerized machine. The stitch length selector is usually signaled with a dotted line whereas the stitch width selector is symbolized with a zigzag of varying width.
Lastly, locate your reverse lever or button. This allows you to sew in reverse. The reverse feature is used to lock your stitches so that they will not come out during wear or washing.
Accessories and Options
Almost done! Refer to your manual to verify if you have these features or accessories.
Most modern sewing machines come with a free arm which is often hidden by a removable accessory tray. The free arm allows you to work with circular items such as sleeves and pant hems.
The removable accessory tray simply holds your various accessories including extra bobbins, needles, and various presser feet which we will explore more in a later lesson.
You may also have an extension table. These can be purchased separately although some machines are sold with a table that stores on the machine itself. The extension table gives you a larger surface to the left of the machine which can help eliminate pulling on heavy items such as quilting together several layers.
Spool caps simply help cap the thread onto the thread spool spindle. This is necessary to keep your thread on the machine if your spindle is horizontal rather than vertical.
Spool pins can be used if a few ways depending on your machine. A spool pin will create an additional spindle for your thread. You may be able to use this to wind a bobbin without unthreading your machine or for double needle sewing which would require 2 spools of thread to be used at the same time.
Lastly, I will mention the embroidery arm. An embroidery arm is usually only included with higher-end models and is specific for that machine. An embroidery arm will attach to the machine through a port which is usually covered by the removable accessory tray. The port is visible in the photo above. In short, it is a computerized attachment that allows the machine to embroider a specific design onto fabric that is hooped and attached to the arm.
I certainly hope I’ve covered everything you need to know to learn how to sew on your new sewing machine. I would love to hear your comments or questions so that I can address any concerns here or in future posts!
Be sure to check back for additional getting to know your machine posts. Happy Sewing.