Sew What? Meet Your Sewing Machine

Updated: Jun 16, 2018


When I first started sewing, I was pretty convinced that I would stitch through my own fingers. For years I refused my mother’s many offers to teach me how to use her trusty old Singer (which is older than I am and still stichin’), secretly scared of the noisy, heavy, intimidating machine. I’ve noticed this has been a recurring thing in my life. I’m often scared of a tool whose sole purpose is to make life easier; the drill, the car, the sewing machine, the chainsaw (ok, I will never be unafraid of a chainsaw...any tool usually followed by with the word “massacre” deserves all my fear).

Once I learned how the tool actually worked, my fear melted away and I realized something fairly obvious: This is not a Brave Little Toaster scenario where the appliances have a mind of their own. I control the machine! I decide how fast it goes, it does what I tell it to do! I’m the motherflippin’ boss! Did I lose you with my late 80s Disney anthropomorphized appliance reference (shout out to Toaster, Lampy, and a childhood full of nightmares)? Where were we again? Oh yeah, learning how to use sewing machine that definitely isn’t voiced by Dame Judi Dench, or off on adventures around town while you’re asleep (determined to make this Brave Little Toaster thing pay off!)


While every sewing machine may have different bells and whistles, depending on the brand and price point, they are all basically designed the same way. With the exception of going electric, the sewing machine hasn’t really evolved much over the past hundred years.


Meet Your Machine:

So what do all those dials and buttons do? As with any other tool, the sewing machine has various settings to help you do a variety of tasks. The stitch selector allows you to choose what type of stitch you want to make; the two you’ll use most are the straight stitch and the zigzag, but computerized machines can have up to 40 different stitches.


The stitch length controls just that, it determines how long or short your stitches are. The reverse control also works as advertised, changing the direction the fabric feeds through the machine. The hand wheel on the right side of your machine allows you to manually bring the needle up and down. On the top right side of your machine you should see two pins sticking up. One is for winding your bobbin (no, not for apples...more on that in a second), the other is for your spool of thread. On the top left side, you’ll see the thread guide and a U-shaped opening which will bring your thread from the spool, through the machine, and down into your needle. While it may look like a crazy straw, this design keeps your thread from getting tangled, and keeps up a consistent tension to to create even, uniform stitches. The needle is secured with a clamp, which you can loosen to replace your needles (which you should do after every 10 hours of sewing). Near the needle there’s a little lever called the presser foot lever, which lifts and raises the presser foot, a small plate that secures the fabric to the machine. If your presser foot is not lowered, the machine will not start.


Right in front of the needle, you’ll see the bobbin cover, a small removable lid that allows you access the bobbin. Baskin Bobbins? Bobbin Hood Prince of Thieves? Mary Bobbins? Nope, just a silly-sounding name for a tiny spool that hides inside your machine. What’s this bobbin thing about and why should I care about him/her? Good question! In order to make a stitch, the sewing machine must pull thread from two places; the spool of thread on the top of the machine, and the bobbin. A stitch is formed when these two threads lock together. In our "It's Britney Stitch" post, we’ve used two different colors of thread to clearly show each stitch, but when sewing something yourself, you use the same color...or not! Remember what I said earlier about you being the master of your own machine destiny? You’re the boss, use whatever dang thread you want, I’m not here to tell you how to live your life!


Winding The Bobbin:

Now that you know the different parts of the sewing machine, it’s time to thread up. The goal is to fill your empty bobbin with thread. Start by opening the bobbin cover and removing the bobbin itself; your bobbin may be metal or plastic depending on the brand of your machine. It’s important to buy the correct bobbin for your specific machine, they’re not universal and each brand has a slightly different size and shape (this information will be printed somewhere on your machine).

Take an empty bobbin and slide it onto the bobbin pin. Place a spool of thread onto the spool pin. Unwind about 18” of thread and follow the guide on your machine to wrap around the bobbin winder tension disc. Take the thread and draw the tail up underneath through one of the holes in the bobbin, leaving a small tail on the end.

Slide the bobbin pin over to the right towards the round, plastic part of the bobbin winder until you hear it snap into place with a “click”. Hold onto the tail of thread and slowly press down on the foot pedal. The machine will bring the thread from the spool onto the bobbin. Fill the bobbin with as much thread as you think you’ll need for the project (I completely fill mine to avoid having to redo this step mid-sew).

Slide the bobbin pin to the left until you hear it “click” out of place. Remove the bobbin from the bobbin pin and cut that lil bad boy loose. Your bobbin is now loaded with thread and ready to shred.


Drop the bobbin back in his cozy home under the needle, and follow the diagram on your machine to make sure the thread is going in the right direction. Close the bobbin cover.


Threading Your Machine:

Most sewing machines have a printed diagram somewhere on the machine itself, showing how to correctly bring the thread from the spool to the needle. Before you start, turn the hand wheel to raise the needle. Unwind about 18” of thread and bring it through the thread guide as indicated on your machine. On the Kenmore shown here, the thread passes through four points, down through the channel (the U-shaped space on the face of the machine), around the take up lever (turn the hand wheel so this metal arm pops out of the channel), and down back towards the needle.

Push the thread behind needle bar thread guide, and through the front eye of the needle. Holding the tail of this thread, turn the hand wheel until the needle picks up the bobbin thread from underneath. Carefully swipe under the presser foot (a seam ripper or tiny pair of scissors are a good tool for this) to grab both pieces of thread. Gently pull both pieces of thread towards the back of the machine, and get ready to start sewing!

If your machine gets jammed or your stitches look uneven, don’t panic...just rethread, making sure you are correctly bringing the thread to each point shown on you machine’s diagram. When feeling dread, just rethread (that’s a sewing slogan I’m trying to make happen)!


Now that you’ve been properly introduced to your machine and read the word “bobbin” way too many times, let's start sewing!

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