Updated: Jul 15, 2020
Welcome to the wonderful world of sewing! From modifying and making patterns to Tailoring and mending your own clothing; This is a life skill that, once you've grasped the basics of it, can open a lot of doors for you.
Getting to Know Your Sewing Machine
The sewing machine has... a LOT of moving parts. And not every make and model is the same. Thankfully, almost all of them have the following universal features.
Bobbin winder: Sometimes is stationary, and sometimes requires you to move it in order for it to wind your bobbin.
Pressure regulator: Controls the amount of pressure used by the presser foot to hold the fabric down.
Tension control: Controls your top stitching tension. The higher the number the tighter the tension.
Presser foot lever: Raises and lowers the presser foot
Feed dogs: Located below the needleplate. This is what grips, pulls, and pushes your fabric.
Bobbin housing: Usually located behind the storage box. Where you house your bobbin.
Reverse stitching lever: When you begin and end a line of permanent stitching, you will want to double back over it to prevent the thread from pulling loose easily.
Stitch length dial: Controls the length of your stitches. The average stitch setting is usually 3 or 4.
Stitch selection knob
Hand Wheel: Can be turned manually for individual stitching, and in some cases must be pulled out to wind the bobbin.
Some more recent models will have computerized components and even have the capability to embroider. If you have a computerized sewing machine, you may need to pull up the user's manual and settle in for some dry reading to figure out the plethora of symbols it has listed on the side!
Types of Stitches
1. Straight Stitch: Used most often in sewing. You can achieve different results by adjusting the length of the stitch.
2-3 is a standard stitch length for hems and seams.
4 and up is used for gathering (Ruffles mostly) and basting your fabric.
2. Zig-zag Stitch: Is often used to keep the raw edges of fabric from fraying.
3. Stretch Zig Zag Stitch: A variant of the zigzag stitch that has more points of stitching to allow for stretch without snapping the thread.
4. Blind Hem Stitch: used to sew hems in place with minimal amount of stitching visible.
5. Buttonhole Stitches: Allows you to sew beautiful buttonholes with little effort. Some Machines allow you do this with one step, some with two.
A majority of the time I use the straight stitch and zigzag stitch, the button hole stitch is a very close third.
The tension knob on your machine controls the top stitch tension. If your tension is off, your stitching will suffer. Each machine is factory set to be able to evenly stitch standard all purpose thread and light to medium fabrics.
Their are factors that can throw your stitching out of wack, and you may need to adjust your tension settings:
Fabric: Dense and thick fabrics like denim, leather and upholstery fabrics.
Batting Can add drag to the top thread depending on material and thickness.
Thread type: Different threads may require different tension settings. For example, a metallic thread is not as strong as a quilting or all purpose thread. You will likely need to reduce your tension settings down to 1 to avoid snapping your thread.
Top and Bottom threads: If you are using a thicker top thread than your bottom thread, it can throw off your tension. It's perfectly acceptable to use two different thread weights, just know you may need to adjust your settings accordingly.
Types of Machine Needles
Sewing machine needles are just as important to your project as the fabrics you choose. The compatibility of the fabric and needle are so important, that most needles are labelled for specific fabric types. If the package isn't labelled then there is usually a colored band underneath the shank of the needle that indicates what kind of needle it is.
If the wrong type of needle is used on a fabric it can result in:
damaged bobbin hook
throw off the machine’s timing
broken or shredded thread
Holes or tears in your fabric
Loose or skipped stitching
There are many different presser feet for various purposes. Some commonly used ones are:
Universal/zig zag: the default for most straight and zigzag stitching, and even many decorative stitches.
Zipper Foot: allow you to stitch close to the zipper coils for a neat appearance and proper zipper function.
Buttonhole Foot: help to create neat and uniform buttonholes on your garments.
Blind Hem: allows you to create an almost-invisible hem.
Overlock Foot: will neaten seam edges on knits and woven fabrics. If you don’t own a serger, this foot is a nice cheap alternative.
Most machines come with A regular presser foot, a zipper foot, and sometimes a buttonhole foot. If you only have a single presser foot, you can easily order a full set from Amazon for a reasonable price.
Tips and Tricks
Remember to regularly replace your machine’s needle. Dull needles can be very damaging to a machine and a project.
Clean your bobbin housing, tension discs, and feed dog area between projects. Lint builds up quickly and can gum up your machine and affect your stitching.
When threading your machine do so when the presser foot is up. When the foot is down the tension discs often tighten, making proper threading implausible.
Remove pins before they go under your presser foot, You won't need to replace your machine's needle nearly as often and you will reduce the number of bent pins in your tin.
Always have a scrap piece of fabric on hand to test your machine on before settling in to work on your project. This is also helpful when you're trouble shooting.