How to Use a Sewing Machine – Beginner’s to Expert Guide

Sewing or being able to create accessories or clothes completely by yourself both to keep and to give to loved ones is an art that nowadays interests more and more people…

How to use a Sewing Machine- Beginner's to Expert Guide

In the past, many families had at least one member who could machine sew, but now those who want to learn often have to start from scratch to learn the basics of sewing. 

If you still don’t know how to use the sewing machine, in this beginner’s guide you will find information, advice, and tips on how to get started in the world of sewing. or if you Buy a good machine to learn to sew can be quite expensive, but if in addition to wanting to give free rein to your creative ideas, you want it to be of good quality and also easy to use, you will not be able to skimp on expenses.

When starting to sew, setting up the first machine to do the first sewing job can be a difficult mountain to climb. However, using a sewing machine is not that complicated.

Whether you have a mechanical or an electronic sewing machine, the procedure differs little, except that the latter has automatic settings (and is therefore easier).

Don’t worry, the installation of the machine simply requires  particular protocol,  which you will do automatically when you get used to doing it.

How do I thread the machine needle, install and change the bobbin,  attach a sewing needle, turn the bobbin winder, or use the speed controller? How do I set the machine stitch program to sew all fabrics and use stitch patterns?

Know the Parts of the Sewing Machine

Before you start using a sewing machine, you have to know all its parts like the back of your hand.

To learn how to sew by machine, it is first necessary to be aware of the most important parts of which a sewing machine is composed. While the machines you can buy online or in stores can be very different, there tend to be a few key components found in any type of sewing machine. Knowing these parts is essential not only to know how to operate correctly but also to understand fully and without difficulty the many sewing tutorials or video tutorials that can be found online.

The three fundamental parts:

  1. The winder: When we talk about the winder we refer to the metal part used to wind the thread and positioned on the upper part of the machine.
  2. The bobbin: Positioned under the sewing machine needle we find a small bobbin called a bobbin.
  3. The hook: The hook is the internal mechanism into which the bobbin is inserted.

Sewing pants with an easy-to-use sewing machine will be much faster than sewing them by hand. Because all sewing machines work with the knotted stitch: the fabrics are sandwiched between the upper and lower threads.

parts of a sewing machine: How to use a Sewing Machine

Here are some steps to discover the different parts of a sewing machine to sew any type of fabric:

  1. Locate the thread holder,  a metal pin into which the spool of thread is inserted,
  2. Find the thread guide,  which is used to guide the sewing thread to the winder (on the left side of the upper part of the machine),
  3. The winder: to the right of the thread holder,
  4. The stitch regulators,  to select the stitch program (length, tension, width)
  5. Locate the thread guard lever,  where the thread will be inserted,
  6. The thread tension regulator: allows you to adjust the tension of the threads when sewing,
  7. The clamping screw  to insert/remove the needle from its base,
  8. The presser foot: it is used to support and guide the fabric when the machine is in operation,
  9. The presser foot lever: practice pulling from top to bottom and from bottom to top,
  10. needle plate,
  11. The feed dog: is a metal guide located on the needle plate that moves the fabric when sewing,
  12. The bobbin case: under the machine, the bobbin is placed that feeds the needle of the thread below.

You’re done, just make the necessary adjustments, especially on a mechanical sewing machine, and get to work.

To do this, place the machine on a flat, clean, tidy, and bright surface: a table, a desk, or even a piece of furniture with a well-lit work surface. Position the sewing machine with the needle on the left (for good visibility).

Learn How to Use Sewing Machine: Step by Step

If you are reading this article, surely you are wondering how to sew on a machine to make your clothes and accessories,  a backpack, a skirt, a summer dress, to hem, to sew a curtain, etc. Here is Superprof’s mini guide to learning how to use your new sewing machine!

Learn How to Use Sewing Machine: Step by Step
Photo: Amazon

1. Gather Your Materials:

Setting the stage for a successful sewing project begins with assembling the necessary materials. Ensuring you have the right tools on hand will make your sewing experience smoother and more enjoyable.

  • Sewing Machine: Before anything else, check that your sewing machine is in good working condition. Ensure it’s clean and well-maintained. If needed, refer to the machine’s manual for any specific pre-use instructions.
  • Fabric: Choose the fabric that suits your project requirements. Consider factors such as the fabric type, weight, and color. Pre-wash the fabric if necessary to prevent shrinkage later on.
  • Thread: Select thread that complements your chosen fabric. Matching the thread color to the fabric ensures a cohesive and professional-looking finish.
  • Bobbin: Wind a bobbin with the same thread color you’ve chosen for the upper thread. Make sure the bobbin is securely wound and inserted correctly.
  • Needles: Choosing the right needle is essential for the success of your project. Different fabrics require different needle types. Consult your machine’s manual or needle packaging for guidance.
  • Scissors: Invest in sharp scissors specifically designated for cutting fabric and thread. Dull scissors can lead to uneven cuts and frayed edges, so ensure your scissors are in top condition.
  • Seam Ripper: Mistakes happen, and a seam ripper is your ally for fixing them. Keep this tool handy to easily undo stitches and make corrections without damaging the fabric.
  • Pins: Use pins to secure fabric pieces together during the sewing process. They help maintain alignment and ensure accurate stitching.
  • Tape Measure: Accurate measurements are fundamental in sewing. A tape measure is an essential tool for taking precise measurements, ensuring your project turns out just as planned.

By meticulously gathering these materials, you set the foundation for a successful and enjoyable sewing experience. Having everything at your fingertips allows you to focus on the creative aspects of your project without interruptions.

The Sewing Book: Over 300 Step-by-Step Techniques Hardcover – Illustrated, March 6, 2018by Alison Smith (Author)
The Sewing Book: Over 300 Step-by-Step Techniques Hardcover – Illustrated, March 6, 2018; by Alison Smith (Author);

2. Setup:

Place your sewing machine on a stable surface:

Choose a flat, sturdy table with enough space for your project.

Where to Place the Sewing Machine? Once you have purchased a sewing machine, you need to find or build a good workstation for when you start using it. In general, the correct place to sew by machine is on a stable and firm surface on the ground, such as a table, desk, or counter.

The idea is that the surface should not move or tremble excessively when the machine is running as even the best sewing machine can be subject to vibration when we operate it.

Once you have found the most suitable surface, it is important to choose a chair that is comfortable and proportionate to the height of the table so that you can reach the sewing machine without difficulty when sitting down.

First Time Sewing: The Absolute Beginner's Guide Paperback – June 1, 2014by . Editors Of Creative Publishing International
First Time Sewing: The Absolute Beginner’s Guide Paperback – June 1, 2014; by. Editors Of Creative Publishing International;

Plug it in and turn it on:

Ensure the power source is nearby and accessible.

Plug in the sewing machine, ensuring the power cord is in good condition. Locate a nearby power outlet within reach of the cord, and securely connect the machine. Turn on the machine using the power switch, typically located on the side or back.

Select the appropriate needle and thread for your fabric:

Refer to your project requirements and machine manual. Use a needle suitable for the fabric type and match the thread color.

Before starting, select the appropriate needle and thread for your fabric. Refer to your project requirements and machine manual to determine the recommended needle type and size. Consult the manual for guidance on needle compatibility and choose a thread color that matches or complements your fabric. Ensure the bobbin is wound with the selected thread color.

3. Threading the Machine:

To thread your sewing machine, first, refer to the machine’s manual for specific instructions, as threading can vary between different machines. Follow these detailed steps for a successful threading process:

  • Raise the presser foot: Lift the presser foot using the lever usually located behind or to the side of the machine. This releases tension on the thread, making it easier to thread.
  • Place the spool of thread on the designated spindle: Locate the spindle at the top of your machine, designed to hold the spool of thread securely in place.
  • Follow the threading path indicated in the manual: Consult your machine’s manual for a threading diagram or instructions. Typically, the thread will pass through various guides, tension discs, and ultimately the needle.
  • Thread the needle from front to back: Once the threading path is understood, pass the thread through the eye of the needle from the front (the side facing you) to the back.
  • Pull a few inches of thread and leave a tail: Pull a small length of thread through the needle, leaving a few inches as a tail. This tail will be useful when you start sewing.
  • Lower the presser foot: Lower the presser foot back down. This action engages the tension discs and secures the thread in place.
  • Hold the thread tail and turn the handwheel toward you: Hold onto the thread tail with your left hand and turn the handwheel toward you with your right hand. This brings the needle down and then up.

As the needle comes up, it catches the bobbin thread and brings it up through the needle plate.

By following these steps, you ensure that your sewing machine is correctly threaded and ready for sewing. Threading can be a bit different for each machine, so always refer to the manual for specific details related to your model.

One of the first steps you must learn to do to learn how to use a sewing machine is precisely threading it. If you have an industrial model, this step will be a bit complex at first. If you have a more domestic machine, it will be much easier. To thread, remember that you must place the thread and insert it through the thread guide. Surely in your machine, you have a step-by-step guide to thread it both in the “upper thread” (main spool) and in the “lower thread” (the spool that goes inside, collected on the bobbin).

Choose the Thread Type and Adjust the Sewing Machine

Factors such as the type of thread and the machine settings to be used also depend on the types of stitching you are interested in. A suitable sewing thread must be strong and elastic, it must have a smooth surface and a good texture. You can recognize a good yarn when you cut it: if the cut yarn is clean, then the quality is good.

However, choosing a quality yarn to form the strongest and best possible stitches is not the only factor you need to pay attention to. Adjusting the sewing machine with the right tension and the right speed is essential to obtain the desired result. In particular, the tension, which can be adjusted through the numbers on the machine, allows for obtaining resistant points. Tension on 4 is usually a good setting, however, it does not work on all types of fabric. For example, when using a lightweight fabric, such as cotton, the tension may be set to 2 or 3.

In terms of sewing speed, it is recommended for beginners to keep a low enough level that allows them to easily control the direction by keeping their hands on the fabric safely.

Related: How to Thread Your Computerized Sewing Machine

Finally, if you are wondering what they are used for and how to use the sewing machine feet, just know that they are useful for regulating the speed and pressure of the sewing.

4. Wind the bobbin

Place an empty bobbin on the winder:

  • Locate the bobbin winding spindle on your machine.
  • Put an empty bobbin onto the spindle.

Pass the thread through the bobbin winding tension disc: Follow the threading path indicated, usually passing the thread through a tension disc specifically for bobbin winding.

Engage the bobbin winding mechanism and start the machine:

  • Switch the machine to bobbin winding mode if required.
  • Start the machine, and the bobbin will wind with thread.

As we have already said, we will have to transfer the thread from the main spool to the bobbin (this is winding the thread). Insert the thread into the spool pin and wind it around the guide. Insert the empty bobbin into the winder (that piece that looks like a stick that turns) and wind the thread before pulling the end through the hole at the top. Press the pedal and check that the bobbin winder rotates correctly. This step will allow us to avoid knots in the thread and possible snags.

5. Insert the bobbin

Follow Your Machine’s Manual for Bobbin Insertion: Begin by consulting your sewing machine’s manual for specific instructions on how to insert the bobbin. Different machines may have variations in the bobbin insertion process.

Refer to the Manual for the Correct Way to Insert the Wound Bobbin into the Bobbin Case: Identify the bobbin case and follow the manual’s guidance for the correct method of inserting the wound bobbin. This typically involves placing the bobbin into its designated space within the bobbin case.

Ensure the Bobbin Rotates Counterclockwise When Pulled: After inserting the bobbin, it’s crucial to ensure that when you pull the thread from the bobbin, it rotates counterclockwise. This specific rotation direction is vital for achieving proper stitching during sewing.

Example of Mechanical Bobbin Holder System:

  • For a sewing machine with a mechanical bobbin holder system, the process is generally straightforward.
  • Locate the bobbin holder, which is often beneath the needle plate or in a front-loading bobbin case.
  • Insert the wound bobbin into the bobbin holder, ensuring it follows the indicated rotation direction (counterclockwise when pulled).
  • Pull the end of the thread through the designated slot or guide, securing it in place.
  • Close the bobbin case or cover according to your machine’s design, ensuring it clicks or locks into position.
Understanding the specifics of your machine’s bobbin insertion system is crucial for smooth sewing. Always refer to the manual for accurate instructions, as the process can vary between different sewing machine models. Practicing the insertion process on scrap fabric can help you become more comfortable and proficient in using your sewing machine.

6. Thread Tension & Adjusting Tension:

Thread Tension:

  • The tension of the upper thread plays a crucial role in creating a neat and even seam.
  • Adjusting the upper thread tension is typically done using a dial, usually ranging from 0 to 9 on most machines, with the average set around 4.
  • The adjustment is influenced by factors such as the thickness of the fabric and the type of thread being used.
  • To find the right tension, conduct a test on a fabric scrap that matches your project. For thin fabric, a higher tension is suitable, while thick fabrics or bulkier items may require lower tension.

Testing Lower Thread Tension (Bobbin):

  • To check the tension of the lower thread (bobbin), pull out about 5cm of thread and let it hang freely.
  • Give it a gentle shake; if the bobbin holder doesn’t drop, indicating excessive tension, adjustments are needed.
  • To decrease tension, turn the bobbin screw half a turn counterclockwise.

Related: How to Adjust Bobbin Tension on Janome Sewing Machine

Adjustment Process:

To assess correct tension, observe how the thread unwinds from the bobbin; it should unwind slowly, and the bobbin holder should drop.

Checking Machine Tension Settings:

  • Refer to your machine’s manual to find the location of tension settings and understand their values.
  • Familiarize yourself with the specific instructions in the manual regarding tension adjustments.

Adjusting Upper Thread Tension:

  • If stitches appear too tight or too loose, you may need to adjust the upper thread tension.
  • Follow your machine’s instructions for adjusting tension; this usually involves turning the tension dial to the appropriate setting.

Understanding and adjusting thread tension is essential for achieving well-balanced and professional-looking stitches. Regularly testing and adjusting tension based on your fabric and thread choices will lead to improved sewing results.

Related: How to Use a Computerized Sewing Machine

7. Selecting Stitches:

Choosing Stitch Types:

  • When it comes to selecting stitches on your sewing machine, you can choose from various options using the machine’s stitch selector.
  • The stitch selector is a feature that allows you to pick different types of stitches suitable for different sewing projects.

Example: Straight Stitch for Basic Seams: One of the most commonly used stitches is the straight stitch. This stitch is straightforward and strong, making it ideal for basic seams in general sewing projects.

Super Stitches Sewing: A Complete Guide to Machine-Sewing and Hand-Stitching Techniques Kindle Edition; by Nicole Vasbinder
Book: Super Stitches Sewing; Amazon

How to select the straight stitch:

  1. Turn the stitch selector dial to the straight stitch icon, usually indicated by a single line or the number “1.”
  2. Adjust the stitch length if needed. For basic seams, a standard stitch length (around 2.5 mm) is often suitable.

Why use the straight stitch for basic seams?

  • Strength: The straight stitch provides a strong and durable seam, making it suitable for joining fabric pieces securely.
  • Versatility: It is versatile and can be used for various types of fabrics, making it a go-to stitch for everyday sewing.
  • Neat Appearance: The simplicity of the straight stitch gives a clean and neat appearance to the seams.

Tips for Using Straight Stitch:

  • Ensure the fabric is positioned correctly under the presser foot before starting.
  • Backstitch at the beginning and end of the seam to secure the stitches.
  • Adjust the stitch length based on the fabric and project requirements.

By selecting the appropriate stitch type for your project, such as the straight stitch for basic seams, you ensure that your sewing machine is configured to deliver the desired results. Understanding the different stitches available and when to use them enhances your sewing capabilities and allows for greater creativity in your projects.

8. Fabric Preparation:

Wash and Press Your Fabric Before Sewing:

Before diving into your sewing project, it’s crucial to begin with clean fabric. Washing the fabric helps remove any chemicals, dirt, or sizing that might be present. Follow the care instructions on the fabric, choosing an appropriate washing method—some fabrics may require hand-washing or a gentle machine cycle in cold water.

Pre-shrinking is particularly important, especially for natural fibers like cotton or linen. This step prevents the fabric from shrinking later, potentially distorting your finished project. After washing, be sure to dry the fabric according to the care instructions.

Once your fabric is clean and dry, press it with an iron to eliminate wrinkles. Adjust the iron temperature based on the fabric type—use a lower setting for delicate fabrics and a higher one for sturdier materials. Always use a pressing cloth or press on the wrong side of the fabric to avoid damaging delicate or heat-sensitive materials.

Pin Pattern Pieces or Mark Your Fabric as Needed:

Lay your fabric on a flat surface, and carefully place the pattern pieces on top following the layout guide provided in your pattern instructions. Secure the pattern pieces in place by pinning them to the fabric. Make sure the pins penetrate both the pattern and fabric layers to ensure accuracy during cutting.

Marking is a crucial step in fabric preparation. Use tailor’s chalk, fabric markers, or pins to mark key points on the fabric, such as darts, notches, and seam lines. Transfer any pattern markings onto the fabric surface to guide you during the sewing process.

Verify that the grainline of the fabric aligns with the grainline indicated on the pattern. Proper alignment ensures that the fabric maintains its natural drape and stretch, contributing to the overall success of your sewing project.

Why Fabric Preparation Matters:

Fabric preparation sets the groundwork for a successful sewing project. Washing and pressing contribute to the predictability of the fabric’s behavior during and after sewing. Pinning and marking ensure accurate cutting and assembly, ultimately leading to a professionally finished garment or item.

By investing time in fabric preparation, you not only enhance the overall quality and appearance of your sewing projects but also contribute to their longevity and wearability.

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9. Basic Stitching:

Practice on Scrap Fabric First: Before diving into your actual sewing project, it’s wise to practice stitching on scrap fabric. This helps you get comfortable with the machine and understand its behavior.

Lower the Presser Foot and Start Sewing, Guiding the Fabric with Both Hands:

  • Lower the presser foot onto the fabric and ensure it’s secured.
  • Begin sewing, guiding the fabric with both hands to keep it straight. Maintaining control ensures neat and accurate stitching.

10. Seam Allowance:

Follow the Pattern or Project Instructions for the Correct Seam Allowance: Measure and stitch according to the recommended seam allowance specified in your pattern or project instructions. This ensures consistency and accuracy in your sewing.

Many Sewing Machines Have Markings on the Needle Plate to Help Guide Your Fabric: Utilize the marked measurements on the needle plate to guide your fabric. This feature aids in maintaining consistent seam allowances throughout your project.

11. Backstitching:

Secure Your Stitches by Backstitching at the Beginning and End of Each Seam: Before and after sewing a seam, engage the machine’s reverse function to backstitch. This locks the stitches, preventing them from unraveling and ensuring the seam’s durability.

12. Turning Corners:

Stop with the Needle Down, Lift the Presser Foot, and Pivot the Fabric:

  • When reaching a corner, stop sewing with the needle down in the fabric.
  • Lift the presser foot to pivot the fabric, enabling you to continue sewing in a new direction.

13. Finishing Seams:

Use a Serger, Zigzag Stitch, or Pinking Shears to Finish Raw Edges: Depending on your project, employ a Serger, a Zigzag stitch, or Pinking Shears to finish raw fabric edges. This step prevents fraying and contributes to a polished final look.

14. Troubleshooting:

Refer to Your Machine’s Manual for Common Issues: If you encounter problems during sewing, consult your machine’s manual for troubleshooting tips. It often provides solutions to common issues.

Check for Thread Jams, Proper Threading, and Needle Condition: Investigate potential issues such as thread jams, ensure correct threading, and assess the condition of your needle. Addressing these concerns keeps your sewing machine running smoothly.

15. Maintenance:

Clean the Machine Regularly: Maintain your machine’s performance by regularly cleaning out lint and dust. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper cleaning procedures.

Change Needles and Oil the Machine as Recommended in the Manual: Replace needles as they become dull and oil the machine as specified in the manual. This routine maintenance ensures a smooth and efficient sewing experience.

16. Advanced Techniques (for Experts):

Experiment with Different Stitches and Presser Feet: Explore your machine’s capabilities by experimenting with different stitches and presser feet. This allows for diverse effects in your sewing projects.

Learn About Buttonholes, Zippers, and Other Advanced Sewing Techniques: As you gain confidence, delve into more advanced techniques such as creating buttonholes, sewing zippers, and mastering intricate details. These skills broaden your sewing repertoire.

17. Practice and Patience:

Sewing is a Skill that Improves with Practice: Understand that sewing is a skill that improves with consistent practice. Regularly engaging in sewing projects helps refine your abilities.

Be Patient and Enjoy the Learning Process: Patience is key in mastering sewing. Enjoy the learning process, celebrate your progress, and savor the journey of honing your skills.


How to Unlock a Sewing Machine

If the fabric does not advance, the sewing machine may be blocked. The reason could be a tangled thread, too tight, or not suitable for the chosen fabric. To solve the problem it may therefore be necessary to change the type of thread, correctly re-thread the thread, and avoid stretching it too much. Also, to prevent the thread from tangling, it is helpful to keep the bobbin clean.

How to Oil the Sewing Machine

Oiling the sewing stain is a critical step in keeping it in good condition. First, it is important to use only mild oils suitable for machinery of this kind. To oil the sewing machine, simply open it by removing the flap that will allow you to access the internal components with a screwdriver. Before using the oil, be sure to remove any dust with a brush, then you can oil the mechanical components being careful to distribute the oil on the parts that need it without using too much.

Photo: Amazon