Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sewing Basics # 6 - Anatomy of a Sewing Machine

This is my sewing machine. I love my sewing machine, I really do. We are officially a pair. But our relationship wasn't (still isn't) always plain sailing. I had to learn to love my machine, because when I first started sewing there were so many times I hated it. I mean really hated  it, and felt like locking it away and throwing away the key, in a frustrated strop (a little insight into my personality there, lol!). These days we get on pretty well. Our relationship is based on a growing understanding of how she ticks (It's a pretty one way relationship here because I don't think she's put any effort into understanding how I tick..). Once I'd worked this out, things got alot calmer and more productive between us. So I thought I'd share a little tour of my sewing machine and what I've learnt about her....

1. The 2 digits tell me which stitch code is selected and the letter above them refers to which machine foot is recommended for that particular stitch.
2. Increases and decreases the stitch length
3. Increases and decreases the stitch width where relevant (zig zag, overlock, decorative etc)
4. Stitch selector buttons. Scroll up and down until the desired code is displayed.
5. 50 different built in stitches and their relevant codes. The only ones I've ever used are 01, 04, and 06. And for standard dressmaking they're really the only ones I'll ever need. The rest are just pleasant extras to explore when I get round to it!

1. This is the reverse stitch button, used at the start and finish of a row of stitching to "lock" the stitches in place at either end. This will either be a button or lever on other machines.
2. Electronic needle up/down button. On most modern machines. Not neccessary (but a nice extra) as you can also do it manually by turning the handwheel towards you to raise or lower the needle into position.
3. Controls the speed of the sewing machine. This control is sometimes on the foot pedal instead.
1. Thread tension guide. First stop en route from the thread reel to the needle. Has a little spring in t to keep the thread in place during sewing.
2. This is a threading guide for the sewing function
3. This is a threading guide for the automatic bobbin winding function. (Alot of machines will have these little guides placed strategically around the machine. Sometimes they're just directional arrows, sometimes full on diagrams.
4. Thread tension dial. I don't tend to touch this that much as my machine has automatic tension, so adjusts itself. I guess this is there if you want to override that. But on a machine without auto tension this would be part of your "arsenal" in achieving perfect stitching.
5 & 6 are the next stops after the tension guide (see 1) when threading the machine for sewing
1. Another handy printed guide to using the bobbin winding function.
2. Spool Pin/Thread Spindle - holds the thread reel during sewing.
3&4 The spool and "buffer" for the bobbin winding mechanism.
5. Hole for adding an extra spool pin for twin needle stitching or (because the extra spool/spindle is larger) for larger cones/reels of thread.
1. Lowers and raises the presser foot.
2. Holds the needle in the needle clamp. Loosen this to realease the needle when changing. Tighten to secure new needle once in place.
3. Theres a little button here that releases the machine foot from the main part of shank. It may be a button or lever on other machines.
4. The machine/presser foot. Huge variety of these available. My personal favourite, seen here, is the overcast foot. Probably naughty but I use it for most things. Even when I'm not overcasting. I think maybe that's just one of those things that each sewer has a different preference for. This one just works for me.
5. The needle plate has a seam guide grid etched into it. When I first started sewing it didn't occur to me what this was for, I was so fixated with watching the needle I didn't even think to guide the edge of my fabric along these lines to keep my stitching line straight. Oooops!
6. This is where the bobbin is on my machine. On others the bobbin may be accessed from the front/may not have a see through cover.
7. Needle - nuff said! (Actually there'll probably be a seperate post on these.)
8. This and the lever to the left are part of the automatic threading function (found on most modern machines). I have never used this. I find it easy enough to thread the needle myself. Like mine, some machines have a white square that sits directly behind the needle, on the foot shank. This makes it easier to see what you're doing. If you struggle  to see what you're doing, try holding a sheet of white paper behind the needle. You'll be suprised how much easier it makes it!

1. Another of those handy threading guides. This time for inserting the bobbin.
2. The bobbin in place. Important to use the correct bobbin for your machine. (note the directional arrows that tell you which way to insert the bobbin and thread)
3. This lever releases the bobbin cover. On my old machine the bobbin cover just slid on and off.
4. The bobbin cover. Handy it's see through because I can see at a glance if my bobbin thread is about to run out!
1. The hand wheel. Always turned toward you and never away from you. Used to move the needle up and down manually if super slow speed is required at critical points when sewing or when picking up the bobbin thread.
2. On/Off switch. (I'm terrible for leaving my machine on when threading or changing the needle etc. I'm a health and safety nightmare!)
3. Power input socket.
Most machines will have a section at the front that you can remove to convert from "flatbed" to "freearm" use. Makes it easier to sew cuffs, sleeves etc
1. Feed dogs/teeth. These move the fabric along when in the raised position. When lowered it allows you to control the movement of the fabric yourself. Most commonly this would be in the case of freestyle embroidery or quilting. For normal sewing the feed dogs/teeth stay in the raised position.
2. Switches the feed dogs between postions.
3& 4. Shows the symbols used to indicate the position of the teeth
Shows the process for engaging the bobbin winding mechanism.

So here concludes today's tour! Some of the specifics will vary  from machine to machine, but there are fundamentals that are common to every machine. So I hope this is of some use to someone.
The fundamentals of how a sewing machine functions to create stitches through cloth remain unchanged since the 19th century. Modern technology has smoothed things out, added power and a myriad of options. But essentially a  vintage Singer (a thing of absolute beauty in my humble opinion) will perform the same function as a  modern one with all the bells and whistles, which is really just window dressing when you get right down to it...


  1. Another wonderful post! (you need to tell me how you annotate your photos...) When are you going to drop the dogs? Its great fun ;-)

  2. Thanks for taking the time to put together this "tour"! It is very educational.

  3. How cool! I've not seen a modern sewing machine up close, LOL!!

    Mine is an 80s Jones gets sworn at a lot...I really do need a newer one. The bobbin viewer is a revelation to me as mine is hidden beneath so you never know when it'll run out!! LOL!

  4. I'm about to buy an NS30 myself! It's nice to read other people's good reviews and advice. Exactly which model is yours?


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