How to use a sewing machine

Wire feed

Your thread spool is at the top of the machine. The thread passes through a series of channels and loops before it reaches the needle (your manual will detail exactly how to thread your machine). There will also be a numbered dial which can be raised or lowered to adjust the thread tension as needed for your fabric.


Most machines come with a needle already in place (and a replacement), but your manual will show you how to swap it out for another. When sewing specialty fabrics (eg heavy denim or slippery lace) you should change needle sizes to ensure the best results – ask for advice when buying fabric.


This metal accessory goes under your needle and holds your fabric in place. A lever moves it up to position the fabric and down when sewing. The basic presser foot is the one you’ll use the most, although there are plenty of specialty feet to use for everything from quilting to zippers.

You can tackle most sewing projects with the five must-have feet: standard, zip, ¼-inch, free-motion, and walking/quilting.

5 essential sewing machine feet.


This small plastic or metal spool sits in a special unit under the sewing area, under the foot and the needle. Consult your machine’s manual to find out how to load your bobbin. Once it has been loaded, the bobbin thread and the top thread come together to form each stitch. The bobbin case is either drop-in or front-loading.

Stitch length

This dial allows you to change the stitch length. For standard seams, aim for a setting of 2 or 2.5. A longer stitch length is useful for quick stitch lines.


Use the handwheel to move the needle up and down manually. It is essential for controlling the seam line in tight places and corners. To prevent your thread from getting caught or tangled, always turn the dial towards you. When winding bobbins, you may need to disengage the needle action by pulling the handwheel (check your manual for how to do this on your machine.

Back seam

Most machines have a button or switch that allows you to sew in the reverse direction. It’s the best way to start and end your sewing – just sew a few stitches forward and back to secure your thread.


The pedal rests on the floor. It is pressure sensitive – press gently for slow sewing, press harder to run the motor faster. Some machines also have separate speed control, giving you even more control over your pace.

You might also like:

How to sew a button

How to make a tote

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