Sewing Machine 101: How To Use a Sewing Machine for Beginners Like Me

Here she is! Isn’t she beautiful! I don’t mean to be selfish, but this tutorial is not just for you, it’s for me! You know, just in case I forget – I’ve got my own instructions in easy to follow picture format! Your machine may be a little different, but keep your manual handy in case you need it as a reference.

This 101 is meant to show you how VERY EASY it is to teach yourself how to use a sewing machine, despite the length of the post. It’s meant to inspire YOU to get that machine YOU’VE always wanted, right? But don’t be afraid! It only took me less than two hours to learn how to use the machine, and that was just a few weeks ago! It took me about four times as long to make this post!

Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t run into snags, but you know! I even had a few tangles from the bobbin, but after playing with the tension – fixed it right on the spot! {using the manual} Go me! AND…I’ve already gotten two simple projects under my belt: Everyday Napkins & Napkins into Pillows! So let’s start from the top. Let me introduce you to the presser foot, presser foot lever, and release. AND please, I know, I should have fixed my manicure first, right???

No judging! If you are facing your machine and the opening is on the left, then the presser foot is directly behind you on the back of the sewing machine. Push it down, the presser foot lowers {the position for sewing}. Lift it up, the presser foot below raises. See here:

Okay, let’s take a look at the presser foot. Below it is detached because I’m going to teach you how to reattach it! First, raise your presser foot lever (see above). Next place presser foot underneath the cut out as shown, making sure the pin and cut out line up. Then all you have to do is pull down the presser foot lever to engage the cut out in the presser foot! See:

Life up the presser foot lever and you got it on there! Now to release the presser foot, just lift that little silver pin, and the presser foot will drop. Like this:

Now that you’ve met the presser foot and lever, it’s time to wind a bobbin! Let me introduce you to your horizontal spool pin, thread {duh}, and spool holder. Take your thread and place it on the spool pin so the thread comes over the top facing you {see picture}. Then secure it with the spool holder. If the thread spool is smaller than this, you can flip the spool holder to hold with the other side.

Next, going clockwise {on my machine}, follow the path on your machine around the bobbin winder tension disc. Thread bobbin as shown and place on the spindle. Push to the right to lock.

Hold the thread end {like picture above} and press the foot control pedal to wind bobbin.

When full, cut the thread, pull bobbin to the left and remove. Cut thread to remove bobbin from machine. Keep it handy because we will need it soon!

See the thread on top of the bobbin {above, right}. You can cut that off. You’ve wound it tight! Now we are going to open the hinged cover to put the bobbin in the machine. Remove the bobbin case by pulling the silver lever.

This was a tricky part for me so hang on! Hold the bobbin case with one hand. Thread should be in a clockwise direction. Pull thread through the slit and under the finger. It will be in that hole in the bobbin case. Hold the bobbin case by the silver latch and insert back into the shuttle.

THE BOBBIN IS READY! Before we learn how to thread, you will need to know how to insert and change a sewing needle. Loosen the needle clamp screw. Insert needle as high as it will go and then tighten clamp screw again to secure. Change needles when you notice: bent, blunt, or damaged needles!

NOW we will learn how to thread your needle! On my machine, and I imagine most machines, it’s practically spelled out for you on the machine in numbers: BUT… FIRST, TURN POWER OFF so you don’t skewer your fingers!

Keep in mind – the handwheel controls the height of the sewing needle as you turn it. Raise the needle with the handwheel {located on the right of your machine} to its highest position. ALSO raise the presser foot by lifting the presser foot lever {on back of machine}.

Okay, now we are ready to thread! First put the thread spool into the spool pole and secure with holder. Make sure thread is coming off the spool like in my picture below {from the back}. Pull yourself some slack and then thread through {1} the upper thread guide, guide thread around thread guide, pulling thread through pre-tension spring {2}. Thread tension module{3} by leading thread down right channel and up left channel {4}.

Okay from {4} we are going to head north {up}. After you’ve turned the corner, lift the thread up and pass it from right to left over the take-up lever {5}. NOTE: if you can’t see the take-up lever, then you need to use the handwheel on the right side of the machine and turn it until you can see it. Once it’s hooked on there, it’s time to head towards the needle. You are almost done!!! WHOO HOO!

Okay, take a deep breath, last step! Take the thread and pass behind the wire needle clamp guide {it will be open in the back to hook the thread on}. Pass the thread through the hole in the bottom of the needle from front to back and pull thread off to the side.

Now, hold the upper thread in your left hand, and with your right hand, turn the handwheel towards you to lower, then raise the needle. IT’S MAGIC! You will see the bobbin thread come up from underneath the presser foot. Gently pull the upper thread {the one through the needle} to raise the bobbin thread up through the needle plate hole. It will come right up with it, just tug on it until you have both ends {the upper and bobbin threads}.

Lay both threads to the back of the presser foot {upper thread needs to go through the opening in the front of the presser foot before pulling back with the bobbin thread} C O N G R A T U L A T I O N S!!! You are ready to sew!!!

This is where machines differ. Here is my reverse lever {important for securing stitches} and the settings I use for stitch width and length. Make sure to check your manual for proper settings. This is a basic tutorial so I am sewing a basic straight stitch. Whew, right?

With the presser foot lifted {refer to beginning of lesson for presser foot location} put your fabric underneath. Then using the presser foot lever, lower the presser foot to secure fabric. Your threads will still be in the back of the machine. Press your foot pedal and sew an inch or so. Then press and hold the reverse lever and sew back the same distance to secure stitch {called a backstitch}. Let go {of the reverse lever} and YOU ARE SEWING!

When you get to your endpoint, reverse stitch again to secure your stitch. Lift the presser foot {using lever} and pull the fabric off to the left. If it worked, and didn’t tangle the bobbin, then your two threads {upper and bobbin} should follow the fabric out to the left! Just cut near the fabric, and pull the threads back into position! Your machine is ready to sew again and SEW ARE YOU!!!!

Now, if you have tangles in the bobbin thread, sometimes you can just gently lift it and pull to the side and you will see the two threads still. If not, cut the threads and adjust your tension settings based on your machine manual or see instructions below for my Singer. You may need to re-thread the machine and start all over once you adjust the settings. I had to do this a couple times and haven’t had an issue since! Settings will depend upon the type of stitch as well as the type of fabric.

According to my manual, basic thread tension setting is “4.” {According to my manual, 90% of sewing is completed in 3-5 range.} To increase the tension, turn the dial to the next number up. To reduce the tension, turn the dial to the next number down.

To adjust the bottom thread tension, you need to test it first. Remove the bobbin case and bobbin {still together} and hold it suspending it by the thread. Jerk it once or twice. If the tension is right, the thread will unwind by about an inch or two . If the tension is too TIGHT, it will not unwind at all. If the tension is too loose, it will unwind like the picture above or keep on going. To adjust, you need to turn the small screw on the side of the bobbin case. {Remember: Lefty loosey, righty tighty.}

In short: adjust the tension, re-thread your machine {if necessary}, and sew down a piece of scrap fabric to test it before completing your project.

SOME THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND {per my manual}:

  • Proper tension settings are important to good sewing.
  • There is no single tension setting appropriate for all stitch functions, thread or fabric.
  • A balanced tension is usually only desirable for straight stitch construction sewing.
  • For zig-zag and decorative sewing stitch functions, thread tension should be generally less than for straight stitching.

LOOK AT YOU…SEWING ALL BY YOURSELF!!! Or maybe you just read through this and are heading out to get your very first sewing machine! IF SO – don’t get your machine at Tar-you know where. I went to an actual sewing machine store with a seasoned refurbishing sewing machine veteran running the place. He suggested this refurbished machine because it’s older and Singer at that time still made the machines with metal parts {he even had a machine cut in half to show me!} He said many of the new Singers are made of plastic and so refurbished, in my case, was the way to go! And…it was in my price range. I may just go back there and give him a great big HUG!

And WHEN you do dust off that machine or buy yourself a shiny new one – PLEASE leave me a comment and let me know how it went! I’d be so pleased to hear your good news!!!

UPDATE: My Mom gave me a wonderful book for my birthday to help me with my new hobby! It’s a book of projects that only use one yard of fabric! And I especially love it because it has beautiful photographs 🙂

See my sewing machine for beginners roundup reviews here

One Response

  1. Wenda Reply

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *