Intro to Sewing: The Machine
Updated: Jul 7
Having been sewing for sixteen years, I often get asked, "How do I start?" That, in itself, is a rather loaded question. Do I assume the questioner is familiar with the basics of the sewing machine? Do they know how to read patterns? Do they understand the difference between a roller foot and a rolled hem foot? Do they even know what a foot is? Simply, there are a lot of factors that go into sewing and even some intermediate crafters don't know what the number on sewing needles mean. So, I figure, let's start from the beginning: the actual sewing machine. This is just the first of several "Intro to Sewing" posts; I'll be covering several topics and eventually moving to more advanced techniques and skills. So hold tight if this is a little too intro for you, I'm sure you'll find something helpful in the near future!
Starting off, there are literally thousands of sewing machines to choose from, so this can be a daunting task right off the bat. A few things to consider when comparing sewing machines:
Budget: Assess your needs and skills. If you plan to make professional quality work, you'll be spending a lot more than a hobbyist who only wants to produce simple garments or projects. A budget will also determine how many extra features you'll get; so think about what you need versus what you want. Heavy machines tend to last longer because more pieces are made from metal rather than plastic- but will obviously cost more.
Stitches: Again, this is going to be a need versus want situation. Don't think a machine is better simply because it offers lots of fancy looking stitches which you don't even know how to use. What do you plan to make and how will these features help? (stitch guide coming soon!)
Special Features: These might include: adjustable stitch speed, needle threader, thread cutter, free arm, or many other fun add ons. If you have bad eyesight, it might be worth looking at machines with an auto needle threader.
Computerized vs Mechanical: Computerized is definitely becoming the norm but there's nothing wrong with mechanical! You won't find fancy stitches or many of the features of their electronic counterpart, but can often handle heavier fabric with ease and maintenance is pretty simple.
I learned to sew on an old mechanical Singer from the 80s but eventually upgraded to the Brother CS6000i. It lasted me for several years and is incredibly user friendly. I highly recommend it as an intro machine.
Currently I use a Janome JW7630. It sews heavier fabric much more easily, it has more metal pieces, and it overall handles smoother. Not to mention, it's significantly quieter than my previous Brother. However, it does have a higher price tag.
There are other types of sewing machines including sergers, overlocks, leather, and embroidery machines. While those are great to own if you a serious crafter and creator, they are not necessary right off the bat. Many computerized sewing machines have simple embroidery patterns to start off with along with stitches specifically for overlocking and hemming (more on that later). Unless you plan to work exclusively with thick leather, I don't personally think you need a machine for that.
Now that you (hopefully) have your machine, it's time to learn how to use it.
Your machine should come with a manual and I definitely recommend reviewing it from time to time. You'd be surprised how much you might have missed simply because you thought you knew everything about your machine. For the sake of time (and sanity) I'm only going to cover some of the most important features of a sewing machine; and don't worry, many of these features will be covered in more depth in a later blog post.
1. Spool Spin: This holds the top thread you need to sew with. (more on types of thread here)
2. Bobbin Winder: The area in which you wind your bobbin- the bottom thread you sew with.
3. Stitch Selection: Where you select the stitch you'll use. (more on types of stitches later)
4. Stitch Width: Where you select needle position to determine stitch width. (more here)
5. Stitch Length: Where you select how long each individual stitch will be. (more here)
6. Thread Tension: Where you select how loose/firm the stitch is. (more here)
7. Hand Wheel: This is used to manually raise/lower the needle.
8. Reverse Stitch: This causes the fabric to move in the reverse direction, usually used to secure the end of a stitch.
9. Presser Foot: This is used to grip the fabric to the feed dog and allow for sewing. The foot can be removed and swapped for separate feet, which results in different types of sewing. (more later)
10. Presser Foot Lifter: This lever lifts the pressure foot and allows you to add/remove/reposition fabric.
11. Needle/Needle Clamp: The needle houses the thread from the spool and allows the fabric to be sewn. The Needle Clamp holds the needle. (more on needles here)
12. Bobbin Compartment: This area houses the bobbin.
13. Feed Dog: Where the fabric sits and slides through the machine. The rate at which it moves is determined by the stitch length.
Cleaning and maintenance is an incredibly important aspect that many people don't know how to do. If you are spending hundreds of dollars on a sewing machine, please clean and maintain them. You don't want your machine to have issues, especially when you have a deadline! There should be specific instructions for how to clean your machine in the handbook, as every machine varies slightly. However, a few things to note.
Make sure to oil your machine. You handbook should say how often- it's usually a certain amount of hours used or yard/meters of fabric you've sewn. I use a very basic multi purpose oil for my machine, but they do sell oils for specific brands. Go slow and make sure you are wiping away excess oils.
Clean all the lint out. You'll notice little balls of lint start to accumulate in your bobbin compartments and around the needle. This is a good indicator that you should clean your machine of all the built up lint, dust, thread remnants, and everything else that has gotten stuck. Most machines come with a lint brush, but if not, you can easily find them online.
It's also important to change your needle frequently. Your needle will dull much sooner than it will break; so if you're noticing a decline in sewing quality that's an indicator your needle is old. As a habit, you should clean your machine and replace your needles after every project to ensure quality results.
Hopefully you find this helpful! More posts will be added to cover the different tools and elements of sewing. Please stay tuned!
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