Brought your first sewing machine and now not sure where to start? Welcome to our complete guide to using a sewing machine for beginners. This is for you if you’ve got a machine but are a bit overwhelmed when you get it out of the box.
Yes, there are a few different knobs and settings, and yes the first time is probably going to be a learning curve, but the good news is many have been where you are before and we’ve all gone on to learn to love our sewing machines. It really is like riding a bike or learning to drive – it may seem daunting at first but once you’ve worked out the basic functions, they’ll become second nature.
In this guide though, we’ll begin by explaining how to set up your machine and how to use a sewing machine step by step. We’ll also share a few top tips for machine sewing to help you get started.
While some of their parts may look different for different brands and models, all the basic functions are the same, and you’ll find the different functions and parts do not change much from brand to brand.
Read on to find out how to use a sewing machine step by step.
You can also read our guide to the best sewing machines – take a browse and find your perfect match!
Can I teach myself to use a sewing machine?
Yes you can – anyone can use a sewing machine. All machines come with a really detailed manual which walks you through how to set them up, change the thread and try out basic stitches. We’ve included all the basics for you below too – from the different parts of your machine to setting it up, threading it and starting sewing.
Get to know your sewing machine parts
Before you get started, it’s worth taking the time to familiarise yourself with your sewing machine parts. While sewing machines from different brands may vary in design, they will have many of the same essential features.
Whether you’re a complete novice or just want to refresh your skills, we’ve got lots of tips to help you get the most out of your sewing machine. Learn all about your machine with our handy sewing machine parts guide.
How to clean your sewing machine
Just like any other machine, your sewing machine can get dirty – especially if you’re using it a lot. Learn how to clean your sewing machine.
How to use a sewing machine step by step
We’ll talk you through how to set up your sewing machine, thread the needle and bobbin and start sewing. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you’ll be able to start experimenting with changing your stitch setting.
Now it’s time to get sewing! Read on to learn how to use a sewing machine step by step.
You Will Need
- Sewing machine
- Basic sewing kit
How to set up a sewing machine
Plug your sewing machine in to the mains power and switch it on. Most machines have a little light built in above the needle – this will come on when you switch the power on.
For best results, find a sturdy surface with a bit of space to set up your machine – when many manual machines sew at speed they vibrate so the heavier the table or surface you sew on, the better.
Insert the needle
Most sewing machines come with the needle already in place. If it’s snapped or you need to insert the needle, check your machine manual. As a guide though, you should start by turning the hand dial to bring the needle lever up to its top-most position.
Your machine will have a hole where the needle lives – below the main arm of the machine. This is where you should insert your needle. Look at our how to thread a sewing machine guide if you’re struggling with this step.
Sewing machine needles have a flat side of the shank – usually this should sit face the back of your machine but check your manual if in doubt. Insert your needle with the flat side facing in the right direction, then twist the needle pin to secure it in place.
Now if you bring the hand dial towards you, you should see the needle be brought down and back up – if this happens without it falling out then you have secured it correctly.
WInd and insert the bobbin
The next thing you’ll need to do is thread the bobbin. Remove the empty bobbin from the bobbin case (either below the machine or on top of the foot of the machine), ready to wind with thread.
To fill the bobbin with thread, put it on to the bobbin spool at the top of the sewing machine and read our full guide to how to thread a bobbin.
Once you have wound your bobbin with thread, insert it back into the bobbin case, and pull the thread up and into the metal notch at the top of the bobbin case (the bobbin should move clockwise when you pull the thread). Insert the bobbin case back into the machine by slotting the bobbin case lever into the notch below your machine.
How to thread a sewing machine
Now it’s time to add your top thread. Put a spool of thread on to the spool pin. Pull the thread across and around the thread guide.
Bring your thread around your machine’s thread guide, and over the take up lever – this usually has a hook element to the design – loop the thread around the take up lever, then back down into the channel below
Bring your thread down to the needle and loop it into the needle guide next to the needle.
Before you thread the needle it needs to be in it’s upmost position. If you need to, turn the hand wheel towards you to bring the needle up manually into this position. Now insert the thread into the needle, from front to back.
Now you have threaded your needle, bring the thread down in between the two forks of the presser foot, under the foot, then back towards the back of your machine with your hand.
How to bring up the bobbin thread
Now your top thread is threaded, and your bobbin is in place below the machine, it’s time to connect the two threads, ready to sew. Slowly turn the hand wheel to bring the needle down and back up again – one full rotation.
When the needle goes down into the machine, it will hook the bobbin thread and bring a loop back up above the plate of the machine. When you see the loop gently pull it out to release the loose end of the bobbin thread. Pull it out to reveal and back towards the back of the machine to release the full thread. You should now have two threads – the top and the bottom. When you start to sew in the next step, hold them both for a second with your left hand to stop them being pulled into the machine as the needle moves.
How to sew with your sewing machine
Bring the needle up using the hand wheel, and raise the presser foot using the presser foot lever. Now slide the fabric under it where you want to start sewing. Your machine probably has an indicator guide on the plate, which gives measuring guides for seam allowances. Line this guide up with your fabric edge. You’ll find it useful to move the fabric along this marker as you sew to keep an even distance from the fabric edge.
Lower the presser foot to secure the fabric in place and move the hand wheel towards you to bring the needle down, through the fabric. Now you’re ready to sew!
Press the foot pedal to begin sewing. As you control the speed of your sewing with the foot pedal, feed the fabric under the presser foot. If you find that you need to support the fabric with a little more tension, hold it in front of and behind the foot and ease it through.
It’s easy to turn a corner without finishing your thread. Make sure the needle is down in the fabric at the point where you need to turn, then raise the foot and spin the fabric to the new direction. Lower the foot and carry on sewing.
Once your stitching line is done, finish securely by making a few stitches back and forth over your line. To do this, press the reverse stitch lever to stitch backwards, then release it to stitch forwards again.
With the needle in the up position, raise the presser foot and pull out your fabric. The threads will still be attached, so snip these off.
10 top tips for machine sewing
New to sewing and looking for handy tips to get better results from your sewing machine? We’ve put together this list of tips for beginners to machine sewing, to share a few lessons we’ve learned along the way!
1. Match threads for even tension
Use the same type (or ‘weight’) of thread in the top and bottom spools, as this will help you to get a more even tensions you stitch.
2. Match thread colours too
Use the same colour of thread in the top and bottom spools for most of your stitching – only use different colours for decorative stitching.
3. Prepare your fabric
Always ensure your fabric is flat and smooth, as you will get neater stitching. Pressing all of your fabric before you start sewing is a good rule to work by.
4. Try a practice swatch
Always work a few stitches on a spare scrap of the same fabric you will be using before you begin, to make sure the tension is correct. Different thread and fabric need different tensions. If the stitches are loopy or overly tight then you need to change the tension so that the top and bottom thread loop together evenly. Read your machine manual to see how to change the tension as each machine differs.
5. Straighten up
The most important thing about a lot of machine stitching is keeping your stitching straight. Machines come with marked measure lines on the needle plate – keep the edge of your fabric running along it as you stitch to guarantee a straight line. Stitch very slowly to start with and increase your speed as you gain confidence.
6. How to get neat curves
If you are stitching curves, stitch very slowly and gradually ease the fabric round using both hands so you stitch a neat curved line.
7. Keep it clean
Don’t forget to clean your machine regularly as fluff gets caught under the teeth and this will stop your machine working smoothly. Your manual will show you how to remove the needle plate and get all the fluff out. See our guide to how to clean a sewing machine
8. Book in for a regular service
Get your sewing machine serviced regularly or if you don’t feel it stitching the same as usual – it will make a great deal of difference! Look online to find your nearest machine service or repair shop, or ask at a fabric shop for recommendations.
9. Cover up
Keep your sewing machine covered up when you’re not using it to keep the dust out, and protect it from accidents. With your new-found skills you could even make your own pretty cover!
10. Play around with your stitches for best results
Have a look at all the different stitches your machine can do and read your manual, which will tell you what to do with them. Mostly, you will only use the straight stitch for seams and hems, but the zig-zag stitch can be just as useful – it’s brilliant for working along the edge of a fabric to stop it from fraying. You can alter the length and the width of the zig-zag using your machine dials, so adjust it to suit your fabric weight. The zig-zag stitch can also be used for decoration so have a practice to see which different effects you like.
11. It’s all about the needle
Change your needle regularly – they become blunt with use, and your machine won’t stitch as well. Make sure you buy the correct needles for your machine. You’ll be amazed how many times sewing machine glitches can be fixed why changing the needle!
Get started with our how to use a sewing machine guide
When you’re new to sewing, it can take time to familiarise yourself with your machine and all of its features, but it’s always worth taking the time and effort to learn.
Once you’ve learned what all of the knobs and dials do, it’ll make a big difference to your confidence and make your sewing sessions much easier.
Sewing machine brands may have slightly different features, but you’ll find that many of the functions and parts are the same whichever machine you decide to use.
Now you know how to use a sewing machine, it’s time to figure out which one to buy to take your sewing skills to the next level.
How to choose your perfect sewing machine
Buying your own sewing machine can be daunting if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Check out our complete guide to sewing machines for expert tips and advice from Gathered.