How to use a sewing machine step by step for absolute beginners

How to Use a Sewing Machine

Got a brand new sewing machine? Ready to take it out of the box and sew up a storm but no one has ever actually shown you how to use one?

Here are the basics:

How to thread a sewing machine

Threading a sewing machine correctly is so so important! I help people with their machines all the time and the very first thing we do is to rethread the machine. That’s because 99% of the time if a sewing machine is acting up it just isn’t threaded correctly.

But don’t worry! It’s not because it’s hard to thread! It just takes a little bit of paying attention. You can do that, right? Although most sewing machines are basically the same, each brand and model has their quirks. It is VERY IMPORTANT to FOLLOW THE MANUAL that came with your machine so you thread it correctly.

1) Wind the bobbin

A sewing machine actually uses two threads to make a seam. The one you see on top of the machine coming off the spool and going through the needle, and a bottom or bobbin thread. That thread underneath is called the bobbin thread because it’s actually wound around a separate little spool called a bobbin. Your machine probably came with a couple of these bobbins, and you will be able to buy more (make sure you buy ones designed to fit your machine). As you sew the machine will use both the thread from the spool on top and the bobbin underneath. You will need to put thread on to the bobbin before you can sew, and you will have to put more thread on the bobbin whenever it runs out.

So the first step of threading the machine is to have thread on that bobbin. Machines have different ways of helping you wind thread on to the bobbin from the spool of thread. Usually they have something up on top of the machine, but you will have to follow the instructions that came with your machine to figure out how to wind your bobbin

Thread the bobbin

After you have a bobbin full of thread, it’s time to put it into your machine. There are two basic types of sewing machines: top-loading bobbin machines and bottom loading bobbin machines. Both of these machines have specific ways that the thread in the bobbin must be threaded, little places the thread must go through, so that the machine works properly. So again, FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS IN YOUR MANUAL!

Thread the top or needle thread

The last step in getting your machine ready is to thread that last thread, the top or needle thread that comes from the spool on top of your machine. And you already know what I’m going to say, right? FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS IN YOUR MANUAL!

There is one extra point I’m going to add because some manuals don’t stress this enough – when you are threading your needle thread make sure your presser foot is up.

If you don’t know what a presser foot is yet, that’s okay because you can look at the picture above :). And then read your manual to figure out how to raise and lower it. Usually there’s a little lever if you reach through the machine with your right hand and feel behind the needle. You will be raising and lowering the presser foot every time you sew a seam, so it’s good that you are finding it now.

Just make sure that it’s up as your thread your needle thread!

Bring your bobbin thread up

Last step is to bring your bobbin thread up to be together with the needle thread under the presser foot. Doing this helps the machine as it starts to not create tangles and messes.

To do this you need to hold the thread that’s coming out of the needle and then turn the handwheel (check your manual) TOWARDS you. The needle will move down and then up. Stop turning when it’s all the back up. You should see a little loop of bobbin thread that’s looped through the thread you are holding. That’s the bobbin thread. Grab it and pull the end of the bobbin thread up. Then take both threads and put them underneath and behind the presser foot.

You are ready to sew!

How to sew with a sewing machine

How not to sew your finger

No one intends to sew their finger, yet you hear about it happening all the time. And I bet you’ve wondered how it happens. I mean no one deliberately puts their finger under the needle, right?

Well, let me tell you, once you get comfortable with the machine you will have your fingers very close to the needle. And that’s perfectly fine if you don’t accidentally push the foot pedal. It’s really easy to accidentally push the foot pedal if you leave your foot hovering over the foot pedal while you are adjusting the fabric.

If you are just starting out sewing you have a great opportunity to ensure you never sew your finger by establishing one simple habit. NEVER LEAVE YOUR FOOT ON THE FOOT PEDAL UNLESS YOU ARE READY TO SEW. It’s sort of the same thing as never put your finger near the needle if your foot is on the foot pedal, but with a little mental difference. If you mostly keep your foot OFF the pedal you are much less likely to randomly twitch and sew your finger.

Put the fabric under the presser foot

The presser foot serves two functions: it keeps the material from bouncing up and down as the needle comes in and out and most importantly it holds the material against the feed dogs. The feed dogs are what move the fabric through the machine. So it’s important that you put your fabric all the way under the presser foot.

Your machine will have lines to the right of the needle. These lines help you sew a seam a certain distance from the edge of the fabric (called the seam allowance in patterns). When you are ready to sew specific seam allowances you will line the edge of your fabric up along these lines.

Sew

It helps to hold your threads for your first few stitches, but all you have to do now to start making stitches in your fabric is to gently push the foot pedal. It’s very important to let the machine pull the fabric through the machine – don’t pull or tug on the fabric. If you need to steer to go around curves, be very gentle. Pulling or tugging can cause you to bend or break the needle and cause damage inside your machine.

There are all sorts of stitch adjustments you can make, from how long each stitch is, to how wide it is if you have a zig zag machine, to going in reverse. Check your manual and play!

Lift the presser foot

At the end of each line of stitching you need to LIFT THE PRESSER FOOT to remove your work. Even if you’ve run off the edge of the fabric, lift your presser foot. When you lift the presser foot, the tension on the thread is released making it easier to pull the fabric away from the machine. If you pull while the tension is still on the thread you will also be pulling on and stressing out your needle.

How to take care of a sewing machine

I sew with a machine that I’ve had since the late 1980’s. It still works great! If you take care of your machine it will make a huge difference in how well it works and also how much frustration you have while sewing.

Keep it clean

Sewing machines are simple machines, but they move very quickly and the moving parts are extremely close together. They are very dependent on everything being clean and free of lint. Every time you sew little pieces of lint fly off the fabric and down inside your machine. It’s important to clean these out, or your machine will start not working as well – making weird stitches, getting thread jams, etc. The general rule of thumb is to clean out under the needle plate in the bobbin area after every project. Some machines need to be oiled. You can read in your manual what needs to be done to keep your machine running smoothly.

Change your needle

Sewing machine needles are the weakest link of the whole stitching process.  Because they have to be so fine to go through the fabric they also wear out and need to be replaced.  Every minute of sewing they go through the fabric 650-1000 times! The rule of thumb is to replace your needle after every project. Since the are different types of needles for different types of fabric, this is easy!

Read your manual

I know reading manuals is not popular. For sewing machines it can actually be harder because so many manufacturers don’t even include a paper copy in the box anymore! But your machine is likely capable of more things that you know and you will only really find out about them from reading your manual. Manuals also come with troubleshooting sections as well that can save you trip to the repair shop. Just give reading your manual a try. If you don’t know where to find it, here are links to the support websites for all the major sewing machine manufacturers.

Where to find the manual for your sewing machine:
Singer
Brother
Janome
Bernina newer machines
Bernina older machines
Huskavarna Viking 
Elna
Baby Lock
Pfaff

Need more help?

I’ve got a step by step video course that walks you through setting up your machine through sewing your first seam. It goes into much more detail than I can in a blog post. It’s designed to get you ready to sew your first project with confidence. You can check it out below.

Take your time getting comfortable with your machine. Really knowing how your machine works will make creating so much more fun!

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