How to Use a Sewing Machine: Useful Hacks and Tips

How to Use a Sewing Machine? It’s Never Too Late to Discover Useful Hacks and Tips

Have you already discovered a sewing machine structure, learned all about sewings supplies, and nourished your imagination with sewing room ideas, but you feel like there is still some part missing?— “How to use a sewing machine?” is the next to tackle. 

Some of us approach this process intuitively; others prefer to study instructions. 

Luckily, we’ve found a middle ground!

In the following paragraphs, we reveal reader-friendly, applicable steps and tips on how to operate a sewing machine.

Learn to use a sewing machine in minutes with our first-class guidebook below. 

Learn to use a sewing machine

How to learn sewing machine? We’ll do it, as always, one step at a time. 

Before all else—construction. While getting our hands-on experience, let’s tackle this fundamental question: How is a sewing machine built?

While there are significant differences between various types of machines for sewing (as well as for quilting, embroidery, etc.), the main parts of sewing machines are similar. To name them briefly:

    • bobbin and bobbin case,
    • slide plate or bobbin cover,
    • presser foot,
    • needle and needle clamp,
    • throat plate,
    • feed dogs,
    • tension regulator,
    • take-up lever,
    • bobbin winder tension disk,
    • bobbin winder,
    • thread guides,
    • spool pin,
    • flywheel,
    • stitch selector,
    • stitch length selector,
    • stitch width selector, 
    • menu screen,
    • reverse-stitch button,
    • foot controller; 

(read more on Martha Stewart)

Sewing machine parts
Image source: Dandelions and Things

Knowing how particular parts of a sewing machine are called, and their functions guide us to discover how to work a sewing machine.

Before tackling your sewing equipment, you have to see this YouTube’s Mobile Tutor video “Basic Parts of Sewing Machine”:

Other must-sees and must-haves? Meet Super Label Store’s woven labels

Despite being pretty tiny, they have a tremendous ability to take your fashion endeavors to a higher level.

Choose between different types of woven labels, custom hang tags, and care labels and observe your friends and coworkers getting more and more respectful of your DIY sewing doings. 

Besides sewing parts, another matter regarding sewing machines is buying one!

You may know how to sew by hand, but you need to get familiar with the equipment to learn to sew on a sewing machine (preferably the best sewing machine out there).  

So after you’ve addressed the construction-related issues, read these “5 Questions to Ask Yourself When Buying a Sewing Machine” by Martha Stewart:

    1. How often am I really going to be using my new machine?
    2. What is my budget?
    3. What type of sewing do I plan to do?
    4. When will I use my machine?
    5. Where am I going to sew?

Sewing machine diagram labeled parts
Image source: Quilted Sewing

Check out these “Tips for Buying a Sewing Machine” on Professor Pincushion. 

Don’t expect easy answers! It’s just general advice; no names, no brands.

How to use a sewing machine
Image source: Cafe Sewciety

Got your sewing machine for beginners chosen? It looks like we’re ready to get into the practical side of the story! How to learn sewing machine?

How to use a sewing machine for beginners

Let’s start with this sewing machine tutorial by April:

This video covers the basics of using a sewing machine along with some must-have sewings supplies, what stitch settings to use, etc. 

For a deeper look into machine sewing, check an extraordinary Coolirpa’s channel on YouTube

How to use a sewing machine for beginners
Image source: CTV News

Just think about it:

“Without those tireless, automatic cloth stitchers, thumping their needles up and down all day long, you wouldn’t have all those fancy clothes in your wardrobe, and the ones you did have wouldn’t be anything like as decorative or cheap.” 

(Explain That Stuff)

We couldn’t agree more. Sewing machines have what it takes to make us (and our wardrobes) content.  

But how do they work precisely? 

In a sewing machine, there are many moving parts packed into a small space.

Since it can be hard to comprehend just looking at a machine itself, a detailed description may be helpful to go through the process. 

How to sew with a sewing machine
Image source: Sew Way

First off, where is the electric motor located? It rests at the bottom at the opposite end of the machine from the needle. 

Using a pulley arrangement, it drives the large handwheel at the top (red in the picture below) and the main power shaft (gray).

Let’s look at the three key mechanisms. Here’s a simple table created to help you tackle the case in no time:


Level of difficulty How does it work?

Needle mechanism

The simplest

The gray shaft drives a wheel and crankshaft, which gets the needle to rise and fall. The crank transforms the motor’s rotary (round-and-round) motion into the needle’s reciprocal (up-and-down) movement.

Bobbin and shuttle mechanism

More complex

The shuttle and hook (they create stitches from the needle thread) have to rotate slightly faster than the needle. So the shaft has to turn the shuttle more quickly. How? For example, by using gears or pulleys wrapped round wheels of different sizes.

Feed-dog mechanism

The most complicated

Are you familiar with what a feed-dog does? It moves the fabric through the machine at a steady speed. Thanks to this movement, stitches are equal in length. 

Feed dog functions by moving upwards and forwards simultaneously, powered by two interlinked mechanisms driven off the main shaft. (let’s see it below with the picture)

The main shaft (a violet, egg-shaped figure in the center) causes a lever (yellow) rock back and forth, pulling the feed dog from right to left and then back again. 

Simultaneously, a second crank mechanism (green and red) moves the feed dog up and down. 

When synchronized, the feed dog works as a shoe on the end of an upside-down leg with these two movements. 

Sewing machine mechanism feed dog
Image source: Explain That Stuff

Have we made it even more complex?

Let us explain:

Normally, a shoe on your leg moves down and backward, followed by lifting and repeating the same movement all around. You push back against the ground, making your body move forward (after reading this, you’ll never walk unconsciously again!). 

But in the case of a feed dog (where the “shoe” points upward), it moves upward and forward, soft of “walking” the material through the machine. 

It makes one “step” (here, a stitch) at a time.

Seems more digestible now?

We hope that knowing these mechanisms will make a DIY sewing machine repair more manageable for you!

How does a sewing machine work
Image source: Allure

“How does a sewing machine work?”—first off, see this neat video!

How do we handle a sewing machine and make it work for us?

The first thing to realize is that sewing machines are not all the same. 

The use of an embroidery sewing machine is different than this of a kids sewing machine

Learning how to thread a sewing machine can be complex with the vintage model and as easy as pie with self-threading sewing machines of our times.

With so many good-quality and affordable machines on the market, with a dash of effort, you’ll surely make a great choice. 

Also, you can change your machine when the time for more sophisticated features comes to build your skills and grow with your equipment.

So, before you get to the core of sewing, get to know which machine you’re dealing with. 

How to learn sewing machine
Image source: Stitchers Source

How to sew using a sewing machine

So here we are, having all the sewings supplies at hand and this gorgeous, newly-bought (or -brought) machine in front of us. 

The fundamental matter is: How to sew with a machine? Luckily, Instructables shares easy steps to make it happen:


Description Extra tip 

Take the fabric

Allegedly, the most important part about knowing how to sew on a machine is learning how to manipulate the fabric as it goes under the needle. 

Fabric comes in several:

    1. weights (lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight)
    2. stretch (check whether it stretches or not)
    3. fiber content (for example, natural fibers are cotton, silk, linen, and bamboo);

Begin sewing with a medium-weight, non-stretch fabric made from natural fibers (like cotton).

Fold it in half and make a crease at the fold (you can even iron it to make it more definite).

Thread your machine (read how to thread a sewing machine)

    1. For your first steps in sewing, use a needle for mid-weight, woven fabric.
    2. Choose a medium stitch length, usually 2 1/2 or 3 (stitch length will vary from machine to machine; some appliances have a knob, others have a multi-stage switch to manipulate this feature);
    3. Set your machine to a straight stitch (the first stitch on your list);

Sewing machine needles are a whole different, complex topic.

With regular sewing:

    • the weight of the fabric determines the needles’ size, and 
    • the type of fabric determines the shape of the needle’s point;

Set the needle in the highest position

Draw up a presser foot.

Remember to always start and end with the needle in this position.

We’re almost ready to go!

How do you find out if a fabric stretches (or doesn’t stretch)?

By simply stretching it both lengthwise and widthwise. All fabrics will also have some amount of stretch on the diagonal (known as “bias”). 

Non-stretch fabric will have little give on both the length and width.

How to sew with a machine
Image source: Dandelions and Things

Let’s get to the “how to sew with a sewing machine” part two. 


Description Extra tip 

Draw out your top and bobbin threads

Draw them out about 6 inches back from the feed dog. 

We’re now getting ready to start working on the first stitch.

Hold onto your top and bobbin threads! They can be easily sucked back into the machine when you’re making your first few stitches.

Place your fabric under the needle.

Now, it’s time to take the fabric and position it to enable the needle to enter the fabric.

Position the fabric at a stripe near our previously prepared crease.

Bring down the presser foot

Why is it crucial?

Only if the foot is set down when sewing will it create friction for the feed dog to move the fabric when you sew.

A handy hint: You can also hand-guide the first stitch in your fabric layers. Just use the handwheel to lower the needle into your fabric layers. 

Put your fingers on the fabric

Put your fingers on your fabric as a means to guide it, down the stripe, under the presser foot.

Gently press down the foot pedal. You’ve just started sewing!

It didn’t take long to start sewing for real, did it?

Now, it’s all about gaining hands-on experience. 

“This is where your training begins, to teach your fingers how to touch, grasp and hold your fabric layers as they are sewn together. […] using different fabrics, of different weights, with stretch and non-stretch, will get you familiar with how each type of fabric will need to be worked with.”

—reminds Instructables

Best heavy duty sewing machines for home use
Image source: Best Serger Reviews

But would it be fair to tell you how to start sewing and forget to let you know how to end this craftsy experience?

It’s essential to stop the needle when it’s in its uppermost position.

Next, draw up the presser foot (or use the handwheel), and pull out your fabric. Be gentle; there is still a threadly “umbilical cord” going on between your project and a sewing machine.

Now, cut your threads.

Do you recall our beginnings? For a fresh and smooth start on the next occasion, ensure these mythical 6″ of top and bobbin threads are hanging back.

Watch this CRAFTY AMY’s YouTube tutorial on how do you work a sewing machine:

Also, we wouldn’t leave you without a few clever tips!

    1. Check your first seam sewn on the sewing machine. How did it go when it comes to:
      • speed: 

Did you speed up and slow down a lot? 

While it might be troublesome at the beginning due to the difficulty of the use of pedal foot (we totally get it), in general, it’s advised to maintain a constant speed throughout the whole stitching of a seam to make to create even stitches. 

It’s not about being fast. You can be slow; you can start and stop at any moment. Just be constant. 

      • stitch length

Have your stitches ended up even? 

If some stitches are longer than others, yet your speed was stable, it means you might have been accidentally pulling at the fabric layers as you were stitching them together. 

Next time, ensure you let the feed dog do its work.

We said that your finger is a guide, but it’s not supposed to influence the sewing process in any other way. 

      • straight on the stripe

Did sewing right down the stripe go well, or is your seam a little offside? 

Don’t worry; The more you sew, the better you’ll become at it.

Keep practicing until your fingers nimbly guide the fabric straight as an arrow.

Learn to use a sewing machine
Image source: ICP

      2. Take care about the appropriate lighting

It may be a hack that you’ve heard five hundred times, but the proper lighting can change the results of your sewing efforts a great deal. 

Ensure your sewing place has good lighting available.

While most machines come with a “sewing light,” it’s rarely enough; also because it can be pretty harmful to be blinded by the contrast of a well-lighted workspace and a dark room.

“The light bulb in the needle area. Try it out. If your light is not bright enough, you may need to move your machine nearer to a window for some additional natural light.”

—underlines Treasurie

Our sewing room ideas may come in handy at this point.

In in-built lighting leaves much to be desired, invest in a gooseneck lamp to direct more light at your presser foot. You can place it behind and to the right of your machine, with the light directed to the sewing surface (not into your eyes!). 

Having a decent room light on will pay you and your sewing projects back!

Young woman sewing on a sewing machine
Image source: The Inspired Sewist

      3. Machine placement

No less important is where you put your machine when you’re getting ready to start sewing. 

As kindly reminded by Crazy Little Projects, at the very beginning, before you start sewing, you have to localize the power cord of your sewing machine and the on/off switch. This implies that having a socket or an extension cord is another must (this rule naturally doesn’t regard mechanical sewing machines, though). Unless you’re working on a handheld sewing machine, batteries often power them. 

Ensure you’ve got your machine standing still and stable on a surface that is comfortable to work at (too high, and your shoulders and neck will cramp up and hurt). 

For the reliability of a working surface, research a satisfactory sewing machine table. It’s more vital for the whole process than you think. An average heavy-duty sewing leather machine won’t do without appropriate furniture, so forget using the dining table in the kitchen. Also, discover the best heavy-duty sewing machine models on Durability Matters

If you have a table that’s extensive in size, position your machine close to a table leg (it’s the most stable spot). 

You also don’t want to end up with a slippery surface. Apart from being dangerous, it creates an opportunity for your machine to “travel” freely as you sew, which we avoid at all costs.

How to work a sewing machine
Image source: Sewing Is Cool

The penultimate tip on how do you use a sewing machine regards sewing pins

There has been a considerable discussion in progress (since ages) on holding fabric pieces together with pins, but we won’t get into it here. 

Our only suggestion is to get into the habit of early of removing them before sewing with your machine. 

It’s such a tricky subject because you’ll be able to sew over a pin easily. However, if your needle hits a pin right on, the results will be disastrous.

According to experts, you should always wash your fabric before you start cutting and sewing.

Yet, there are exceptions to the “always” rule. You’re not supposed to wash specialty fabrics (sequins, some silks, wools, etc.) under any circumstances. 

“Most fabrics come with “sizing.” By washing your fabric, you’ll wash out the sizing, and your fabric will show its true shape, often much more supple and sometimes shrinking (very likely when your fabric is 100% natural fibers).”

—remarks Instructables.

How to operate a sewing machine
Image source: By Hand London