Sewing Machine Parts: A Comprehensive Guide

Do You Know All Sewing Machine Parts Terms? Let’s Clear Them Up Before Moving Further

The list of sewing terms has no end, but we should shed some light on their probably most essential category—sewing machine parts.

For how long have you been in the game, learning how to sew, how does a sewing machine work, and discovering all the other sewing-related mysteries? Have you memorized all the sewing machine parts and accessories?

Although almost no one knows them all, getting familiar with sewing machine machine parts undoubtedly makes the sewing process smoother. 

It helps to understand sewing instructions, watch and learn from the videos, and read our Super Label Store blog with complete comprehension. 

Ready to learn the sewing machine parts and their uses by heart? Keep reading!

Before getting down to business, it’s useful for your sewing practice to identify the different components of the machine you’re using. 

Sewing machines differ, but their core features remain similar. If your machine parts aren’t like those in other machines, glance at a manual to guide you through the use of your specific model. 

Otherwise, if you’ve lost your manual or if your model is vintage, you’ll find plenty of manuals online.

For instance, if you have a sewing machine for beginners, you will benefit from “How to use a sewing machine + Sewing Tips! (Easy for Beginners)” video guide by Crafty Amy:

Knowing how to thread a sewing machine and discovering issues related to sewing machine tension is crucial to take up sewing. 

After all, having even the best sewing machine without knowing how to use it seems pretty pointless, doesn’t it? 

It’s a joy to tackle the sewing machine parts while you learn to sew, but if you go through the handy description below, even before taking the machine in your hands, you’ll benefit from such a preparation just as much.

Sewing machine parts
Image source: Mood Fabrics

Here’s a word of warning before getting to work with your sewing machine, whether it’s a handheld sewing machine, kids sewing machine, or whichever of sewing machine brands

Needles are sharp, so heed a few precautions: 

    1. when guiding sewing fabric over the throat plate, always keep your fingers an inch or two away from the presser foot,
    2. if you pause between stitches, take your foot off the foot controller not to set the needle in motion by accident, 
    3. when you are taking a longer pause, turn off the machine completely. Not only will this prolong the life of the light bulbs that illuminate your work but also prevent accidental stitches,

—advises an expert in the field, Martha Stewart.

Now we’re ready to tackle sewing machine parts online! 

Parts of a sewing machine
Image source: Mama’s Homestead

Balance wheel (handwheel, flywheel)

The balance wheel is also known as a handwheel or flywheel. It’s placed at the upper right of the sewing machine.

A balance wheel rotates the upper drive shaft for machine operation. Moving it causes the needle and hook to move to produce stitches. You’ll use it to 

    • sink the needle before you start a seam or 
    • raise the needle once you have finished a seam;

The transfer of power through a sewing machine is a vital part of its operation—the motor powers a belt, which then turns the balance wheel. It transfers the power through the internal components to push the needle through the fabric. 

Read “How To Fix Sewing Machine Handwheel–Tips and Guidelines,” on Sewing Machine Gallery to resolve issues such as 

    • the upper thread has no tension,
    • dust and lint prevent free movement,
    • loosening the inner knob to free the handwheel,
    • threading the sewing machine again,
    • removing the bobbin case and cleaning the area,
    • releasing the handwheel for bobbin winding;

Also, dive into a sewing machine repair section on our blog. 

How to fix sewing machine handwheel
Image source: Sewing Machine Gallery

Important! Turning the balance wheel in the opposite direction could ruin the tension on your machine or tangle the thread. 

Bobbin winder

Before we get to the bobbin winder, let’s tackle what a bobbin is. 

A bobbin—which is not one of the sewing machine pieces but an accessory sold apart—is a small circular spool prepared by winding thread on it. It holds the thread that forms the stitches on the underside of the fabric. (read more on The Quilt Show)

Some manufacturers of sewing machine bobbins are Brother, Juki, Janome, Singer, Boby Lock, Bernina, Consew, Elena, Kenmore, Riccar, and Handi Quilter;

To sew on a machine, you need to have a spool of thread and a bobbin filled with thread. Find everything you need to know about a sewing machine thread in our article.

For the record, stitches on a sewing machine are created by interlocking two threads: 

    • one from above (from the spool) and
    • one from underneath (the bobbin);

The top thread comes from the regular spool of thread, which is placed on a special holder on top of the machine. It’s threaded through several slots and levers and goes through the hole in the needle. (here’s more about sewing machine needles)

The bottom thread is a bobbin, which gets wound from the regular spool of thread so that both threads are the same color. 

Winding a bobbin on a sewing machine
Image source: Cucicucicoo

To load your bobbin with thread, you need to place the bobbin on the bobbin winder and click it into position. Adjust the handwheel too so that it ‘deactivates’ the needle.

All you have to do is press the foot pedal to wind your bobbin. Remember to monitor the winding guide, as sometimes the thread disengages spontaneously.

Read a more detailed guide on winding the bobbin on CuciCuciCoo or watch the “How to Wind a Bobbin | Sewing Machine” video by Howcast:

Another mini sewing machine inside parts is a bobbin case (also known as bobbin housing) that holds the bobbin under the needle plate. 

Some sewing machines have bobbins without a case, and others need it.

Bobbin cases are specific to a device, made to fit the required size and set of specifications for a particular sewing machine. 

We can remove bobbin cases from some sewing machines. The typical non-removable bobbin cases are for drop-in bobbins. 

Winding a bobbin
Image source: Cucicucicoo

According to Top Compared, here is the “Best Bobbin Winder”:

Feed dog

Feed dogs are small metal or rubber teeth located between the presser foot and throat plate that help to feed the fabric to the required direction (backward or forward).

These mini sewing machine parts aren’t readily noticeable, but you’ll see them if you look closely at the needle plate.

The feed dogs also regulate the stitch length—they control how much fabric passes through at once. 

Remember to allow the feed dogs to move the fabric at all times. You’ll break it and need sewing machine replacement parts if you start pulling or pushing the fabric manually.

Sewing machine parts labeled
Image source: Dandelion and Things

Foot pedal

It may not be precisely a sewing machine part, but the foot pedal comes with the device, so we should mention it. 

This element is controlled by the sewist’s foot—when you press the foot pedal, the needle moves, and when you lift your foot, the needle stops. 

Between starting and pausing the movement, a foot pedal controls the speed of your sewing machine, like the gas pedal of your car.

Sewing machine foot pedals give you actual control over the machine, its speed, and the accuracy of your sewing.

Some computerized sewing machines don’t include a foot pedal, and they adopt automated speed control methods. Instead, they have a start/stop button that controls the unit’s running speed. These machines work smoother than mechanical devices.

All in all, there’s an ongoing discussion about whether we need the foot pedal as part of the sewing machine set. Maybe, in the future, we won’t use it anymore. 

If the case made you wonder, read “Do All Sewing Machines Have Foot Pedals?” on Sewing Critique to tackle the following questions:

    • Do you need a foot pedal for a sewing machine?
    • Do computerized sewing machines have foot pedals?
    • Can you use a Singer sewing machine without a foot pedal?
    • Can you use a Brother sewing machine without the foot pedal?
    • How do you test a foot pedal on a sewing machine?
    • How do you use a sewing machine without a foot?
    • How does a Singer sewing machine foot pedal work?
    • How do you slow down a foot pedal on a sewing machine?
    • When should you replace a foot pedal?
    • Are foot pedals universal?
    • What to do if a foot pedal is missing? 
    • Can you interchange foot pedals?

Sewing machine foot control pedal
Image source: Sew Way

Free arm

It’s the extended housing of the sewing area, where you can find the needle, feed dog, bobbin, and shuttle, which allows us to stitch difficult areas where cylindrical sewing is essential.

The free arm’s sewing surface doesn’t touch the table surface below. In other words, the sewing machine’s bed is suspended in the air.

It’s used to sew hems on pant legs or shirt sleeves, for example, by fitting the tube of fabric around the free arm. 

We can find a free arm in most sewing machines nowadays. 

Free arm sewing machine
Image source: Sewing Machine Buffs

Needle, needle clamp (needle bar)

A needle puts the thread through the fabric. The needle clamp holds the needle straight and steady in place.

Sewing machine needles come in many sizes, and the needle you should use will depend on the fabric you are sewing ‌at the moment.

Needles are sharp, metal with a small hole (eye) through which a thread goes. 

For woven fabric and denim, leather, knit fabric, we use different sorts of needles, such as steel coated with chrome or titanium.

A domestic sewing machine needle has a flat edge. Ensure you inserted it correctly into the needle clamp before tightening the screw!

Watch “Five Basic Sewing Needles You Need and Why” by Bernina International:

How to choose the right sewing machine needle for your project? 

The rule is pretty simple:

    1. First, choose the needle type. It should match the fabric of your project. The type of needle affects the shape and size of the needle eye, the depth of the thread groove in the front, etc.
    2. Then, pick the needle size based on the “bulkiness” of your project, i.e., fabric thickness and the number of layers.

Below, you’ll find a suggested needle size for specific fabrics. (by We All Sew)

Material/Activity Needle size
Jeans/denim 80 and 90
Microtex 70 and 80
Embroidery 75, 80 and 90
Knits (ballpoint needle) 80
Quilting 90

When it comes to universal needles, they are somewhere between a sharp and a ballpoint. In other words, they are sharp needles slightly rounded at the tip. They do well on light to medium wovens and knits.

Read about sewing machine needles on our blog

If you are wondering “Why Your Sewing Machine Needle Keeps Breaking,” take a look at this insightful article by The Creative Curator.

Power knob

We use the power knob to turn our sewing machine on and off.

Some machines have a button or a switch instead of a knob.

There can also be an option to have power with or without the light in some sewing devices.

Parts of a sewing machine power dial
Image source: The Creative Curator

Presser foot

Unlike some previous sewing machine parts mentioned, a presser foot is removable, and it isn’t one of the sewing machine internal parts.

A presser foot’s role is to keep the fabric in place as you sew. 

You can use various feet for different sewing techniques or fabrics, for example,

Different presser foots and their functions
Image source: Masinskikutak

Other accessories to sew on your unique DIY projects are different types of woven labels

Choose between:

to make your creations stand out.

At Super Label Store, we’ll make sure your garments don’t go unnoticed, whether you’re a crafter at home, a small clothing brand, or a renowned fashion designer! 

Spool pin (spool holder)

Here, the explanation couldn’t be more straightforward. A spool pin is a small dowel that holds the thread. 

It can be horizontal or vertical. Mind that horizontal ones provide a smoother thread feed. Read our guides on how to thread a sewing machine and pick the most suitable sewing machine table.

Some machines come with several spool pins for various types of thread spools and decorative or twin-needle sewing. 

Sewing machine parts online
Image source: Sew Way

Stitch width selector, stitch length selector

Use a stitch-length selector, dial, or lever, to set the length of the stitches on manual and some electronic machines. 

The stitches may be measured 

    • per inch, from zero to 20, 
    • per millimeter, from zero to four stitches, or 
    • numerically, from zero to nine; 

Which stitches to use when? As Martha Stewart advises:

Length of stitches Kind of sewing
Medium-length stitches General sewing
Shorter stitches Delicate fabrics
Long stitches Heavier fabrics, basting or gathering

On manual machines, as well as some electronic machines, stitch width selector, dial or lever, controls the width of decorative stitches, such as the zigzag stitch.

In the image below, on the Singer Confidence machine, the corresponding numbers are 14, 15, and 16. 

A guide to sewing machine parts
Image source: Martha Stewart 

Reverse switch (reverse button)

Simple as it sounds, you use this switch when you want to sew in reverse.

A piece of good advice: Backstitching can make your seams more stable. Find an excellent guide through backstitching on Doina Alexei.

A reverse-stitch feature allows you to 

    • back up over stitches you previously made,
    • lock in stitches and secure your seams (it also ensures unraveled stitches won’t ruin your project), 
    • work with items such as bag handles and dress ties, where you can reverse over stitches you made to strengthen them.

Reverse switches look in various ways, but you’ll easily localize it with the sign on the machine or with the use of a manual. 

Read on e-How what five steps to take to reverse the stitch on a sewing machine.

Common sewing machine parts
Image source: Doina Alexei

Tension discs (plates), tension spring

Before getting down to tension discs and spring, let’s have a look at “Thread Therapy with Dr. Bob—How Tension Discs Work” on Superior Threads YouTube channel: 

Most sewing machines control the tension by a tension spring and two or three tension plates. 

The thread goes between these plates, and the spring pushes the plates together. With tightening the tension, the spring presses harder against the plates, making it harder for the thread to pass through, creating much-needed resistance.

We use tension discs to control the thread tension to give proper stitch on the fabric. Meanwhile, the tension spring controls the pressure so that two different fabrics can join with proper stitch. 

In some models of computerized machines, plates and springs are replaced with rollers, controlled through a computer board. The rollers move with the thread to keep the thread from tangling.

Deepen the subject on Aspenleiter Sewing and Vacuum

And how to recognize issues with tension? 

The machine has tension problems when the stitch is not placed properly, featuring too loose or tight. 

Sewing machine pieces
Image source: Sew School

Read our take on the sewing machine tension. There’s also a decent article, “Understanding Stitch Length And Tension,” on Doina Alexei, that explains the question in detail.

Tension discs and spring need to be cleaned from the dust from time to time; otherwise, you risk getting an improper stitch on the fabric. 

These sewing machine parts are replaceable. Look for discount sewing machine parts online. 

Tension regulator (tension control)

A tension regulator is a dial that controls the tension on the top thread. 

The top thread and bobbin thread will join together in uniform stitches with the correct tension. 

Too tight tension Stitch will pucker and break
Too loose tension Stitches will not hold

For machines with a manual dial, turn the dial 

    • counterclockwise to decrease tension and 
    • clockwise to increase tension. 

In machines with computerized tension and digital displays, press the control to a higher setting to increase tension and a lower setting to decrease it.

Anatomy of a sewing machine
Image source: Torie Jayne

Tension can be regulated via the dial but also within the bobbin casing. 

On machines with an external bobbin winder, the tension disc helps guide the thread between the spool and the winder.

Take-up lever

Another of the exciting sewing machine parts labeled take-up lever lies above the presser foot of a sewing machine and is made of metal.

How does it work?

The top thread passes through it, moving the lever up and down in tandem with the needle. 

The lever pulls the thread from the spool to feed it through the machine and lifts the thread back up out of the cloth after a stitch has been made. 

Side note: To keep the needle from snagging the fabric before placing it under the presser foot, raise the lever completely to take the needle to its highest point.

Depending on the machine, the take-up lever may 

    • protrude from the front or 
    • be hidden inside the plastic casing; 

Sewing machine replacement parts
Image source: YouTube

Thread guide

A thread guide is a tiny but essential element on the sewing machine that 

    1. shows you where to locate your thread and 
    2. makes sure the thread stays in place while you’re sewing,
    3. helps keep the thread from getting tangled up inside your sewing machine;

Most thread guides have symbols printed on the machine that show you where to place the thread.

Sewing machine parts diagram
Image source: Sew School

Throat plate (needle plate)

A throat plate is a metal plate beneath a sewing machine’s needle and presser foot. 

This sewing machine parts name is also referred to as a needle plate. 

It is held in place with one or more screws and can be removed to clean underneath.

It has holes or slots for the needle to pass through as it moves up and down to stitch the fabric.

Small lines notched to the right of the presser foot serve as guides for seam allowances and sewing straight lines. 

Not all throat plates look similar—explains The Spruce Crafts

    • some plates are rectangular, such as the plate visible under the pressure foot,
    • some have one straight side with an oval extension, usually to the right,
    • others can be entirely oval or
    • have different shapes;

There are many sewing machine accessories online, and you’ll find a wide variety of throat plates in shops as well. 

Needle plate with measurement marks
Image source: Custom Style