Welcome to day 1 of Sewing Machine School!
Let’s face it; sewing machines can be confusing. With all their specialized parts and pieces, knowing what to call “the little metal thingy” in the back can be really difficult. Fortunately, sewing machine parts don’t need to be as confusing as they seem.
One of the things we like to do here at Pink Castle is to demystify sewing machines in general. Today we’re going to look at 10 of the most important sewing machine parts, learn where they’re located, and what they do for your machine. Whether you’re an experienced sewist, a beginner, or even just trying to learn about your friend’s hobby, hopefully you’ll learn a bit more about what goes into such a specialized tool.
1. Feed Dog
Sewing machines work by stitching two pieces of fabric together along a line. The way the machine pushes fabric along the line is by a system called Feed Dogs.
Several small “teeth” sit on the bottom of the stitching area, and slowly work the fabric through the machine. As the needle moves up and down, the Feed Dogs lift up to push the fabric against the Presser Foot, pinching the fabric, and pull it towards the back of the machine. Once the fabric moves backwards, it pulls away from the fabric, and begins the process over again, repeating in a circular motion.
Sewing machines can come with any number of Feed Dogs; some machines come with 3, 5, sometimes even 7 feed dogs. The more feed dogs, the better control your machine has on it’s fabric. But no matter what type of Feed Dog system your machine has, every machine has one, and without them you’d just be stitching in place!
2. Presser Foot
If the Feed Dog is the “lower jaw” of your machine’s mouth, the Presser Foot is the “upper jaw”. While the Feed Dog is lifting up to grab onto your fabric, the Presser Foot is pushing down on your fabric. The big difference, however, is that Presser Feet can be changed out for a different type depending on the type of sewing you’re trying to work on.
Straight Stitch presser feet have a single hole in the middle that lets the needle pass through. Zig Zag feet do the same thing, however they have an oval-shaped hole that allows the needle to move up and down in a series of different positions, allowing you to make zig-zags, decorative designs, or even letters from the alphabet! Some feet have special guides in the middle or on the side that will let you line up fabric more easily; 1/4″ from the stitch hole and directly along the stitch hole (often called “Stitch in the Ditch”) are the most common.
No matter what special function your Presser Foot has, all of them work together with the Feed Dogs to keep your fabric steady while stitching your fabric. Your machine will come with some of these presser feet but there are specialty accessories that you can purchase as well!
3. Walking Foot
Now that we know what Presser Feet and Feed Dogs do, it’s important to know what they don’t do. Feed Dogs move up and down, back and forth, in a vertical circular motion, while Presser Feet move just up and down. Since the two surfaces are moving in different directions, this can cause the fabric to be pulled or stretched. In many cases, this “pulling” doesn’t affect your sewing. In some cases, such as with very thin fabric or with multiple layers of fabric, a presser foot called a Walking Foot is needed.
A Walking Foot is a special type of presser foot with a mechanized system built into them. This system allows the Presser Foot to move not only up and down, but back and forth in time with your Feed Dog system. The Walking Foot is timed to your machine, and will ensure that even several layers of fabric are fed evenly through your machine, giving you a cleaner stitch.
4. Bobbin and Bobbin Casing
Most everybody knows that a sewing machine takes thread and passes it through the needle and into your fabric. A lot of non-sewers don’t realize that a sewing machine actually uses two separate pieces of thread; the top thread comes from a spool of thread, and the bottom thread comes from something called the Bobbin. A Bobbin is simply a tiny metal or plastic cylinder that holds thread. Once placed inside your sewing machine, the Bobbin thread twists against your top thread, and secures your stitches in place.
Bobbins can be made out of either metal or plastic, and can either be inserted directly into your machine, or into a Bobbin Casing. Bobbin Casings are a small metal cartridge that holds the Bobbin in place while sewing your fabric together. On some older styles of sewing machines, this makes it easier to load the bobbin into place. But no matter how your machine accepts Bobbins, it’s impossible for it to sew without one.
5. Stitch Plate
A Stitch Plate is simply a small plate that sits on the base of your sewing machine. The stitch plate has slots that let your Feed Dogs pass through it, as well as one or more holes for the needle to pass through.
There are two main types of Stitch Plates; Straight Stitch Plates and Zig-Zag Plates. Straight Stitch Plates have only one or two holes, while the Zig-Zag plate has a long oval that allows the needle to pass back and forth in a much wider variety of stitches.
Stitch Plates can be made of either plastic or metal, and sometimes have special markings that allow the user to measure fabric as they sew. Additionally, the Stitch Plate often has a way of opening it to allow you to insert your Bobbin. Some of them unscrew to let you clean inside the machine, and others snap on and off for easy home maintenance.
6. Foot Pedal
Not to be confused with the Presser Foot, the Foot Pedal sits underneath your sewing table. Pushing your foot against the Foot Pedal speeds up or slows down the machine. Other Foot Pedals, such as Scissor Pedals, can often be attached to your machine. Also, some machines allow the user to sew without using a Foot Pedal at all, simply allowing you to press a button to Stop or Start sewing.
The main reason we put the Foot Pedal on this list is because of how often it’s confused with Presser Feet, both of which are often abbreviated as “feet”. However, it’s important to recognize the differences between the two.
7. Tension Discs
In order for the thread to come off your spool correctly, it first must pass through a set of small metal plates called Tension Discs. These discs are pressed together using a specified amount of pressure, and pull on the thread as it passes through the machine. Since the top thread and bottom thread have to wrap around eachother, they need to both be pulling at the same strength, otherwise either the top or bottom of your fabric will look like a giant mess! The Tension Discs can be tightened or loosened so that the amount of pressure being applied matches the project you’re using.
Many times, people can forget to pass their thread through the Tension Discs, and can cause all kinds of thread issues. Always make sure you know where your Tension Discs are located, and be sure you’re threading your machine through them correctly.
8. Take-Up Lever
Just as the Tension Discs are necessary for proper thread tension, the Take-Up Lever plays an important role in sewing machine tension. Once the needle passes through your fabric, the Take-Up Lever pulls the thread tight, locking your stitch in place. It helps pull thread off your spool, and “takes up” the slack in the thread. Without it, your stitches would never be pulled tight against eachother, and you’d have a large ball of thread on your fabric. In short, it keeps the thread moving through your machine smoothly, and skipping this part while threading your machine is not something you’re likely to do twice!
9. Throat Space
Throat Space is not necessarily a part on your sewing machine as much as it’s a measurement of how large your machine is. Throat Space is the distance between your needle and the neck of your machine. A larger Throat Space requires a more heavily built sewing machine, and allows you to place more fabric into your machine. Most sewists don’t need a very large amount of throat space, but quilters are a special case.
When a quilter is finishing their quilt, they need to pass the entire piece through the throat of their sewing machine. Imagine taking an entire King Size quilt and rolling it up; are you more likely to pass it through a machine with 5″ of throat space, or 11″ of throat space? Obviously, having more throat space is something that is very important to some quilters. Others have their quilts sent out to have longarm quilting done for them, and don’t need the Throat Space at all. It all depends on what types of projects you’ll be working on.
10. Flywheel or Hand Wheel
ewing Machines have a motor inside that is rigged to a series of belts. The Flywheel (sometimes called a Hand Wheel) is attached to these belts, and spins when your machine is in use. You can also use this wheel to reposition your sewing needle, lifting it up or down.
This part is not often confused, but since it’s attached to your sewing machine’s motor, it can tell you a lot about the health of your machine. The Flywheel should always spin smoothly, and shouldn’t be difficult to rotate when not in use. It shouldn’t wobble or wiggle, and shouldn’t make any sound when rotated.
There’s obviously a lot more to sewing machine parts that we could talk about, but by now you should be able to talk about the parts of a sewing machine in more detail. Also, in the unfortunate case that you need to take your machine into a sewing machine repair shop, you’ll be able to point out where the problem is, and what parts you’ve noticed are causing you issues, without struggling for words.
And of course, if you ever have any other questions about sewing machines or their parts, we’d love to answer them for you! We’re available by email or telephone, and love answer customer’s questions.
Did we answer all of your questions? Were there any sewing machine parts that we forgot? Did we confuse you even further? Leave us a comment, and tell us what you thought!