Simple guide to using your Sewing Machine to sew {starting steps for beginners}

I was 13 years old when I got my first sewing machine. I had to convince my mother with many tall claims of being a future fashion designer etc. And then it sat inside the cupboard for a long time untouched, after that first spurt of fanatic sewing for a week or two. 

For a long long time, I didn’t use the sewing machine as it should have been used. The possibilities of a sewing machine is beyond words but there are many sewing machines that sit so, all around the world; the owner is perhaps busy or simply apprehensive of using it.

This post is meant for that beginner in sewing – who has a new sewing machine but do not know what to do. If you are that person, this article may help you to take the baby steps needed to make you a sewist par excellence or atleast some one who will approach new projects with more confidence.

When you buy the sewing machine it comes with a sewing machine manual. If you read that one thoroughly you wouldn’t have to read a post like this one. You can download these manuals online – checkout this post on downloading sewing machine manuals.

So How to use your sewing machine ?

Here is your sewing machine unboxed.

Check that everything is included in the box. The sewing machine, ofcourse. Then the Foot controller with the cord intact will be kept extra. Plug it into the machine and check that it is working.

Check out this post on sewing safely for somethings you should take care of when using the sewing machine from the word go. You do not have to wait for that accident.

Your machine will usually have some extra pressure foot (other than the all-purpose foot which will already be on the machine) like straight stitch foot, zipper foot, buttonhole foot. The all purpose foot is used for sewing just about everything usually – straight stitch, zig zag stitch, decorative stitches.

sewing machine pressure feet

You can do a lot of other things by changing pressure feet. I do not use these extra feet as frequently as I should,  though I bought them with great enthusiasm but it is rather reassuring to know that they are there. Here is the post on the different types of pressure feet you can buy for these extra functionalities. But that comes much later. Now you can do with the simple feet you have got for free with your sewing machine – infact, you can do a lot. 

Starting to use your sewing machine

The modern sewing machine is controlled by the foot controller – you press the foot controller with your foot, with enough pressure that the sewing requires – this will run the machine as you wish. So even if the main switch of the sewing machine is off, the sewing machine wouldn’t start unless you place your foot on it and apply enough pressure. If you press the controller very hard then the machine will run at great speed. But mostly you apply medium pressure and you are good to go. 

You can check out this post on the different parts of a sewing machine for familiarizing yours with the names you can call all those different sections.

Use the stitch selection dial – this will change the type of stitch you want – straight stitch or zig-zag or whatever other stitches you have.

When you start sewing you will realise that you can do very well with just that straight stitch. But a zig zag stitch is a very versatile stitch which has many functions.

Check out this post on zig zag stitch to know about the 15 different uses of this stitch in sewing. You can learn more about the straight stitch here.

When you change the pressure feet do not forget to raise the pressure foot lever, and raise the needle up by turning the handwheel to the front (towards you in a counterclockwise direction). Your sewing machine may have different ways of removing the pressure feet; Mine has a small switch at the back to get it off and a magnetic mechanism and a slot which takes up the pressure foot.

Ensure that the needle is inserted properly in your sewing machine. Check that the needle is not hitting the presser foot by turning the handwheel slowly. Usually the needle is inserted so that the flat side of the needle should face toward the back and the rounded side is facing toward you.

Check that the stitch length and stitch width are set properly. But before that ensure that the needle is up from the fabric. This is very important when you change the stitch length and stitch width.The numbers indicate stitch length and stitch width in millimeters.

Stitch width needs to be changed only for zig zag stitch and decorative stitches. For straight stitch the stitch width is kept 0. If you want a zig-zag stitch the stitch width is to be increased according to your desire.  

For stitch length higher the number longer the stitch. If you are sewing a straight stitch length is usually set at 2 or 2.5. A 0 stitch length is used when you want to sew in the same place ie the material does not move at all.

For sewing medium weight fabrics like quilting cotton, medium weight silks, you can adjust the stitch length from 2.2 to 2.5. Even a heavy weight silk will sew well with this length. But for sewing thicker fabrics increase the stitch length above 2.5 to even 3. Heavy weight canvas, denim etc need a stitch length of 3. For even thicker fabrics use 3.5.

Threading the machine

Wind the bobbin with a suitable thread. Usually, you get a couple of bobbins with the sewing machine, but usually, this is not enough. You can buy them from shops but the sewing machine manual instructs to use only that bobbins that the company specifies so you have to ask for the particular brand you are using.

Your sewing machine manual will give pictorial instructions to wind the bobbin. Mine comes with a spool pin to keep the bobbin and there is a specific way of winding the bobbin through the tension disk to properly wind the bobbin. You have to engage the bobbin winding switch to wind, otherwise, nothing will happen. Wind your bobbin and then place it in the bobbin case. The bobbin is kept in a specific direction – it will be indicated on the machine or demonstrated in the manual- and the thread tail has to be inserted through a slit on the case – if this is not done right, the whole thing will be a mess afterward. 

Thread the sewing machine properly as per your sewing machine manual or as per the pictorial representation on your machine. The machine is better turned off from power as you thread to ensure that it does not operate accidentally. 

Some machines have a built-in needle threader. Otherwise, thread the needle after following all the steps from the thread spool to the needle. Bring the thread to the back of the needle. 

After this, engage the thread of the bobbin by slowly turning the handwheel towards you slowly. This will draw up the bobbin thread. When you get the thread up from the bobbin, bring this thread and the top thread to the back of the presser foot.

Keep the fabric under the presser foot. Start stitching by slowly pressing down on the foot controller. Do not pull the fabric at any point.  

When you start stitching you will want to anchor the stitching, use the reverse lever – when you do that, it stitches to the back. I sometimes change the stitch length to 0 and sew in place – this also anchors the thread in place.

When you want to change the direction of sewing you have to stop the machine so that the needle is in the fabric, now raise the presser foot by lifting the presser foot lever and move or pivot the fabric as you need. Now lower the presser foot and start stitching. 

If your machine has the facility of free arm sewing, this means that you can remove a part of the machine (the bed) to facilitate sewing cylindrical pieces easily by sliding the piece through the arm of the machine.

If at any point in time while you sew, the thread gets stuck in the bobbin area (and it will many times) do not ever pull the thread. Use a screwdriver and remove the needle plate and carefully remove the thread slowly. Then replace the needle plate. If you pull the thread it will displace parts inside the machine.

Usually, this is the least of your problems with your machine – more serious problems like frequent needle breaking, etc happens. They are part of the game. Take them in your stride and do not get frustrated and quit. If you have persistent problems get a new machine rather than quit sewing altogether. You can check out this post on the most common sewing machine problems and solutions here

Related posts that will be helpful to a beginner : 10 easy sewing projects for beginners ; Learn to sew – 100+ sewing tips and techniques

Check out tips on sewing thin fabrics and sewing thick fabrics.

Comments 4

  1. Help! I have recently started sewing and everything was going well with making bags and simple things and then my machine was playing up and I wondered if you could help? The stitching on the top side is fine but the stitching on the underside is looped and not flat. I have tried changing the tension and even tried turning the little screw on the bobbin case but its still doing it.
    I have a John Lewis basic sewing machine.
    I look forward to hearing from you – Thankyou

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Christine
      The stitching on the back side gets into problems when the thread on the top is not properly set – maybe you have skipped a step or two in threading the machine, tension not correct, the thread is not good, using the wrong needle(number) for the fabric etc. Hope you find out a solution for your problem. You can clean the upper thread path and see if it solves.
      Check this page for more details in troubleshooting sewing machine problems; setting tension on sewing machine

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