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Let’s Go Sew! Using a Sewing Machine

Let's Go Sew
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Whether doing clothing alterations or making something fun, having a sewing machine opens new horizons of possibilities. Even an old machine can make things new! We all eventually need things a bit smaller or larger, and we all hate paying for it.  Both the cost and the simplicity of doing many of the things yourself will be exciting.  Even if you have never sewn, you can get professional looking results by following some key shortcuts with a few basic supplies!

Knowing the parts of your machine will start you off right.  While no two models have all the parts in the same place, all the parts are going to be there, somewhere.

PartWhat it does
AThe manual. Like your car, there are makes and models. You may have to look under the machine to find yours.  Some manuals are full of information, others are extremely basic.  If you don’t have the manual, try Google or look here to find yours:
BThe Pedal.  This is the gas pedal for your sewing machine.  Before using fabric, try to sew lines on paper.  Be sure to put the needle in first (no thread).  Get a feel for how the machine handles, and practice stopping and going, as well as curves.  The analogy to driving a car continues!
CThe Needles.  They come in different sizes for different types of fabrics.  You can purchase a multipack of sizes as a beginner and learn what you need later.  The smaller the number, the lighter the needle and lighter the fabric it sews.  Size 14 is a great place to start for shirt(quilt) cottons.  The needle will push up into the shank of the machine, and there will be a needle clamp screw to finger tighten it.  Your manual will say if you need to use a screwdriver to tighten the needle.
DFeed dogs.  These toothy parts move under the presser foot.  They are what feed the fabric through and past the needle as it moves through the machine.  They do the work- your job is to guide the direction of the fabric, not to push.
1Presser foot.  This is an interchangeable part which masters the various tasks you present to your machine.  Start with a foot that most resembles a two-pronged fork.  You may also find a zipper foot (uneven prongs) or a buttonhole maker (large and adjustable)
2Presser foot pressure adjustment.  This will be a dial that does what it is called, adjusting the presser foot with more and less weight.  If your fabric does not feed through well, try adjusting the pressure.
3Thread spool holder.  This is where the spool of thread sits and unwinds while going through the various parts and finally through the needle and into your fabric.
4Bobbin Holder.  The bobbin is what holds the thread that goes on the underside of your fabric as you sew.  Various models put the bobbin holder in many locations, but the function is the same.  You will need to fill a bobbin with the same thread as is on the spool for a professional look.  There will also be a place for filling the bobbin, much like the main thread holder on most machines.
5Stitch selection.  Some machines only have straight and zig-zag.  Others have 30 or more stitches.  There may also be a needle position selector, which moves the needle left, right and center (if you use this, check by carefully hand cranking the wheel to make sure the needle aligns with the plate).  Start with a single straight stitch, then expand.  It is so much fun!
6Stitch length.  Whether a dial or electronic your machine will allow you to change how many stitches you will sew per inch.  If you are not sure about what you are doing, start with a large stitch which is much easier to remove.  You can sew over it with a smaller stitch when you are ready.
7Reverse.  At the beginning and end of each part you sew, sew ¼ inch or so, then reverse the same amount and start forward again.  This will keep your stitches locked into place.
8Handwheel.  This wheel lets you turn the needle up and down by hand.
9Thread tension guide.  This adjusts the thread tension and flow through the needle.  Start on a low level, then as you sew see how the thread lies.  If it puckers, loosen the tension.  If you can see loops, tighten it.  Too tight of tension will cause your thread to break more often.
EPressure foot lever.  Either on the left side or on the back of the machine will be a lever which will raise and lower the needle shank mechanism. Always thread your machine with this lever in the up position to release the tensions.
FPlate.  The metal part under the presser foot that has cut outs for the feed dogs and a hole for the needle to move in and out of.  It usually has markings on it to assist guiding a straight seam.
GThread cutter.  Most modern machines have a built-in thread cutter.  It will be in the area of the pressure foot lever.

Now you have the vocabulary, and you have tried sewing paper with an empty needle!  Good for you!

Your next lesson will be to thread the machine.  Once you accomplish this task, you really will be ready to sew a fine seam!

Unfortunately, there are so many variations of sewing machines that it is impossible to blog them all and tell you how to thread your model.  Hopefully, you have a manual or an experienced friend who can help you figure it out.  There are even many librarians who would be glad to help you if you called for an appointment!

Once you have it threaded you can experiment with various settings until you have it working properly.  Then you can fold over a piece of fabric and see how it sews!  Keeping a list of the settings you use on different types of fabrics can be very handy for future reference.

When all things are ready to go, you are ready to sew!

Books to get started with:

PLYMC ebooks

Have you mastered your sewing machine, and anxious to try making alterations yourself?  Visit my blog, complete with brief how-to videos, here: