There are all brands and types and ages of sewing machines available. Some are user-friendly, some not very. But – they all have certain things in common.
PARTS TO KNOW:
1. Bobbin winder: is the pin you put the bobbin on when you wind thread from the spool to the bobbin. It could be located on the top or the front of the machine, or sometimes on the side.
2. Hand wheel or fly wheel: the round wheel on the right side of the machine. It turns as the machine goes. You can use it to raise or lower the needle. Always turn the wheel with the top coming forward.
3. Light: it shines on the sewing area so you can see what you’re doing. It could be in the center of the machine, over the needle, or both.
4. Spool pin: the spindle that holds the spool of thread in place for sewing. It could be on the front or top of the machine, and could hold the thread in a horizontal or vertical position.
5. Thread guides: channels or loops that direct the thread on the path from spool to needle.
6. Reverse lever or button: makes the machine sew backwards to lock stitches at the beginning and end of a seam.
7. Stitch length selector: used to adjust the length of stitches. In general, smaller stitches for finer fabrics and longer for heavier fabrics. The length can be measured in inches or millimeters. A normal seam is 2.5 mm or 12 stitches per inch.
8. Needle: carries the thread through the fabric. It has an eye (hole) near the pointed end. The shank that fits into the machine has a flat side that almost always faces toward the back. It must be inserted correctly. There are different sizes and types of needles that you select according to your fabric – and the choice of needle makes a big difference. The needle needs to be changed after about 8 hours of sewing.
9. Bobbin case and bobbin: the bobbin is a small spool that the bottom thread comes from. The bobbin case is the container is fits in. The bobbin case could be removable or could stay in place. Either way, there’s a bobbin tension spring that must be used to put a little resistance on the thread. Usually the bobbin tension does not require adjustment.
10. Feed teeth or feed dogs: the metal teeth that the fabric rides on when you’re sewing. They move the fabric under the needle to prepare for the next stitch.
11. Presser foot: holds the fabric down against the feed teeth as you sew. There are differently shaped feet for different purposes – again, the selection of foot makes a big difference.
12. Presser foot lifter: Located at the back of the machine behind the needle, it lifts up the foot so you can insert or remove fabric. You must have the presser foot down when you sew.
13. Needle plate: metal plate with an oval opening for the needle to pass through. It should be smooth with no nicks, which could snag and break thread.
14. Tension control: controls the amount of resistance on the thread as it passes through the machine. If it needs adjustment, a higher number means more tension and a lower number means less tension.
15. Take-up lever: goes up and down as the needle moves up and down. It pulls thread from the spool to make stitches with. It should be at its highest position (turn the hand wheel to move it) when you start and stop sewing.
16. Check spring: small metal spring near the tension control. On newer machines it is usually hidden in the threading path. On older machines it is exposed and can easily get bent.
17. Foot control or foot pedal: the pedal that you push with your foot to start the machine sewing and control its speed. It’s the equivalent of the gas pedal in your car.
THREADING A SEWING MACHINE
1. Raise the presser foot.
2. Put the spool of thread on the spool pin. If a horizontal spool pin is available, it is usually preferable.
3. Pull the thread through the first thread guide.
4. Pull the thread down through the tension mechanism and the check spring.
5. Bring the thread up through take-up lever.
6. Pass the thread through the one or two thread guides above the needle.
7. Thread the needle from front to back and pull the thread tail under the presser foot and out toward the back.
8. Insert wound bobbin in bobbin case and pull thread into bobbin tension.
9. Raise bobbin thread above the needle plate, by holding the end of the top thread and turning the hand wheel forward one revolution. A loop of bobbin thread will be brought up. Pull the bobbin thread under the foot and out the back along with the top thread.
10. Lower presser foot. Begin sewing at least 1/8” from the edge of the fabric. Take 3 or 4 stitches forward, then 3 or 4 stitches backward, and then proceed with sewing forward. At the end of the seam, take 3 or 4 stitches backward.
TROUBLE-SHOOTING FOR A SEWING MACHINE
1. If the machine is not sewing well, first rethread it and insert new needle. If it’s still not sewing well, use a different spool of thread. (It may be a thread problem, not a machine problem.)
2. If there’s a “nest” of extra thread on the underside of the fabric, it’s probably not bobbin thread. This usually happens because the upper thread is not threaded correctly, or the tension knob is turned to zero. Rethread the machine.
3. If there are small loose loops of thread (not gobs, as above) on the underside of the fabric, turn the tension knob up one unit to tighten the upper thread and lift up the loops. If there are loose loops of thread on the top of the fabric, make sure the bobbin tension is threaded. Don’t try to adjust the bobbin tension, just loosen the tension on the top thread (turn knob to smaller number) so the two threads are in balance with each other.
4. If the thread is breaking, it could be bad thread or a bad (rough) spool. Try another spool of thread. Check for rough spots on the needle plate (nicks where the needle has hit the plate). If you find any roughness, gently smooth with fine sand paper or emery cloth.
5. If the needles are breaking, it’s probably because you are pushing or pulling the fabric through the machine. Don’t override the machine’s feeding system. You have to push wood through on a table saw – not so on a sewing machine.
6. If the stitches are uneven –some long and some short – the needle is in backwards or it’s the wrong needle for the fabric. Stretchy fabrics require a ballpoint needle
7. If the needle goes down through the hole in the needle plate and fails to make a stitch or hits something, take the machine to the repairman. It could be a timing problem, which cannot be fixed at home.