Anatomy of a Sewing Machine and Their Functions

Last Updated on 24/08/2021

Sewing can be characterized on the basis of information about the sewing thread, the textile fabric, and the construction of the connection (thread / laying of textile fabric). A connection by sewing occurs by the linking or chaining of one or more sewing threads with the textile fabric. The manner, position, and number of linking or interlacing points in the textile fabric describe the joint produced.

All sewing machines are a bit different, but they all have the same important parts. Each part plays an important role. Here is an example of a basic sewing machine (see below image). You might also need to refer to your manual to locate some of the parts on your particular machine.

basic sewing machine
Fig: Basic sewing machine

When buying an embroidery sewing machine, it would be advisable to look at a number of factors while also considering real user reviews for a taste of their experience. That said, you do not have to spend a leg and an arm in order to enjoy the best embroidery results, whether you’re a sewing enthusiast or a novice. With the best janome embroidery machine for example, the amount of money you spend vis-à-vis the experience you enjoy are incomparable.

Simply put, the most expensive machines do not translate into the best sewing experience and neither do the cheapest options leave you frustrated. That said, always look at the features offered by any particular embroidery machine to help you make a decision.

It is advisable to choose one of the best- known makes and models of sewing machine, so that parts are readily available. Spend time familiarizing yourself with your machine so that you can really get the most from it.

Don’t be beguiled by a top-of-the-range computerized embroidery machine if you are new to sewing and, like many household sewers, you will probably use only straight and zigzag stitch. A basic all-purpose machine is likely to give you all you need and will also be easy to master. For a wider choice of embroidery stitches and a start/stop button instead of foot-pedal control, you may want to consider a basic computerized machine. More sophisticated computerized embroidery machines (often combined with general sewing) can be used to create multicolored embroidery designs, copying, for example, hand-drawn alphabets and illustrations.

Overlockers are used by professionals in addition to general sewing machines to finish and trim seams in one action. They are expensive and not completely necessary, as you can finish seams in many other ways. As they trim and sew the fabric in one action, you need to be adept at handling them, otherwise you could be at risk of damaging the garment you are stitching. If you decide to invest in an overlocker, it is best to finish the seams before you stitch them to avoid this problem.

Basic theory behind the working of sewing machines has not changed hugely since Isaac Singer first went into production with his machines in the 1850s and, in essence, they are still threaded up the same way. The thread on the top spool is threaded down through levers, channels and hooks on the machine and into the eye of the needle. A smaller bobbin of thread is kept in a compartment under the throat plate and threaded so that it can be picked up by the top loop to create an interlocking stitch. However, modern machines have made the job of threading up much simpler, with the stages numbered on the machine and hooks, rather than eyes, for easy threading.

Anatomy of a Sewing Machine and Their Functions:

The components of a sewing machine can be divided according to their main functions into thread-leading and stitch-producing elements.

Anatomy of sewing machine
Fig: Anatomy of sewing machine

Foot pressure dial
This allows for adjustment to suit the fabric you are stitching. If you make an adjustment, test it on a sample using the relevant number of layers.

Foot lifter lever
This arm is a very important part of threading the sewing machine. It moves up and down as the needle moves up and down in and out of your fabric. Use this to raise and lower the foot. It should always be in the down position when sewing.

Bobbin thread guide
Use this when winding the bobbin.

Threading gully and thread take-up lever
A U-shaped groove at the front of the machine on the left-hand side houses a metal arm that regulates the correct amount of thread fed from the spool down to the needle.

Tension dial
For adjusting the tension of the top thread. This knob controls the delicate relationship between your sewing thread and your bobbin thread. You should not have to adjust it often. If necessary, refer to your sewing machine manual to make sure that you maintain the perfect tension level— you don’t want one thread looser or tighter than the other one. Be very careful when adjusting the tension control. If it gets too unbalanced, you might have to take your sewing machine to a repair shop to get it rebalanced.

Upper parts of sewing machine
Fig: Upper parts of sewing machine

Threading guides
Modern machines are marked with numbers- suitably positioned to help you thread up the machine in the correct order.

This holds the foot in place. Many machines nowadays have quick release mechanisms for changing the foot.

Presser foot
This holds the fabric flat and in position during stitching. This sewing machine part works like an extra pair of fingers that help guide the fabric as it moves under the needle. You can raise and lower the presser foot using a lever on the back of your machine. Many sewing machines come with extra presser foots that can be switched according to the task at hand, like making buttonholes or sewing in a zipper. We recommend that beginning sewers stick with an all-purpose presser foot.

Bobbin housing with removable plate
In some machines, the bobbin, fits directly into the machine. In others, you need to place it into a bobbin case first.

Removable free arm
The free arm provides a stable surface for general machining. Remove it for a narrow work bed when stitching around smaller areas, such as when inserting sleeves.

Throat plate, or needle plate, over feed dogs
The throat plate covers the bobbin and provides a flat sewing surface. It is engraved with markings for different seam widths as a guide for sewing straight seams. The feed dogs protrude through slots in the throat plate; they guide the fabric under the needle.

Parts of a sewing machine
Fig: Parts of a sewing machine

Feed dogs
These rough feeling teeth are located below the presser foot, on the needle plate of your sewing machine. Feed dogs will gently pull the fabric through the machine.

Spool holder
This holds the spool of thread, which is secured in position by the spool cap.

Stitch width control
Straight stitch is always set at 0. Use this control to adjust the width of zigzag stitches and fancy stitches.

Needle clamp
The needle slots in here and is clamped into position.

Most have rounded shafts with a flat back for accurate fitting into the clamp.

A sewing machine bobbin is a very small spool of thread that fits inside your sewing machine in a space called the bobbin casing. As you press the foot pedal and the needle flies in and out of the top side of your fabric, the bobbin thread sews the bottom side. Every brand and model of sewing machine uses its own style and size of bobbin, so be sure you’ve got the correct bobbin for your machine. Keep a supply of extra bobbins in your sewing kit.

Sewing machine bobbin
Fig: Sewing machine bobbin

Bobbin winder
A mechanism for the quick and even winding of the bobbin.

Bobbin stop
When the bobbin winder is in the locked position, the bobbin stop can gauge when the bobbin is full and stop the winding action.

Balance wheel or Hand wheel
Use this to manually move the needle up and down. Use the hand wheel to slowly operate your sewing needle. Turn the wheel toward you to raise or lower the needle.

Stitch selector
Turn the dial for your chosen stitch. Some machines use touch buttons. This control knob on your sewing machine will determine what kind of stitch you might make. On basic sewing machines, you can choose between straight or zigzag stitches. Fancier machines have many more varieties of stitches.

stitch selector
Fig: Stitch selector

Stitch library
The choice of stitches available on this machine.

Stitch length control
Use this to adjust the length of the stitches.

Reverse stitch switch
Press this to start and end seams in reverse to secure the ends.

Tool store
Many machines have a compartment that provides useful storage for tools such as the screwdriver, cleaning brushes, oil and spare bulb, as well as spare needles arid bobbins.

Foot pedal
A sewing machine foot pedal works just like the accelerator of a car. Push down to go fast, and ease up to slow down. Some models of sewing machines also have a speed control. Always take your foot off the pedal and put it flat on the floor before you make adjustments on your sewing machine, such as raising or lowering the needle.

Sewing machine foot pedal
Fig: Foot pedal

Socket for power and foot-pedal cables
This is usually a single socket that takes a two-cabled plug – one for the power supply and the other for the foot pedal.


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  2. Sewing School 2: Lessons in Machine Sewing by Amie Petronis Plumley and Andria Lisle
  3. Understanding and Using A Sewing Machine by Nicola Corrigan
  4. Sewing Machine Reference Tool by Bernie Tobisch
  5. The Sewing Book by Alison Smith
  6. Textile Technology – An Introduction, 2nd Edition by Thomas Gries, Dieter Veit, Burkhard Wulfhorst

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