Picture of a sewing machine on a table

A Complete Guide To The Parts Of A Sewing Machine: Beginner’s Guide

Don’t let the mechanical cogs and metal parts of a sewing machine put you off the hobby! It can be easy to figure out how to work a sewing machine once you know all the parts!

Even a beginner can accomplish a lot by spending just an afternoon practicing on a sewing machine.

Learning all about the different parts of a sewing machine and what they can do will help you better understand your machine, and will hopefully help you identify what needs to be done to fix it should something go wrong.

The parts of most machines are pretty easy to identify, so let’s take a detailed look at the different parts of a sewing machine.

How many parts of a sewing machine are there?

Models and makes of sewing machines differ in features and functions but the basic parts are similar. Your machine’s manual or the manufacturer’s website should show a detailed diagram of your specific model.

Here’s a video by2 Howling Monkeys that really goes in-depth into the different parts of a sewing machine.

A beginner’s guide to sewing machine parts

Most sewing machines are built with around 20 main parts, and we’re going to explore some of these in more detail. Not every sewing machine will have all of the parts that I’ve listed here, and some may have other parts not included.

FACT

Englishman Thomas Saint created the first sewing machine that we would recognise today in 1790. The machine was an innovative step up from sewing machines that had been engineered over the previous 50 years.

What are the parts of a sewing machine and what do they do?

Make sure to consult the user manual as it will have an illustration that points out the features of the specific machine. Before you start sewing, it’s good to have an understanding of parts of the sewing machine.

Here are the main sewing machine parts that can be found in modern and old models:

Power cable

You can’t sew without power, so perhaps the most important part of the sewing machine is the power cable.

You can’t sew without power

The main power has two cables, one connects to the wall, and the other is the foot controller. The plug is inserted into a slot on the right hand side of the machine.

Power switch

The power switch is usually located on the right side of the machine, beneath the hand wheel. You should already know that this button turns the power on and off.

Make sure to switch off this part of the machine when you leave your sewing station to prevent any mistakes.

Foot pedal

The foot pedal sits on the floor and is employed using pressure from your right foot.

This allows you to sew at different speeds – the harder the pressure the faster the sewing speed, the lighter the pressure the slower the sewing speed.

A pedal on the floor being stepped on

More modern or computerized different machines may not come with this part of the sewing machine, but have a start/stop button.

Hand wheel

The hand wheel can also be known as the balance wheel or flywheel and is located on the right side on most sewing machines. It helps to set your sewing machine in motion, and this knob is turned to manually raise and lower the needle.

Presser foot

The presser foot is installed into the presser foot holder on the head of the sewing machine and has a hole through it for the needle to move through.

Sewing machine part pictured closeup
Close up of a presser foot

When the presser foot lever located on the back or to the right of the needle is lowered, the foot holds the fabric in place.

The pressure foot is detachable and is replaced during specialized sewing with for example, a buttonhole foot or zipper foot.

Feed dog

The feed dogs are little jagged pieces of metal that are built into the throat plate of the machine.

Close up of sewing machine parts
The rows of teeth on the bottom are feed dogs

The feed dog has little teeth on them that pull the fabric forward when sewing so you have one less thing to concentrate on! When you reverse stitch, the feed dog moves in the opposite direction.

Needle

If you’re reading this far, I hope you know what a needle looks like.

Sewing machine parts up close
This is what a needle looks like

The needle comes down from the head of the sewing machine and pushes thread through the fabric and needle plate to form a stitch. They come in different sizes depending on the material you are working with.

Needle clamp screw

Needles don’t stay in place by themselves, so this needle clamp screw holds the needle secure as it moves in the machine.

It looks like a small screw and is located next to the needle on the right hand side. When you’re changing the needle, you must loosen the needle clamp screw and tighten it again when a new needle is inserted.

Thread guide

The machine will usually have thread guides printed or engraved onto it, which is to be followed when threading the machine correctly.

Sewing machine with printed icons on it
Some thread guides will be numbered like these

When you reach the needle, some machines offer an automatic needle threader, whilst you have to thread it manually on older machines. Ensure the thread passes through each step of the machine to prevent any mishaps.

Throat plate

The throat plate or needle plate is a metal plate which is beneath the needle and presser foot. The needle plate has an opening for the needle to pass through as it stitches, and another for the feed dogs to emerge and help move the fabric forward during sewing.

TIP

Sometimes there will be measurements that are engraved into the metal plate to help sewing seam allowances and hems.

Flat bed attachment

The accessories are stored in the flat bed attachment. This is an area of the sewing machine that can be removed by sliding or pulling it from the front of the arm. This can be removed for a smaller arm for cylindrical sewing.

Bobbin

The bobbin is a smaller cylinder spool that comes without flanges.

Top part of a sewing machine
The top of a sewing machine bobbin

The bobbin holds the thread that is wound around it. It sits in the bobbin holder which is underneath the needle, and is used for the bottom thread.

Bobbin cover

The bobbin cover protects and covers the bobbin holder during sewing. They can sometimes have ¼” and ⅝” markings on them.

Bobbin cover release button

A feature on some sewing machines is the cover release button, that will help you release the cover so you can access the bobbin.

Bobbin winder

You place an empty bobbin onto a bobbin binder spindle which is located on the top right corner of the sewing machine, and is used to hold the bobbin during winding.

REMINDER

On certain machines, the winder is activated by pressing on the foot pedal.

Bobbin winder stopper

As the bobbin is only so large it will only hold a certain amount of thread. The bobbin winder stopper stops the bobbin from collecting thread from the spool of thread during winding when it has reached full capacity.

Bobbin winder thread guide

There will be a bobbin winder thread guide specifically for the bobbin thread to follow whilst it is sat on the bobbin winder.

Bobbin winder tension disk

This part of the machine is situated on the top of the machine and helps guide the thread between the bobbin winder and the spool of thread.

Bobbin winder thread guide

There will be a bobbin winder thread guide specifically for the bobbin thread to follow whilst it is sat on the bobbin winder.

Bobbin winder tension disk

This part of the machine is situated on the top of the machine and helps guide the thread between the bobbin winder and the spool of thread.

Bobbin case

A bobbin case is a round metal case that holds the bobbin and provides tension to the lower thread.

A look into the insides of a sewing machine
A close up look at a bobbin case

When the needle thread is pulled up around the bobbin case and it bundles around the lower thread and pulls it up through the needle plate. The bobbin case is a very precise shape that should fit all machines.

Slide plate

The slide plate is the rectangle plate that covers the bobbin case. This can be opened and closed easily on a sewing machine. The flat bed attachment may have to be removed to access this.

Spool pin

When you are using the sewing machine, the thread will sit on a spool holder, or spool pin. This is located on the top right side of your machine.

The spool pin can be made from plastic or metal, and if it’s made from metal it’s often retractable.

Stitch width dial

On an electronic mechanical sewing machine, this will be usually central in the front top part of a sewing machine, this controls the width of your zigzag stitch so you can concentrate on your sewing.

Stitch length dial

Next to the stitch width dial is the stitch length dial which controls the length of the stitch. Shorter stitches are used for finer fabrics, longer stitches are used for heavier fabrics, basting and gathering.

Stitch selector

This little stitch selector or pattern selector dial is used to set the stitch pattern of the desired stitch.

Sewing machine with a dial in the center
Sometimes the stitch selector’s more pronounced on the machine (1)

The pattern selector dial is usually situated close to the hand wheel on a mechanical electronic sewing machine, but on a computerized sewing machine this may be controlled via an LCD touchscreen.

Nearly all machines have several top thread decorative stitches built in.

Reverse lever

The reverse stitch lever is located on the front of the machine and allows the needle and feed dogs to move backwards to reinforce a stitch. Most commonly the lever or button will have to be held down whilst stitching.

Close up of a reverse switch
A reverse switch on a Singer machine

Depending on the model of your machine, this may be a reverse stitch button.

Thread take-up lever

The thread take up lever moves up and down with the needle on a sewing machine. It’s important to ensure the thread take up lever has been threaded carefully with top thread, when you are preparing the sewing machine to avoid any mishaps.

Thread tension dial

The thread tension dial is a small dial numbered 1-5 on the front of the sewing machine to make sure you’re sewing with the correct tension. It controls the tension on the upper thread. If it’s too tight, the bobbin thread appears on the right side of the fabric.

TIP

If the thread tension is set too loose the thread can loop, if it’s too tight the thread can snap.

Thread cutter

Different sewing machines have a cutter in different places, but this is a small shape groove built into the machine, close to the needle where thread is brought across to gently trim.

Automatic thread cutter

More commonly seen on modern machines is an automatic thread cutter which will trim threads with the press of a button.

Conclusion

So there you have a compendium that covers the most important sewing machine parts!

Understanding the sewing machine parts and how they all work will lead to a smoother sew experience, and it’s great to learn how to use your machine so your love for sewing will grow even more.

While you’re here, let me know if I’ve missed any other parts of a sewing machine, and please share with a friend who is getting to grips with their machine. Happy learning!

(1) Sewing Machine by Hey Paul Studios – licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Kris Daub
Kris Daub
[email protected] byCurated I'm a maker at heart! I love to create and tech others to create. I particularly sewing and hand crafts like ebroidery. I also love larger home decorating projects. ✂️ 🧵