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Sewing Machine Operation Instructions and Basics--By DEBBIE COLGROVE Updated on 05/03/21

Sewing machines come with a vast variance in options but the basic operation of a sewing machine is the same from machine to machine. Once you know the very basics of operating a sewing machine, you'll want to refer to your machine's manual so you can use every possible option that your sewing machine offers.

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Your Sewing Machine's Manual

Sewing Machine Manuals

If you are not the first owner of your sewing machine, you may not have the manual. It's a good idea to try to obtain a sewing machine manual for your sewing machine. The manual is not going to just tell you how to operate the machine. It will also teach you how to care for your specific machine and uncover tips and tricks you might not learn anywhere else. Fortunately, many newer machine models have manuals available online. It will be more difficult to secure a manual for older machines, but you can sometimes find them for sale on websites like eBay or Craigslist.

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Parts of a Sewing Machine

Sewing Machine Parts and Information

A sewing machine manual can seem like it's written in a foreign language if you don't know the different parts of the machine. Newer sewing machines and older sewing machines all have the same basic parts—the difference is the newer machine's parts are less exposed. The pictures of sewing machine parts you'll find online may be depicting an older machine, just so you can see the actual parts that are hidden on newer sewing machines. See if you can memorize the basic parts, it will definitely be helpful as you decipher patterns and troubleshoot sewing machine problems.

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Speed Control

Sewing Machine Foot Pedals

The foot pedal of a sewing machine is essentially equal to the gas pedal on your car. The more you press down, the faster the sewing machine is going to sew. Most machines can go quite fast. To get a good feel for the machine's speed, try sewing barefoot. To get started, keep your heel on the floor and the ball of your foot on the foot pedal. Try using only your big toe to press down the foot pedal if you find yourself going faster than you can control. Practice learning speed control without the machine being threaded. Once you can control the speed of the machine, then thread the sewing machine and practice some more.

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Know Your Sewing Machine Needles

Sewing Machine Needles

Different fabric requires different sewing machine needles. The most common telltale that you need to change the needle is skipped stitches. The weight and type of fabric all come into play in choosing the correct sewing machine needle for the type of fabric you are sewing. There are also special needles to fill special needs; learn about all of your sewing machine needle options to eliminate simple-to-solve problems.

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Use a Guide

Sewing Machine Seam Guides

Watching the needle as you sew can lead to some wavy stitching. The best practice is to set a guide and watch the fabric lining up with the guide as you sew to obtain straight seams with even seam allowances. The guide can be on the sewing machine bed or on the presser foot.

You may also want to experiment with needle position to obtain the results you want. Remember, you are in the driver's seat and you decide where the machine is going to stitch the fabric.

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Familarize Yourself with the Feed Dogs

Throat Plate and Feed Dog on an Elna Heirloom Edition 6005

The feed dog is responsible for taking the fabric under the needle and feeding it through the machine. The feed dog works in conjunction with your presser foot to feed the fabric as it is being sewn. Your responsibility is to simply guide the fabric between the feed dog and presser foot.

When you force-feed the machine or tug fabric through the machine, you can bend the sewing machine needle and create all kinds of problems. Let the machine do the work and just guide the fabric at a steady pace.

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Threading the Sewing Machine

How to Thread a Sewing Machine

Your sewing machine manual is the best place to learn how to thread your sewing machine but if you want to get started and don't have your machine's manual, the basics of threading a sewing machine may get you started.

When threading an sewing machine, be sure to thread them with the presser foot up. When the presser foot is in the upward position, the tension is released, which allows the thread to seat itself properly. You can test the difference by tugging the thread at the needle with the presser foot up and with the presser foot down—the thread will pull smoothly if seated properly.

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Quality Thread

Thread Quality

Grabbing a spool of the thread for a dollar may seem like a great way to save money, but you may run into consequences if the thread is lacking in quality. Thread also ages, so if your machine is acting up and you are trying to sew with your grandmother's wooden spool of thread, try a new high-quality thread and see if it makes a difference.

It takes practice and dedication to truly get familiar with your sewing machine. The more you learn about the way it works, the easier it will be to troubleshoot problems. And if you keep your machine running smoothly, you'll be able to sew all the projects you desire.