Sewing machines can seem really intimidating, but in this lesson we’ll help you understand the basic functions and features of a domestic sewing machine and help you set up a pressing station. Why do you need a pressing station? Keep watching to find out.
Much like a car, sewing machines vary from brand to brand and model to model. But also like a car, they all have some of the same basic features, even though these features may look slightly different from machine to machine.
In this video, we’re like your guide, not your instruction manual! We can’t show you every machine, but we can help you get oriented. The golden rule with your sewing machine is to refer to your manual to help you identify each of the following features on your machine.
We recommend that you spend a day with your machine going through the manual and getting familiar. You can even label the different parts of your machine with post-its until you can remember what all the buttons and knobs do. Get out some scraps of fabric and try things out until you feel comfortable.
Once you’re familiar with your machine, set a calendar reminder each month to go in and clean it out, give it oil if needed, and make sure everything is working well.
Here in the studio we use Bernina machines, so we’re going to give you a little sewing machine anatomy lesson on this machine here.
First, let’s talk about threading your machine. This is where some people begin and end their sewing adventure, but once you learn how to thread your machine, you can practically do it in your sleep.
You’ll need to consult your manual to get the specifics, but you are essentially pulling your thread so it runs from the spool, along the thread guide and the take up lever that moves up and down as you sew, all the way to the needle. Threading is simple after a few tries, and YouTube is full of videos to help you thread.
Next, let’s talk stitches. Most domestic sewing machines come with a variety of stitches—some have dozens. How many do you really need? That depends on the types of projects you want to sew. If you want options for heirloom and specialty stitches, that might be a priority on your machine. But for sewing garments, you don’t really need that many different stitch types.
The most commonly used stitches in garment construction include a straight stitch, a zigzag stitch, and a buttonhole. For the Bo top in this sewalong, you’ll need just a straight stitch! We’ll talk more about stitches later.
Sewing machines usually come with the ability to change the width and length of each stitch. There’s a wide variety of a reasons to change your stitch length and width, but when you are first starting to sew a woven garment, a straight stitch with a length of 2.5 is great.
All sewing machines have a back stitch button or lever. This allows you to stitch in reverse. Backstitching at the beginning and end of each row of stitching secures your stitches, otherwise your seams might come undone and nobody wants that.
Sewing machine tension controls the amount of tension put on the thread in the sewing machine. Too tight of tension will result in tight, gathered stitches, while loose tension will result in weak loopy stitches. If you encounter tension issues, consult your machine’s manual and test on scrap fabric until it’s balanced.
This is the hand wheel, which you can use to manually stitch on your machine. It’s great if you need to work slowly or precisely.
This is the presser foot. The presser foot holds the fabric down and against the feed-dogs, which are the small teeth that feed the fabric through the sewing machine as you sew. You raise and lower the foot with a lever here.
As you progress in your sewing adventure, you will find that you need different feet for different jobs, like installing a zipper, or sewing piping. Many machines come stocked with the basic feet you’ll need to get started, so don’t stress, but presser feet can also be purchased separately. Just make sure it’s compatible with your machine before you purchase.
A bobbin is a small metal or plastic spool that is loaded with thread before you start your project, and inserted into the lower part of your sewing machine. There are two types of bobbin housing: a top-loading bobbin and a front-loading bobbin. Both have their advantages. A top-loading bobbin is slightly easier to set up. You can also see your bobbin through a small plastic door, making it easier to tell when you are running low on bobbin thread. Front-loading bobbins require a few extra steps when you are threading your machine, but offer more control over bobbin tension.
Some machines come with a speed control setting that allows you to slow down or speed up your sewing machine. Very handy.
Some machines also come with a thread cutter, so look out for that.
Those are the basic machine parts. Don’t forget to read that manual to learn about all your machine has to offer. Next, let’s talk about ironing. Or as we call it in the sewing world: pressing.
You have two important work stations in your sewing space. Whenever you make a project, you’re going to spend almost equal time sewing and pressing.
Really quick, there is a difference between ironing and pressing. I’ll show you. Ironing is a back and forth motion, and totally cool to use on your clothes. It will stretch a piece of fabric though, so you don’t want to iron your fabric before you cut it or iron your seams while you sew. You want to press! Pressing is an up and down motion, so it doesn’t risk stretching your fabric. Got it?
You will use your iron almost as much as your machine. Pressing not only makes your fabric look good, it also aids in the construction of garments.
Look for an iron with good, adjustable steam and temperature. This will allow you to finetune the amount of moisture and heat you need for different fabrics.
An ironing board is also essential for achieving a crisp professional finish. A standard full size ironing board will allow you to press cuts of fabric as well as garments. Most are adjustable so you can find the height that works best for you.
A tailor’s ham and sleeve roll are totally optional, but handy tools. Since garments form 3D shapes, a ham and roll can help make pressing those curves easier.
When pressing your fabric, you want to protect it from heat damage and any water stains, so you want a press cloth. A press cloth is simply a piece of fabric that you place over your garment when you press, so it takes any of the risk of damage. Cotton muslin, cotton canvas, or even wool are all good options.
Here’s a tip: Having a spray bottle handy will allow you to add more steam power when pressing stubborn wrinkles or thick seams. There are a bunch more tools you can add to your sewing space, but these are all you need to get started.
So now that you know all about your sewing machine and have set up a pressing station, you’re ready to gather some other handy notions. In the next lesson, we’re going to learn about creating your sewing toolkit.