Basic Sewing Machine Parts Every Beginners should Know and Their Functions

by Leanna Levine | Last Updated: February 22, 2017

The first step in learning how to sew is getting to know your sewing machine.

Your new sewing machine has arrived on your doorstep. Congratulations! This is the exciting day you’ve been anticipating for so long.

Maybe you plan to start a sewing business or perhaps you just want to begin a new hobby. Either way, you have to start somewhere. And deciphering the parts of this new tool is as good a place as any.

When you open the box and pull out your new sewing machine, set it on a sturdy table. Then pull out the user’s manual. This little book will be your constant companion as you begin your sewing journey and long afterwards too.

Lots of people never read their sewing machine manuals, or any other manual for that matter. But if you want to feel like a genius, read the manual.

Initially, so many different parts can seem a little scary. But if you understand the function of each, it is actually quite simple!

Understanding your machine will help you to use it to deliver optimal performance. It will also save you lots of unnecessary headaches if you get stuck on something (we know we all do!), and you’ll be able to do some basic troubleshooting by yourself.

Of course every manufacturer makes their machines a little differently, so you’ll need to find these parts on your own machine.

Your machine could very well have more parts than these. But in this article we’ll just go over the very basic main parts that all machines have.

What are these different parts? What do they do? Let’s start getting acquainted with them!

1. Turn on the Power Switch



To begin at the beginning! Turn on the power switch before starting to sew. All electric machines will have a power switch.

If your machine has a light, it will also turn on the light.



2. Put the thread on the Spool Pin

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The spool pin is a plastic or metal pin for holding your upper thread. It can be vertical or horizontal.

A spool cap is sometimes used to secure the thread in place. Also at times a felt cushion is placed under the spool to help it spin properly.

That’s where you’ll start the threading process. It looks like a peg and could be horizontal or vertical on your machine, but it will be on the top.

It’s where you put the spool of thread. Next trace the path of the thread and look at all the guides. There will be hooks, the take-up lever, and a few more guides for the thread on its way to the needle. Some machines have a built in threader, which is nice, but not necessary.

3. Follow the Thread Guide


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The thread guide guides your thread from the spool to the needle.

Have you ever found threading the machine a little confusing? Luckily many machines these days have small stickers on them showing the route the thread should take. If not, the sewing machine manual will have a diagram.

4. The Take – Up Lever


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This metal finger–like projection has a hole for the thread. It moves up and down with the needle taking the thread with it.

5. A fresh Needle


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The needle takes the thread down through the fabric to form a stitch.

Lots of different types and sizes of needles are available. This article explains the various types in detail.

Needles should be changed regularly because they become blunt with use.

6. The Needle Plate


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This is a plate with a hole for the needle to go through. Most needle plates have etchings that work as seam guides.

7. The Presser Foot and its different types


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The presser foot holds the fabric in place.

Based on the type of machine you are using, you might need high-shank foot or low-shank foot.

Snap-on feet, mostly used on low-shank machines, are very handy and easy to change.

8. The Presser Foot Lifter


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The presser foot lifter is used to lift the presser foot or lower it down. Lowering it down engages the tension discs.

9. Movement of the Feed Dogs


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The feed dogs are small metal teeth that pull the fabric through the machine.

The stitch length is a measure of how much the feed dogs pull the fabric.

The feed dogs can be dropped in some machines, or covered with a plate, to perform tasks like free-motion quilting.

Clean the feed dogs regularly using a small brush to avoid dust settling in them.

10. The Hand Wheel


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The hand wheel is used to bring up the bobbin thread, and to raise or lower the needle. It is generally used when pivoting at corners.

Always turn the hand wheel towards yourself.

11. The Bobbin


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It is a second spool of thread that is placed in the bobbin case below the needle plate. The bobbin thread interlocks with the spool thread to form a stitch.

Different machines use different kinds of bobbins

12. The Bobbin Case


A case for the bobbin that moves when the needle moves, and enables the spool thread to wrap around the bobbin thread and pull it up through the needle plate.

Bobbin cases can be either top-loading or front-loading based on the type of machine.

Remember to clean the bobbin case after every few uses. You don’t want lint bunnies under your needle plate!

13. The Bobbin Winder


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It winds the spool thread onto the bobbin smoothly and evenly.

The small bobbin winder stopper next to the bobbin winder stops the winder when the bobbin is full.

14. Understand the Tension Control


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The tension control knob lets you adjust the tension of the spool thread.

Getting the tension right can sometimes be a bit frustrating. Take a little time, understand your machine, and you will get it right!

You can also refer to this article to understand thread tension better.

15. The Stitch Selection Knob


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Many machines offer different kinds of stitches like straight, zigzag, button-hole and decorative stitches. This knob lets you select the stitch you want to use.

16. The Stitch Length Knob


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Use this to select the desired stitch length.

17. The Reverse Stitch Lever/Button


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Pressing the reverse stitch lever/button makes the machine sew backwards.

At the beginning and end of a seam, it is good to go back a few stitches to reinforce it. This makes sure the seam does not start opening under stress.

18. The Foot Controller


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It controls the speed of the machine. Start out slow. As you sew more and gain experience, increase the speed gradually.

Here we have covered the basic parts of a sewing machine. There are lots of optional parts like an extension table, a thread cutter and a needle threader.

There are also things that are not a part of a sewing machine, but are needed when sewing. A small screwdriver, a bottle of machine oil, a lint brush, a seam ripper, a thread nipper, and of course thread.

So now go ahead, get to know your machine a little more. And start sewing!