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Sewing Basics

Getting started with your sewing machine

You’ve got the machine out of the box and now what?
I always tell novices, if you can drive a car or bicycle, then you can sew.

It is the same principle really, you go forward, you steer, etc. The exception with sewing however, is that there are no brakes as like a car or bicycle. Just let off the “gas” when you want to stop and the machine comes to a halt.

Every modern sewing machine will have reverse button or lever. Most pre-1936 sewing machines did not. This made it difficult to secure your start and stop positions. You would have had to either go over it again going forward or tie off the ends. I tie the ends with I’m using my vintage machines.

The first thing you learn when discovering sewing, is how to drive the machine. You need to know how to thread the machine and what the terminology is for the bits and bobs on it.

There are two places for thread. The main spool at the top and the “bobbin” which is underneath. One needs the other in order for the machine to work properly. If you were to view it in slow motion, you would see the upper thread on the needle come down, go down inside the bobbin plate, loop with the thread from the bobbin and come back up again. This all happens in a split second, over 1000 stitches per second on average to be more precise.

Each sewing machine has different methods for threading. Most all new modern machines, will have a numbered guide printed on the machine itself, where you follow the numbers all the way down to the needle. The main trick is just go with gravity so to speak. It all has to filter down to the needle in the end, so it has a “route” to take to get there. Use your common sense and you can easily achieve this. About mid-way to the needle your thread will pass through the tension system of the machine. You may or may not be able to see it on your machine, but believe me, it’s there. Without the right tension, your machine would just make messy loops or snap off and break. If this happens then you have not threaded properly, and the best thing to do is to pull the thread out and start over. Once you have threaded down to the needle, thread the needle by sticking the thread through the small hole at the bottom of the needle. Alternatively, if you are lucky, your machine will have an “automatic” threader which is great when you have difficulty seeing that pesky little hole in the needle.

Next is the bobbin thread. Some machines have the “bobbin case” viewable through a clear cover on the plate near the “feed dogs”, and some are hidden underneath where you will have to access the bobbin from the front or side of the machine. You will have to check your instructions to locate your bobbin area. You will also need to determine which way your bobbin will sit in it’s case, clockwise or counter-clockwise. Most Singer machine bobbins go in counter-clockwise. Again follow your machines guide to thread your bobbin.
The way to find out for sure that you have threaded your machine correctly, is to manually turn the wheel towards you one time, while loosely holding on to the upper thread. If the needle dips down and “picks up” the bobbin thread, making a nice loop when coming to the top surface, then you can done it correctly. If it jams up, breaks, or snags, then you will need to rethread one or the other.

Now a bit about safety:
Like a car or even a bicycle, it can be dangerous if not used correctly. Rule number one is to always keep your fingers at least 2 inches away from the needle when the machine is in motion. The last thing you want to do is pierce yourself! Always keep your eye on the road so to speak. Do not get distracted or you could have a nasty accident.

Like a vehicle, when you are first learning, go slowly at first. Take extra care going around a curve and stop at the end of the fabric.
Always “backstitch” (unless you are making a quilt) when you start and stop. This will secure the end so that your work does not unravel. Back stitching is a feature on the machine that will make 2 or 3 stitches backwards to tie off the start position or finish it off at the end. This is achieved usually be pressing a button or lever on your machine.

The one thing I tell my students is to learn at your own speed, and use the “P” word…. “Practice, practice, practice!