August 24, 2015

sewing machine basics

Tour your sewing machine!
A bunch of the tutorials here on the blog involve using a sewing machine, because sewing is awesome! That being said, for those who don't sew, the whole thing can seem kind of intimidating. All those knobs & levers, talk of "tension" & "pressure," zig-zag versus straight stitches - eek, right? If you are terrified of your sewing machine, don't fret. It's not as scary as it seems. 

If you're a beginner, knowing your way around your sewing machine is one of the first steps in becoming an expert seamstress. Here are the things that I know about my machine, & hopefully they'll be helpful to you too. While my sewing machine is SUPER old, the mechanics are essentially the same as the newer models. Just ignore the fact that it doubles as an end table (apparently the 60s were all about functionality). Let's look at the basics of the beast, shall we? 
A look a the mechanics of the sewing machine
Your sewing machine works by interlocking. When you sew by hand, you run a single thread through  your fabric. When your sewing machine sews, it loops the top thread around the bottom thread (check out this nifty gif for a visual on this magic). This means that you have to load thread on the top & the bottom of the machine. A spool of thread is loaded on the top of the machine, & the bottom thread runs off of the bobbin (a smaller spool located under the machine). 
A look at the operations of the sewing machine
First, let's look the machine as a whole.
  1. Thread Spool Pins | This is where your top spool of thread sits.
  2. Hand Wheel | If you turn this crank, the needle moves up & down. It's basically like the "manual" knob for the machine. You can run the needle forwards & backwards.
  3. Special Stitch Dial | This is going to be different if you have a newer model. I think some models even have this dial represented digitally! Regardless, this is where you can pick the stitch. Zig-zag, overcast, elastic stretch; just turn the knob to the stitch you want. On my machine, I've got orange & white stitches. The lever above the stitch dial moves from orange to white. If the lever is on orange, I have the orange stitches as options, & vice versa with the white.
  4. Reverse Stitch Control | If you hold down this lever, the sewing machine will run backwards! This is how you "backstitch," or tie off a seam. 
  5. Stitch Length Dial | This dial controls the length of the stitch. Setting this dial to zero will give you a straight stitch. 
  6. Top Thread Tension Control | Turning this knob will adjust the tension of the thread, or how much slack is given per stitch. The higher the number, the tighter the tension. Whenever you sew with a new kind of fabric, you'll want to test-stitch to figure out what kind of tension is best. 
  7. Presser Foot | This foot holds the fabric in place as you sew & guides your stitch. You'll raise & lower it with the presser foot lever (#9). 
  8. Hand Hole Cover Plate | On my machine this is a plate under the needle. On other machines it is a plate that covers the entire left side of the machine. Removing this plate will give you access to the bobbin shuttle when you need to thread the bobbin. 
  9. Presser Foot Lever | This is the lever on back of the machine right above the presser foot. Raising & lowering this holds & releases the presser foot. Before you start a seam, lower the presser foot. When you've finished a seam, raise it. 
  10. Foot Control Pedal (not seen) | This is the pedal that powers the machine. When you want to start stitching, press down lightly on the pedal with your foot. Remember, this is not a car, it's a sewing machine. You need to apply pressure slowly & lightly. 
A tour of the sewing machine - inside & out
If you remove the hand hole cover plate (#8), you can see the whole bottom-thread contraption. This is where you'll load your bobbin.
  1. Shuttle Race Cover | This holds the bobbin case in place. 
  2. Bobbin Case | This holds the bobbin & can be removed from the shuttle by pulling on the lever in the middle. The hook at the top of the bobbin case slides into the indention on the top when it's properly in place.  
  3. Shuttle Levers | The levers hold the shuttle race cover in place. They can be snapped outward to remove the shuttle race cover.
  4. Shuttles | These half-moon things are the shuttles, & they wrap around the bobbin case. To see them in action, turn the hand wheel! To remove the shuttles, flip back the levers & remove the race cover. You will rarely have to do this, but if your thread ever gets knotted or tangled, you may have to take the bobbin shuttle apart. 
See? Not so scary. Now find out how to thread this bad boy


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