Monday, June 17, 2013

Sewing Basics: Know Your Machine

This is the first post in what will become a series of "Sewing Basics" posts.

First of all, I am not an expert at sewing. I have never taken a sewing class. I learned some basics from my mom and the rest I figured out one way or another. This series of posts will be giving some basic sewing instruction in layman's terms for anyone out there like me: trying to teach yourself without costing yourself a fortune. That said, I hope the experts out there will feel free to correct me. If something I post is incorrect or can be done a simpler way, please email me at so I can make corrections as needed.

Step 1: Find the user's manual.

Hopefully if you own a sewing machine, you still have the owner's manual. If you have it, keep it! If you can't find it (welcome to my life), you can find many instruction manuals online. All you need to know is your sewing machine brand, model, and model #. For example, my machine is a Brother Project Runway Limited Edition - CE8080PRW. I found all that info just by looking at the front of my machine. If it is not written on the front, look at the bottom and the back. Maybe there will be a label inside the front cover. Wherever it is, find it! Then you can do a simple internet search for the model's manual.

Step 2: Read the user's manual.

Yes, user's manuals are, by definition, boring and dry. But reading and understanding the manual will really help when it comes to using your machine and solving problems. Get your machine out and study the diagrams in the manual so you know which dials change which settings and you know what part is what. Do you know what "feed dogs" are? If not, use your manual and find them! Figure out which features on your machine are adjustable and which are fixed.

Step 3: Practice basic functions.

Practice winding your bobbin. Practice threading your machine. Practice adjusting the tension on the upper thread and lower thread. Practice different stitches in different lengths and widths. Practice changing the bobbin. Practice backstitching.

Measure your rulers so that when you have to leave a 1/4 inch seam allowance, you know which line to use to sew accurately and straight. Here is a simple tutorial on seam allowances. Your machine may have the ruler lines marked, but some older machines do not. So test it out so you can easily find 1/4 inch with the needle in the left position and in the center position. Then do the same with 1/2 inch. Nothing is worse than getting halfway through a project and realizing you've been using the wrong seam allowance.

Step 4: Start slowly.

When you first start learning to use your sewing machine, start slowly. Do a couple of quick and easy projects (like a pillowcase) to get used to your machine. Keep a seam ripper handy and don't be afraid to use it!

Step 5: Troubleshoot.

The user manual probably has a "troubleshooting" section dedicated to fixing problems you have while sewing. In my experience, most problems stem from a couple of simple things: improper bobbin threading, improper upper threading, and tension adjustments. When you run into a problem, check to make sure you've properly threaded both threads. Then consult your manual to make sure your tension is correct for the type of fabric you are using.

{Linked on Uncommon Designs, Sumo's Sweet Stuff, All Things Fee, Serendipity and Spice, Craft and Repeat, This Gal Cooks, Be Colorful, Ninth Street Notions, DIY Home Sweet Home, Rain on a Tin Roof, Keeping it Simple, I Should Be Mopping, Craft-O-Maniac, Adventures of a DIY Mom}


  1. Good tips! :) Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. Have a great day!

  2. These are some good tips, my best advice would be to get some cheap fabric and just sew! My first projects were quite bad and never used, but it was good practice and now I make my own clothes :)

  3. I could sooooooo relate to this. My machine was a gift from my grandma for my high school graduation. I used to use it more when I was first married and making curtain panels and such. Now it is usually sewing up seams of things that need a repair. Yikes. :D I have been using my only needle for the last seven years. LOL.. You have inspired me. :D Thanks for sharing on BeColorful


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