This guide aims to help you get to grips with the basics of sewing machines, from the differences between manual, electronic and computerised machines, all the way through to available accessories. After all, buying a machine shouldn’t be so complicated!
When browsing sewing machines online, the product pages will often throw tonnes of technical terminology at you – but what does it all mean? To ensure you're getting the best machine for your money, here's a simple glossary unscrambling those tricky terms.
A specially-designed function created to aid threading the sewing machine's needle. Simply raise the needle to its highest point, hook your thread underneath the thread guide, pull down the threader so that the end of the thread passes through the eye of the needle, then guide the thread into the hook. Once you release them, it'll thread automatically!
A handy feature that allows you to programme your sewing machine to automatically snip your threads when required, or simply touch a button on your machine to operate the cutter.
An automatic function that determines the correct thread tension for the fabric you're using, although it can be re-functioned to your own preference.
A small spool for holding the thread in the bottom of the machine. The thread needs to be wound onto the bobbin before you start sewing – although most electric machines have a bobbin-winding function and newer sewing machines often have a drop-in bobbin.
This small pin sticks out of the top of the sewing machine and is used to load thread onto the bobbin.
Buttonholes are exactly what you'd expect – the holes in clothing that buttons slot into. Many sewing machines have multiple buttonhole styles, sewing them in either a 1-step or 4-step process.
A metal plate positioned on the bed of the machine with tiny zigzag teeth that feed the fabric from front to back while you're stitching. As the needle exits the fabric, the feed dogs rise up and grip the fabric against the presser foot, slide backwards and then pull the fabric with them. Some machines have a drop feed dog function, allowing you to manually move the fabric under the needle – this is useful for embroidery and mending.
A sewing machine is driven by a belt inside that synchronises the moving parts so that they work together to form a stitch – the speed of this belt is controlled by a foot pedal positioned on the floor. The more pressure you apply with your foot, the faster the machine will stitch. However, some machines offer a switch that allows you to select a high or low speed setting, giving you greater control of the speed.
The free arm allows you to sew longer garments like sleeves and trouser legs. The concept is simple: usually concealed in the bed of the machine, the free arm will pull out into a protruding cylinder shape, thus extending your workspace!
Useful for free machine embroidery, this feature allows your fabric to move more freely through the machine when the feed dogs drop down.
The needle plate fits over the feed dog on the bed of the sewing machine and covers the bobbin, with a hole for the needle to pass through. Needle plates usually have lines etched onto them to indicate the measurement away from the needle, helping you to stitch even seams.
This function enables you to program the needle so that it always finishes in a certain position – either up or down.
This essential feature holds the fabric flat under the needle and against the feed dog to secure your fabric in place. Extremely easy to change, there's a range of different feet available, each with a different purpose.
This is the pin at the top of the machine that holds the cylindrical plastic reel that carries the thread. Some machines come with two spool holders to allow sewing with two different colours of thread at the same time with a twin needle.
These needles allow you to stitch two parallel rows at a time for a stronger or more decorative stitch, commonly used to create pin tucks.