Front of the machine:
- Stitch length dial/button: Allows you to adjust the length of the stitch. The number usually refers to the number of stitches per inch/cm. A common stitch length for a straight stitch is 10-12 stitches per inch. Shortening the length of a zigzag stitch makes the zigzags sew closer together.
- Stitch width dial/button - Allows you to adjust the width of stitches that are made from side to side such as zigzag or decorative stitches.
- Pattern selector dial/screen - This is where the desired sewing stitch is selected. On some machines, this is done with a dial that show pictures of each stitch and you turn the dial to change the stitch. Many of the newer machines are computerized and the stitch number is input into the system to select it. On the machine shown on the left, you can see examples of the various stitches that you can use right on the front.
- Reverse stitch lever/button - Holding this lever down or pressing on the button will cause the machine to sew in reverse as long as you hold it. You generally back stitch at the beginning and end of seams for a few stitches to secure the seam in place. Some sewing machines have an additional button that will stitch a few stiches backward and then automatically begin stitching forward again, so you don't have to keep holding the lever/button while it stitches in reverse.
- Thread tension dial/button: The location of the tension adjustment dial/button can vary; sometimes it is on the front, left side or top (as shown on the Brother machine to the left). This adjusts the tension of the top thread as it passes through the tension discs. If the tension of the top thread is too tight, the bobbin thread will pop up to the top side; too loose and the needle thread will create loops on the bottom side. When you begin sewing with a different thickness of fabric, always test your stitching on some scraps to see if the tension needs to be adjusted before sewing your project.
- Thread take-up lever - This is an arm that the thread goes through before it passes to the needle - it moves up and down with the needle.
- Presser foot lever - This lever raises and lowers the presser foot. The position can vary sometimes, but it is always near the sewing surface. Raising the presser foot disengages the tension discs so that you can pull the thread through the machine for cutting.
- Needle clamp screw - This screw holds the needle inside the needle holder.
- Needle/needle holder - This is where the needle is inserted and held in place for sewing.
- Presser foot - It is lowered to hold the fabric in place while it is being sewn. Lowering the foot engages the pressure discs, so always raise the presser foot before pulling thread through the machine (doing this won't break the machine, it just increases the wear on the discs). There are many specialized presser feet that assist with specific tasks such as sewing a zipper, buttonhole, or hem.
- Needle plate - A metal plate that lies underneath the presser foot. It has an opening near the middle of the plate that allows the needle to go into the machine to connect with the bottom (bobbin) thread. This hole is where the bobbin thread will come out from underneath. There are also longer, rectangular openings for the feed dogs (# 5). The needle plate usually has markings to help you sew specific widths of seams. Be sure to note whether these markings are imperial or metric (I have one of each and have to remember to account for this when I switch between the machines).
- Feed dogs - The feed dogs are metal strips with jagged edges that move the fabric forward over the needle plate in time with the movement of the needle. Many machines have a switch to allow you to lower the feed dogs for special tasks such as sewing on a button.
- Bobbin compartment - The bobbin compartment is where the bobbin is placed for sewing. The location of the bobbin is one of the biggest differences between sewing machines. Some machines have what is called a "drop-in" bobbin as illustrated on the machine to the left in the photo. The machine on the right has a front-loading bobbin that is accessed through a door behind the accessory compartment.
I hope this lesson has better familiarized you with the various operational aspects of your sewing machine!
The next lesson will discuss how to thread a sewing machine.