How to Use a Sewing Machine – Beginner’s Guide

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Sewing machines can help open up a whole new world of projects for interested crafters, and understanding the basics of your machine can help you get started sewing more quickly.

Here's our complete guide to using a sewing machine, with some helpful tips and videos.

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How to Use a Sewing Machine for Beginners

Using a sewing machine is a fairly straightforward process once you get acquainted with your machine. Sewing machines have similar components that you'll use for your projects, and the first step is to remove the device from the box and set it up on a sturdy table near an outlet where you can easily plug it in using the power cord.

You'll want to make sure that the power cord gets connected to your machine. It typically plugs in near the on/off switch and also attaches to the foot pedal that will sit on the floor where you can comfortably reach it.

There are several knobs on the front of the sewing machine, and these control things like stitch type, tension, stitch spacing, and other options depending on your specific type of device. To the right is a wheel you can turn by hand called the handwheel, which makes the needle move up and down.

There's also a lever for reversing the stitch direction as you sew, and it's essential to know where this is on your particular machine as you'll likely use it often on your projects.

The small metal part on your sewing machine is called the presser foot, and there's a lever near this piece that you use to lower it for sewing. When you're ready to remove the fabric you've sewn, you raise this presser foot using the same lever.

Threading Your Machine

Your sewing machine manual will have detailed instructions on how to thread your machine, and many machines also have visual instructions printed on the body of the device to help guide you. 

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The basic idea is:

  • You start with a spool of thread on the top spool holder of your device

  • You'll then weave the thread through the nooks and crannies on your device until it reaches your presser foot.

  • The line's exact path will vary from one machine to another, which is why you'll want to double-check your manual.

Once the thread reaches the presser foot, you'll need to put it through the thread guides before finally threading the needle.


Although it might be a little confusing, you'll need to wind thread onto a bobbin before threading your sewing machine. Your machine's manual should have detailed instructions on how to do this as it's a process your sewing machine can do for you, so you don't have to wind thread onto the bobbin by hand.

Once you have thread wound on your bobbin, it sits near the presser foot but hides under a cover. It's best to grab your manual at this point to determine the exact steps for installing your bobbin as it matters which way the spool turns. You'll need to pull some of the thread off of the bobbin to thread it through the guides and secure it in place before you start sewing.

After you've followed the steps in your manual for placing the bobbin and securing the thread from it, you can thread your machine.

For more information on the process of getting started with your sewing machine and some helpful tools for your sewing projects, check out the video below.

How to Use a Serger Sewing Machine

A serger sewing machine won't replace your conventional sewing machine but instead works to compliment it. What makes a serger sewing machine unique is that each spool has its own tensioning system so that you can make specific adjustments.

Threading a serger is a bit more complicated than with a regular sewing machine, so it's a good idea to consult your manual and pay attention to any diagrams on the device. Another tip is to use thread that comes on spools meant for sergers as this will ensure the line flows freely into the machine.

You'll also want to use the differential feed lever to make small adjustments if you are getting distortion on the seams of your project. This little lever, usually located on the device's side, controls how quickly the feed dogs move the fabric under the presser foot.

For example, a stretch fabric may benefit from a larger number setting on the differential feed lever to prevent "waves" from forming as you sew, but you'll want to test this out on some scrap fabric to find the best setting.

For a detailed overview of your serger sewing machine's parts and more information on what we talked about here, check out this video.

How to Use a Handheld Sewing Machine

Before you get started with this type of machine, you should make sure the device is in the "locked" position to prevent it from turning on as you're holding it. These devices require batteries for power, and some units allow you to use whole spools of thread instead of bobbins.

Like other types of sewing machines, it's very important how you thread them, so read the instructions for your device carefully to ensure the thread is always traveling in the right direction. A needle threader is a helpful tool to have on hand for threading the needle attached to the presser foot.

While you can hold these small sewing machines in your hand, you'll have more control over the fabric if you place the device on a table to work. Once you've started sewing, it's a good idea to pull the thread tail left behind out of the way to ensure it doesn't get tangled in your work.

After you've finished sewing on your project and reached the end of the fabric, you can press the button of the machine to "sew," which will release extra thread.

For a helpful visual on how to use these handy little devices and more useful tips, check out the video below.


Once you understand the basic components of a sewing machine and follow the threading steps, you'll find that using the machine is much more comfortable. Serger machines are an excellent complement to your regular sewing machine, and handheld devices are also great for smaller projects and repairs.

People Also Ask

If you're interested in learning to use a sewing machine but are still unsure about some things, check out our list of frequently asked questions.

Is Using a Sewing Machine Difficult?

Using a sewing machine is not a difficult task as long as you pay close attention to the steps of winding the bobbin and threading the machine. You may need to do some trial and error with scrap fabric to understand how to make finer adjustments, but with the aid of online videos, the process is straightforward.

How Long Do Sewing Machines Last?

As long as you store your machine correctly and perform the maintenance listed in the manual, you can expect to get five years of excellent service. There are some models that last up to 25 years, but inexpensive basic models have a much shorter lifespan.

How Does a Computerized Sewing Machine Work?

Computerized sewing machines use motors that drive the device at just the right speed for moving the needle.

This speed can vary based on the stitch pattern used and often involves stored data on cartridges or memory disks. Some of these devices also connect to your computer so you can download designs from sources online.

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Do You Have to Use a Foot Pedal With Sewing Machines?

Due to physical abilities, some manufacturers have sewing machines that don't use foot pedals. These devices often use a knee press so both of your hands can still hold your work, but you can also use your sewing machine on the floor in a position that is most comfortable for you.

Can I Teach Myself to Use a Sewing Machine?

Yes! Sewing machines are relatively straightforward, and their manuals generally come equipped with many pictures to illustrate better how to use them. There are also many videos online showing various aspects of using a sewing machine in great detail and other helpful tips and troubleshooting advice.

What is the Easiest Thing to Sew for Beginners?

The great thing about learning to sew is that there are a number of different beginner projects that you'll be able to complete relatively quickly. Laptop cases, tote bags, keychains, iPad sleeves, pencil cases, and banners are suitable beginner projects that don't require much in terms of materials.