Learn to Sew with Crafty Sew&So - Getting to know your Machine

Posted by Freya Gilbert
on July 22, 2018


Congratulations! You’ve got yourself a new sewing machine and you’ve finally plucked up the courage to get it out of the box.

The next step it to plug that baby in and make friends with it.  All looking a bit daunting? Don’t worry, I’m about to show you what all those buttons and dials do and how to get going!

Let's start by looking at your machine's features: 

A Mechanical Machine

Getting to know your mechancial sewing machine with Crafty Sew&So

This is a mechanical machine, this means it doesn’t have any computer settings, instead it is set up using the dials on the top of the machine. This is the classic type of machine many people are more familiar with. The stitch length, stitch width/needle position and tension are all adjusted using dials on the machine.  It is really important to you check these dials before starting to sew as it is easy to forget to change the settings between stitch types.

So, let's take a look at the machine. On the top, you’ve got the tension dial (1), the stitch width/needle position dial (2) and the stitch length dial (3). 

The stitch width dial also sets the needle position when you’re sewing a straight stitch. On most machines, the default setting for the needle position is to the left of the foot. You can move the needle to a central or right position by adjusting this dial. 

Moving along to the top right you have your bobbin winder (4), which I’ll show you how to use in another post.  Then below this, you have your stitch menu (5), and the stitch selection dial on the righthand side of the machine (6).  Also, on the side of the machine, you have your hand crank wheel (7) for manually moving the needle up and down.

On the left side of the machine, you’ll see the back-stitch leaver (8), which you press to reverse the stitching to reinforce and secure your stitching at the end of a seam.  Below that is the needle, presser foot and needle threader (9).  Even the most basic machines in the Brother range now come with a needle threader and they are a lifesaver if you struggle to thread the needle manually.  The presser foot can be removed and swapped for another to help with different sewing techniques. You get a selection of different feet included when you buy a machine and later in this series I’ll be sharing a post explaining what the commonly included feet do and when you might want to use them.

The base of the sewing machine usually has a removable section which reduces the width of the base, allowing you to sew things like cuffs and necklines more easily, this is called the free-arm (10).  It often has a little storage section included where you can keep your often-used machine feet, threads... and sweeties!

A Computerised Machine

Getting to know your computorised sewing machine with Crafty Sew&So

Modern computerised machines have most of the same features of the mechanical versions, with some special extras which make the sewing process that bit easier.

At the top of the machine, you will find your tension dial (1) and bobbin winder (2).  The tension on modern machines is pretty stable and shouldn’t need adjusting for regular sewing on cotton fabrics. If people have problems with inconsistent puckered or loopy stitching, we always advise them to rethread both the top thread and the bobbin before moving the tension dial as threading anomalies are usually the culprit and this usually fixes the problem.

On the left side of the machine, you have the needle and needle threader, presser foot and top loading bobbin (3).  I’ll cover how to use the needle threader and how to load the bobbin in another blog post.  The presser foot can be switched out and you get a selection of different feet included when you buy a machine.  And I’ll be writing about the different presser feet usually included with your machine in another post in this series too.

The main difference with computerised machines is that you have buttons on the front of the machine to operate the various controls. Just above the needle mechanism, you'll find the ‘needle up/down’ button at the top, the back stitch button in the middle and the ‘start/stop’ button at the bottom, this can be used to operate the machine by hand instead of using the foot pedal.

The Innov-is range by Brother can be used with or without the foot pedal simply detach the pedal and you can use the ‘start/stop’ button instead. This can be useful in a number of situations; if you have small children or pets who get under your feet at home, if you don’t have full use of your legs, children as young as 6 can use the machine without having to coordinate hands and feet or reach a foot pedal on the floor, you can set up in more confined places for a quick stitch!

Working across to the right, you have the speed control (5).  On computerised machines, you can limit the speed that the machine can go at with this switch.  At it’s lowest setting, it goes at around 1 stitch per second - perfect for children or careful topstitching.  At the highest setting, you still have control over the speed using the foot pedal like a traditional machine.

On the right-hand side of the machine, you have the display screen with the stitch length and stitch width buttons (6).  The screen shows you the settings and lets you change them from the preset defaults.  When you choose a stitch the computer in the machine sets the stitch length and width to the optimum settings.  This is an excellent feature which makes getting set up and sewing so much faster as you can switch between stitches as you sew without worrying about the settings. On some more advanced machines, you can even set and save the settings as you prefer them so everytime you choose that stitch the settings will be to your preference. 

Underneath the display screen, you can see the stitches available on the machine and the stitch selector dial (7).  The little screen above the dial shows you the stitch chosen, and it also tells you which foot to use. 

As with the mechanical machine, you also have a hand wheel (8) and a free arm (9) to sew hems etc.  Unlike the mechanical machine, you don’t generally use the hand wheel, but will instead use the ‘needle up/down’ button to help with using the needle threader (3), which I’ll explain more in my next blog post.

I hope that’s been helpful, that’s all the basics you need to know.  In my next post I’ll show you how to thread up your machine!


Our Learn to Sew series is designed to encourage new sewers to feel confident at their sewing machines and teach the basics of sewing so anyone can have a go.  We have the same philosophy at Crafty Sew and So workshops.  If you would like to have a go at sewing with a little more help and support, why not come to one of our ‘Start as you Mean to Sew On’ workshops, or one of the Learn to Sew workshops in our studio, where we can answer questions and help you every step of the way.