If you’re a beginner, there’s nothing worse than buying a sewing machine and getting lost before you manage to thread it. With a working knowledge of your machine, you’ll be able to tell exactly where the problem is if something goes wrong. Better still, you’ll be able to fix it.
This article contains a detailed overview of all the parts of a sewing machine. While the location of some of the parts may differ depending on the brand you have, the general anatomy is the same.
Parts Found on Both Vintage and Modern Brands
The good thing about sewing machines is they’re pretty ubiquitous. While there are differences, particularly in the names of some parts, the basic anatomy of all machines is exactly the same. This is true whether you’re using a Singer Treadle from 1912 or the latest, modern brand.
Depending on your sewing machine, the accessory compartment may be in different places. Vintage sewing machines sometimes have a small tray built into the wooden base. Modern machines have a tray located either to the front or underneath the needle area. It’s often integrated with the removable free arm.
Attached to the pillar, the sewing machine arm is the metal or plastic arch that spans the length of the throat space. It also holds the thread spool, thread guides and the needle.
Balance Wheel (Hand Wheel)
Located on the right-hand side of the pillar the balance wheel allows you to manually move the needle up and down. The balance wheel is known as the handwheel on vintage machines.
Unlike the foot pedal, the balance wheel grants you the ability to make one stitch at a time. For thicker projects, like doubled seams, the slower stitching speed ensures the needle doesn’t break under the pressure.
A small metal or plastic spool that holds the thread to make the bottom of the stitches. Older machines had bullet-shaped bobbins while newer, modern machines have round ones. They are found in the lower part of the sewing machine, beneath the needle.
The bobbin case is a metal shell that houses bobbins in front and side loading sewing machines.
Located under the needle, presser foot and feed dogs, the bobbin race houses the bobbin. It holds the bobbin in place while the hook goes around it, catching the thread to make a stitch.
The bobbin race can be found in different places depending on the type of machine. In top loading machines, it can be found just in front of the needle plate. Front-loading machines have a bobbin race behind the accessory tray. Industrial machines and some older ones have the bobbin race on the side.
The bobbin stopper is a simple piece of metal or plastic designed to stop the bobbin spinning when it’s full. It’s located by the bobbin winder spindle, often on top of the sewing machine arm.
Bobbin Tension Disc
A small metal disc designed to keep the thread taut while you wind your bobbin. Sometimes this can be located by the bobbin winder. In other machines it can be over by the tension dial.
Bobbin Thread Guide
Similar to the thread guide but redirects the thread to the bobbin winder when you’re winding a bobbin. Like the rest of the bobbin winder assembly, it’s often found on the top of the sewing machine arm.
Bobbin Winder Spindle
Otherwise known as the bobbin stand, it is often found on the top of your sewing machine arm. It can be close to or next to the thread spool pin. The bobbin winder spindle is for winding bobbins. Some vintage sewing machines may have the bobbin winder attached to the pillar.
Found underneath the needle and presser foot, the feed dogs are rows of small metal teeth. They pull the fabric through the machine as you’re sewing, allowing you to focus on keeping the stitches straight.
Feed Dog Lever
Often located on the back of your sewing machine, or behind the accessories tray, the feed dog lever allows you to raise or lower the feed dogs. This allows you to do free motion sewing.
A plastic or metal pedal you place on the floor and press with your foot. It’s connected to the machine through the pedal jack and allows you to move the needle while keeping both hands free to guide the fabric.
The needle is located at the end of the sewing machine arm and above the needle plate. It must be changed regularly depending on how long you’ve been sewing and the project you’re working on.
Sewing machine needles come in various sizes and types. They’re not interchangeable with hand sewing needles.
Needle Bar (Clamp and Screw)
This holds the needle in place at the end of the sewing machine arm, the screw may require a screwdriver (preferably a small one) to remove. Make sure the needle is properly in place before adjusting the needle bar.
Needle Plate (Throat Plate)
A metal plate located underneath the needle and presser foot. It’s often marked with guides to help with various seam widths. It can be removed by undoing the throat plate screws. Once removed, the area around the feed dogs can be cleaned.
In vintage machines, the needle plate or throat plate allowed access to the bobbin race for cleaning and inserting a bobbin.
In top loading machines, you’ll also find a small transparent, plastic cover over the bobbin area. This gives access to the bobbin and bobbin race.
The pillar is the stand on the right side of the sewing machine. It hosts the balance wheel and, on modern machines, the stitch library, dials, buttons, and LCD screen. On vintage machines, this is where you may find the bobbin winder.
A metal device underneath the needle but above the feed dogs. It’s designed to hold the fabric flat as you sew. Different feet can be used for different tasks.
Presser Foot Lever
You can find the presser foot lever on the back of the machine, or underneath the arm. In both cases it will be next to the needle bar. It’s a thin lever made from either plastic or metal. It allows you to raise or lower the presser foot into place.
Presser Foot Regulator
Allows you to change the amount of pressure the presser foot applies to the fabric.
Presser Foot Holder
Behind the needle, the presser foot holder attaches the presser foot to the machine. This keeps the presser foot in place. It’s often fitted with a screw and allows you to change the foot to match your task.
Placed on the top of the sewing machine arm, usually on the right side, the spool holder is where you place your spool of thread when you’re stitching.
Take Up Lever
A lever located on the front of your machine. It ensures the thread is kept taut while you’re using the sewing machine.
Determines the amount of tension in your stitches and can be adjusted for different fabrics. Too little and the stitches will be too loose, too much and the thread might break.
Used in conjunction with the tension dial, the tension discs regulate your stitch tension as you sew. You can see these on older machines. Modern machine tension discs are inside the machine.
On the front of your sewing machine, the thread guide is a path to follow that allows you to accurately thread your machine. They’re simple markings, often just an arrow and a number, to help you.
The space between the pillar and the needle. Depending on the size of the sewing machine throat, you can variate the size of your projects. This is sometimes known as the bed of the machine or the neck.
Modern Sewing Machine Features
With modern technology comes advancements in the way we sew. Electronic machines have all sorts of gadgets to make present day sewists’ lives easier. Needless to say, some of these features aren’t included on our favorite vintage machines. They also might not be found on all modern sewing machines, depending on the brand you use.
Automatic Needle Threader
One of the handiest additions to new sewing machines. The automatic needle threader is located by the needle and is a simple, plastic, lever designed to make it easy to thread the sewing machine needle.
Like the automatic needle threader, the buttonhole sensor is also found by the needle. It’s a handy gadget that works with the buttonhole foot to measure the size of the button and the hole needed to fit it.
Located at the base of the pillar, either on the back or the right side of your sewing machine. They allow you to attach a foot pedal, the power supply and, in some cases, a USB stick.
Computerized brands of sewing machine often have an inbuilt LCD screen that tells you the stitch you are using. It’s usually accompanied by buttons or a dial so you can adjust the stitch to suit your project.
With power comes the ability to turn the sewing machine on and off again. The power switch is located on the pillar, on either the right side or the back.
Removable Free Arm
Unlike vintage machines with their solid wooden base, modern machines have a handy, removable section. The removable free arm gives you the ability to use a thinner work bed for sleeves or other projects that require a smaller workspace. This section is often an accessory tray.
A button that allows you to adjust the speed your sewing machine makes stitches. For newbie sewists especially, this gives you more control over the needle than the foot pedal alone.
Markings on the sewing machine to show which stitches you can use and their number. The can range from simple to decorative and, depending on your machine, the variety available may differ.
Buttons or dial located on the pillar or the arm of the machine that allow you to choose the type of stitch.
Either buttons or a dial that allow you to adjust the length and width of your stitches. They’re found on the pillar.
Usually found near the needle, particularly on the left side or back of the sewing arm. It’s a small, covered blade designed to cut the thread after you’ve finished stitching. It’s also set at the exact distance from your needle to make sure there is enough thread left to start the next line of stitches.
Vintage Sewing Machine Features
As the first models of sewing machines, vintage machines are the basis for their modern-day equivalents. Which, of course, means there isn’t a lot on the older brands that aren’t part of the electronic machines we use today.
However, a few things differ. For treadles in particular.
Located on the right side of your sewing machine. The belt guide keeps the treadle belt in line between the hand and band wheels.
A large metal wheel located beneath the table. It’s attached to the treadle by the pitman arm and, in conjunction with the belt, helps turn the handwheel and work the sewing machine.
Found by the band wheel, the belt shifter allows you to engage and remove the treadle belt.
A traditional way sewists who originally used vintage machines kept their dresses from getting tangled up in the workings of the treadle.
Attaches the band wheel to the treadle. It’s a simple, thin metal arm that turns the up and down movement of the pedal into a circular rotation to work the hand wheel.
The antique equivalent of the modern-day foot pedal. Located at the bottom of a vintage sewing machine, the treadle is a metal plate you press with your foot. Unlike electric machines powered by a motor, the treadle machine is powered by the continuous movement of the treadle pedal.
A thin strip of leather, joined with a metal staple, which connects the hand wheel to the band wheel and treadle.
All in all, sewing machines are incredibly simple. The sheer number of working parts, levers and buttons however make our beloved machines a complex mystery. Especially for the newbie sewist.
Hopefully, this article helps you figure out the anatomy of your sewing machine. With a little practise, you’ll be able to name the parts of your sewing machine with ease in no time at all.