Sewing Machines for Newbies: 13 Tips (Must-Read)

Sewing is wonderful and we want you to have the best possible start. So we put together this list with beginners tips for you to getting started.

We help you set up your sewing area as well as learning to thread the machine. Then we give you a lot of handful tips and teach you some of the special sewing machine terms.

As always, we have a lot of different sewing machines so it does matter whether you’re using a standard sewing machine or computerized model. We advise you to start on with a basic machine because it’ll make it easier to get started

But first, let’s get you set up properly.

How to set up your sewing area

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to set up your sewing area as long as you have a good standard machine. That’s basically all you need to get started.

That being said, there are definitely things you can do to make things easier and to give yourself a better experience. But you should never feel like you have to buy a lot of expensive stuff in order to get the right setup.

As long as you have a good table with enough space around your machine you are good to go.

It’s also really nice to have a separate table for cutting fabrics and ironing. But If you are working in a small space you can definitely use the same sewing table for that.

Here’s the set up we are using:

basic sewing table setup

The sewing machine table to the left is an almost size table was a standard height. The cutting and ironing table is taller so we are able to stand up and work. This is a good routine because it helps us change between sitting down and standing out during work.

The size of the cutting board should really be as big as possible. So just choose the biggest table you have in the room because is always nice to be able to lay out the fabric when you need to measure and cut.

You can also use a standalone ironing board if you have one. The reason we don’t have one with our setup is that we live in a small apartment so space is limited.

You can also use the floor for a cutting and ironing, but if you cylinder regular basis you, would probably need a better setup like the one above.

Supplies you will need for sewing

Before you start it’s nice to have everything you are going to need close by.

Most of these items you can have inside your accessory tray which is mounted around the free arm on the machine. This is a great way to put your stuff because you always store this with your machine.

Here’s what you need to get started:

  • Sewing machine
  • Scissor
  • Seam ripper
  • Pins
  • Screwdriver (comes with the machine)
  • Extra bobbins
  • Thread
  • Needles
  • Ironing board
  • Cutting Mat
  • Chalk/marking pen
  • Tape Measure

Check out this guide if you want to learn more about the different types of needles for the machine, and we have also written a very detailed article about all and every part of the sewing machine.

These are two really good resources to check out if you are a beginner.

All the parts of the sewing machine have special names and your needles for the sewing machine are different than your ordinary needles. So it’s a good idea to get familiar with the names and the correct needles.

How to operate the sewing machine?

Now that we have set up the area properly and we have everything we need its time to get started. The first thing you do is to plug in the machine to power it up.

As soon as you have done so you need to pay special attention to the needle area so you don’t start sewing by accident.

The foot pedal
You also want to plug in the foot pedal for the machine which is where you control the speed of the needle. The harder you press down your foo the faster the machine will run.

If you have trouble working the foot pedal you can also use the start/stop button on your machine. You will have this button if you’re working with a computerized model. It’s a really nice feature to have especially if you’re sewing a lot because you might get sore feet after hours of sewing.

There are a few beginners tips for using the sewing machine:

  • Always sew with the presser foot down. If you start sewing while it’s at the top position the machine will jam.
  • Use the handwheel to move the needle up when you want to remove the fabric (turn it towards yourself). If you’re working with a computerized model you can press a little button to make sure the needle always stops at the top position.
  • Make sure you are using the correct needle size. You want the needle to match the thickness of the fabric you’re working with.
  • Check the attention off your upper thread once in a while. Make sure it matches the type of stitch you’re using (check your manual).

It’s time to thread the machine.

How to thread the machine?

Your standard home sewing machine is pretty easy to thread. You just need to do it a few times and then you used to it. Before we start you should always check with your manual. Some machines work a little differently than we are going to show you here.

We are going to show you how and almost sewing machine is threaded properly.

We have written and very detailed article about all the different parts of the sewing machine. That image below is from that article which you can check out if you need to.

sewing machine parts explained

Let’s get started

1) You start by placing the thread spool at this spoon pin (5).

You want your spool to run counterclockwise.

You want to thread to come off the spool to the left side at the back of the machine. That’s the correct way of threading your machine for 99% of all sewing machines.

2) Pull out the thread and guide it around the first metal guide (8)

Guide the thread through the channel which is numbered with an “8” above.

This is where the tension discs are mounted and they make it possible to change the tension of the thread when you start sewing. It’s really important you remember this step otherwise the thread will not get tightened as it should. The little tension discs can also be mounted on the front of the machine (typically for older machines), and then you will put the thread through the visible tension discs.

3) Guide the thread through the take-up lever

Now you want to continue guiding the thread upwards and around to take-up lever.

The take-up lever will move up and down as you sew and tighten all the little stitches for you. If you fail to do this step you will have loops underneath the fabric everytime you sew.

Guide the thread through the loop at the top of the take-up lever.

If you cannot get hold off the take-up lever you just turn the handwheel toward you.

The handwheel is normally positioned at the right side of the machine. When you start turning the handwheel, the needle will move up and down (and so will that take-up lever). Move the take-up lever to it’s highest position by turning the handwheel toward you (never the other way).

4) Time to thread the needle

Put the needle through the little hook to the right of the needle before you put the thread through the eye of the needle.

Your machine might have an automatic needle threading system which is really neat. If you haven’t got an automatic threading system you will have to do it by hand.

Always thread your machine from the front to the back, unless you are working on an industrial model which will often be threaded from the side.

5) Put in your bobbin thread

The hook can be damaged

Pull out an arm’s length of thread before you start.

Place the bobbin inside the bobbin case and make sure the thread goes in the same direction as the little notch on the bobbin case. You want the bobbin to turn when you pull the thread gently.

Now you mount the bobbin case into the machine.

It’s pretty straight-forward, just press it in and make sure it “clicks on”. This works a little differently if you are using a top-loaded machine. On this type of machine, we have what is called a drop-in bobbin system. This means that the bobbin case is mounted on top of the machine just below the needle. It will turn horizontally and it’s a lot easier to load.

Just as the name “drop-in” indicates, you simply drop the button into the case. The bobbin case will be made of plastic on these machines so don’t get confused by the image above. This is only how it looks on the front-loading machines.

6) Pull up the bobbin thread

Now that we have carefully inserted the bobbin case in our machine, it’s time to pull up the thread through the feed teeth. The feed teeth are the little “teeth” that moves in a circular fashion inside the metal plate (below the needle). They do so in order to pull the fabric away from you and toward the back of the machine as you sew.

We pull up the bobbin thread by turning the handwheel toward ourselves.

As the needle goes down and up again it should grab the thread from the bobbin and pull it up through the metal plate.

Now you take both pieces of thread and pull them out towards the back of the machine. This is to make sure the threads won’t get tangled up inside the machine. If you fail to pull enough thread (about an arm’s length) you will create a mess as soon as you hit the pedal.

That’s it.


You have just threaded a sewing machine!

Now that we are done threading our machine, it is time to check a few things.

Quick checklist before you start sewing

  • Did you remember to put the thread through the take-up lever?
  • Did you remember to lift the presser foot before you threaded your machine?
  • Did you run it through the tension discs besides the take-up lever?
  • Did you pull enough thread before you start sewing?

If you can answer yes to all these questions you are ready to sew.

What are the best beginners models?

If you are a total beginner and hasn’t done any sewing before it’s a good idea to start with a basic sewing machine for home use.

Unless you are fairly certain you are going to do some advanced sewing (like quilting and embroidery) down the road, you should start out on a good basic machine.

This will make everything easier because the many buttons and settings on the computerized models can make everything a little confusing in the beginning. As you become familiar with the sewing machine you will be glad to work with a computerized model down the road.

Before you go out and buy a new machine you should try to borrow a basic machine from a friend or your family. It’s great if they can also sit beside you for the first trial runs to help you set up everything properly.

After you become more familiar with all the features and you can sew on your own, it’s time to find the perfect sewing machine for you.

We have written an extensive guide to help you find the best sewing machine if you are a beginner.

We also have another article about the 5 most sold sewing machines during the last year. It’s a great place to start looking for your sewing machine because they are thousands of their Amazon reviews to back up these numbers: The 5 most sold sewing machines.

You can also go for a used sewing machine. If you’re by a model from one of the biggest brands in the industry you will have a machine that’ll last for many years. Even if you get it used.

There are a few pitfalls to steer clear off. You want to make sure you get a machine that still being produced so it’s possible to find new spare parts later. You also want to make sure you get a machine that fits your needs and that is working properly. Check out this guide we put together on how to buy a used sewing machine.

Tips to make you sew faster

Some sewing machines are built to sew faster than others.

1) Choose a fast machine

The Singer brand has a nice lineup of heavy duty machines with strong motors.

Even some of the cheaper models can work at 1,100 stitches per minute which is really fast! It’s impressive to find a home sewing machines that run that fast.

It’s great to have a really fast machine with a strong motor if you are sewing very long pieces of fabric. Let’s say your sewing new curtains for the whole house – that will be a lot of fabric to run over with the machine.

But often the speed of the motor is not the bottleneck when it comes to sewing speed, it’s all the things that happen in between.

2) Prepare well before you start

Make sure you have everything close by when you start sewing. It’s frustrating when you have to get up and search for a scissor or a new spool of thread every ten minutes.

Think ahead and have everything on the table beside the sewing machine.

At the top of this article, we made a list of things you should like to have close by when you start. Keep them inside your accessory train at all times. That way you don’t have to find him every time and you can get started quickly when you get a good idea.

well-organized sewing threads

It’s important to have your things organized so you can find your things. Creating your own systems makes it more fun and you have the opportunity to get everything set up exactly as you want.

3) Cut everything before you start

You can also speed up the process by cutting up the fabric before you start.

We want to avoid running forth and back between the cutting table and the sewing table. Do all your measuring and cutting before you start, that way you will be done much quicker.

If you know exactly what you’re going to do its always a good idea to batch things. By “batching” I mean grouping the work tasks together so you start by cutting everything so you can focus on the sewing machine or a long time afterward.

Just make sure you remember to get up and do a good stretch once in a while to avoid pain in your back, shoulder, and neck. Too many seamstresses end up having problems around the neck and in the shoulder area. All that can be avoided if you make sure to get up now and then and walk around the house for a minute.

4) Create a dedicated space (if possible)

If the kids have moved out or you just have plenty of space its a good idea to dedicate a room for sewing. That will make it possible to create the perfect creative spot for you.

When everything is already set up you can easily sew anytime you want. When you need to pull the machine out of a cabinet and find all your stuff first, you might not be able to have as much fun with it.

5) Know your machine (read: manual)

Your machine might be able to do a lot more stuff that you think. People often neglect to read the manual, and if know your way around the machine it might be tempting to just let the manual sitting on the shelf. But if you take the time to read it you might get surprised to find out what it can do.

Make a good cup of tea and sit back in a comfy chair with the manual. It’s not as boring as you think. Once you start finding out about all the settings you didn’t know you will be glad you did.

You should definitely do this if you have a computerized model. These models have a ton of features, and there are so many cool features to tricks you might not be aware it can do.

You might also be able to find a video tour of the machine on the website of the brand. Or maybe you got a DVD with your machine.

Watch it, and thank me later 🙂

6) Remember to clean your machine(!)

Always clean your machine every second time you change the bobbin thread.

This is important to make sure it runs smoothly. As you continue to sew the machine will build up lint and dirt inside the bobbin area and you need to remove this with your brush. You can also run a piece of fabric through the take-up lever and tension disc channels.

If you have any trouble with your machine you should always start by rethreading the machine completely. Remove the upper and lower thread and start over. If you still have problems with the machine you should give it a good cleaning routine.

By cleaning and rethreading your machine you will solve 90% of all problems you will experience with your sewing machine.

Before you are done you need to check with your manual if you should apply a (tiny) drop of oil into the center of the bobbin area. This will make sure it continues to run smoothly. But please note, that many new sewing machines (especially the computerized models) should never be oiled.

So it’s super important to check the manual before you add oil to your machine.

Here’s a very detailed guide to cleaning your sewing machine.

Sewing machine lingo explained

  • Bobbin
    The lower thread on the sewing machine. Together with the top thread, it will form the stitches.
  • Embroidery
    For embroidery work, we do creative stitches on top of the fabric to make the finished result look nice. On computerized sewing machines we have a ton of creative embroidery stitches to choose from. You can also get a special embroidery machine which will be especially good for these tasks.
  • Hem
    When you fold-up the fabric and sew. You will normally do hems on pants to create a nice finish at the bottom of each leg.
  • Knot
    This is something we do when we start and stop sewing. It is done by sewing forward and backward a couple of times in order to “lock” the stitch really well.
  • Lining
    Whenever we use an extra layer underneath the main piece of fabric.
  • Presser feet
    The presser feet is a little metal thing that goes up and down with the needle. We have several different types of presser feet for different purposes. Some will only be used when sewing a buttonhole while others will be used for zig-zag stitches. Other presser feet are more advanced like the walking foot:
    walking foot for sewing
  • Quilting
    Quilting is a special technique that dates back a long time. Take pieces of fabric and so them together. This technique was invented in order to get the most out of worn clothes. Instead of frying them out people would cut into pieces and so them together (double layered) in order to reuse the fabric for new projects.
  • Seam Guides
    This scene guides are guidelines you can find on the metal plate below the needle. As the name indicates, they are out there to help you measure the length from the needle to the edge of the fabric. You can also create your own seem guides by using a piece of tape.
  • Seam Ripper
    This seam ripper is a sharp little tool that came with your machine. You will use it every time you need to remove a stitch. You gently push the pointy tip of the tool into the stitch and now you can rip it apart.
  • Wrong side
    The back of the fabric is called the wrong side.

If you want to know what a specific part of the machine is called you can check out this extensive guide where we go over each part of the machine in detail.

You might be wondering when the first sewing machine was built and according to this site, it’s dated back to the 15th century!

How do you get good at sewing?

By practicing.

You might also benefit from taking a basic sewing class if you are new to sewing and you haven’t got someone to sit next to you for the first couple of times.

Sewing classes are often great and you will meet other local people who like to sew. It’s great to have local friends who sew as well, so you have someone to ask for advice whenever you get stuck.

I hope you are fired up to start getting the most out of your sewing machine. You will love your new hobby when you start to get comfortable with the sewing machine.

Good luck!