The Anatomy of a Sewing Machine

In this article, you will learn all of the most important parts found on every modern sewing machine. After reading this article, you will be no stranger to the anatomy of a sewing machine.

It is time to get very friendly with your sewing machine — your new best friend forever (BFF).

And since she is going to be your BFF, of course, you want to know everything about her, right?! After all, isn’t that what best friends do?!

By the end of this article, you will know the parts of your sewing machine and their functions.

Please don’t submit to overwhelm. Because after a week or so of dedicated together time with your sewing machine, you will know it as well as you do the back of your hand. I promise you.

Now, let’s get close and friendly with our sewing machine, the most important sewing tool in our arsenal for dreaming, sewing, and flaunting insanely pretty dresses…

While every sewing machine brand and model has its own personality, these are the parts they all have in common.

But before we begin, get your owner’s manual out so that you can follow along.

Now, that you’ve got your owner’s manual, let’s begin with the…

Front View of a Sewing Machine

Sewing Machine Anatomy

1. Selecting Stitch Type, Length & Width

How you select stitch type, length, and width will vary from machine to machine — dials vs sliders vs. keys or buttons vs. touch screen. Here’s how it’s done on this machine.

  • LCD Screen (1a) ~Displays the selected stitch type, length, and width.
  • Stitch Type Selector Keys (1b)
  • Stitch Length Selector Key (1c)
  • Stitch Width Selector Key (1d)
  • Stitch Type Menu (1e)

Sew easy tip #1: How each machine allows you to select stitch type, length, and width will vary in appearance.

Sew easy tip #2: On mechanical machines, you will select stitch type, length, and width via dials and/or sliders.

2. Operational Buttons

  • Speed Control Slider (2a) ~ This beginner-friendly feature allows you to set the speed of your foot pedal when it is depressed to slow, moderate, or racehorse fast. Slide the slider all the way to the left to slow down your machine. Or, slide it all the way to the right when you feel confident enough to sprint!
  • Needle Position Button (2b) ~ This now usually standard on most modern computerized models and is handy when pivoting or sewing curves. Pressing this button TWICE sews one stitch. With this feature, you should have a few instances where you need to manhandle your handwheel (3a).
  • Reverse Button (2c) ~ Allows you to sew in reverse to secure the start and the end of a stitching line. Click HERE to learn how to secure a stitching line!
  • Start/Stop Button (2d) ~ This feature is available on some but not all computerized models. It allows you to operate your sewing machine WITHOUT a foot pedal. On some machines, the button is actually labeled Start/Stop.

Sew easy tip: Higher-end computerized machines often come an additional operational button: an automatic thread cutter. If your machine has this to-die-for feature, you will see a button with a picture of a pair of open shears located in close proximity to the three operational buttons described above. Press it and your machine completes the stitch and then cuts the threads for you! I know, so sweet!

Sewing Machine Anatomy

3. Other Parts

  • Hand Wheel or Flywheel (3a) ~ Allows you to manually raise your sewing machine needle or to sew a manual stitch. On some machines, you engage/disengage the bobbin winder system by pulling/pushing it in.
  • Bobbin Winding Shaft (3b) ~ This is where you place your EMPTY bobbin so that you can fill it with high-quality thread.
  • Spool Pin (3c) ~ This is where you place your spool of high-quality thread to thread your sewing machine and wind your bobbin. Spool pins can be horizontal or vertical.  Every machine has at least one. And some machines even supply an extra one for sewing certain decorative stitches or for use with a twin needle.
  • Tension Dial (3d) ~This controls how much tension your discs apply to the needle thread. The default tension is 4! Click HERE to learn all about tension!
  • Thread Guide (3e) ~ This is the first thread guide. Click HERE to learn how to thread your sewing machine!
  • Thread Takeup Lever (3f) ~ This is the metal lever that the needle or spool thread passes through as you thread your machine. It moves the needle (or spool) thread up and down to form a stitch. When a stitch is completed, the takeup lever will be in its highest position. On some sewing machines, the takeup lever may be hidden in the housing of the sewing machine. Click HERE to learn how to thread your sewing machine!

Sew easy tip #1: ALWAYS turn the handwheel towards you if you don’t want a tangle of threads. And you don’t!

Sew easy tip #2: To avoid a tangled hot mess down by the needle and throat plate, you need to ALWAYS make sure that your takeup level is in its highest position when you have completed a stitching line. You can do this by turning the handwheel or by pressing the needle position button (2a) once or twice.

Okay, let’s move on down to the…

Needle & Presser Foot Area

This is where the main action and magic happen!

Sewing Machine Anatomy
  • Presser Foot Lifter (4a) ~ This lever allows you to lift and lower your presser foot.
  • Needle Clamp Screw (4b) ~ This is the screw you turn to change your sewing machine needle.
  • Needle or Throat Plate (4c) ~ This is the metal and/or plastic plate on the bed of your sewing machine that is home to your feed dogs and seam allowance markings. The throat plate with the wider (all-purpose/zigzag) opening is standard. But many machines have a single-hole throat plate available for purchase.
  • Bobbin case & Cover (4d) ~ This is where your bobbin lives — and where lint and fuzz love to party!
  • Feed Dogs (4e) ~ See those little rows of teeth under the presser?! Those are your feed dogs — they live to do one thing: feed fabric through the machine with no help for us!
  • Built-in Needle Threader (4f) ~ This is where you would thread the top needle automatically. This is a nice feature, especially if you are older and/or have poor eyesight. It comes standard on most modern machines. Click HERE to learn how to use this feature!
  • Free Arm (4g) ~ Remove the flat bed attachment (4h) to access the free arm. This will allow you to sew armholes, sleeves, and hems (in other words, closed circles).
  • Flat bed Attachment (4h) ~ Contains the accessory box, which provides storage for small sewing supplies, such as a seam ripper, a screwdriver, presser feet, and extra bobbins. You can remove the flatbed attachment to access the free arm (4g).
  • Thread Cutter (4i) ~ Allows you to quickly cut the threads after stitching a seam by pulling both threads to the back of the machine and over the blade.

And from the Rear

Sewing Machine Anatomy
  • Presser Foot Release Lever or Button (4j) ~ This can be a button or a lever on the back of the presser foot holder. In this case, it is a black lever. But I owned a machine once where it was a red button.
  • Feed Dog Position Slider (4k) ~ You can drop and raise your feed dogs here — raised is standard for general sewing. You would drop your feed dogs, for example, for free-motion sewing. Different manufacturers place this control is other places.

Right Side View

And finally, let’s get familiar with the…

Sewing Machine Anatomy
  • Hand Wheel or Flywheel (3a) ~ Allows you to manually raise your sewing machine needle or to sew a manual stitch.
  • Power Button (5a) ~ Once you’ve plugged in your machine, this is the button you press to power on your sewing machine and commence making dreams come true.
  • Power Cord Outlet (5b) ~ This is where you plug in your machine to get electrical juice.
  • Power Cord (5c) ~ Self-explanatory, I think.
  • Foot Pedal (5d) ~ This is how you control how fast or how slow you sew a stitching line. It works in much the same way that the gas pedal in a car does. Press it all the away to sprint. Ease up on the foot pedal to slow down.

The End

Anyhoo, there you have it: a list of the most important parts of a sewing machine and what they do.

The best way to learn your sewing machine is to read your owner’s manual cover to cover several times. And before you know it, you and your sewing machine will be best friends now and forever.

And if your sewing machine manual has gone AWOL, then click HERE and get a copy.

Or, you can Google your sewing machine model with or without quotes and see if you can download a copy for free!

Sewing Machine Manual Search

And remember…

Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!