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Sewing Machines

How To Set Up, Thread & Use Any Sewing Machine in 8 Steps

Here’s how to:

  • Turn on your sewing machine,
  • set it up,
  • thread it,
  • choose settings,
  • and do your first test sew!

This tutorial is perfect for complete beginners who have no idea where to start.

The information in this post is directly from Brother, Singer, and Janome sewing machine manuals, so I haven’t skipped important bits. I reviewed at least 3 manuals from each brand.

If your machine is from another brand, this post will still apply. Most brands have the same threading and set up process.

It doesn’t matter whether you have a basic sewing machine or a fancy computerized one. I’m covering both types in this post.

Here’s how to set up, thread, & use a sewing machine (in a nutshell):

  1. Preparation before threading (check presser foot & needles).
  2. Plug in & turn on the machine.
  3. Wind thread onto the bobbin.
  4. Insert the bobbin into the machine.
  5. Thread the upper thread system & needle.
  6. Pull up the bobbin thread.
  7. Choose settings (stitch type, thread tension, stitch length & width).
  8. Test sew.
how to set up and use a sewing machine in 8 steps

Here are my 2 demonstration models for today.

basic sewing machine next to a computerized sewing machine
[left] basic sewing machine, [right] computerized machine.

On the left is an old basic machine with a ‘front-loading bobbin’ (I’ll explain later) and thread that stands up.

On the right is a computerized machine with a ‘top-loading bobbin’, an automatic needle threader, and thread that lies down.

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If you’re only interested in basic mechanical machines, use my tutorial on how to thread and use basic sewing machines instead.


Step 1: preparation before threading

First, make sure that your sewing machine has:

  • A needle installed.
  • The zig zag (aka. standard) presser foot on.

Here’s what the zig zag (aka. standard) foot looks like:

standard zig zag presser foot on sewing machine
A metal/plastic version with a see-through section at the front.
metal zig zag foot on sewing machine with an illustration
An all-metal version of the zig zag / standard presser foot. The illustration is by Janome.

If your machine is new, the manufacturer/seller has already done these steps for you.

If they didn’t, here’s how to attach a presser foot and put your needles in.


Step 2: plug in & turn on your machine

Plug the power cord into the side of your machine.

Insert the cord’s plug into an electric output in your home.

Some foot controllers come with a separate cord. If yours does, plug this into the side of your machine too.

[Computerized machine] Press the power switch button to ‘I’ (‘O’ turns off the machine). The button is normally on the right side of your sewing machine.

The on/off button is circled.

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Step 3: wind thread onto the bobbin

Put the bobbin on the winder

A ‘bobbin’ is a small circular item that holds thread. You can get plastic or metal versions.

Place your bobbin on the ‘bobbin winder shaft’. It’s the small silver pin at the top of your machine.

My plastic bobbin on the ‘bobbin winder shaft’.

Push it to the right until it snaps into place.

Put your thread on the ‘spool pin’

A ‘spool pin’ is a tall stick at the top of your machine. It holds your thread. You might have 1 or 2 spool pins.

Your spool pin design could be vertical (going up) or horizontal (going side-to-side).

Vertical spool pin (going up)

Place your thread on the ‘spool pin’. It’s the tall ‘stick’ at the top of your machine.

On some older machines, the spool pin is pushed down for storage. So you need to pull it up first.

Note: If you’re using a special thread that winds off quickly, like metallic or transparent nylon thread, first cover it with the thread net that came with your machine. If your net is too long, fold it so it fits your thread. If you’re just using normal polyester or cotton thread, don’t worry about this.

Cotton thread on a vertical spool pin.

Horizontal spool pin (going side-to-side)

Lift up your horizontal spool pin and place your thread on it.

Make sure the thread unwinds to the front from the bottom. This stops the thread from becoming tangled around the spool pin, according to Brother.

Note: If there’s already a ‘spool cap’ (a circular disc) on your spool pin, remove that first.

Thread being placed on a horizontal spool pin.

Now slide a spool cap on. Push the spool cap as far as possible to the right.

A spool cap will stop your thread from flying off when you sew. It also ensures a smooth flow of thread.

Note: spool caps are only used for horizontal spool pins (that go side-to-side), not vertical ones (that go up).

Pick the size that’s bigger than the size of your thread. If the spool cap is too small, the thread might catch on it.

Spool caps in different sizes.

The flat side of the spool cap should be facing the thread.

There should be no gap between the spool cap and thread.

However, if you’re using the small spool cap, Brother recommends leaving a tiny gap between the spool cap and thread.

Placing a small spool cap next to my thread. The spool cap is bigger than the thread.

Follow the thread guides

Pass your thread under the thread guides at the top of your machine.

The design of these guides often looks different on each machine, but they do the same thing.

Thread guide 1 on my Brother machine.
Thread guide 2 on my Brother machine.

Pass the thread counterclockwise (to the left) around the ‘bobbin winding thread guide’. It’s often a circle.

Make sure the thread gets properly pulled into the circle.

My computerized machine has a hook on the circle that I have to thread first, but my basic machine doesn’t.

The hook on the ‘bobbin winding thread guide’ circle. Not all machines have this.
Passing the thread counter-clockwise on the circle. I’m making sure the thread is pulled into the circle properly.

Here’s what the circle looks like on my basic machine. There’s no hook.

The circle on a basic machine.

On a few old basic machines, I saw instructions to wind the thread around the circle in a clockwise direction (to the right). I saw this in 2 manuals for old Brother and Singer machines.

Unless your manual tells you to do this, use the normal counterclockwise direction (to the left) pictured above.

Illustration courtesy of Brother.
Illustration courtesy of Singer.

Wind thread onto the bobbin: method for basic sewing machines

Your bobbin normally has 1 (or more) holes in it.

Insert your thread through the hole in the bobbin from the inside to the outside. It might be easier for you to take the bobbin off the machine to do this.

When the bobbin is back on and you’ve pushed it to the right again, use one hand to hold onto the excess thread.

illustration showing bobbin being wound
Illustration courtesy of Singer.

Press on the foot controller to start winding the bobbin with thread. Go slowly.

After a few turns, stop and cut the excess thread off close to the bobbin hole. This stops the excess thread from getting tangled in the bobbin, and you don’t have to hold it anymore.

illustration showing bobbin thread being cut
Illustration courtesy of Singer.

Carry on winding the bobbin by pressing your foot down on the foot controller again. Try and keep a consistent speed so your bobbin is wound evenly.

Old basic machine.

Stop when the bobbin is full.

You can tell it’s full when the bobbin winder stopper (the metal or plastic oval thing next to the bobbin) touches the thread on the bobbin.

full bobbin with white thread
What a full bobbin looks like.

Wind thread onto the bobbin: method for computerized sewing machines

After passing your thread around the ‘bobbin winding thread guide’ circle, wind the thread clockwise around the bobbin 5 or 6 times. (A ‘clockwise’ direction goes to the right).

Cut the excess thread off using the slit on the bobbin winder (circled below in red). You slide the thread into the slit and pull it to the right to cut.

When I don’t cut the excess thread off, it gets tangled in the bobbin thread and can’t be removed.

Cut the excess thread off using the slit (circled).

Note: if your bobbin winder does NOT have a built-in cutter, scroll up and use the bobbin-winding method for basic machines.

Use the speed controller to choose a winding speed. I went with the slowest setting. Janome recommends using the fastest speed for bobbin winding.

Brother says that if you’re winding stretch thread (like transparent nylon thread), a low speed is recommended to stop the thread from being stretched.

The ‘speed control’ slider. One triangle means slow, 3 triangles means fast.

Press on the foot controller to start winding the bobbin with thread. Try and keep a consistent speed so your bobbin is wound evenly.

Computerized machine.

Holding your foot still can be tricky. An easier alternative is to use the ‘start/stop’ button on your machine to do the winding for you! You need to unplug your foot controller first to use this method.

I’m pressing the ‘start/stop’ button. One push starts the bobbin winding, and the second push stops it.

When the bobbin’s full, stop winding.

You can tell it’s full when the bobbin winder stopper (the metal or plastic oval thing next to the bobbin) touches the thread on the bobbin.

If you’re using a foot controller, just take your foot off to stop. If you’re using the ‘start/stop’ button, press it to stop the machine.

A full bobbin. The thread is touching the silver ‘bobbin winder stopper’ on the right.

Note: if you’re winding transparent nylon thread, stop when the bobbin is 1/2 to 2/3 full. Brother doesn’t recommend fully winding this type of thread because it won’t be neat and sewing performance may suffer.

Slide the bobbin to the left until it snaps into place.

Cut the thread. Take the bobbin off the bobbin winder.

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Step 4: insert bobbin into the sewing machine

Sewing machines normally have 2 types of bobbin systems. A front-loading system, or a top-loading one. Here’s how to use both.

front loading bobbin and top loading bobbin

How to use a front-loading bobbin system

Turn off your sewing machine

Many brands recommend turning off your sewing machine whilst threading. This is to stop you from accidentally sewing your fingers. It’s a good safety habit to get into.

Open the bobbin area

On front-loading machines, the bobbin area is hidden. You need to remove the front extension table and open the front cover to access the bobbin area.

illustration of a hand opening bobbin covers on a front-loading sewing machine
How to find the bobbin on a front-loading machine. Illustrations courtesy of Singer.

Put your bobbin into the bobbin case

Make sure your thread unwinds in the direction of the arrow:

bobbin and bobbin case held in hands
(left) bobbin case, (right) bobbin.
illustration showing bobbin being inserted into bobbin case
Illustration courtesy of Janome.

Pull the thread through the notches on the bobbin case, like so:

illustration showing bobbin being inserted into bobbin case
Illustration courtesy of Janome.

Leave about 4″ (10cm) of free thread.

Make sure the free thread is hanging to the right of the bobbin case’s metal extension (or horn, as Janome says). The metal extension is the straight part of the bobbin case that sticks out.

Put the bobbin case inside your machine

The metal extension should be at 12 o’clock (so pointing straight up).

Push the bobbin case all the way into the machine until it clicks into place. It should be held securely. It shouldn’t be loose or falling to one side.

I’m pushing the bobbin case into the machine. The bobbin case’s metal extension/horn is the straight part that sticks out. It’s at 12 o’clock.

If you’re struggling to get it in, try turning the handwheel (towards you) to rotate the bobbin area until it’s positioned right and will accept the bobbin case.

Note: it’s important to always turn the handwheel towards you (a counterclockwise direction). If you turn it in the wrong direction, Singer says that your machine might jam when you start sewing. It may also cause the sewing machine’s timing to be disrupted.

How to use a top-loading bobbin system

Put your machine into safety mode or turn it off

Many brands recommend turning off your sewing machine whilst threading. This is to stop you from accidentally sewing your fingers. It’s a good safety habit to get into.

[Computerized machine] Brother recommends putting your machine into ‘safety mode’.

Here’s how:

  • Raise the needle to the highest position. To do this, turn the handwheel (towards you) and make sure the mark on the handwheel lines up with the mark on the machine.
  • Lower the presser foot using the lever.
  • Press the ‘presser foot’ safety button (pictured below) on your touchpad.

Now your sewing machine has been locked and can’t accidentally sew your fingers!

The ‘presser foot’ safety icon that locks your machine and stops accidental sewing.

Remove bobbin cover

Raise the presser foot using the lever. This will get the foot out of the way so we can remove the bobbin cover.

sewing machine presser foot being raised with lever
Circled: the lever that controls the presser foot.

Next to the see-through bobbin cover, there’s a latch. Slide it to the right to ‘unlock’ your bobbin cover. It might jump up a bit.

Slide latch to the right.

Remove the bobbin cover.

Insert bobbin counterclockwise

Place your bobbin inside. Make sure the thread unwinds to the left (counterclockwise direction).

Guide the thread through the slit in the needle plate cover.

This is important because it makes the thread enter the ‘tension spring’ of the bobbin case. This is how tension will be applied to the bobbin thread when sewing.

Thread enterring the needle plate slit.

Cut the thread using the cutter at the end of the slit. Pull your thread to the right to cut.

This is important. When I ignore the cutting step, my thread tension is bad when I sew. Brother confirms that if we don’t cut the excess thread off, it can cause performance problems.

But there is an exception.

If you’re gathering or free motion quilting, DON’T CUT the bobbin thread. Later on, you’re going to pull it up, so the extra length will be helpful.

Pull thread to the right to cut.

Note: some top-loading bobbin machines have NO thread cutter next to the bobbin. This means you should not cut the thread.

Pull it out by 6″ (15cm) towards the back of the machine.

Then put your bobbin cover back on with the thread tail hanging out.

Here’s an example from 1 Singer machine’s manual:

Illustration courtesy of Singer.

Put your bobbin cover back on.

First, place the ‘tab’ on the bobbin cover (it’s a rectangle piece that sticks out) inside the notch on the machine.

Then press down on the bobbin cover to snap it into place.

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Step 5: thread the upper thread system & needle

Raise the presser foot

Start by raising the presser foot using the lever.

This is really important.

When the presser foot is raised, the tension discs are open and will accept thread.

If your presser foot is down, the tension discs will be closed.

This means you can’t get the thread inside the tension disk, so your stitching won’t look good because your sewing machine can’t control the top thread.

Raise the presser foot using the circled lever.

You also need to raise the needle to the highest position. Turn the handwheel towards you to do this. This will make the hidden ‘take-up lever’ pop out for threading.

Place thread on the spool pin

If you’re using the same thread that you used for the bobbin, just leave it on.

Vertical spool pin that goes up.
Horizontal spool pin that goes side-to-side.

Like before, if your spool pin is horizontal (going side-to-side), make sure the thread unwinds to the front from the bottom.

Put the right size spool cap on. It should be wider than your thread. The flat side of the spool cap should be facing the thread. And it should be pushed right up against the thread.

I’m putting my spool cap on.

Follow the thread guides

Pass the thread under the thread guides at the top of your machine.

Thread guide 1 on my Brother computerized machine.
Thread guide 2 on my Brother computerized machine.

Pass thread through the front channel

Pass the thread through the thread channel at the front.

  • You go down the channel first,
  • around the u-turn,
  • then up,
  • pass the thread into the ‘take-up lever’ hole,
  • and back down the channel, towards the needles.

Here’s a video that shows the process:

Here’s a closer look at the ‘take-up lever’ inside the channel. It has a hole that your thread needs to slot into.

Your thread should slot in from back-to-front and right-to-left, as pictured below.

Take-up lever on my old manual machine.
Take-up lever on my computerized machine. This is the highest it will go.

Place thread under the ‘lower thread guide bar’

Not all machines have this. It’s a bar just above the needle.

Slide your thread under the lower thread guide bar. There’s normally a gap on the left or right side to slot your thread into.

The ‘lower thread guide bar’ is circled.

Place thread under the needle bar

There’s normally a gap on the left or right side to slot your thread into.

Slotting the thread under the needle bar.

Thread the needle

Insert the thread into the ‘eye of the needle’. It’s the small hole at the bottom of the needle.

Thread it from front to back.

If you’re struggling to get the thread through the hole, try cutting the end of the thread at an angle. This makes it easier to slide through.

Pull the thread under the presser foot

Raise the presser foot using the lever.

Pull the thread under the presser foot, and pull it out about 2″ (5cm) towards the back of the machine. Singer recommends pulling the thread out by 6-8″.

This is to stop the needle from becoming unthreaded when you start to sew.

How to use the built-in automatic needle threader (optional)

Note: you can’t use the needle threader if you’re using twin needles. It’s also not recommended for specialty threads.

Raise the needle to the highest position

Your needle needs to be in the highest position for the needle threader to work.

Turn the handwheel (towards you) to move the needle position. Make sure the line on the handwheel is at the top and matching the mark on the machine.

Note: not all machines have these marks. If yours doesn’t, keep turning the handwheel until it looks like the needle can’t go any higher.

The marks on the handwheel and machine line up. That’s how I know the needle is at the highest position.

Pull thread into the needle threader’s notches

Pull the thread (which has already gone through the needle bar) to the left.

Pass it through the notch, and then pull it inside the slit.

The thread has gone through the notch and slit (marked ‘7’) of the needle threader.

Cut the excess thread using the thread cutter

It’s normally on the left side of the machine.

Thread cutter on the left side of the machine.

Lower the presser foot

Lower the presser foot lever to do this. It’s normally on the right side of the needles, near the back of the machine.

This closes the tension discs and holds the thread firmly in place.

Pull the needle threader lever down

Pull it down as much as possible. This will cause the hook on the needle threader to push the thread through the needle hole.

Let go of the needle threader lever slowly.

(circled) the needle threader lever.

Your needle has now been threaded!

If a loop of thread is formed, pull the loop towards the back of the machine.

A loop of thread that needs to be pulled out (towards the back of the machine).
Illustration coutesy of Singer.

Pull the thread under the presser foot

Raise the presser foot using the lever.

Pull the thread under the presser foot, and pull it out about 2″ (5cm) towards the back of the machine. Singer recommends pulling the thread out by 6-8″.

This is to stop the needle from becoming unthreaded when you start to sew.

Other types of automatic needle threaders

There are many styles of needle threaders, so if you have something that looks different, check your manual for instructions.

For example, here’s what the needle threader looks like on the Singer Confidence 7363:

Image and illustration courtesy of Singer.
  1. Hook your thread onto the thread guide.
  2. Whilst holding the end of the thread, push down the lever.
  3. Rotate the lever towards the back of the machine.
  4. Guide your thread into the hooked end. Pull the thread up.
  5. Rotate the lever back to its original position. The needle will then be threaded.
  6. Let go of the lever. Pull the thread loop in the needle towards the back of the machine.

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Step 6: pull up the bobbin thread

This step is different based on whether you have a front-loading or top-loading bobbin.

Method for front-loading bobbin systems

Start by raising the presser foot using the lever.

Use one hand to hold onto the upper thread (that’s coming out of the needle).

With your other hand, turn the handwheel (towards you) to make the needle go down and then back up one time.

This will make the upper and bobbin threads loop together.

Gently pull on the upper thread. This will bring the bobbin thread up through the needle plate hole.

Use something to pull the bobbin thread loop out (eg. a pencil).

Pull both threads under the presser foot.

You can close the front cover now.

Woohoo, that’s the END of threading!

Method for top-loading bobbin systems

Brother, Janome, and Singer say that you can start sewing without pulling up the bobbin thread. This is what I normally do and I have no issues.

This recommendation applies to you if your top-loading bobbin has a thread cutter built into the bobbin system. This is called a ‘quick set bobbin’. You don’t need to pull up the bobbin thread with this system.

But some top-loading bobbin machines don’t have this system, so you need to pull up the bobbin thread. If you have no bobbin thread cutter and you left a thread tail, this is your situation.

There are also times when these brands recommend pulling the bobbin thread up even if you have a ‘quick set bobbin’:

  • When creating gathers.
  • When free-motion quilting.

In these cases, you want a thread tail at the start of your stitching.

Here’s how to pull up the bobbin thread:

  • When you install the bobbin in the machine, don’t cut the bobbin thread at the end. And don’t put the bobbin cover back on yet.
  • Whilst holding the upper thread with one hand, turn the handwheel (towards you) to lower and then raise the needle. This will loop the upper and bobbin threads together.
  • Carefully pull the upper thread up. This will make the bobbin thread come out.
  • Raise the presser foot using the lever.
  • Pull both threads under the presser foot by about 4″ (10cm) to 6″ (15cm).
  • Put the bobbin cover back on.

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Step 7: choose settings (tension, stitch type, length & width)

Note: if you turned off your machine for threading, turn it back on now.

What fabric to test sew on

I recommend doing your first test sew with some large scraps of cotton fabric. Ideally, it should be light or medium weight and non-stretchy.

Find the dials & buttons for changing settings

Each sewing machine tends to have its dials in different places. You need to know which dial controls the stitch type, length, width, and thread tension.

To give you an idea of where to look, here’s one example of a basic machine’s dials:

This old machine doesn’t have a separate ‘stitch width’ dial. It’s bundled into the ‘stitch type’ one. But yours probably will.

Understanding what each dial does can be confusing. I recommend checking your manual and labeling your machine.

If you don’t have a manual on hand, here are some clues to help you figure it out:

  • Stitch length normally goes from 0 to 4.
  • Stitch width normally goes from 0 to 5.
  • Thread tension normally goes from 0 to 9.

Choose stitch type

Note: make sure the needle is raised up when you’re changing stitch settings. You don’t want to move the needle position when the needle is already inside the machine.

Let’s start with a straight stitch.

On basic machines, you choose a straight stitch by turning your dial to the matching number or letter.

‘A’ represents a straight stitch on this basic machine.

On computerized machines, use the touchpad to select the straight stitch number.

Here ‘1’ represents a straight stitch.

How to place your stitch plate on your machine

Some machines have their stitch options printed on the machine, and others have a separate ‘stitch pattern plate’.

The stitch plate is attached to the top of the machine.

Here’s how to attach your stitch plate onto your sewing machine.

Attach the stitch plate onto the plate holder.

Clip the plate holder onto the sewing machine handle.

Choose stitch length & width

2.5mm is the standard stitch length.

A bigger number, like 4, will give you longer stitches. Generally, longer stitches suit heavyweight fabrics, and smaller stitches suit lightweight fabrics.

Use the stitch length dial, or touchpad, to choose 2.5.

Use the circled buttons to increase or decrease the stitch length.

On basic machines, your dial may only have the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4. So set the dial halfway between 2 and 3. That’s roughly 2.5.

The stitch length dial on a basic sewing machine.

On my old manual machine, the ‘feed dogs’ (the metal ‘teeth’ under the presser foot) weren’t amazing, so my stitches were normally too small at 2.5mm. I used to sew at 3 to 3.5 instead. So you might need to experiment with old machines.

You don’t need to choose anything for stitch width right now. That’s relevant for wide stitches like zig zags. You’re just starting with a straight stitch for now.

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Choose tension setting

4 is the standard tension setting to start with.

A smaller number (0 to 3) will loosen the tension, and a higher number (5 to 9) will tighten the tension.

So 0 = loose tension. 9 = tight tension.

The tension dial. 4 is the standard setting.
The tension dial on a basic sewing machine.

Step 8: test sew

Place fabric under the presser foot

Raise the presser foot using the lever.

sewing machine presser foot being raised with lever

Place your fabric under the presser foot. I recommend sewing 2 layers like you will in real projects.

The fabric should be positioned past the needle (so the needle can penetrate the fabric).

If you want to practice sewing ‘seam allowances’, place your fabric so the edge lines up with the right edge of the presser foot. This will generally give you a 1/4″ seam allowance.

Note: ‘seam allowance’ is the distance between the fabric edge and stitching line. Sewing tutorials often give you instructions like ‘sew with a 5/8″ seam allowance’.

If your sewing machine has guidelines, line up the fabric edge with one of those guidelines.

I’ve lined up the fabric edge with one of the guidelines on the machine.

Lower the presser foot using the lever. This will hold the fabric in place.

Start with your needle in the fabric

Put the needle down so it penetrates the fabric.

You can use the handwheel (turn it towards you) or the ‘start/stop’ button (on computerized machines).

Choose your sewing speed (computerized machine only)

Use the speed controller to set the speed. It’s up to you whether you want to sew slow (1 triangle), medium (2 triangles), or fast (3 triangles).

Sew forward by 3-5 stitches

Push your foot on the foot controller to start sewing forward. Start slowly by lightly pushing on the presser foot.

Use your hands to gently guide the fabric. Make sure it isn’t being pulled to the left or right. You want to stay straight.

Take your foot off to stop sewing.

[Computerized machine] You can sew without the foot controller. Just press the ‘start/stop’ button to start sewing, and press it again to stop. It’s normally an arrow icon. Your foot controller needs to be unplugged for this to work.

Backstitch by 3-5 stitches

A ‘backstitch’ is when you sew backward by about 3-5 stitches. This secures your line of stitching and stops it from unraveling. You hold onto the ‘reverse stitch button’ to backstitch.

Here’s what it looks like on a basic machine.

Push down on this button (pictured below) and hold on. At the same time, press your foot on the foot controller to sew backward.

When you want to stop sewing backwards, let go of the button.

The reverse stitch button on a basic machine.

On a computerized machine, press and hold onto the reverse stitch button. It’s normally a U-shaped icon.

You don’t need to press your foot on the foot controller because the machine will automatically sew backward for you.

The reverse stitch button on a computerized machine.

When you want to stop sewing backward, let go of the button.

Press your foot on the foot controller to start sewing forwards again (or press the start/stop button).

Carry on sewing forwards

Press your foot on the foot controller to start sewing forward. To sew slowly, press lightly. To sew fast, press your foot down more.

Use your hands to gently guide the fabric. Make sure it isn’t being pulled to the left or right. You want to stay straight.

Take your foot off to stop sewing.

[Computerized machine] You can sew without the foot controller. Just press the ‘start/stop’ button to start sewing, and press it again to stop. It’s normally an arrow icon. Your foot controller needs to be unplugged for this to work.

Tip for sewing straight: when you’re sewing, focus your eyes on making sure the edge of the fabric and your chosen guideline are always matching.

You don’t need to look at the needle.

When you notice that the fabric is moving too far to the left or right, stop sewing, gently pull the fabric back, and keep sewing.

Finish by backstitching again

This will secure your line of stitching so it doesn’t unravel. Use the reverse stitch button to backstitch by 3-5 stitches.

The reverse stitch button on a basic machine.
The reverse stitch button on a computerized machine.

Raise the needle

When you’ve finished sewing, raise the needle so it isn’t in the fabric anymore. Turn the hand wheel (towards you) to do this.

Computerized machines will automatically finish in the ‘needle up’ position when you press the ‘cut threads’ button.

The ‘cut thread’ button on a computerized machine.

Remove the fabric

Raise the presser foot to release the fabric.

Pull the fabric out.

Cut the thread using the thread cutter on the left side of your machine, or use scissors.

On basic machines, leave a 2″+ thread tail on the machine. If you don’t, the next time you start sewing the thread will be pulled up and it will unthread the needle.

Check your stitches

Now just look at your stitches to see if you’re happy with them.

You don’t want the fabric to look puckered because that means the thread tension is too tight.

You also don’t want the stitches to be loose.

If they are, adjust your tension dial and practice on scraps until you’re happy with the stitches.

How to know if your tension looks right

What a balanced stitch looks like

balanced stitch diagram
Illustration courtesy of Brother.

Brother says “the upper thread and the bobbin thread should cross near the center of the fabric”. 

So you should only see the upper thread on the right side of the fabric, and the bobbin thread on the wrong side. If your stitch looks like this, the tension is balanced nicely!

When you wouldn’t want a balanced stitch

Singer says “A balanced tension (identical stitches both top and bottom) is usually only desirable for straight stitch construction sewing…For zig zag and decorative sewing stitch functions, thread tension should generally be less than for straight stitch sewing.”

Bobbin thread shows on the right side

diagram showing unbalanced stitch with bobbin thread on right side of fabric
Illustration courtesy of Brother.

If you can see the bobbin thread on the right side of the fabric, the upper thread tension is too tight. You need to loosen it.

Upper thread shows on the wrong side

diagram showing unbalanced stitch with upper thread showing on wrong side of fabric
Illustration courtesy of Brother.

If you can see the upper thread on the wrong side of the fabric, the upper thread is too loose. You need to tighten the tension.

What next?

I recommend that you keep practicing on fabric scraps.

Try sewing straight lines of stitching, corners, and curves. Try sewing on different types of fabric.

I recommend recording all your notes and gluing your stitch samples in your sewing journal. This will be a useful reference when you aren’t sure what settings to choose in the future.

And congratulations on how far you’ve come so far! We covered a lot today.

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Sources

Singer. ‘Singer 2263 Simple manual’. [online] Available at: https://res.cloudinary.com/singer-sewing/image/upload/v1574848974/Singer-Website-Library/outdated_product/SINGER_2263_SIMPLE_Sewing_Machine_Manual.pdf [accessed: 17 March 2021]

Singer. ‘Singer Confidence manual’. [online] Available at: https://www.singer.com/sites/default/files/outdated_product/SINGER%20Confidence%207363%20Sewing%20Machine.pdf [accessed: 17 March 2021]

Singer. ‘manual’. [online] Available at: https://res.cloudinary.com/singer-sewing/image/upload/v1572777384/Singer-Website-Library/Manuals/Products_manuals/78d2f880b6f5e05b3ad48013cb79f9694e6858ef_bggbpc.pdf [accessed: 17 March 2021]

Janome. ‘manual’. [online] Available at: https://www.janome.com/siteassets/support/manuals/computer-models/inst-book-dc2015en.pdf [accessed: 17 March 2021]

Janome. ‘manual’. [online] Available at: https://www.janome.com/siteassets/support/manuals/economy-models/inst-book-hd-3000eng.pdf [accessed: 17 March 2021]

Janome. ‘manual’. [online] Available at: https://www.janome.com/siteassets/support/manuals/economy-models/inst-book-2206en_sp_fr.pdf [accessed: 17 March 2021]

Brother. ‘manual’. [online] Available at: https://download.brother.com/welcome/doch101372/888_m70_om01en.pdf [accessed: 17 March 2021]

Brother. ‘manual’. [online] Available at: https://download.brother.com/welcome/doch100094/jk2500nt_ug03en.pdf [accessed: 17 March 2021]

Brother. ‘manual’. [online] Available at: https://download.brother.com/welcome/doch000470/bc21es20cs60ce50ex66xr6677ug10en.pdf [accessed: 17 March 2021]

Brother. ‘manual’. [online] Available at: https://download.brother.com/welcome/doch101352/888_m50_m60_m62_m63_om03en.pdf [accessed: 17 March 2021]