Close up photo of a singer sewing machine

Parts Of A Sewing Machine: Complete Guide

Before you begin your sewing career, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the parts of a sewing machine. Knowing how the different parts of a sewing machine work before you get started on that awesome dress will make sewing your pattern pieces much easier. Understanding the parts will also give you a leg up with troubleshooting sewing machine glitches.

What Is a Sewing Machine?

Broadly speaking, sewing machines are machines that stitch together fabric and other materials, like leather. The first sewing machines were invented in 1790, during the Industrial Revolution, by Englishman Thomas Saint. Modern sewing machines are used both at home and in industry. In this article, we are considering the common, familiar home sewing machine; not the more high-tech industrial machines.

Photo of an antique sewing machine
image via Pixabay

Parts of a Sewing Machine

A sewing machine has three important pieces:

  • Thread control
  • Handling bobbins
  • Finishing steps

While there are many parts to a sewing machine, they all work together to accomplish these three basic functions and are not complicated to use or understand. Once you are familiar with the different parts of a sewing machine, you will see that that its operation is straightforward. Each kind of function combines with the others to allow operators to sew fabric.

The Functions of Each Individual Part

Below we have listed the individual parts of a sewing machine. For easy reference, the parts are listed in alphabetical order. When you read through the list, you will see how the parts combine to complete tasks and how those tasks contribute to stitching fabric.

Bobbin Case

The bobbin case is is the area underneath the needle plate with a plastic cover. This case protects the bobbin when in use and opens to allow for bobbin maintenance. Make sure to clean the hook rotary system after every few projects.

Although bobbin cases might look similar, they cannot be exchanged among different models of sewing machine.

Sewing machine bobbin case
image via Wikimedia


A bobbin is a small spool that houses the bottom side of the sewing thread. It fits into the bobbin case. The bobbin is filled with thread using the bobbin winder on top of the machine. It is important that the wound thread be evenly distributed for even stitching.

A damaged bobbin, even if it is just nicked or cracked, should be tossed out. The littlest problem can affect how the thread comes off the bobbin.

Bobbin Winder

Most sewing machines offer a bobbin winding system that feeds the thread onto your bobbin. Watch that the thread spool is winding smoothly onto the bobbin. The thread should be wound evenly. If any tangles or problems turn up, you need to wind the thread and start again. Also be sure to wind your bobbin at a medium pace. Winding too fast can stretch the thread so that it breaks more easily. Stretched thread can also warp your sewn seams.

Bobbin Binder Spindle

The bobbin is placed on the bobbin winder spindle for thread winding.

Image of a portable mini sewing machine
image via Pexels

Bobbin Winder Thread Guide

The thread guide directs thread as it is wound onto the bobbin.

Bobbin Winder Stopper

The bobbin winder stopper stops the winding process when the bobbin reaches maximum thread capacity.

Bobbin Winder

Bobbin winders transfer thread to the empty bobbin spool. This part is found on either the right side or the top of the sewing machine.

Face Plate

The face plate covers the internal parts of a sewing machine. It can be removed to access the interior parts.

Feed Dog

The feed dog works with the presser foot to move the fabric by one stitch at a time, using a tooth-like component. The other function of the feed dog is to regulate stitch length by changing fabric movement.

Foot Peddle

The foot pedal allows the user to control the speed of the sewing needle while their hands are busy with the fabric. High speed sewing machines have a feature which allows the user to set the speed and then start or stop the machine by pushing a button.

Hand Wheel

The hand wheel raises and lowers the sewing needle to allow the user to reposition the fabric. This part permits tiny adjustments to be made manually. The wheel includes a clutch nob, which is a safety feature that keeps the needle from moving up and down while winding a bobbin.

Close up image of a hand wheel
image via Pixabay


Needles are one of the most important parts of a sewing machine. When you visit a fabric store, you will see a variety of needle types. It is important to use the right needle for your fabric.

Needle Clamp

The needle clamp holds the needle in place.

Needle Plate

The needle plate is a metal plate that covers the bobbin casing and feed dogs. Needle plates are etched with a seam allowance guide to help the operator keep seams straight while sewing.

Photo of a needle plate
image via Pixabay

Pattern Selector

The pattern selector lets the operator of the machine to choose a stitch for their project. This function includes basic straight stitches, embroidery stitches, zigzags, and more, depending on the machine. The pattern selector includes a visual guide to the stitches offered for ease of use.

Power Switch and Power Cord

Sewing machines are powered by electricity through the power cord. Users can switch the machine on or off with the power switch, usually found on the right side of the machine.

Presser Dial

The presser dial governs the amount of pressure put on the fabric by the presser foot. Lighter weight cloth needs stronger pressure for better control while stitching, while heavier fabrics need less pressure.

Presser Foot

The presser foot keeps the fabric in place as the user feeds the fabric under the sewing needle using downward pressure. The foot gets a handle on the cloth from the feed dog to the top counter.

Photo of a presser foot
image via Pixabay

Presser Foot Lever

The Presser Foot Lever moves the presser foot up away from the fabric or down the fabric. When the lever is in the down slot, the tension disks are engaged. The tension disks are disengaged when the lever is in the upper slot.

Reverse Lever

The reverse lever, found on the front of the sewing machine, reverses the direction of the fabric feed. The lever lets the user sew in reverse at the end of a seam to lock it down.

Sewing Light

The sewing light illuminates the needle for easier threading and highlights the stitching in the fabric for a better view.

Slide Plate

The plastic slide plate protects the bobbin case from getting dirty or catching dust. Secondarily, it offers access to the bobbin zone underneath the sewing machine so the user can change bobbins or do other maintenance work.

Spool Pin and Holder

The spool pin and holder holds the spool of thread you are using. This part also controls the direction of your sewing.

Stitch Length Adjustor

Users can change the length of the stitch they are using with this part. The adjustor offers different stitch lengths from 0 to 4, with 0 being the shortest stitch and 4 the longest. When the stitch length is shortened, the amount of fabric under the presser foot shortens so that the needle can come down more often.

Stitch Width Dial

The stitch width dial governs the zigzag stitch.

Take-Up Lever

This part pumps up and down during stitch formation, which feeds in the extra thread. The take-up lever forms the thread loop and receives thread from the needle after each stitch to set the stitch. The needle thread tension can be precisely regulated through this lever.

Tension Disks

The firmness or looseness of the top stitch is set through the tension disk. The tension disk controls the pressure put on the thread to ensure a uniform feed to the sewing needle. The tension device positions the thread with the needle, controls the flow of the thread, makes sure the stitching is smooth, and precisely governs the passage of the thread.

There are two kinds of tension devices; direct and indirect. Both are made of similar parts: the pressure disk, tension spring, thumb nut, tension mounting bar, and pressure releasing unit.

With more modern sewing machines, and high speed units, the tension dial will be labeled with graduated numbers, each of which denotes a level of tension. The higher numbers reflect higher tension and lower numbers a reduction in tension. The tension needs to be adjusted to keep the stitch line uniform and straight on both sides of the fabric.

Thread Cutter

Sewing machines have thread cutters, usually behind the sewing needle, so it is convenient to cut the thread when the fabric is moved to the back of the sewing machine. This lets the user easily cut their sewing thread without trying to maneuver scissors in an awkward space.

Throat Plate

The throat plate includes a hole for the needle to feed through to the bobbin casing, two slots for the feed dog to move through and guidelines for stitching. Part of the throat plate, which can be removed, conceals the bobbin and the bottom of the machine.

Image of a throat plate
image via Pixabay


Now that you know something about the parts of a sewing machine, you can get down to sewing that amazing pattern you have been dying to wear!  

Featured image via Pixabay

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