How to Use a Sewing Machine

Few people would even think of beginning a sewing project without a sewing machine. Sewing by machine is quick and, if the tension has been set correctly, extremely neat. Machine stitching is indispensable when sewing long straight seams in soft furnishings and also produces strong seams in dressmaking. Use machine stitching in conjunction with hand sewing for the most professional-looking result.


Slow down as you approach the corner and work the last few stitches by turning the hand wheel. Stop 15 mm or 5/8 in ft, in the edge with the needle in the fabric. Lift the presser foot and swing the fabric round until the next seam is lined up with the guideline on the needle plate. Lower the toot and continue. You may have to turn the fabric back a little and take another stitch or two until the edge is exactly on the 15 nun/’/s in line on the needle plate.


Sew slowly round soft curves, keeping the edge of the fabric opposite the presser toot on the guideline of the needle plate. On tighter curves stop and turn the fabric slightly into the curve before beginning. Keep stopping every few stitches to adjust the line of the fabric until the curve is complete. To ensure that two curves are exactly the same, for example on a collar, make a template and mark the curve along the seam line before sewing.


Unless the fabric is fine or delicate, the easiest way to remove stitches is with a nunpicker. Slip the point underneath a stitch and cut it against the sharp, curved edge of the tool. Cut every two or three stitches and then turn the fabric over and pull the reverse-side thread out. Brush the loose threads from the right side and steam press to close the holes. On fine or delicate fabrics, lift and taut the stitches one at a time.


One of the first tasks in any sewing project is sewing a seam. Most soft furnishing and dressmaking patterns use a 15 min/5/8 in seam allowance unless otherwise stated.

Begin by basting or pinning the seam across the seam line with the right sides of the fabric together. Place the fabric under the presser foot so that the edge of the seam is next to the 15 mm/8 in line on the needle plate and the fabric is 5 mm/l/4 in behind the needle. Use the hand wheel to take the needle down into the fabric and begin to sew. Work at a speed that is comfortable, guiding but not forcing, the fabric along the line on the needle plate.


The type of machine you have will determine the range of stitches at your disposal. The stitches listed here are the most common ones used in general sewing. Look in your handbook for the complete range of stitches possible on your machine. Try out a stitch on a double scrap of the fabric you will be using before you start.

1. Satin stitch: A zigzag with the stitch length set almost at zero. It is used for buttonholes and machine appliqué. Use a clear-view foot to allow enough room for the bulky stitch underneath. Satin stitch can make the fabric gather if the stitches are too wide, so check the stitch width is right for the fabric before you start. Buttonholes consist of two parallel rows of narrow satin stitches with a few double-width stitches at each end to finish.

2. Blind hemming (blind stitch hem): Use in conjunction with a blind-hemming foot. This stitch is suitable for heavy or bulky fabrics where the stitch won’t show on the right side. The hem is tacked (basted) and then fed under the foot and is sewn with a series of straight stitches followed by a zigzag stitch which picks up the main fabric. Adjust the zigzag length to make the stitch into the fold as small as possible.

3. Straight stitch: This is the stitch most widely used to join two pieces of fabric together. For ordinary fabric set the stitch length dial between 2 and 3. If the fabrics very fine or heavy alter the stitch length to suit.Use a shorter stitch for fine fabrics and a longer one for heavy fabrics. If you have an automatic sewing machine you can work a stretch straight stitch —useful for sewing fabrics such as jersey. Quick basting stitches can be worked by machine. Use the longest straight stitch possible for this to make it easy to pull out the thread.

4. Zigzag: These stitches are used for finishing edges, for machine appliqué and as decoration. Try different lengths and widths of stitch to find which one suits the fabric best. In general, the stitch should be as small, narrow and as straight as possible.

5. Multi-zigzag: Wider versions of zigzag such as triple zigzag and herringbone stitch are useful for sewing elastic on to fabric. Triple zigzag can be used lot finishing scams on soft or fine fabrics. Both stitches can be used to prevent the edges of towelling or knitted fabrics from curling before sewing.

6. Over locking: This is worked directly over the edge of the fabric, stitching and finishing the seam in one. Alternately, stitch along the seam line and trim.

7. Decorative stitches: Automatic machines contain a device called a pattern earn which allows a range of stitches to be firmed. Suitable for machine embroidery or to finish hems.

8. Computer-generated stitches: The most advanced machines have a silicone chip to create many decorative stitches. These stitches take time to complete as the fabric moves in a circular direction to create the pattern, but the results are very effective.