Meet Your Machine: Anatomy of a Sewing Machine

Posted in: Meet Your Machine, Sewing 101 — By on November 10, 2010 7:14 AM
It’s about time you get acquainted with your new BFF… your sewing machine! Once you get to know each other, you’ll be inseparable!

First things first: This diagram shows you all of the different parts of your machine. (click to enlarge the image)

Anatomy of a Sewing Machine

So that’s just great, but what are all these things? (from top left, counterclockwise)

Bobbin Winder Tension Disc

  • keeps your thread taut when you’re winding a bobbin

Pressure Regulator

  • adjusts the amount of pressure that the presser foot uses to hold your fabric down as you stitch.
Thread Take-up Lever

  • moves your thread up and down as you sew
  • thread goes through this lever when you thread your sewing machine

Thread Guides

  • used to keep your thread in place as you sew — they are located at various points on the machine
  • without these guides, your thread could become loose and tangled inside your machine

Tension Control

  • a very important element that is used to adjust how loose or tight your stitches are
  • A word on tension: Your top thread and your bobbin thread should be meeting between the two layers of fabric. If the top thread is not going into the fabric, you need to loosen the tension; and vice versa, if the bobbin thread is not going into the fabric you need to tighten the tension. Your thread runs between various tension disks, and the amount of tension you set your regulator to will determine how much pressure these disks put on your thread.


  • moves your thread through the fabric
  • unlike hand sewing needles, it’s eye is just above the point
  • needles come in varying sizes — the needle you use depends on the type of fabric you are using

Presser Foot

  • used to keep your fabric flat and taut as you sew
  • there are several different types of presser feet for different functions, such as sewing zippers or button holes — you typically use at least a couple of presser feet for a project

Feed Dogs

  • metal strips with little teeth that stick up from the needle plate and move your fabric along as you sew
  • they move faster or slower depending on how hard you press the foot pedal

Shuttle Cover (Bobbin Housing)

  • the bobbin is a special spool that holds your bottom thread inside the sewing machine
  • bobbins can be inserted through the front (front-loading) or top (drop-in), depending on your machine

Needle/Throat Plate

  • the flat metal plate that sits below your needle
  • protects the inside of your sewing machine, and has seam guides that indicate how far from the edge of your fabric you are stitching

Presser Foot Lever

  • lowers the presser foot into place when you are ready to sew, and to lifts it up when you want to move your fabric

Reverse Sewing Lever/Button

  • allows you to sew backwards when pressed
  • backstitching at the beginning and end of your seams adds stability and prevents the ends from coming loose

Stitch Length Dial

  • changes the length of your stitches

Stitch Selector

  • allows you to choose a stitch based on your project needs
  • also lets you choose the width of your stitch for a zig zag or other decorative stitch

Hand Wheel

  • used to manually move the needle up and down
  • you also use the hand wheel to disengage your needle so that it doesn’t move while you wind a bobbin

Bobbin Winder

  • a peg that spins your bobbin as you wind thread on to it
  • powered by the foot pedal when your needle is disengaged

Spool Pins

  • where your spool of thread sits while you sew

That’s a lot of little gadgets and gizmos! It sounds more complicated than it really is — once you start sewing, we promise it will all make sense.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Tags: ,


  1. Greetings! I love this breakdown! My Grandmother taught me to sew and by no means am I an expert. I am a blogger about paper crafting and have linked your post to my blog! It will go live tomorrow.


  2. Benita Swanson says:

    I have a 1955 Singer Sewing Machine, Slant Needle Design, still going after all these years. I’m searching for a tube of the “gear grease” (not oil) to grease the motor and wheels. Anyone have a suggestion where I might find it??


  3. cannot get presser foot on. Then it comes off frequently? Machine has a lever on back of site underneath lift.

  4. Stephanie says:

    Thank you so much for the diagram and run down! I’m teaching my kids sewing lessons this summer and this will be a great reference for them!

Leave a Comment


  1. Reading List: Sewing on the Web
  2. Basic Sewing Machine Maintenance: Cleaning and Oiling
  3. Sewing School - your online source for all things sewing — Back to Sewing School: Anatomy of a Sewing Machine
  4. DIY: Altering a Low-neck Top |
  5. My first day in the Fashion Design Program at Moore | scooterphoenix
  6. RMGS Meeting ~ Hospitality