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Getting Started Sewing: Setting up your Machine & Two Essential Seam Patterns

So you’re interested in learning how to sew. Great! Knowing how to sew opens so many doors to your creative potential; from d.i.y. halloween costumes to making custom wardrobe staples, there are so many ways to go once you have the foundations of sewing down. But how do you get started? Follow this tutorial to learn how to set up your machine and execute two essential stitch patterns.

Getting Started Part 1: Setting up your Machine

Before we start: note that every sewing machine is set up slightly differently based on design and make, like a car. While mine might not look exactly like yours, similar to the set up of a car, all of the same pegs and gears that are on mine are on yours. So, be sure to look for similarities between my machine and yours, and have your machine’s instructions manual on hand for reference.


  • Two scrap pieces of fabric, cut to have at least two straight edges

  • Straight pins

  • Scissors

  • Thread to match the color of your fabric

  • An empty bobbin

Step 1: Threading your bobbin

For any project using your sewing machine, you will need thread that matches your fabric, and a bobbin filled with the same thread. The large spool of thread that goes on top of your machine supplies the “top stitches” on your fabric, the ones that show on the top of your fabric when running the fabric through the machine, while the bobbin supplies the “bottom stitches,” the ones (you guessed it) on the bottom of your fabric. This will make more sense as we go along. Every machine comes with several blank bobbins.

1. Place your spool of thread on the top peg on the machine.

2. Hook your thread through the first small clasp next to the peg for your thread. This will hold the thread so it doesn’t get caught on any other part of the machine.

3. Loop your thread around the peg, drawing it down first, and then around the peg in a counter-clockwise motion. Most machines draw the diagram next to the peg.

4. Now, pull your thread through the small hole on the top of the bobbin.

5. Place the bobbin on the peg towards the right hand side of the machine.

6. Slide the peg to the right until you hear a click.

7. Slowly press the sewing machine’s pedal with your foot until you see the bobbin start to spin on the peg. Let the bobbin wind until it looks ¾ full (it is full when there is thread all the way to the edges of the bobbin. This is too full for the machine to handle, so stop before it gets to that point!)

8. Cut the thread.

9. Slide the peg with the bobbin back to the left until it clicks, and remove the bobbin.

You’ve now filled a bobbin! Put that to the side, we’ll use it again soon.

Step 2: Threading your needle

This simple step can feel complicated at first, but stick with it! I promise it gets easier.

1. Place your spool of thread on the top peg on the machine

2. Like with the bobbin, hook your thread through the first small clasp next to the peg for your thread. This will hold the thread so it doesn’t get caught on any other part of the machine.

3. Moving past the small clasp, loop your thread through the bigger hook at the top of the snake-y part of the front of the machine.

4. Time to enter the snake. Draw your thread all the way down the first line of the snake, tucking it into the fold in a straight line.

5. Hook the thread around the loop at the bottom of the snake, pulling the thread up around the curve.

6. At the top of the second line of the snake, there should be a hook that moves with the machine’s needle. If this hook isn’t visible at first, use the hand wheel on the end of your sewing machine to slowly raise the needle, and therefore, the hook.

7. Once visible, catch the thread in the hook, and bring the thread all the way down on the other side.

8. After the snake, there will be 1-3 more hooks before you get to the needle, depending on your machine. Catch the thread on each of the hooks, making sure the thread doesn’t get tangled or knotted on any of them.

9. You should now be at the needle! Unlike a normal sewing needle, this one has its hole at the head of the needle. Thread the needle and pull the thread through.

A Note on Vocabulary: the Foot

The rectangle with a hole in the middle of it sitting below the needle is called the foot. This holds the fabric down as you sew, and sewing machine feet can come in all shapes and forms. Look for one that looks like this: a rectangle with two triangular prongs at the end that lead into a rectangular clearing in the middle of the foot. You should be able to snap feet on and off the machine, but check your machine’s manual for specifics.

Step 3: Bringing your bobbin thread up

1. Remove your bobbin case’s covering and insert the bobbin, holding onto the thread. Some machines have bobbins that face up and are visible from the outside of the machine, while others are tucked behind a flap. Check your machine’s manual for further guidance on where to find your bobbin’s case.

2. Put the covering back over the bobbin while still holding onto the bobbin thread outside of the case. If needed, tug on the thread from the bobbin so that you have at least three inches of thread coming from the bobbin visible from outside the case. Some machines require further actions to click your thread into place once outside the case, so check your machine’s manual for further guidance.

3. Take hold of the thread from your needle. Holding on tight to this thread, use the hand wheel at the end of your machine to lower your needle as far as it goes, and then bring it back up again all the way. When it comes back up, it should have caught the bobbin thread, and you should see a loop of thread overlapping the needle thread you’re holding onto. If you do not see thread from the bottom, try lowering the needle again and bringing it back up, reverse the direction you’re spinning the hand wheel, or double check that the bobbin has enough thread coming out of it and it is where it should be according to your machine’s manual.

4. Using a pin or your finger, grab the loop of bobbin thread and gently pull it until the full loop is unfurled. You have now brought the bobbin thread from the case to the top of the machine plate, where it can now be used with the top thread!

Getting Started Part 2: Two Essential Stitch Types

The Stitches:

Straight stitch - this style is good for simple, quick seams, as well as exposed seam that you don't want to be very noticable, like a hem on a garment.

Zig-zag stitch - this style is more durable, and takes slightly longer to complete. This kind of seam is especially good for internal seams, like when you're connecting the front and back of a blouse, for example. 

Step 1: Pinning your Fabric

Pinning where you want your seam to go is the essential first step to creating a clean seam.

1. Start by facing the "outsides" of both pieces of fabric towards each other, so that the side of the fabric you don't want to be visible in the final product is now facing outward.

2. Line the two pieces up so that the straight edges are as close to perfectly aligned as possible.

3. Pin the fabric together in a straight line about 1/4 inch from the edge of the fabric. This line of pins is where you will sew.

A Note on Vocabulary: Seam Allowance

Why should we leave 1/4 inch between the edge of the fabric and the line we pin and sew? The distance between the edge of the fabric and a seam is called the seam allowance, and that distance protects the seam so that if your fabric starts to fray, you have some space before the fraying hits the seam. Additionally, it ensures that, if you start to sew off course, you'd have to go pretty far off your planned line to reach the edge of the fabric. It's good to aim for 1/4-1/2 inch seam allowance on all your projects.

Step 2: Straight Stitch Settings

Next up, we're going to set up our machine to sew a straight stitch. Note that every sewing machine looks slightly different, but every machine should have ways to adjust all the settings listed below. For more guidance on the specifics of your machine, reference the instruction manual that comes with your machine.

1. Adjust your machine's stitch settings to the "straight stitch." My machine has a knob for this but some machines have buttons or touch screens. Look for the universal symbol for this seam of a dashed line if your machine looks different from mine.

2. Next, adjust your stitch length to something in the middle on your machine's scale. This controls how long each of your stitches will be, so something in the middle is preferable; my machine ranges 0-4, and I set mine to 2. This is an optional step, but I've found it helpful to have practice adjusting this.

Step 3: Get Sewing!

1. Start by lowering the foot onto the top of your fabric, making sure the needle hovers above the start of the fabric. Aim to center the first pin in the center of the foot.

2. Take hold of the top and bobbin thread, and keep holding them for the first couple stitches so that the thread isn't pulled out of the needle before connecting with the fabric.

3. Slowly apply preasure to the machine's pedal on the ground to start stitching. Using your hand, direct the fabric in a straight line, removing pins as you go.

4. Once you get to the end of the fabric, lift the foot, pull the fabric out, and cut the excess thread. Be sure to leave at least 2 inches of thread left off of your fabric so that you have space to tie a knot later.

Step 3.1: The Zig-Zag Stitch

The set-up for this stitch is similar to the straight stitch, with a few minor differences.

1. Pin a line next to your straight stitch where you will sew your zig-zag stitch.

2. Set your stitch type to "zig-zag."

3. Sew along the line you laid out with your pins. When you reach the end of the fabric, lift the foot, pull the fabric out, and cut the excess thread.

This is how your final zig-zag seam should look!

A clean line of triangular stitches. If your stitches look loose or pulled tight, you might be having problems with your machine's tension. Find more information on machine tension here.

Step 4: Tying off the Seam

1. Holding the bottom side of your seam (the side that faced the bobbin), slip a pin under the last stitch of the seam.

2. Holding onto the end of the thread that's exposed on the side facing you, pull up on the pin that's looped through the stitch. You'll see a loop of the thread from the otherside of the fabric pulling through. Pull on the top thread until the loop is fully extended and the thread from the other side of the fabric as all the way on your side now.

3. Now that you have both threads on one side, tie a few knots with the thread to secure the seam. This will ensure that the seam does not come undone. Once you've finished tying, cut the excess thread.

Knot off the ends of each seam until there are no more threads hanging off the fabric.


Turn the fabric right-side-out and admire your seams!

I hope this tutorial helped you get a sense of how to start using your sewing machine. Keep experimenting with stitches and machine settings until you find the ones that work for you. Everyone has their own preferences when sewing, so keep working to find yours!

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