Running a Sewing Machine

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You may think your sewing machine manual will tell you everything you need to know about your new sewing machine, yet in "Me and My Sewing Machine" (C&T Publishing) author Kate Haxell gives you tips you probably won't find. (Lead image from Thinkstock.)


Step 1

Once you've got your new sewing machine home, the very first thing to do is to read the manual. Even if you have used a sewing machine before, different makes and models have different operating details and, if you don’t read the instructions, you can end up damaging your machine before you’ve finished your first sewing project.
Set up the machine on a sturdy table. A decorator’s folding table, or even a gate-leg table, are not good choices because when a machine is running at full pelt it can bounce to an alarming degree if the table isn’t solid, and that really will ruin your sewing.
Pull up a straight-back, armless chair -- a dining chair is good, but not a wheeled office chair as they move too easily -- and check that the machine is at the right height for you to operate it comfortably. Can you reach the power pedal easily without stretching your leg? Is the power cable safely out of the way and not stretched tightly to the machine so that if you trip over it you’ll pull the machine off the table? Is the machine high enough for you to see the fabric going under the needle without craning your neck? But low enough for you to sew without having to lift your arms uncomfortably high? All ok? Excellent!

Step 2

With the manual read, the machine set up, a medium straight stitch selected and a piece of fabric to experiment with chosen, you are ready to start sewing. The first thing to do is to sew a line, check the stitch tension, and adjust it if necessary.

Step 3

Then you need to get your hands in the right position. Novice sewers sometimes hold the fabric as shown to the left, with one hand clutching the front edge and the other at the back pulling the fabric through. This is not how to sew. The feed dogs feed the fabric through the machine at a rate controlled by how hard you press the power pedal; you don’t need to help them do their job. Pulling the fabric like this is also an easy way to bend the needle. They are only slivers of metal and they bend easily, and then you can have all sorts of tension problems. Your job is to guide the fabric so that it passes under the needle where you want the stitching to be. To this end, have both hands resting lightly on the fabric, fairly flat and quite close to the presser foot, as shown on below right. Obviously you want to avoid sewing your fingers, but that is reasonably easy to do. NEVER take your eyes off the needle when it’s moving. If someone calls you, stop sewing, then look up. Don’t sew in front of the television where you’ll be tempted to glance at the action on screen.

Step 4

Position the fabric under the presser foot with the edge against one of the marks on the throat plate. Get comfortable in your chair and put your hands on the fabric. Gently press the power pedal. As the fabric runs under the needle and away from you, keep moving your hands so that they stay in the same position in relation to the needle, and gently steer the fabric so that the edge of it stays against the same mark on the throat plate.
Get used to how the fabric moves under the needle, then press the pedal a little harder. Sew back and forth across the piece of fabric, changing speeds and stitch patterns until you are comfortable sewing: this may take more than one session. However, it’s well worth continuing to experiment and practice on non-lovely fabric until you are really confident with your machine before starting a project. If you are still at the practice stage, any project will suffer and you’ll be discouraged and that’s never good.
Reprinted by permission from "Me and My Sewing Machine" by Kate Haxell. Published by C&T Books.

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