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The Sewing Machine Needle

Sewing machine needles have an interesting shape. Look closely at one, and you will see it has a groove down the back. This is where the thread is tucked as the needle takes its stitch. One side of the top is flat. This is to make sure you don’t put your needle in backward. It also assures your needle is held tightly by the needle clamp.

Needles come in a variety of sizes and styles. The most common is the size 14 sharp-pointed needle. This is used for nearly all woven fabrics. The size 16 sharp-point is thicker and better for use on denim and other heavy fabrics. Size 11 needles are extra fine and will leave smaller holes in some delicate fabrics. In knit fabrics, a ballpoint needle works better than a sharp-pointed needle. That’s because the rounded needle point will slide past the individual threads instead of catching them and dragging them through the hole in the needle plate.

There are also special twin needles designed for topstitching or for double stitching on stretch fabrics. Be sure your machine is designed to accommodate twin needles before you try these.

The needle is the first thing you should check when your machine doesn’t seem to be working properly. If your needle is dull, it can poke your fabric through the hole instead of penetrating the fabric. This will cause your machine to skip stitches because the bobbin hook is prevented from catching the thread. If your needle is bent, it may be missing the exact spot where it needs to pass the bobbin hook. Needles can become dull after use on heavy fabric, especially when thick seams cross one another, from hitting pins, or because the needle clamp is loose.

Threading the Bobbin

The bobbin will need to be wound with your sewing thread before you can sew A few machines with drop-in bobbins are designed to wind the bobbin directly in the bobbin case after the machine is threaded. Most, however, require winding at some other point on the machine before the machine is threaded. The most common place for this is on the top, where the spool of thread can be in its usual place on the spool pin. Another common location is on the right side of the machine, where the spool sits in a secondary spool pin at the base and the bobbin is wound somewhere up the side. The thread is then brought around a thread guide that serves as a tension for the thread.

The end of the thread is poked through a hole in the bobbin from the inside out, and the bobbin is mounted on a bobbin pin or spindle. Often, the spindle either slides toward a stop or a stop slides toward the spindle, engaging the spindle so it will turn. The stop prevents the bobbin from being overwound by popping back to the former position when the thread in the bobbin applies pressure, thus disengaging the spindle.

Cut the thread near the bobbin and drop the bobbin into the bobbin case. Threading the bobbin into the case is usually little more than pulling the thread into a slot and under the tension spring.

Threading the Machine

Begin by raising the presser foot. This releases the tension discs. Slide your spool onto the spool pin. If your machine has a horizontal pin, slide the spool holder on after it. Lead the thread around the upper thread guide. This puts the thread in line with the tension discs. Lead the thread firmly between the discs. You will need to hold the thread above the discs as you bring it through to be sure the thread is all the way between them.

From the discs, the thread needs to be led straight down, held by either a thread guide or a check spring, and led straight up again. The purpose of this is to give the take-up lever something to pull against. Slide the thread through the slot in the take-up lever and all the way to the eye at the end.

Next, the thread goes down to the lower thread guide, which is just above the needle bar. After one last thread guide, which is on the needle clamp itself, you can thread the needle. Most modern machines are designed with slotted guides so the only place you actually have to poke the thread through a hole is at the needle. Some machines even make that easier with built-in needle threaders. When you pull the threader down to engage it, a tiny hook goes through the eye of the needle from the back. Thread guides on the threader will help you get the thread under the hook. Release the threader slowly, and it pulls a loop of thread through the eye. Disconnect the thread from the threader and pull the loose end through.

Sewing a Seam

Engage the reverse-stitch control, and backstitch to the edge of the fabric. Release the reverse stitch control, and allow the machine to stitch forward.

With your hands resting lightly on the fabric, guide it under the presser foot. Do not pull the fabric. Watch that the edge continues to line up with the 1/8” mark or the seam guide. Work at creating an even pressure on the foot pedal. If your pins are in straight, your machine should stitch right over them with no problem.

When your stitching reaches the end of the fabric, backstitch for four or five stitches. Stop and raise the needle. Raise the presser foot, gently pull the fabric out from under it, and cut the threads.

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