Parts Of A Sewing Machine: What They Do & How They Work

If you’re planning on buying a sewing machine, or you already have one but aren’t sure quite what all of its components do, it’s time to learn more about its different parts and the way in which they work. While, of course, you already know your machine has a needle, a pedal and a place to hold the thread, you probably don’t know the precise names of each piece of the machine and its precise function. Here, we look at the different components of your sewing machine so that you are better informed.

sewing machine parts

The Needle & Thread Track

The most obvious parts of your sewing machine are the parts which hold the thread and feed it through the fabric as well as those which control the stitch type and the speed that the needle moves at. Some of the key components that work to move the thread and needle include:


    • Needle Clamp Screw – you will notice a turning knob on your machine which is called a needle clamp screw. This can be turned to either release the needle and remove it or tighten it back up again.
    • Foot Controller or Pedal – when using a sewing machine, having both hands free is pretty important if you want to have a straight, neat line. This means that you need another way to control your needle’s starting and stopping as well as its speed and this is why you have a foot pedal or controller. This pedal sits on the floor and is connected to your machine using a cord. Similar to a car gas pedal, you simply press it downwards to begin stitching, and the more you press your foot down, the faster the needle will move. If you take your foot off the pedal, the needle will stop.

foot pedal

  • Hand Wheel – the hand wheel enables you to lower or raise your needle manually. Although it won’t be used when you’re sewing in the regular way, it does control the location of the needle when you need to take the fabric off the machine. This is because if you use the foot pedal to move the needle, it will move too quickly for you to be able to control where it stops.

Fabric Movement & Control Components

While you operate your sewing machine, the fabric is mechanically moved backwards or forwards while the stitching mechanism moves the needle and feeds through the thread. There are three key parts which control this operation.

      • Feed Dogs – these are located under the material and work in conjunction with the presser foot to move the fabric backwards or forwards. Found inside the needle plate (this is the rectangle that is made of metal and which is under the presser foot and needle), the feed dogs sometimes have to be dropped so that fabric can be manually moved to complete a difficult stitch pattern, for example when doing quilting.
      • Presser Foot – this part of your machine is the part which you lower into the right place once you have aligned the fabric properly on the machine. The presser foot holds down the fabric, keeping it pressed firmly to the feed dogs. There is a groove in the middle, and this gives the needle an open space so it can pass easily through the material. There will also be a lever, generally found on the rear of the machine, and this will drop down the presser foot or raise it as necessary.

    presser foot

    • Reverse Stitch Lever – the reverse stitch lever reverses the fabric’s feed direction so you can double back if you need to in order to stitch the same section a second time. This is often done when at the start or end of a section that you are sewing since it stops loose threads from becoming unravelled and strengthens your seams.

Other Key Parts

Although these are the main parts of your machine, there are several other parts which have a key role to play in your sewing experience. These include:

  • Stitch width control – this sliding lever can be moved in order to allow you to make your stitch narrower or wider depending on your needs.
  • Stitch indicator – this will show you the type of stitch that you are using at any one time. Since most modern sewing machines allow you to select between a number of different stitch types this is very useful if you haven’t used your machine for a while.
  • Thread guide – this little metal hole on the needle shaft has your thread wound through it. This ensures that your thread stays on the correct path and in the right alignment while you sew.
  • Bobbin cover plate – this is the piece of metal which slides into place over the space where the bobbin has been fitted. It forms part of the surface on which you’ll place your fabric as you sew.

Although some sewing machines have more complex features such as buttonhole levers, super pattern group selectors, automatic needle threaders and thread cutters, these are not on every machine and aren’t necessary for the function of the machine.

What’s Next

Now that you know the various key parts of a sewing machine, you are much better able to discuss it knowledgeably without being confused or out of your depth. It’s the perfect time to check out one of our buying guides, since you’ll understand more concretely what we’re talking about when we refer to various components and features. Find reviews and recommendations for the best beginner sewing machines here, or head to our homepage for links to all our content.