How Does a Sewing Machine Work? All Information You Need To Know
Cover Image: How Does a Sewing Machine Work?

Although it’s easy to use, the sewing machine is probably one of the most controversial inventions in history, as plenty of people have tried and failed to make one that actually works. Plus, there were plenty of problems with patents over the years, so the machine that you actually use today is very different compared to the first one ever invented. Since the journey of the modern sewing machine was long and tedious, one can’t help but wonder: How does a sewing machine work?

What Is a Sewing Machine and Is It Hard to Use?

Woman seamstress work on the sewing-machine

Obviously, it’s a machine that sews, but how it does that is a question with a much more complex answer. There are tons of different types of sewing machines, but generally speaking, machines have an electric motor that operates a tiny needle that goes up and down to create stitches.

This electric motor is what powers the entire machine. This component is hidden inside the machine’s main stem, and it connects to your socket via a power cord. This electric motor will power up three mechanisms that are coordinated and operate the machine itself. Two of these mechanisms are used to operate the feed dog and the presser foot. These two parts of your sewing machines are designed to work together in order to grip the material and make the stitches.

If you own an electronic machine, you should know that there’s a microchip controlling it, which allows for a variety of decorative stitches to be made.

Step by Step: How Does it Work?

Closeup of a female tailor using a sewing machine and some thread on a shirt

A lot of people think that the job of a sewing machine is to replicate the traditional running stitch that people used to make by hand, which falsely leads them to believe that a sewing machine is probably a basic sort of contraption that looks to mimic the hand’s sewing movements. The truth is that sewing machines are made from a variety of different components and mechanisms that work together so that there’s as little effort as possible on behalf of the sewer.

Explaining the works of a sewing machine isn’t an easy job, because it operates in different ways to make all sorts of stitches and patterns that you may have heard of. What we’re going to go is give you a general idea of how the most important parts of the mechanism work.

The electric motor that powers your sewing machine is generally located at the opposite end from the needle area. With a pulley system, it operates the handwheel that you turn in order to make slow stitches and the main power shaft.

The Needle Mechanism

sewing machine and item of clothing

Imagine two wheels that are connected to one another with a shaft. One of these wheels is connected to the sewing machine’s needle. As one of the wheels is turned, the other one operates a crank that makes the needle go up and down, thus creating your stitches.

The Bobbin & Shuttle Mechanism

The shuttle and hook are two components that use the needle thread in order to make stitches. That means that they have to operate at a larger speed than the actual movements of the needle. The shaft we talked about earlier has to operate the shutter faster, and typically uses a set of gears to do go.

The Feed-Dog Mechanism

a close up shot of sewing machine feed teeth

The feed-dog is responsible for moving the fabric through the machine in a sort of slow motion so that you won’t make multiple stitches in the same piece of material. It also has to make sure that this fabric movement occurs at a steady speed because otherwise there would be differences between the lengths of your stitches.

The feed-dog moves both forward and upward at the same time, thanks to two mechanisms that are connected with a shaft. Picture an egg-shaped mechanism located right in the middle of a shaft. When the wheels at the end of the shaft turn, the crank forces that egg to move as well, which is what operated the feed-dog and makes it move left and right.

While this egg-shaped part operates the feed-dog, the wheels at the ends of the shaft will make the needle move up and down. At this point, it’s important to note that all of these components are perfectly timed so that the needle and the feed-dog are in perfect sync.

How Stitches Are Created

closeup of woman with a sewing machine and blue jeans hem

Of course, a sewing machine is a very complex mechanism, but the three operations we’ve shown you above are pretty much all you need to know about how such a machine works. Because the three mechanisms we talked about earlier are synchronized, the results are stitches of equal sizes.

However, some of you might still be curious about the steps required to make an actual stitch, so here it goes:

  • When you power on your sewing machine, the needle starts moving downwards towards your piece of fabric. What happens inside the machine as the needle descends is that the length of the thread used to make the stitch is being fed to your needle.
  • When the needle comes in contact with the fabric and punctures it, it leaves behind the thread that forms the actual stitch. When the needle rises, you will notice how it leaves thread behind. What’s interesting is that it will also leave a loop of thread that helps create the next stitch.
  • As the needle is rising, there’s another thing going on underneath the piece of fabric you’re sewing. The shuttle hook drags the thread loop around to lock it around the bobbin thread. The rising needle will tighten the thread and release it from the shuttle hook.
  • As the needle continues to rise, it basically pulls the thread with it, making sure the previously-created stitch is tight.

Bottom Line

Of course, each stitch that your sewing machine can make follows a different series of steps. What we’ve shown you are the basics of how a sewing machine operates, but know that this information can vary from one type of sewing machine to another.

The three mechanisms described above might differ slightly depending on the sewing machine you own, but the principles of how they operate remain the same. If you’re still not clear on how it works, just Google a diagram or animation video that better visualizes what you should know.