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Buying a Sewing Machine for Beginners

Buying a new sewing machine can be confusing for some people. The number of new words seem to keep growing all the time. People talking about how good their sewing machine range tend to use a lot of technical terms and jargon. As a beginner you may be aware of some of the sewing machine terminology but some may leave you a little confused. It certainly did for me.

Yes, I had taken lessons in using a sewing machine in the Home Economics classes but a lot has moved on there and some new techinques and features have been developed since those early days.

So allow me to list some of the features commonly used today. If there are any others you come across which I may have missed then please let me know. (Using my contact page ensures I always get your email securely.) I will add the new terms to this page as I get to realise I missed any. The same applies if you think I have not explained a term clearly enough. I want to help you when you are buying a sewing machine for beginners.

So here we go Your Guide To Buying A Sewing Machine Jargon.


A bobbin is a small spool for holding thread. Most sewing machines now use two threads to make a stitch. Sewing machines use two threads to make a stitch. The first one (in the sewing needle) comes downward through the cloth or garment material. The bobbin thread is coming upward from underneath the needle platen. You will need to wind this thread onto this bobbin before you can begin sewing. Don’t worry so many sewing machines have a auto thread winder nowadays. That one feature will save you hours of time each year. Look for it.


Most sewing machines nowadays will generate buttonhole styles for you. I would not recommend you buying a sewing machine that did not do it. Many cheaper machines use a four step process (you need to sew along all four edges of teh buttonhole separately) which is far more time consuming and I would recommend you go for a 1-step process machine. The fewer the steps, the easier it will be for you to sew a button hole.

Feed dogs:

These are the saw shaped teeth that move the fabric through the machine. (don’t ask me why dogs) As the needle starts to sew the feed dogs grab the material and move it along for you at the proper speed.

You may come across the term “Drop Feed Dogs” which simply means that they can be used in either the up or down position. If you are wanting to use your sewing machine for embroidery then you will be able to drop the feed dogs into a down position and you can easily freely move the fabric under the needle. This is sometimes known as Integrated Drop Feed.

Free arm:

I found this confusing at first. I thought the arm was free to swing around to the side. What it actually means is removing the cylinder on the bed of the sewing machine to allow your to stitch sleeves and trouser legs etc. Usually very easy to switch back to the normal flat bed sewing style.

Integrated duel feed:

This is a handy sewing machine feature used when you are sewing two pieces of material together and need to have a fully smooth and equal speed of the two fabrics.

Knee lifter:

No it does not lift your knee whilst you are sewing. That would be too distracting when you are working. That is for your husband to do later when you are finished your sewing job.

A knee lifter is a lever that can be lifted with your knee. This is used to drop the feed dogs with taking your hands off the fabric you are guiding through the sewing needles. Especially useful if you are doing quilting or embroidery or need to sew around curves or a fancy design.

Lock stitch facility:

This is found on some sewing machines. The sewing is done very slightly in reverse and forward at the start and end of a stitching line. Very useful as it minimises the risk of your stitch unravelling.

Needle Plate sometimes called Needle Platen:

The needle plate is that part of your sewing machine which fits over the feed dogs underneath the sewing needle. It has a hole in it so the needle can pass through.

Presser foot:

The presser foot is designed to push the fabric down onto the feed dogs so it does not move around whilst you are sewing — except where it meant to go of course. Some sewing machines will come with a number of different types of presser feet designed for different jobs.

Stitch selector:

On some machines usually the more basic models you will select the type of stitch you want to do. On other machines you select buttons to push. Where there are a large number of different stitching varieties it may be a mix of the two. One ot select the family of stitches then to choose the option with that group. There will usually a chart showing all the different varieties your sewing machine can do.on the side of the machine facing you

Twin needle:

A twin needle sewing machine produces a double row of stitches in parallel all along the stitching line. This can produce a stronger and a more decorative seam.

I recommend a range of sewing machines for beginners. They end to fall within a price range that could be both affordable by most people but are simple enough to be called a sewing machine for beginners. Yet this sewing machine needs to be versatile enough to be used for some years as your skills will grow fast and you will want to do a wider range of sewing projects. See the Singer sewing machines and the Brother sewing machine I recommend to you.

What is a overlocker sewing machine?

sewing machine designed for overlocking (photo)Firstly I would point out an overlocker (also called a Serger Machine) is NOT the same as a sewing machine. Although some sales people might claim that the overlocker is the next stage up from a ordinary sewing machine. That will usually give them a bigger commision on your purchase.

It is not the same.

Generally overlockers are professional machines in industrial premises where they are used together with sewing machines. In those circumstances they are being used to trim and wrap the edge of the fabric, preventing it from fraying. They are in those cases often used for sewing seams that need to be strong.

But you can also use them for attaching tapes that need to be pulled regularly to tie in bows etc. (think aprons). However a serger could also be used for elastic, beads and most commonly blind hemming.

However if you are tempted to buy a Serger or overlocking machine rather than buy a sewing machine be aware you will lose a lot of versatility. In additon many tasks will require special attachments which may not be available on all the basic overlockers. Read more about Over lock sewing machines on Wikipedia although even here they use the term sewing machine as well.

If there are any other pieces of sewing machine terminology that you are looking to understand I apologise for missing them. However please use the Contact Nancy form and I will get back to you with a detailed answer as quickly as I can.