Sewing Machine Parts: What Are They Called and What Do They Do?

QuiltNotes Learning Center

Last Updated June 15, 2018

WatWhen something goes wrong as you are sewing, you should be able to quickly diagnose and fix the problem. Obviously, you can’t fix a problem if you don’t know what the problem is. This article describes the basic parts of most sewing machines. Your best source of information is the user manual for your machine.


Today most sewing machines are powered by electricity. You will have a power cord and a foot pedal. The power cord and foot pedal can be two separate items, or they can be combined into one item. One side of the power cord plugs into the socket on the side or back of the machine. The other side of the power cord plugs into the electric wall socket. The power switch is generally located near the socket on the machine. The foot pedal plugs into its own socket near the power socket.

Foot pedals are lightweight. As a result, the foot pedal tends to slide around. Use the ideas from this video to keep your foot pedal from slip-sliding away.

The Lockstitch

Most home sewing machines use a lockstitch to hold the threads together. A lockstitch uses two threads. These are a top thread and a bobbin thread. To see how a lockstitch is made, check out the article, How a Lockstitch Is Made.

Top Thread

Place the top thread on thread pin along with a spool cap. The thread pin can be vertical or horizontal as shown below.

thread pin sewing machine parts

Spool caps are important because they allow the thread to unwind evenly from the spool. The video below demonstrates this.

Place the thread over the spool pin and affix the correct size spool cap. Now you are ready to wind thread onto the bobbin. If the thread spool does not fit on the spool pin, read the article, Stands For Thread Cones and Spools.


One of the first things you’ll do before starting a project is wind thread onto the bobbin. the bobbin winder is usually located at the top right of the sewing machine. It has a thread pin for the bobbin and some sort of device to stop the winding when the bobbin is full.

Winding the Bobbin

In the picture below, you see the bobbin pin on the right. The bobbin pin is positioned at the left of the slot cut out of the machine cover. Once the thread is wound around the bobbin a few times, this pin is slid to the right for winding.  On the lower left you see a threading diagram for winding the bobbin.

bobbin winder sewing machine parts

The video below shows how to thread the bobbin on a Singer VIVO machine. You will see a vertical spool pin and a spool cap in use. This video also talks about using a metal bobbin instead of a plastic bobbin. Because each brand is different, be sure to check the user guide for which bobbin to use.

Inserting the Bobbin into the Machine

Next you will insert the bobbin into the machine. There are two different bobbin configurations: the first is the drop-in bobbin and the second is the side or front-loading bobbin. The video below shows how to  load a drop-in bobbin.

Next, this video shows how to load a front or side-load bobbin.

Pull the bobbin thread from the bobbin area, through the needle plate and onto the bed of the machine.

Threading the Sewing Machine

The next video shows the basic steps to threading a sewing machine. Be sure to check the user guide for your machine.

Bring the Bobbin Thread Up

The next video shows how to bring the bobbin thread up to the machine bed. The hand-wheel is used in this video because this is a mechanical machine. Computer machines will have a button that causes the machine to make a single stitch. Use either of these methods to bring up the bobbin thread.

Adjusting Top Thread Tension

On most home machines, the dealer or factory has set the tension for common threads. If you use different weights of thread, you might need to adjust the tension to have pretty stitches. Watch this video to learn how to adjust thread tension.

Needle Bar and Presser Foot

The picture below shows the needle bar on the left, the presser foot bar in the middle and the presser foot lever on the right.

Needle, Needle Bar, Needle Clamp Screw

Insert the needle into the needle bar. Watch the video to see how the needle is placed in the needle bar and tightened with the needle clamp screw.

Presser Foot, Presser Foot Lever & Presser Foot Pressure

The presser foot holds the fabric in place during stitching. Use the presser foot lever to raise and lower the presser foot. The lever is located in the back of most machines.  Additionally, use the adjustment dial at the top of the machine to adjust the pressure.

Feed Dogs

The presser foot and feed dogs work together. Feed dogs are a set of metal teeth near the needle of a sewing machine. The teeth move up and back to move the fabric. Next the feed dogs drop down below the needle plate and move forward for the next stitch. As an illustration, the next video shows feed dogs in action.

Needle Plate

The needle plate, sometimes called the throat plate, sits atop the feed dog area. Switch needle plates out for straight stitching or decorative stitching. Read the article, Needle Plate for more information.

Some Tips From Other Sewists

Finally, here are a few tips.

How to Easily Thread A Needle

Why Is The Needle Thumping?

Subscribe for updates