How To Sew A Seam, Either By Hand Or With A Sewing Machine

how to sew a seam

A seam is a line of stitching that joins two pieces of material. Sounds simple, right? But there are many different types of seams, and each has its own procedure, appearance, and usage. You can sew a seam by hand or by machine. Either way, it’s not hard if you have the tools and know the techniques.

Different Types of Seams

decorative seams

So you need to join your pattern pieces. Of course you want to do it in a way that’s both effective and attractive. That means it’s time to choose the type of seam that you’re going to use.

Decorative Seams

Decorative seams, as you probably guessed, are there to enhance the appearance of your project. This type of seam may join pattern pieces, but in addition, they may:

  • Add shape to a garment
  • Enhance the structure of part of a garment or other item
  • Add color, texture, or other visual interest

Decorative seams are made to be seen, so technique and attention to detail are important. Some types of decorative seams include:

  • Princess seam
  • Channel seam
  • Linen seam
  • Pleated seam
  • Abutted seam

Want to seam what we’re talking about? Here’s a princess seam before, during, and after construction.

Functional Seams

Functional seams hold your item together. They’re meant to bear weight, stress, and strain. They should be strong, but they can also be decorative. Some examples of functional seams include:

  • Straight seam
  • Lapped seam
  • French seam
  • Flat felled seam

Here’s how to sew an attractive and functional French seam.

Single Seams

A single seam is a single row of stitching that joins two pieces of material. The seam edges may or may not be finished, but they will always end up on the inside (or reverse side) of your item. Depending on your fabric, you may want to finish your seam edges by pinking or serging them off, or by using a finishing technique like the Hong Kong finish, shown in the video below.

Double Seams

You’ll know double seams by their two parallel rows of stitching. The double rows make the seam very strong. They can also add a decorative touch. You can use a double row to seal off seam edges, too. This can be especially helpful if your fabric is prone to fraying. 

The flat felled seam, shown below, is a common double seam used in bluejeans.

Open Seams

Open seams leave the seam edges exposed. This is fine if the edges will end up on the inside (wrong side) of your project. It’s also acceptable if you’re working with a fray-resistant fabric.

On the other hand, if your fabric is subject to fraying, or if you simply want a tidier finish, you might want to use a closed seam.

Closed Seams

Closed seams enclose the seam edges within the seam. Some examples of closed seams include:

  • French seam
  • Lapped seam
  • Flat felled seam

Have you chosen your seam? Great! It’s time to get sewing!

How to Sew a Seam by Hand

If you don’t have access to a sewing machine, or don’t have the time to learn how to use a sewing machine right now, don’t worry! You can sew a seam by hand. 

What You’ll Need

  • The appropriate needle for your fabric
  • Your thread (remember to match synthetics with synthetic thread and natural fabrics with cotton thread)
  • Scissors or snips
  • Pins
  • Tailor’s chalk or a fabric marker (optional)
  • Ruler (optional)
  • Beeswax (optional)
  • Needle threader (optional)
  • Pinking shears (optional)
  • Iron (optional)

Step 1: Prepare Your Fabric

Mary Poppins once said, “well begun is half done.” When it comes to sewing, it’s absolutely true. By setting up your fabric and your tools, you’re setting yourself up for success.

First, if you’re working with fabric that’s prone to wrinkles, iron it to make sure it lays flat. This will ensure that your pattern pieces fit together the way they’re meant to.

Next, line up your fabric edges. Don’t be sloppy, or your finished product will be sloppy as well.

Pin your pieces together. This will keep them from slipping and sliding around while you sew.

Finally, mark your seam line with a washable fabric pen or tailor’s chalk. Use a ruler for extra precision. It’s a lot easier to sew along a line than to try to eyeball your seam while sewing. 

If you take the time to be organized and precise, your project will have a greater chance of turning out the way you want it to.

Step 2: Prepare Your Needle and Thread

Step 2 is optional, but many people find it helpful.

First, start with the right needle. For fine fabrics, use a thin, sharp needle. This will minimize damage to the fabric. For thicker fabrics, you can use a thicker needle.

Snip your thread end at an angle. This will decrease the fuzz at the end, which can make it hard to thread the needle.

Dabbing beeswax onto your thread end can make the thread stiffer, which also makes it easier to poke it through the needle’s eye.

You can also use a needle threader. This is especially helpful if you’re working with a very small, very thin needle.

Now, thread your needle. You can choose to sew with a single thread, or, for a stronger stitch, pull the thread halfway through your needle, so that your needle is sitting halfway between your thread ends. Now, knot the thread ends together.

Step 3: Choose Your Stitch

There are a number of stitches you can choose from, but often the most straightforward stitches are the best. They’ll get you where you need to go quickly and with a minimum of fuss.

The straight stitch is the most basic sewing stitch. Some people also call this stitch a running stitch. It’s easy. Up and down in a straight line, from beginning to end. Here’s how it’s done.

A backstitch is another simple stitch. You might use this one if you want a stronger row of stitches.

Step 4: Sew Your Seam

Fabric prepared? Stitch chosen? Needle threaded? Now you’re ready to sew!

Before you begin, secure your thread end. If you’ve already knotted the ends together, this will suffice. You can also use one of these techniques.

Now, using your chosen stitch, sew along the line you marked earlier.

Step 5: Tie off Your Stitch

When you’ve completed your seam, it’s time to tie off your stitch. There are a number of ways to do this, including:

  • Tying a knot
  • Using a finishing stitch
  • Making a French knot
  • Using a backstitch

For a detailed photo tutorial of these and other methods, check out our article, How to Tie Off a Stitch.

Step 6: Finish Your Edges (Optional)

If you’re working with a fray-resistant fabric, or if you’ve chosen a seam that encloses the seam allowance, then you don’t have to finish your edges. 

But if your fabric is likely to unravel, or if you simply want a tidy finish, then you might want to finish your edges. 

If you’re sewing by hand, the easiest way to do this is to trim the seam allowance with pinking shears. 

Advanced finishing techniques like a Hong Kong Finish are easier with a sewing machine. But if you have the time and patience, you can also adapt the technique to hand sewing.

Step 7: Iron Your Seam (Optional)

Ironing your seam on the right side of the fabric will help it to lie flat. This, in turn, will make your item look more professional and attractive.

How to Sew a Seam With a Sewing Machine

If you have a sewing machine, it’s easy to make a fast, strong, and precise seam.

What You’ll Need

  • Your sewing machine
  • The appropriate sewing machine needle for your fabric
  • Suitable thread for your fabric
  • Scissors
  • Pins
  • Beeswax (optional)
  • Pinking shears (optional)
  • Fabric stabilizer (optional)
  • Sewing machine needle threader (optional)
  • Iron (optional)

Step 1: Prepare Your Fabric

Preparing your fabric for machine sewing is similar to preparing it for hand sewing. You’ll need to:

  • Iron the fabric, unless it’s wrinkle-resistant
  • Line up your fabric edges
  • Pin your seam together

You might want to mark your seam line at this point. You could also use the guide on your sewing machine’s feed cover plate to eyeball your seam line.

Also, if your fabric is slippery, lightweight, or doesn’t hold its shape well, you might want to stabilize it. If your fabric is machine washable, you can use a wash-out spray stabilizer. If it’s not, you can stabilize your fabric by pinning tissue paper, tracing paper, or a commercial tear-away stabilizer to the back.

Step 2: Prepare Your Needle and Thread

Always use a new needle for every project.

In addition, there are a bewildering number of needles on the market. It’s important to choose the right sewing machine needle for your fabric.

  • Universal needles work well for many, but not all fabrics.
  • For woven fabrics, use a ballpoint needle to minimize fabric damage.
  • Use a stretch needle (jersey needle) for stretch fabrics.
  • Thick materials like denim or leather need a sharp needle rated for that material.
  • Lighter fabrics need a smaller, thinner, lighter needle.
  • Match your needle size with your thread weight.
  • Also match metallic thread with a metallic thread needle.

Regarding thread, match your thread to your fabric. Choose synthetic thread for working with synthetic fabrics, and cotton thread for natural fiber fabrics.

Also, polyester thread has a natural stretch, so use this, rather than cotton thread, if you’re working with a stretchy fabric.

Just like when threading a hand sewing needle, using beeswax on your thread end can make threading a sewing machine needle easier.

You can thread your needle using your sewing machine’s automatic needle threader. If your sewing machine doesn’t have one, however, you can use a sewing machine needle threader.

Step 3: Choose Your Stitch

A straight stitch is most people’s stitch of choice. However, if you’re working with stretchy fabrics, then choose one of your sewing machine’s stretch stitches

If your sewing machine has an overlock or serging stitch, you can also use this to simultaneously sew your seam and finish your edges.

Here are some other types of stitches and their uses.

Step 4: Sew Your Seam

Line up your fabric with the appropriate markings on your feed cover plate. Alternately, if you’ve marked your seam line, line that up with your needle and sew your seam.

To secure your row, sew a locking stitch at the beginning of the row and at the end. Here’s how.

Step 5: Finish Your Edges (Optional)

As with hand sewing, you can finish your raw edges to keep them from fraying, or to give your item a more professionally finished work.

Here are a few different ways to finish your edges.

Step 6: Iron Your Seam (Optional)

Again, ironing your seam on the wrong side will help it to lay flat, and give your project a more finished look.

It’s Easier Than it “Seams”

It might look like a lot of steps for a straightforward task. But if you use the right tools and take the time to do it right, it’s easy to make a strong, attractive seam.

What’s your favorite seam? Do you have a technique that can make it easier for our readers? Tell us all about it in the comments!

How To Sew A Seam By Hand Or Sewing Machine

How To Tie Off A Stitch: End & Finish Your Sewing Like A Pro

how to tie off a stitch

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TL;DR

To end a stitch when you’re sewing by hand, stop with several inches of thread left. Bring the needle under your last stitch and make a loop large enough to insert your finger. Now, bring the needle through the loop and pull it tight to form a knot. Finishing stitches on a sewing machine is just as easy. You can lock the stitch or tie it off. We’ll explain how.

It sounds so simple: finish your row of stitches and tie it off. You might even think about skipping that step. Don’t! The truth is, though, there are many ways to secure your stitches, whether you’re sewing by hand or by machine. Some work better than others. Confused? No worries. We’ll show you several different ways to secure your stitches.

What You’ll Need to Complete This Tutorial

If you’re sewing by hand, both the tools and the technique will be different than for machine sewing. 

Tools for Ending a Row of Hand Stitching

Tools for Ending a Row of Machine Stitching

  • Sewing machine
  • Thread
  • Scissors or snips (optional if your machine has a thread cutter)
  • Your project

6 Ways to Tie off a Stitch By Hand

The simplest way to tie off a row of hand stitching is to make a knot at the end. There are several ways to do this.

Tying off a Double Thread, Method 1

My mother taught me to always use a double thread for hand sewing. It makes the stitches stronger, and it’s easier to tie off when you’re finished. There are actually a few ways of tying off a double thread. Here’s the first.

Step 1

Make the final stitch in your row. Make sure to leave a few inches of thread at the end. You’ll need this to make your knot.

Step 2

Now, separate the two threads. Bring one of the threads over the other then under. Pull just enough to bring the threads to the edge of the fabric. Don’t pull too tightly, or it will pucker the stitches. This is the first part of your first knot.

Step 3

Repeat Step 3, pulling the knot tight.

Step 4 (optional)

I like to make at least one more knot after this. Some people even make two more.

Step 5

Snip off your thread end.

Tying Off a Double Thread, Method 2 (Finishing Stitch)

Here’s a third method to tie off your double thread sewing and keep your stitches secure.

Step 1

Finish your row of stitches, leaving a few inches of thread at the end.

Step 2

Bring your needle down through the fabric near the end of your final stitch. Don’t pull it tight. Rather, leave a loop.

Step 3

Now bring your needle back up, very close to where you brought it down. 

Step 4

Insert your needle through the loop and gently pull it down to the fabric. Don’t pull too tightly! Leave a smaller loop.

Step 5

Now bring your needle through the loop again and give it a final pull.

Step 6

Snip off your thread end.

Watch this method in action below.

Tying Off a Double Thread, Method 3 (Back Stitch)

With this method, you’ll be using the previous stitch to secure your finishing stitch.

Step 1

Sew the final stitch in your row, making sure to leave a few inches of extra thread at the end.

Step 2

Bring your needle back under the last stitch, forming a loop.

Step 3

Now, pass your needle through the loop. Pull gently until the knot settles onto the fabric.

Step 4

To secure the row, repeat steps 2 and 3 to make a second knot.

Step 5

Now, snip your thread ends.

Confused? This is how it’s done.

Tying Off a Double Thread, Method 4 (End-Off Backstitch)

An end-off backstitch, or back tack, is an easy and secure way of tying off a row of hand stitching. 

Step 1

Finish your stitching, leaving several inches of extra thread at the end.

Step 2

Now, bring your needle around, inserting it back into the fabric just after the end of your last completed stitch.

Step 3

Bring the needle back up through the fabric, very close to where you brought it up at the end of your row of stitches. Now you have a loop. Pull the thread gently until it sits against your fabric.

Step 4

Repeat steps 2 and 3 twice more. But do not pull your last loop tight.

Step 5

Finally, bring your needle through the final loop. Now pull it tight.

Step 6

Snip your thread ends.

This is how it’s done.

Tying Off a Double Thread, Method 5

This is a quick and dirty way of tying off your thread. It may take a bit of practice to get the knot to sit perfectly on your fabric, though.

Step 1

Stitch until the end of your row, leaving a few inches of thread at the end.

Step 2

Bring the needle around to form a loop large enough to insert your finger.

Step 3

Now, holding the loop to your fabric with your finger, double back with the needle. Bring the needle through the loop and pull gently. Use your finger to keep the knot snug against your fabric.

Step 4

Repeat the knot if you like. This part is optional.

Step 5

Snip off your thread end.

Tying off a Single Thread

There are occasions when you’ll want to use a single thread instead of a double thread. You can tie off your single thread stitching using the finishing stitch, backstitch or end-off backstitch methods above. You can also try this.

Step 1

End your row of stitches, leaving several inches of thread at the end with which to make your knot.

Step 2

Bring your needle back over the last stitch, like you would for a backstitch or end-off backstitch. 

Step 3

Insert your needle behind your last stitch and gently pull to form a loop.

Step 4

Run your needle through the loop. Now do it again.

Step 5

Pull your knot tight and snip your thread ends.

Watch how it’s done here.

How to End a Row of Machine Stitches

If you’re using a sewing machine, there are a few ways to secure your stitches. 

Method 1: Making a Lockstitch

A lockstitch is an easy way to secure a row of stitches using a sewing machine.

Step 1

Sew three to five stitches forward. Stop.

Step 2

Reverse over those three to five stitches. Stop.

Step 3

Sew back over the stitches one more time. 

Step 4

Now you can snip your threads with confidence.

Want to see how it’s done? Check this out.

Method 2: Using the Auto-Finish Function

Some sewing machines have a lockstitch button. This button makes a lockstitch for you, automatically, so that you don’t have to manually sew, reverse, and sew again. Some even fancier machines, like in the video below, will allow you to program lockstitches into sequences of stitches.

Method 3: Tying Off by Hand

Can you tie off a row of machine stitches by hand? Absolutely! We would use Method 5, above.

Specialty Tie-Off Techniques

Sometimes a regular tie-off isn’t exactly the right thing. Here are a few specialized tie-off techniques for tricky situations.

Hiding Your Knot Between Layers

With a lot of hand sewing projects, it’s fine to leave the starting and finishing knots on the wrong side of your project. But some projects, for example quilts, don’t have a wrong side. Hand quilting takes a lot of effort, and you don’t want to ruin that effort by leaving unsightly knots on either surface.

Here’s how you hide a finishing knot between fabric layers.

Step 1

As always, leave four to six inches of thread after the final stitch in your row.

Step 2

Loop your needle around to the end of the previous stitch, as if you were making a backstitch.

Step 3

Now, bring your needle through the loop and pull it snug but not tight.

Step 4

Now, loop your needle again, going the opposite direction, that is, from the end of the stitch you just made to the beginning.

Step 5

Bring your needle through the loop and pull snug.

Step 6

Now, insert your needle through the middle of the stitch and bring it under the top layer of fabric only. Gently pull.

Step 7

Finally, snip off your thread end and smooth your fabric so that the attached thread end is hidden underneath the top fabric layer.

Watch the process here.

Another Way to Hide a Knot

Here’s another way to hide an end knot. You don’t have to have multiple layers of fabric, but it helps.

This method uses a quilter’s knot to secure the row of stitches. Quilters use this knot at the beginning of a row of hand quilted stitches. You can also use it at the end.

Step 1

Finish your row of stitches, leaving several inches of extra thread.

Step 2

Wrap the thread three times around the needle.

Step 3

Now, while holding the knot, reinsert the needle back into the fabric close to where it came out, and pull it tight. It may take a bit of practice to make the knot, but keep working at it.

Pull it until the knot disappears back beneath the top fabric layer. 

Step 4

Now snip your thread end and gently pull the fabric until the thread end disappears.

Here’s how it’s done.

Hiding Your Finish in a Seam

If your row of stitching finishes in a seam, you can use any of the above finishing methods then hide the knot and thread ends inside the seam.

Final Thoughts

If a job is worth doing, it’s doing right. And there are a lot of right ways to finish off a row of stitching! Whether you’re sewing by hand or sewing by machine, the right technique can keep your stitches secure and attractive.

Did you enjoy our tutorial? Do you have a favorite technique that might help our readers? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

how to end a stitch

What Is A Seam? Different Types & How To Use Them Correctly

what is a seam

What is a seam? The answer might “seam” simple at first. It’s a row of stitching that joins two pieces of fabric or material. But there’s a lot more to it than that. There are different seams for different purposes. There are also a variety of techniques for joining fabric in different ways. Knowing which seam to use and how to form it can help you to make the most of your project.

What is a Seam, Exactly?

The simplest definition is this: a seam is a row of stitching that joins two pieces of fabric or material. But after that, things get a bit more complicated.

There are functional seams, which make up the construction of a garment. There are also decorative seams, which shape and decorate that garment.

Flat seams sit, well, flat, while ridge seams form a ridge or bump. Inconspicuous seams hide on the inside of the garment, while conspicuous seams are meant for the world to see.

And on top of that, each of these categories contains a number of different seams, each with their own purpose and technique. 

How are Seams Used in Garments?

The first division is functional and decorative seams. It’s a bit of a misnomer, as decorative seams, too, serve a function. Let’s have a look.

Garment Construction

Most clothing consists of fabric pieces joined together with seams. 

Side seams go up the side of a garment, attaching front and back pieces. Back seams (and sometimes front seams) join left and right pieces. A shoulder seam holds a top together at the shoulders. An inseam runs along the insides of trouser legs, joining the pieces there.

Decoration

“Decoration” sounds frivolous, but it’s not. Decorative seams don’t just add visual appeal to a garment. They also give the garment shape and help to shape it to the body.

One type of decorative seam that does a lot of heavy lifting is the Princess seam. Princess seams are most often seen in women’s wear. They shape the bodice of a garment to a curved bust and waistline, eliminating the need for darts.

The linen seam joins two pieces of material at the edges using a decorative or embroidery stitch. It’s not particularly strong, but it is pretty.

A channel seam forms an open channel over a contrasting piece of material, so that when the wearer moves, the seam opens to reveal a flash of color or pattern.

These are but a few examples.

Pleats

Pleats are folds sewn into a garment, for example a skirt. They add fullness to the garment, as well as shape and movement. It’s a clever way to add space to a garment without increasing its width.

pleated hem

Pleats can be vertical or horizontal. They may be crucial to the structure, or they may be primarily decorative. Either way, though, a seam is crucial for securing the pleated piece and attaching to the garment.

Seam Guide: Different Types of Seams

We’ve examined seams by function, and seen some of their applications as far as garment making. Let’s have a look at specific seam designs.

Single Seams

Single seams involve, you guessed it: a single row of stitches. Here are some common ones.

Plain Seam

A plain seam is exactly what it sounds like: the simplest possible joining of two pieces of fabric or material. 

Plain seams typically use a straight stitch or tight zigzag stitch, and leave a seam allowance of one-quarter, three-eighths, or half an inch. 

To make a plain seam, place your fabric pieces together with the right sides facing.

flat seam

Line up your fabric edges with the seam guard markings on your needle plate. Stitch, and then press your seam flat.

Clipping your seam allowance after stitching will reduce the seam’s bulk. If you’re sewing on a curve, clip wedge-shaped pieces from the seam allowance along the curve.

seam flat

Lapped Seam

A lapped seam is both decorative and functional. On the surface, it looks similar to a flat felled seam. However, it’s a single seam rather than a double one. Also, a lapped seam doesn’t enclose the seam edges. Rather, you serge off the seam edges on the wrong side of the fabric once you’re finished.

Lapped seams are excellent for:

  • Non-fraying fabrics and materials, such as vinyl
  • Reducing bulk (unlike a French or felled seam)
  • Adding a decorative touch

Here’s how to make a lapped seam.

  1. Lay your first piece of material flat, right side up.
lapped seam 1
  1. Decide on your seam allowance.
  2. Lay the second piece of fabric on top of the first, wrong side up, lining up the edges. Right sides should be together.
lapped seam 2
  1. Fold the top fabric back along the seam allowance so that the right side of the top fabric is showing. 
lapped seam 3
  1. Press if you desire.
  2. Stitch along the folded edge.
lapped seam 4
  1. Turn your work over and serge or overlock the seam edges.
lapped seam 5

Confused? Don’t be. This video will make it clear.

Double Seams

Double seams use two rows of stitches. They tend to be very strong. Many also hide raw seam edges.

Welt Seam

To make a welt seam, first make a plain seam, as above. Then on the back of the fabric, press the seam allowance to one side, and secure it to the fabric with a second row of stitches.

French Seam

A French seam is a double seam that encloses the rough edges of both pieces of fabric. It’s a great seam to use when:

  • The fabric edges fray easily
  • You don’t want the fabric edges or your seam to show

French seams protect the edges, keep them out of sight, and provide a double-strong seam. 

They’re not difficult to make, either, though the setup is a bit different from a plain seam. You may also have to adjust your pattern’s seam allowance.

Here’s how to sew a French seam.

  1. Start with the wrong sides of your fabric pieces together (rather than the right sides).
  2. Stitch the first seam. The video below recommends a half-inch seam allowance, though you might prefer a different allowance.
French seam 1
  1. Trim the seam allowance to around one-quarter inch.
  2. Press the seam flat.
  3. Fold the fabric over so that the right sides are now facing.
French seam 2
  1. Press flat again.
French seam 3
French seam 4
  1. Sew the second seam to encase the raw edges.
French seam 5
  1. Press the new seam to one side.
French seam 6
French seam 7

Watch the entire process below.

Flat Felled Seam

A flat felled seam is a double seam that encloses the raw fabric edges. It’s very strong and durable. For this reason, it’s a favorite on garments meant for heavy wear, such as denim trousers and jackets.

A flat felled seam is similar to a French seam, however there are a few extra steps. The topstitching at the end gives the flat felled seam its very recognizable appearance.

Felled seam 1

Here’s how to make a flat felled seam.

  1. Start with the wrong sides, rather than the right sides, of your fabric pieces together. You will be working on the right side of the fabric.
  2. Stitch the first seam using the seam allowance of your choice.
Felled seam 2
  1. Decide which way your seam will lie. The seam allowance that will be on top is the top. The part of the seam allowance that will lie against the garment unseen is the bottom.
  2. Trim the bottom seam allowance by half.
Felled seam 3
  1. Fold the top  seam allowance over the bottom one to enclose the edges.
  2. Press again to form a sharp crease.
Felled seam 4
Felled seam 5
  1. Now press the entire enclosed seam against the face of the garment.
Felled seam 6
  1. Finally, topstitch the seam down, as close to the folded edge as you can.
Felled seam 7

Want to see the process from start to finish? Check this out.

Slot (Channel) Seam

The slot, or channel seam is a way of adding a pop of color to your project. Structurally, it’s like a double lap stitch, with the laps facing one another.

channel slot seam

The slot seam is both decorative and functional. Here’s how to make it.

  1. Place your two fabric pieces together, right sides touching.
  2. Baste along the seam allowance. You’ll be removing this row of stitches later.
channel slot seam 1
  1. Turn your fabric over and press your seam open.
channel slot seam 2
  1. Now, pin your contrasting strip over the open seam edges.
channel slot seam 3
  1. Turn your work over, and sew two rows of stitches, one on each side of the basted row. How far apart you sew them is your choice, but they should be equidistant from the center.
slot channel seam 4
  1. Take your seam ripper and remove the basted center row.
channel slot seam 5

Here’s another video showing you how it’s done:

Shaping Seams

These are a few types of seams that you can use to add shape to your garment.

Princess Seam

A Princess seam is a way of shaping a top, bodice, dress, or coat to complement a curved bustline and waist. The seam begins at the shoulder, curves slightly inward over the bust, coming back out again at the waist. 

The Princess seam is both structural and decorative. It connects the front panels of a garment, and also adds shape.

Viennese Seam

A Viennese seam is similar to a Princess seam. It’s a curved seam that connects the front panels of a garment, and accentuates a curved waist and bustline. 

Unlike the Princess seam, however, the Viennese seam begins at the armhole, rather than at the shoulder.

Decorative Seams/Seam Finishes

Decorative seams add visual appeal to a garment or project. They may be structural, also. However, many of them are not very strong.

Abutted (Butt) Seam

An abbutted seam joins two pieces of fabric together without overlapping them. There is no seam allowance. Instead, you sew a zigzag stitch over the fabric edges, joining them this way.

abutted seam

It’s not a very strong stitch. However, it’s a good stitch for when you want to reduce bulk, such as when sewing lingerie.

Sheet Seam or Linen Seam

A Sheet Seam, or Linen Seam is a type of abutted seam. Instead of a zigzag stitch, however, you join the pieces together with a decorative stitch.

linen seam

Hong Kong Seam

A Hong Kong seam isn’t so much a seam as the way to finish one. It’s often called a Hong Kong finish.

To add a Hong Kong finish to your seams, you either serge off the seam edges or bind them with seam tape. Using a seam tape of a contrasting pattern or color can add a luxurious touch to the inside of your garment.

This technique is most often used in unlined jackets and garments.

Here’s how to do it:

Knowing What Type of Seam to Use

So now that you have an idea of some of the many seam types out there, how do you know which one you should be using? A good way to tell is to think about what you’re trying to accomplish.

Shaping Your Garment

If you want to shape your garments for a curved body type, think about these.

  • Princess seam
  • Viennese seam

When You Want to Hide the Edges

If you want to hide your raw seam edges, try these.

  • French seam
  • Flat felled seam
  • Hong Kong finish

Securing Fabrics that Fray

If you’re working with a fabric that’s prone to fraying, and you want to secure the edges, these are the seams to think about.

  • French seam
  • Flat felled seam
  • Welt seam 
  • Hong Kong finish

Heavy Duty Seams

For seams that will take a beating and stay strong, you want one of these.

  • Flat felled seam
  • French seam

Decorative Seams

To add some flair to your project, check these out.

  • Channel seam
  • Linen seam
  • Abutted seam
  • Lapped seam
  • Hong Kong finish

Seam Finishes

The “finish” of a seam refers to how you deal with the raw edges of the seam allowance. When using non-fray materials such as vinyl, you can leave the edges raw. However, if you have a fabric that frays easily, you will definitely want to finish those edges. Finishing your seam edges can also add a professional touch to your project.

Pinked Edges

Pinking shears cut the edges of your fabric in a zigzag pattern.

pinking shears in use

You can pink your seam edges for a neat finish, if:

  • The fabric is not overly prone to fraying
  • Your garment will not be worn a lot
  • You won’t be washing the garment often

Zigzag Finish

You can finish most seam edges with a zigzag stitch, as long as the fabric is relatively strong and stable.

Serging Off

If you have a serger or an overlock stitch, you can also serge off your seam edges. You can even do this before sewing your seam.

Clean Finish

If you have a generous seam allowance, you can use this technique to give your seams a professional touch.

On the wrong side of your garment, press your seam flat. Now fold each side of the seam allowance in half, so that the raw edge is on the underside. Press and secure with a straight stitch. Then finish the other side. You can also finish your edges before you sew the seam.

What is Seam Allowance?

When you look at many patterns, you’ll notice that the pattern pieces are larger than you might expect from the measurements of the finished garment. This comes down to seam allowance. Seam allowance is extra width which will accommodate your stitching.

After you’ve stitched your seam, the seam allowance will not figure into the measurement of the garment. You might finish off your seam allowance using one of the finishes we discussed above. You might also trim it.

Seam allowances vary from pattern to pattern. Here are some different standards and when you might use them.

  • A ⅜ inch or half-inch seam allowance is a good general standard.
  • A ¼ inch seam allowance is good for curves, as it doesn’t add a lot of bulk.
  • If you’re serging or overlocking your seams, many experts recommend a ⅜ inch or ½ inch seam allowance.
  • If you’ll be adjusting the fit of your garment, a ⅝ inch seam allowance will give you room to do that.
  • Use a ⅝ inch seam allowance for French or Flat felled seams also.

Seam Sewing Tips

So, now that you know how to choose your seam, and the basics of how to produce it, how can you get the best possible results?

Choose Wisely

Choose the right seam type for your purpose. Do you:

  • Want to hide your edges?
  • Need a strong seam?
  • Plan to sew structure into your garment?
  • Want to add a decorative touch?

If so, there’s a seam for that. So find it.

Stabilize

If you’re working with a fabric that doesn’t like to hold its shape — think chiffon or similar — consider using a stabilizer, such as:

  • A spray-on, wash-out stabilizer
  • Iron-on interfacing
  • Tissue paper pinned to the back of the fabric and removed later

Make Friends with Your Guide Lines

sewing machine seam guide lines

The guide lines are those measurements marked on the needle plate of your sewing machine. Line your fabric edge up with the appropriate line and keep it there while you sew. This will ensure that your seam is straight, and that the measurements of the garment will match the pattern measurement when you’re done.

Take Your Time

It’s just a straight line, right? Wrong! Don’t hurry through your seams, especially if you’re using a complicated or decorative design. Slow down and take the time to do it right.

  • Dial down your sewing machine speed to ensure consistent, high-quality stitching.
  • Remember the old saying, “measure twice, cut once” — or, in this case, stitch once.
  • Check and double check your guide lines.
  • Press your seams and creases.

Clip Your Allowance

If you want to reduce bulk once you’ve sewn your seam, you can clip your seam allowance closer to your line of stitches. If your seam is curved, you’ll want to cut notches along the seam allowance in order to facilitate the curve.

Finish Your Seams

In a lot of cases, you can leave your seam edges raw. After all, they’re on the inside of the garment. No one’s going to see them. 

On the other hand, why not take that extra step and give those edges a nice finish? It doesn’t take that long. It can help your garment to last a bit longer, and to look more professional, too.

For more advice about specific techniques, don’t miss our upcoming article, How to Sew a Seam.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably learned more about seams than you thought there was to know. And this article only scratches the surface!

Seams play a variety of different roles in project construction. From assembling the pieces of a garment, to giving it shape, to adding strength or decorative flair, seams are at the heart of any project. 

What’s your favorite seam to use? Do you have any tips or tricks for people who might want to learn it? We’d love to hear about it in the comments. And if you enjoyed this article, please share it!

different types of sewing seams

Sewing Machine Tension Tips: How To Set Yours Perfectly Every Time

how to set sewing machine tension

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

It’s probably happened to you: skipped stitches, breaking thread, puckering fabric around your sewing line, or even thread nests on the back of your fabric. As diverse as these problems might seem, they all come down to thread tension. Do you know how to adjust tension on a sewing machine? It’s easy, and it can save you a lot of aggravation.

Why Sewing Machine Tension is Important

Your sewing machine has two threads: a top thread and a bottom, or bobbin thread. When you sew, your machine interlocks these two threads to form a chain.

Machine Case GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Your sewing machine holds each of these threads taut as it pulls them through the machine. This helps them to work together to form tight, even, consistent stitches. But if the tension of either thread is off, it can cause problems with your stitching.

When it comes to tension problems, the top thread is usually, though not always, to blame. But many sewing machines allow you to adjust the tension of both threads. We’ll show you how to do that in a little while.

Some sewing machines have an automatic thread tension feature. This feature sets the tension for the type of sewing you’re doing at any given time. However, there will be times when you want to do that fine tuning yourself. Specifically, certain fabrics and thread types may require a bit of manual adjustment to get your stitches just right.

Fabric Type and Thread Tension

The thickness, texture, and fibre composition of a fabric give that fabric its specific qualities. They determine how a fabric feels to the touch, how it drapes, whether it stretches, and how it moves through the sewing machine. They also determine how a given fabric will interact with the thread. Different fabrics, therefore, will work best with different thread tensions.

In general, lightweight fabrics will require finer threads and tighter tension. Conversely, you’ll need to sew heavier fabrics with thicker thread, using looser tension.

Thread Type and Thread Tension

Many kinds of thread are made to work at a variety of tensions. The important thing, however, is matching.

Always match your top thread and bottom thread in terms of weight and fibre composition. Use polyester thread with polyester thread, cotton with cotton, lightweight with lightweight, and so forth.

Likewise, match your thread to your fabric. Lightweight fabric needs lightweight thread; heavier fabric needs heavier thread. Also, sew synthetic fabrics with synthetic thread and match natural to natural.

Also, please note that poor quality thread can damage your sewing machine’s tension disks in a number of ways. It can leave dust and debris on your disks. It can also knot in the tension mechanism and cause wear and tear on your disks.

A Few Words About Needles

The wrong needle can cause problems with your sewing machine tension. 

How?

Well, the needle pokes a hole in the fabric then guides the thread through. If the needle is too large, the hole it creates will be too large to hold the thread optimally. This, in turn, can affect the top thread tension. It may cause puckering or other problems related to unbalanced stitches.

To Sum Up

  • Use only high quality thread
  • Use the same thread for top and bottom
  • Match your thread to your fabric type
  • Use the right needle
  • Lighter fabrics require tighter tension; heavier fabrics need looser tension

What Number Should the Tension Be on a Sewing Machine? 

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. First, different types of sewing require different tension settings. Also, not every sewing machine manufacturer follows the same labeling convention for its tension adjustment mechanisms.

However, there are a few guidelines that may help.

Most sewing machine tension dials will be numbered 0 to 9 or 1 to 10. As you might guess, lower numbers mean lower tension. Likewise, a number in the middle, like 5, means a medium tension, which is a good, general-purpose tension setting. 

sewing machine tension dial

If your tension dial has an “A,”, that’s the automatic setting. This can mean a few different things. 

Higher end sewing machines have sensors that measure your fabric thickness and other variables so that your machine can select the correct tension. 

Other machines may adjust the thread tension to fit the stitch type. These adjustments don’t take into account fabric type or thickness, however, so you may still need to make manual adjustments.

Mechanical and lower-end computerized machines may have one universal or “automatic” tension that works well for a variety of different kinds of sewing. But again, you may still have to adjust for fabric type and thickness.

When in doubt, do a series of test stitches. If your fabric puckers, the tension is too high. If the stitches are loose, the tension is too low.

Incorrect tension can cause other problems, too, and we’ll discuss them in detail in our troubleshooting guide. Because knowing how to fix sewing machine tension can eliminate a whole range of problems.

How to Adjust Upper Thread Tension

If you’re having problems with thread tension, most of the time, the problem will be with the top thread. Fortunately, most sewing machines make adjusting the top thread tension easy.

First, check to see that your tension mechanism is working correctly. Lower your presser foot and give the upper thread a gentle tug. If the thread is tight, the mechanism is doing its job. If not, then it may be time to consult a sewing machine repair professional.

Next, determine whether your problem is stemming from too much tension or too little. 

Now, use your sewing machine’s dial or knob to adjust the tension. Remember: the larger the number, the higher the tension.

Sew a few test stitches after each adjustment to gauge whether further adjustments are needed.

Your stitches should be even, with no looping or nesting on either side. There should be no puckering around your line of stitches. The bottom thread should not show through on top, nor vice versa.

How to Adjust Bobbin Tension 

As we said before, the majority of tension problems will come from the upper thread. Even when the problem appears to be with the lower thread, such as loops on the fabric surface or the bottom thread showing through on top, the problem may not be the bobbin thread, but the relative tightness of the threads to one another.

The top thread is easier to adjust, so start there. Also make sure that:

  • Your bobbin is wound correctly
  • You have threaded your sewing machine the right way
  • The tension mechanism is clean and free of debris
  • You’re using the right needle for your thread and fabric
  • The thread matches both the fabric and the bobbin thread

If you’ve determined that the lower thread really does need to be adjusted, here’s how to adjust tension on a sewing machine bobbin.

How to Adjust Tension on a Side-Loading Bobbin

Remove the bobbin case. You will find a small screw on the side. With the bobbin still in the case, tighten or loosen the screw very gradually. Start with a quarter-turn at a time.

How to Adjust Tension on a Drop-In Bobbin

The bobbin case on a drop-in bobbin sewing machine looks a bit different from the metal bobbin case of a side-loading bobbin. However, this is also the place where you’ll be making the adjustment.

Take the bobbin case out of your sewing machine. With the bobbin removed from the case, find the screw. It will be in the front, near the spring that holds the thread. Adjust slowly and gradually, between one quarter-turn and one half-turn at a time. 

Are Tension Adjustments the Same for Every Make and Model?

Unfortunately, no. Different sewing machine makes and models will often have slight differences when it comes to thread tension regulation. However, the general principles are the same. And if you understand these general principles, then you’ll be able to understand how to adjust thread tension for your sewing machine.

Thread Guides

The top thread of everysewing machine travels along a path of obstacles from spool to needle. The path is different for different sewing machines. However, the purpose is always the same: to keep your upper thread from tangling, and to regulate that thread’s tension.

Most sewing machines mark the path between thread guides with arrows and numbers. If you’re having tension-related issues, double check your thread diagram to make sure you’ve followed the thread guides properly.

Tension Assembly

Your sewing machine’s tension assembly consists of tension disks and a tension regulator. 

Tension disks are small metal disks through which the thread passes before coming to the needle. The disks squeeze the thread to create tension. The tension regulator controls the amount of pressure that the disks exert on the thread. You can adjust this pressure using your sewing machine’s tension knob or dial.

The principle is the same for all sewing machines, though some machines may have a knob for adjustments, while others have a dial. Also, the numbering may differ on the knob or dial. And some sewing machines may also have an automatic or universal setting that others lack.

If you’re experiencing tension problems, first make sure that your regulator is set to the correct number for the type of sewing you’re doing. Also, check your disks, and, if necessary clean out any dust or debris.

Sewing Machine Tension Troubleshooting

Now that you understand a bit about thread tension and how your sewing machine regulates it, it’s time to consider specific tension-related problems.

First, Make Sure That Tension Really Is the Problem

Before you reach for the tension dial, it’s worth considering whether the problem really lies with thread tension regulation. Thread and stitches can go wrong for a number of other reasons. So consider a few of these first.

Sewing Machine Needle

You should always start every new project with a new needle of the appropriate size and type. Make sure that your needle is not bent or damaged in any way, and that you have installed it correctly. Several problems can stem from a bent, damaged, inappropriate, or wrongly-installed needle, including:

  • Broken threads
  • Loose stitches
  • Uneven stitches
  • Fabric damage
  • Skipped stitches
  • Thread shredding

Check Your Thread

Are you using the appropriate weight thread for your project? Are you matching synthetic thread with synthetic fabric, and natural thread with natural fabric? Do the upper and bobbin threads match? And, importantly, are you using a high quality thread? If not, then you might experience problems like these:

  • Broken threads
  • Fabric puckering
  • Fabric damage

Double Check Your Threading Diagram

Have you threaded your machine correctly? Are you sure? Go back and check. We’ll wait. If you’ve missed out one of your thread guides, not threaded the tension disks correctly, or mixed up the threading steps (it happens!) you might see the following problems:

  • Breaking threads
  • Thread bunching
  • Machine jamming
  • Loose stitches

What About Your Bobbin Thread?

If your bobbin thread isn’t drawing, it’s possible that the bobbin is sitting incorrectly in the case. Have a look and re-insert your bobbin if necessary.

An incorrectly wound bobbin can also cause problems, such as fabric puckering.

Check the Spool Cap

The spool cap holds your thread on the spool pin. If it’s too tight, it may cause your thread to jam or break. If it’s too loose, that can cause problems, too.

sewing machine tension

Is Your Presser Foot Down?

We all forget to lower the presser foot from time to time. The presser foot activates the tension disks, so you can imagine what will happen if you try to sew with it up. That’s right: no upper thread tension. This is what it looks like.

incorrect sewing machine tension

Is Your Machine Clean?

Over time lint, dust, and grease can gather in parts of your machine, including the tension disks and tension regulator. This can impede the flow of thread through your tension assembly. If the thread isn’t feeding correctly, give your tension assembly a good cleaning. Here’s how.

If you’ve gone through these steps and nothing has helped, now it’s worth looking at the thread tension.

Diagnosing Tension Related Problems

So, you’re certain that tension is causing your difficulties. It’s time to narrow that diagnosis down.

Is it the Top Thread or the Bobbin Thread?

Once you’ve figured out that your problem is tension-related, it’s time to decide if the problem lies with the upper thread or the lower one.

Generally speaking, the problem will appear on the opposite side of the fabric from the problem thread. So if the symptom appears on the fabric surface, the bottom thread may be to blame. Likewise, if you see an issue on the underside of the fabric, the cause probably lies with the top thread.

Again, most of the time the top thread will be the culprit. Even when it looks like the lower thread is to blame, it’s worth checking to see if you can remedy the situation by adjusting the tension of the upper thread relative to that of the lower.

Too Tight or Too Loose?

Thread tension requires a Goldilocks solution: not too tight and not too loose. Here’s how to tell which adjustment to make.

Signs that one or both threads are too tight:

  • Bottom thread coming through to the surface (top thread too tight)
  • Top thread pulling through to the underside (bottom thread too tight)
  • Fabric bunching
  • Fabric puckering
  • Broken thread
  • Stitches breaking when stretched
  • Machine jamming

If your top thread is too tight, for example, your bottom stitches may look like this:

sewing machine tension too tight

Signs that one or both threads are too loose:

  • Loops
  • Nests
  • Gaps in the seam
  • Skipped stitches
  • Uneven stitches

If your top thread is too loose, for example, your stitches may turn out this way.

sewing machine tension too loose

10 Sewing Machine Problems and What They Might Mean

A quick guide to common symptoms and what might be causing them.

Fabric Puckering 

Top or bottom thread tension too tight, thread mismatched to fabric, incorrectly wound bobbin

Broken Threads or Stitches

Damaged, incorrect, or incorrectly installed needle, top or bottom thread too tight, machine not threaded correctly, dirty tension assembly, poor quality thread, spool cap too tight

Skipped Stitches

Top or bottom thread too loose, spool cap too loose, machine not threaded correctly, presser foot up; wrong, damaged, or incorrectly installed sewing machine needle

Uneven Stitches

Top or bottom thread too loose; wrong, incorrectly installed, or damaged sewing machine needle, sewing machine not threaded correctly

Gaps in the Seam

Top or bottom thread too loose, spool cap too loose

Loops and Nests

Top or bottom thread too loose, spool cap too loose, sewing machine not threaded correctly, presser foot up

Bottom Thread Showing on the Surface

Top thread tension too tight, or too tight relative to bottom thread

Top Thread Showing on the Bottom

Bottom thread tension too tight, or too tight relative to top thread

Top Thread Not Feeding

Incorrectly threaded sewing machine, dirty tension assembly, spool cap too tight; wrong, incorrectly installed, or damaged sewing machine needle, top thread tension too tight

Lower Thread Not Feeding

Bobbin thread tension too tight, bobbin incorrectly wound, bobbin sitting incorrectly in bobbin case

Does Your Thread Tension Need Attention?

Thread tension problems can be the bane of any project. And once you understand how thread tension works, it can be easy to fix, or even prevent them.

At the same time, lots of things can cause issues that look like tension problems but aren’t. And many tension problems aren’t caused by — or cured by — the tension regulator.

Before reaching for that dial, consider other factors that may affect tension: 

  • Are you using a new, undamaged sewing machine needle that’s gauged for your project? 
  • Have you matched your top and bottom threads to the fabric and to each other? 
  • Is your machine threaded correctly? 
  • And is your tension assembly clean and free of debris?

Most true tension problems come down to the upper thread. However, sometimes the bobbin thread is to blame. Fortunately, neither one is complicated to adjust.

Do you have a tension tip or trick you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

sewing machine tension guide

How To Thread A Needle: Pass Machine & Hand Sewing Needles Easily

how to thread a needle tips

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

Do you know how to thread a needle? I don’t mean conceptually. That’s easy. Have you ever struggled with pushing a fuzzy thread-end through a teeny, tiny hole? Have you ever thought, there has to be an easier way? You’re right. In fact, there are several. We’ll show you seven. Yes, seven.

What You’ll Need to Complete This Tutorial

There are several different types of needles, and each has its own tips and tricks for threading. Unsurprisingly, each technique requires slightly different tools.

What sort of needle are you trying to thread? And how are you hoping to accomplish it? Let’s have a look.

Threading a Regular Hand Sewing Needle

Threading a Self-Threading Hand Sewing Needle

Threading a Sewing Machine Needle by Hand

  • Thread
  • Your sewing machine needle
  • Scissors or thread snips
  • Sewing machine needle threader (optional)
  • Beeswax (optional)

Threading a Self-Threading Sewing Machine Needle

Threading a Sewing Machine Needle With an Automatic Threader

  • Thread
  • Your sewing machine needle
  • Your sewing machine’s attached needle threader

How to Thread a Needle for Hand Sewing: 3 Different Ways

Do you have your tools? Right. Let’s do this. 

Method 1: Threading a Regular Hand-Sewing Needle

A hand-sewing needle is, of course, what you might carry in your emergency kit in case of a lost button. It’s a simple tool: a thin rod of metal with a point on one end and an eye on the other. The trick is to get the thread through the eye. You probably already know that it can be harder than it sounds. 

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

You will need your needle:

needle wallet

your thread:

orange thread

a pair of scissors or snips:

scissors

your beeswax (optional):

beeswax for sewing

and your handy needle-threader (also optional). 

needle threader

A needle threader isn’t necessary, but it does make things a lot easier. This is especially true if your needle has a small, difficult-to-see eye.

Step 2: Prepare Your Thread

You could just try to jam your thread through the eye of the needle. But if you take the time to prepare the thread, it’s a lot easier.

First, snip the end of the thread at an angle. This will do two things. First, it will remove any fuzz or fraying. These are two of the things that make threading a needle difficult. Also, snipping at an angle will make a little point that will guide the rest of the thread through the eye.

snip thread

If you like, you can also smooth a bit of beeswax onto the end of the thread. This will make your thread end stiffer and straighter. And that will help it to go through the eye of the needle easier as well.

Step 3: Your Needle Threader

Needle threaders are cool little tools. They’re cheap, easy to come by, and they work a treat. 

How do you use it? It’s easy! The thin wire “eye” of the threader collapses so it can fit through even the smallest needle eye. So first, poke the wire through the eye.

thread needle threader

See how it expands once it’s through? See how nice and big the opening is? Put your thread through that.

threading a needle with threader

Now, pull the threader back out. The thread will follow. You’re done! Wasn’t that easy?

a threaded needle

Method 2: Threading a Hand Sewing Needle Without a Threader

A needle threader is a wonderful thing, but you don’t have to have one. If you’ve snipped your thread end to a point and applied your beeswax, the thread should go through the eye of your needle pretty easily on its own.

needle with orange thread

Method 3: Threading a Self-Threading Hand Sewing Needle

Self-threading needles, whether for hand sewing or for a sewing machine have a very small gap on one side of the eye. With a self-threading needle, you load the thread from the side. This means no cutting, waxing, or poking.

A self-threading needle doesn’t mean there’s no work to do. But the unique design of that needle’s eye means that the work is a bit easier. Here’s how you thread a self-threading needle.

Simply loop the thread around the body of the needle.

needle threading orange thread

Now slide it up to the eye and pull it down. The thread will slot easily into the eye from the side. Watch the entire process from beginning to end in the video below:

How to Thread a Needle on a Sewing Machine: 4 Ways

Just like with hand sewing needles, there are a surprising number of ways to thread a sewing machine needle. But first, you’ll need to prepare your machine.

Preparing Your Sewing Machine

Threading a sewing machine is a multi-step process that ends with the thread traveling through the eye of the needle. But before you get to that step, you’ll have to thread the top thread and the bobbin thread. Here’s how.

Step 1: Follow Your Sewing Machine’s Top Thread Threading Diagram

Every sewing machine model threads the top thread a bit differently. However, if you look at your machine closely, you’ll find a diagram that shows you the exact path your top thread should follow. The different steps keep the thread flowing smoothly through the machine, help to keep it from tangling, and regulate the thread tension.

Here’s the top thread threading diagram for my sewing machine.

thread sewing machine needle diagram

This video shows how to follow the threading diagram for a Brother mechanical sewing machine:

Step 2: The Bobbin Thread

The bobbin thread is the bottom thread. Every sewing machine will have either a top-loading bobbin or a front-loading bobbin.

For a top-loading drop-in bobbin, remove the bobbin cover. 

Now, slip the bobbin into place. Pay particular attention to the diagram on your bobbin cover. Some machines require the thread to come off the bobbin from the left side, while others require it to come off the right.

thread sewing machine needle

Now, pull the thread through the slot in the bobbin well. Pull it up and to the left.

You can watch the process here:

For a front-loading (or side-loading) bobbin, the process is a bit different.

First, remove the bobbin case. Then insert your bobbin into the bobbin case. Direction matters, just like with a top-loading bobbin. So be sure to follow your manufacturer’s directions.

Guide the thread into the slot, and pull it through the metal band. Now replace the bobbin case and shut the door to the bottom compartment.

This video shows you how it’s done:

Now you’re ready to bring the top thread through the needle.

Method 1: Threading a Sewing Machine Needle with an Automatic Needle Threader

Many modern sewing machines come with an automatic needle threader. The design may be different on different machines, but the function is the same. An automatic needle threader takes the fiddly part out of threading your sewing machine needle. 

You won’t have to worry about trying to poke a tiny thread end through a tiny hole. Likewise, you won’t have to bother with cutting or waxing.

An automatic needle threader looks like this:

automatic needle threader

So, how do you use an automatic needle threader? Again, different sewing machines have different designs, but the steps are more or less the same.

Step 1: Double-Check Your Top Thread

Have you guided your top thread through the threading diagram correctly? Yes? Good. 

Step 2: Open the Needle Threader

Many automatic needle threaders are spring loaded. To open the needle threader, find the button or lever and press it.

Step 3: Load the Thread

Most automatic needle threaders use a hook to either push or pull the thread through the eye of your sewing machine needle. In this model, I’m guiding the thread into the right position in the threader.

using an automatic needle threader

Step 4: Release the Threader

Now release the threader. It will guide the thread through the needle then return, automatically, to its place. It’s easy!

Check out this video of a Singer needle threader in action:

Method 2: Threading Your Sewing Machine With a Hand Held Needle Threader

Some sewing machines don’t come with an automatic needle threader. That can be a pain in the neck, but it’s not the end of the world. 

You can purchase a hand-held needle threader for sewing machine needles. Like threaders for hand sewing needles, these are cheap and easy to find. They work in a similar way to an automatic needle threader. Check this out.

Step 1: Position Your Threader

Hold your threader in your right hand, with the pointy bits facing to the left. The top hook should face up. The needle threader has a plunger, like a syringe. This should be facing to the right, with your thumb on top of it.

using a Machine Needle Inserter & Threader
Image is a screenshot from the featured video

Step 2: Insert the Thread

Place the thread horizontally through the Y-groove. Now, place the loaded needle threader against the top of the needle, above the eye.

Machine Needle Inserter & Threader in use
Image is a screenshot from the featured video

Step 3: Bring the Threader Down

Slide the loaded threader down the needle toward the eye, until the inner wire catches the needle’s eye.

Step 4: Push the Plunger

Once the hook has contacted the eye, press the plunger. This should push the thread through the eye of your sewing machine needle. 

Machine Needle Inserter and Threader being used
Image is a screenshot from the featured video

Step 5: Finish the Job

You were probably wondering what the little plastic hook on the end was for. It’s for pulling the thread the rest of the way through! Simply slip the hook through the loop and gently pull. You’re done!

You can see the entire process from start to finish here:

Method 3: Threading a Self-Threading Sewing Machine Needle

A self-threading sewing machine needle works on the same principle as a self-threading hand sewing needle. There’s a gap in the eye that allows you to pull the thread through without having to squint and poke.

Simply loop the thread around the body of your sewing machine needle. Then pull it gently down toward the eye. Now tug it sideways into the eye. Done!

You can see the process in action below.

Method 4: No Threader, No Problem

The last method is the most straightforward, but, let’s face it: it can be a pain. Nonetheless, there are ways to make it less painful.

Step 1: Prepare Your Thread

A fuzzy, frayed thread end can be a hindrance for threading a sewing machine needle, just as it can with a hand sewing needle. So prepare your thread. Cut the edge at an angle, and, if you like, add a dab of beeswax to the tip.

Step 2: Guide it Through

Now guide the thread through the eye. Many sewing machines require the thread to go in from front to back. Some, however, may require the thread to enter from the side.

Many Ways to Thread a Needle

Who knew there were so many ways to thread a needle? And who knew there were so many tips, tricks, and devices to make it easier? It all comes down to having the right tools and giving your thread a little bit of tender loving care.

Do you have a special trick for threading a needle? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

how to thread a needle

How To Sew A Zipper: Easy Step-By-Step Guide For Beginners

how to sew a zipper beginners guide

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

It’s happened to all of us. You’re heading out the door, putting on your favorite jacket, and the zipper bites the dust. Time to throw out that jacket? It doesn’t have to be. If you know how to sew a zipper, your favorite jacket, backpack, trousers, or other item can be ready to use again in no time.

What You’ll Need

Fixing your zipper isn’t hard, but you need the right tools for the job. Here’s what you’ll need to follow our tutorial.

A Replacement Zipper

sewing leather jacket zipper

Consider your replacement zipper carefully. You may want to choose something similar to your old zip. Or you might want to choose something better. Either way, think about the following.

Length

Measure different types of zippers differently. Your measurements should include the zipper but not the zipper tape (the part that you will be sewing).

Measure closed-bottom zippers from the bottom stop to the top stop.

Measure separating-bottom zippers from the box (that metal square at the bottom) to the stop pin (that larger bit that keeps the puller from running off at the top).

The resulting measurement will give you the length, in inches or centimetres, of your new zipper. 

Gauge

Gauge refers to the thickness of the zipper. Heavier items use heavier gauge zippers. The higher the gauge number, the larger the teeth of your zipper. [1]

The gauge number roughly corresponds to the size of the teeth. To measure the teeth, start at the left side and measure all the way across. The millimeter measurement will give you a rough idea of the gauge. If the teeth part of your zipper measures 3.1 to 3.5 millimeters across, for example, the gauge is #3.

Style and Material

sewing a zipper on a bag
A nylon coil zipper

There are a lot of different kinds of zippers out there. Here are some of the most common ones.

The conventional zipper design has individual metal teeth lined up at intervals along the zipper tape.

Coil zippers are made from coils of nylon or polyester sewn into the zipper tape. They’re popular in luggage and camping gear. Their design makes it easy to fix an out-of-alignment zip. They are also very strong.

Invisible zippers disappear into the seam of an item. You might find these in dresses and skirts. Any type of zipper can be an invisible zipper. “Invisible” refers to the way it’s sewn into an item, rather than to a specific zipper design.

Open-bottom zippers (or separating-bottom zippers) open all the way. Jacket zippers are an example. Conversely, closed-bottom zippers stop at the bottom. Trouser and dress zippers are generally closed-bottom zips.

Two-way separating zippers can zip open and shut in both directions. These are common in tents and luggage.

The Correct Presser Foot

You can use an ordinary presser foot to sew a zipper, but it might prove more difficult in tight places. 

A zipper foot is made for this task. It’s smaller than a standard presser foot and you can adjust some of them to either side as needed. Zipper feet also come in a range of sizes.

adjustable vertical needle zipper foot
An adjustable vertical needle zipper foot

The great news is, a zipper foot comes standard with many sewing machines. And if one didn’t come with yours, they’re inexpensive and easy to find.

There are many different kinds of zipper feet, including:

  • Zipper foot/piping foot: the standard, narrower zipper foot
  • Invisible zipper foot for sewing invisible zippers
  • Adjustable zipper foot: can be used on either side of the needle

Check out this zipper foot in action.

You will also need:

Optional:

  • Scissors for shortening plastic or coil zippers
  • Metal snippers and jewelry pliers for shortening metal zippers (I like this set from WorkPro)

Do you have everything you need? Great. Let’s go.

How to Sew a Zipper Step by Step

How you sew in your new zipper will depend on the type of zipper. Are you replacing an invisible zip? Or will your new zipper show? Either way, the first step is taking out the old one.

Removing the Old Zipper

No matter what kind of new zipper you’re installing, the first step is to take out the old one. For this, you’ll need your seam ripper.

seam ripper
A seam ripper

First, locate the rows of stitches that hold the zipper in place. Now use the point of your seam ripper to gently lift a stitch. Slide the stitch along the curved cutting edge until it breaks. Now remove the rest of the stitches until your zipper comes free.

Prepare Your New Zipper

It’s easiest to buy a zipper that’s exactly the same size as the old one. But what if you can’t find one? Or what if you have another zipper that would look great but is slightly too long? Never fear. You can use that one too.

First, measure your old zipper. Next, use your fabric pen to mark the new length on the zipper tape of the new zipper. Then hand-sew a succession of whip stitches around the teeth where you want the new bottom to be. You can machine sew a bar tack for this part, provided you’re very, very precise about your stitch length. [2]

Finally, trim your new zipper. If you have a plastic, nylon, or polyester zipper, you can use ordinary scissors. If your zipper is metal, you’ll need to use metal snips.

Watch how it’s done below.

How to Sew an Exposed Zipper

Sewing an exposed zipper is a bit easier than sewing in an invisible one. Still, since everyone will be seeing your new zip, it pays to do it right.

Step 1: Mark

You’ll use your fabric marking pen to make two marks on the wrong side of your fabric. First, make a mark three-quarters of an inch from the top of the seam. Then lay your zipper along the seam so that the top of the teeth meet that mark.

sewing a zipper mark

Now, make a second mark right below the box (the metal bottom) of your zipper.

marking fabric for zipper sewing

Set the zipper aside.

Step 2: Stabilize (Optional but recommended)

Stabilize your seam edges by ironing a strip of stabilizing tape or a one-inch wide strip of fusible interfacing onto the seam edges. Do this on both edges, on the wrong side of the fabric.

stabilizing seam for zipper sewing

Step 3: Stay-Stitch

Next, stay-stitch the fabric three-quarters of an inch (1.9 centimeters) from the edge of each seam. [3]

Step 3: Close the Seam

Now, using a ⅝-inch (1.6 cm) seam allowance, sew the edges of the seam together starting ever-so-slightly below where the box (bottom) of the zipper will sit, and ending at the end of your work.

closing seam with allowance

Step 4: Clip and Press

Clip from the edge of the seam to the seam allowance at the base of the zipper opening. Press the seam allowance open.

sewing a zipper guide

Now press open the seam above the cut. Press it open to the seam allowance.

guide to sewing a zipper

Step 5: Pin and Baste

Pin your zipper along the seam, so that the right side of the zipper is facing up through the right side of the fabric. If you want to baste the zipper to the fabric, do so now.

pin and baste zipper seam

Step 6: Trim 

Double-check the wrong side of the fabric. If necessary, trim the seam allowances.

trimming seam allowances

Step 7: Stitch

This step is easier if you begin with the zipper unzipped.

Starting at the top pin, stitch along the right side of the fabric, between one eighth of an inch (3 millimeters) and one quarter-inch (6 millimeters) from the zipper teeth. 

stitching a zipper

When you get to the bottom, stitch around the box of your zipper, rotate your work, and continue up the other side to the other top pin.

zipper seam allowance trim

When you’re finished, remove any basting stitches.

How to Sew an Invisible Zipper

An invisible zipper hides in the seam of a garment. You won’t see any machine stitching on the right side of the fabric. This is a popular type of zipper for different types of garments where a zipper would ruin the line of the garment or the pattern of the fabric.

Sew your invisible zipper in while the pieces of your pattern are flat and unattached. An invisible zipper foot is designed to sew invisible zippers, though you can use a regular zipper foot, or even a regular presser foot.

An invisible zipper foot
An invisible zipper foot

Step 1: Prepare the Seam Edges

If you want to serge your seam edges, now is the time. Alternately, you can secure your edges with stabilizing tape or fusible interfacing.

Step 2: Mark 

As with a visible zip, use your fabric marker to make a mark ¾ of an inch from the top of the fabric, on the right side of both pieces.

Also mark a ⅝-inch seam allowance on the right side of both pieces. You will place the zipper along these marks.

mark for invisible zipper sewing

Step 3: Pin the First Side of Your Zip

Lay the coil (or teeth) of your zipper right on the seam allowance marking. Lay it face down and pin it into place. Pay close attention to the directionality of your zip, because it’s easy to get this part wrong. The teeth should face away from the edge of the fabric.

pinning invisible zipper for sewing

If you want to baste the zipper into place, you can do that now.

Step 4: Sew the First Side

Again, sewing your zipper is easier if the zipper is open.

Place the zipper coil (or teeth) under the groove on your invisible zipper foot. Start at the top edge of the fabric and stitch down until you are parallel with the box. Make a bar tack and cut your thread.

sewing invisible zipper tips

Step 5: Pin the Second Side

Now pin the second side to the other piece of fabric and baste if desired. Again, the teeth should face away from the fabric’s edge. Your zipper will look twisted, and that’s okay. You’ll be untwisting it soon enough.

Step 6: Sew the Second Side

Following the same procedure as in Step 4, sew the second side of the zipper to the fabric. Make sure that the ¾-inch marks at the top of both pieces line up before you start sewing.

Step 7: Take a Peek

Oh dear, it looks rather twisted now, doesn’t it? Never fear. Simply zip the zipper and turn your work over to get a sneak peek at your invisible zipper.

an invisible zipper partly sewn

 Better? Good. Now, on to the next part.

Step 7: Finish the Seam Below the Zip

Return to the wrong side of your work. Moving the tail of your zipper out of the way, bring the fabric edges together at the seam allowance, and stitch the seam together.

seam finish for invisible zipper

Now turn your work over and finish the top.

That wasn’t so bad, was it?

All Zipped Up

Replacing a zipper isn’t difficult if you know how. Better yet, doing so can save you money, and save your favorite bag or garment.

Build your zipper replacement tool kit before you need it. Remember, you’ll need to be able to remove your old zipper, mark your fabric, pin a new zipper into place, and sew the new zipper in. You can often use a regular presser foot, but a special zipper foot can make your work easier, especially if you anticipate any tight stitching. 

You might also find it helpful to have a few spare zippers of different lengths and gauges to hand.

Are you ready to fix your zipper? Let’s go!

how to sew a zipper

REFERENCES

  1. SBSZipper | How To Measure The Zipper Gauge Correctly | https://www.sbs-zipper.com/blog/how-to-measure-the-zipper-gauge-correctly/
  2. wikiHow Staff | How to Whipstitch | https://www.wikihow.com/Whipstitch
  3. Collins | Stay Stitching | https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/stay-stitching

How To Sew A Button: 2-Hole, 4-Hole, & Shank Buttons Explained

how to sew a button

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

It seems so simple, yet you’d be surprised how many people don’t know how to sew a button. If you’re one of those people, don’t worry. It’s easy to replace a button by hand or using a sewing machine. We’ll show you how.

What You’ll Need to Complete This Tutorial

Most of us have at least some of these things at home already. And if you don’t? They’re cheap and often as close as your local craft store.

Replacement Button

This is the fun part. Think about the button you lost. Do you want to replace it exactly? That might take some doing. If it’s a common sort of button, you might easily find a match at your fabric or craft store, or even in the household section of your grocery. If it’s a specialized button, however, you might have to contact the maker of your garment.

On the other hand, this could be your chance to revitalize your garment with a completely different set of buttons. Different colors, materials, or designs can give an item a whole new character. Take a look at this blouse. How would each of these buttons change its look?

different types of button

Regardless of color, shape, or material, there are three basic types of button: two-hole, four-hole and shank. Two-hole and four-hole buttons are self-explanatory. A shank button, like the wooden button above, has a circular bit on one side. Instead of sewing through the button to attach a shank button, you sew through the shank.

Needle

There are a lot of types of needles for hand-sewing. Fortunately, you can use just about any of them to attach a button. However, you should pay attention to the needle’s sharpness and size.

needles for button sewing

A dull needle, like a darning needle, may be able to get the job done. However, a sharp needle will go through cloth easily and with minimal damage. Likewise the needle you choose should not only fit through the holes or shank of your replacement button, but should also be small enough to not damage the fabric of your garment.

Thread

Again, there are many types of thread. And again, you can use most of them to sew on a button. If you want to minimize the chances of losing your new button, though, you might consider using button thread. Button thread is a thick, tough thread that’s also used for sewing carpets and upholstery. 

button sewing thread

Scissors

Using scissors to cut off your thread ends will keep things tidy.

Fabric Marking Pen

A fabric marking pen can help you to remember exactly where you want your buttons to go. It can help you to line up your new buttons nice and straight, and to make sure they line up with the buttonholes. They can also mark your place. This can be a lifesaver if you have to set your work down, or if you drop a button while sewing.

Fabric marking pens come in different colors. Some have washable ink. Others have ink that disappears when exposed to heat. Alternatively, you can use tailor’s chalk, which simply brushes off.

Pin or Toothpick

It might be tempting to sew your new button on as tightly as possible so that it won’t fall off. But you should always leave a little bit of space between the button and the fabric. First, a too-tight button can pucker the fabric, and the garment won’t look right. Also, if your button is too tight, it could actually break off more easily, as the thread is under more pressure. And if the thread is really tight, it might also take some of the fabric with it.

Using a toothpick or a pin can give your new button just enough breathing room. You can also use a paperclip or anything else of similar size. We’ll show you how to do this in a bit.

Beeswax (Optional)

No matter what kind of thread you’re using, coating it with beeswax can make it straighter, tougher and stronger. It will also help the thread to glide more easily through the fabric. This is an old bookbinder’s trick, but it works for sewing fabric, too. Here’s how you do it.

Thimble (Optional)

If you’re pushing thread through thick cloth or multiple layers, using a thimble can protect your thumb and allow you to press harder on the end of the needle.

How to Sew a Button Step by Step

There are two ways to sew a button: by hand and by machine. The process is a little bit different for each kind of button.

How to Sew a Button With Two Holes by Hand

2-hole button
A two-hole flat button

Let’s start with the easiest job: sewing a two-hole button by hand.

Step 1: Prepare Your Materials

First, make sure you have everything you need. Thread your needle. A double thickness of thread, as shown in the photo, will make your repair stronger. Tie a knot at the end of your thread, and coat the thread in beeswax.

needle and thread

Step 2: Make Your Mark

Now lay out your item. Smooth the buttonhole down so that it’s right over where the old button sat. Use your fabric marking pen to mark where the new button will go. If you’re sewing on more than one replacement button, repeat this process for all of the buttons.

fabric marker pen

Now open the garment and lay your button down over the mark. Flat buttons often have a ridged side and a smooth side. The smooth side is the back and should sit against the fabric.

Step 3: The First Hole

Holding the button in place with one hand, use your other hand to bring the needle up from the bottom and through the first hole. Some people pull the thread all the way through, so that the knot is snug against the back of the fabric. I prefer to leave an inch or so of thread so that I can tie off my thread at the end.

Step 4: The Second Hole

Now, bring the needle down through the other hole.

sewing a button

Step 5: Toothpick Time

If you’re planning to use your toothpick, now is the time. Slide it gently between your button and the fabric. Alternatively, you could slip the toothpick on top of the button, between your initial stitch and the button itself.

toothpick button sewing

Step 6: Sew!

Now sew the button on. Make a continuous loop, going up through the first hole, down through the second, then back up through the first one again. Do this eight to ten times.

Step 7: Tie Off and Snip

Once your button is firmly attached, knot your thread several times underneath the fabric. You can also “sew off” the thread end by knotting it several times around the bottom of your circle of stitches and securing the knot with a few stitches. Remove the toothpick and snip off the edges. You’re done!

How to Sew a Button With Four Holes by Hand

4-hole button
A four-hole flat button

Step 1: Prepare Your Materials

As before, thread your needle, pulling the ends of the thread together so that the needle sits at the midpoint. Now knot the ends and treat the entire thread with beeswax.

Step 2: On Your Mark

Use your fabric markers to mark where you want your button to sit. You can make the location very precise by laying the edges of your garment over one another, as if buttoning the garment, then poking the tip of your fabric through the buttonhole to mark the button’s final place.

Step 3: Holes 1 and 2

Set the button on top of your mark. Remember: ridge side up!

Now, bring your thread up from beneath the fabric, through the first hole. It doesn’t matter which hole you choose. Then bring it down through the hole that sits diagonally to your first hole.

Step 4: Make Some Room

Will you use a toothpick with a four-hole button? You bet you will. Slip it gently beneath the diagonal of thread you just made, or between the button and your fabric.

how to sew a 4-hole button

Step 5: Holes 3 and 4

Your needle should now be underneath the fabric. Bring it back up again through one of the holes that you’ve not yet stitched. Now bring it back down through the hole that sits diagonally to it. You should now have a nice “X” shape.

Step 6: Criss Cross

You will be sewing this “X” over and over again by sewing diagonals. You could sew the diagonal from hole 1 to hole 2 several times, then switch to one between holes 3 and 4. You could also alternate. This video shows you the first way.

Step 7: Finish the Job

Once you have between six and eight complete “X” shapes, knot off your thread or sew it off. Now remove your toothpick, snip your edges, and admire your work!

How to Sew a Shank Button by Hand

shank button sewing
A shank button

A shank button is a bit easier than a flat button. You don’t have to use a toothpick, although I do recommend keeping the thread relaxed.

Step 1: Prepare Your Materials

As always, thread your needle, making sure that you have a double length of thread. Knot the thread ends and treat your thread with beeswax. 

Step 2: X Marks the Spot

Use your fabric pen to mark where you want your button to go. Now set the shank of your button down on your mark.

Step 3: Stitch it Up

Hold the shank of the button against the fabric with one hand. Now, use the other to draw the thread up from below the fabric, through the shank, and back down through the fabric. Make six to ten complete loops.

sewing shank button

Step 4: Tie it Off and Snip

When you’re finished, knot the thread and snip off the ends.

How to Sew a Button Using a Sewing Machine

Some people prefer sewing buttons by hand. It’s quick and easy, and you’re not risking either your button or your machine needle. But if you want to sew your button by machine, that, too, can be quick and easy. And if you’re careful, you can do it safely, as well.

You’ll need two extra pieces of kit for this: some sticky tape and a button foot (optional).

button foot
A button sewing foot

Step 1: Secure Your Button

Put your button where you want it and secure it to the fabric with sticky tape.

Step 2: Prepare Your Sewing Machine

You’ll want to do several things.

First, choose your stitch. You’ll want a zigzag stitch.

Next, set your stitch length to zero. You’ll not want your button moving forward through the machine. 

Now lower your feed dogs. Your feed dogs move the work forward through the machine. If your stitch length is zero, it should not be moving anyway. However, lowering the feed dogs will be an added measure of protection.

Set your stitching speed to slow. Better safe than sorry!

Finally, put on your button foot if you have one. A button foot holds your button in place while you sew. This is optional, but it makes things easier.

Step 3: Insert Your Work

Place your fabric and button on top of the feed dogs. Lower the presser foot onto it. 

Step 4: Sew a Test Stitch…Slowly

Use the hand wheel to slowly lower the needle into the first buttonhole. Continuing to use the hand wheel, lift up the needle and continue to turn it until the needle approaches the second hole.

button sewing machine

Does it go directly in? Is the stitch too wide or too narrow? Adjust the stitch width if you need to, then set it.

Sew Your Button

Now, carefully, stitch your button.

Tie and Snip the Edges

When you’re finished, take your work out of the sewing machine. Turn it over and tie off the edges.

Having trouble visualizing the process? Check out this instructional.

It’s Sew Easy!

Replacing a button isn’t difficult, but it’s important to use the right tools and the right procedure. 

What did you think of our tutorial? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

learn to sew buttons

How To Identify Sewing Machine Needles: Needle Sizes, Types, & Tips

how to identify sewing machine needles

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

A needle is a needle is a needle, right? Wrong! Sewing machine needles come in a variety of sizes, sharpnesses, and materials, and choosing the wrong one could cost you your project.

In short, knowing how to identify sewing machine needles is an essential skill every sewist must have.

Our sewing machine needle guide will give you the scoop on the types of sewing needles and sewing machine needle sizes. We’ll tell you which needles work best for which fabrics and which types of sewing, and help you to determine what sewing needle to use for your next project.

The Anatomy of a Sewing Machine Needle

sewing machine needle anatomy

Sewing needle design hasn’t changed much over time. In fact, archaeologists recently unearthed a 50,000-year-old sewing needle in Novosibirsk, Russia, that you or I could still use for hand-stitching today. [1]

Sewing machine needles, too, have maintained the same basic design. However, over time, variations on that design have evolved to better fit different types of sewing.

So, once you know the fundamentals, working out how to identify sewing machine needles is a breeze. The basic parts of a sewing machine needle include:

Butt

This is the “top” of the needle. It may be rounded or flat. This is the part that you insert into the needle bar.

Shank

Extending down from the butt is the shank. A needle shank comes in different shapes, which correspond to the type of sewing machine you have. Industrial sewing machine needles may have round, threaded, or grooved shanks. Home sewing machines use a needle where the shank is rounded on one side and flat on the other.

Shoulder

The sloping space between the shank and the shaft is called the shoulder. The shoulders of some sewing machine needles are color-coded to show the usage of the needle.

Shaft

The shaft (also called the blade) is the main body of the needle. Needle size is determined by the thickness of the shaft.

Groove

Sewing machine needles have a groove along the front of the shaft. The length and width of this groove can vary from needle to needle. In all cases, however, the groove helps to make stitches smoother by cradling the thread and guiding it to the eye.

Scarf

Between the groove and the eye is an indentation called the scarf. This indentation helps the bobbin hook to grab the thread. The size of this indentation is different in different types of needles.

Eye

The eye is the hole near the tip of the needle, where you insert the thread. The size and shape of the eye can vary, depending on your needle type.

Point

The point, or tip, of the needle makes first contact with your fabric. The sharpness can vary, depending on which fabric the needle is designed to sew. Heavier materials require a sharper needle. Needles meant for stretch fabrics are comparatively blunt. Universal needles, that is, needles made to sew a variety of fabric types, are somewhere between the two.

Which Needle Do You Need?

Although sewing machine needles may look similar, there are subtle differences in design that can affect your fabric, thread, and stitching.

So, how do you choose?

You need to consider three parameters: the purpose for which the needle is designed, the size of the needle, and the weight of the thread you’re planning to use. 

What’s Your Project?

A universal needle will work for a variety of different kinds of sewing. However, when it comes to special tasks like embroidery or leather work, you should choose a needle purpose-made for your craft. Craft-specific needles will have different features that make them more effective for certain kinds of sewing.

What Kind of Fabric are you Using?

Different kinds of needles have features that allow them to work efficiently with different types of fabric. 

Sewing machine needles for denim look a lot different from the needles you might use for silk, for example. Denim needles are both heavier and sharper. Machine embroidery needles are different from both of these. They have a longer eye and a specially shaped scarf. And the list goes on. [2]

Choose a heavier gauge needle for heavier work and a thinner, lighter needle for light fabrics.

What About Thread Weight?

You’ll also need to consider the weight of the thread you’ll be using. Pair smaller sized needles with lighter weight thread, and larger sized needles with heavier thread. 

The numbering conventions for thread weights can be confusing, especially because they look so similar to needle gauges. We’ll tackle this more in depth in a bit.

What Types of Sewing Machine Needles Are There?

different types sewing machine needle

You might be surprised by just how many types of sewing machine needles there are. Each is a little bit different. Let’s have a look.

Universal Needles

A universal sewing machine needle is made to work with most types of fabric and thread. The shaft is of medium diameter, and the tip is pointed but not as sharp as needles made for heavier fabrics.

Self-Threading Needles

Self-threading sewing machine needles have a gap on one side of the scarf, so that you can slot the thread into the gap sideways, rather than poking it through the eye.

Needles for Heavy Materials

Needles for heavier fabrics have a thicker shaft and a sharper point than universal needles. Here are a few you might encounter.

Leather Needle

Leather needles have a chisel point, so that they can cut and penetrate at the same time. Leather needles come in five different sizes (diameters), which correspond to different thicknesses of leather.

Denim (Jeans) Needle

Denim or jeans needles are also very thick and sharp. You can use them with other thick fabrics, too, such as canvas duck cloth.

Needles for Lighter Materials

Needles designed for use with lighter threads and materials have a small diameter and are often very sharp. This helps the needle to pass through the fabric without damaging it.

Ball Point Needle

A ball point needle, like a ball point pen, has a rounded tip. Most commonly, people use a ball point needle to sew knit or loosely woven fabrics. The ball tip prevents the needle from damaging the fibers of the fabric while passing through. This, in turn, keeps the needle’s action from causing knit fabrics to run. [3]

Jersey Needle and Stretch Needle

Jersey needles and stretch needles are both types of ball point needles. Their special design features improve the quality of stitching with these sometimes difficult-to-sew fabrics.

Both stretch and jersey needles have a medium ballpoint. Stretch needles also have a shorter, narrower eye, a deeper scarf, and a special coating that helps to keep them free of different materials they can pick up from sewing elasticated fabrics. These features help to prevent skipped stitches, which can be a problem with knits and stretchy fabrics.

Metallic Needle

If you’ve ever tried to sew with delicate metallic thread, you know how difficult it is. Metallic needles are designed to make it a bit easier. Metallic needles have a large eye and a larger groove, which helps to protect metallic thread from shredding.

Task-Specific Needles

Some needles are designed to assist with a specific task, rather than to sew a certain kind of fabric. Here are a few.

Twin Needle

Have you ever seen those identical, perfectly parallel rows of decorative stitching on garments? Those were made with a twin needle. Twin needle stitching can also reinforce seams. A twin, or double needle has two needles descending from a single shaft. 

Triple Needle

A triple needle has three needles descending from a single shaft. If you want to take your decorative stitching to the next level, try one of these.

Embroidery Needle

Needles for machine embroidery come in a variety of sizes and weights. There are both sharp and ball-point varieties. All of them, however, have a longer eye than universal needles, and a specially shaped scarf. These features make it easier to work with delicate embroidery thread without fraying or breaking it.

Topstitch Needle

Topstitch needles are a favorite of quilters and sail makers. A topstitch needle has a larger eye than a universal needle. It also has a deeper groove. Many topstitch needles also have a titanium coat. All of these features mean that the topstitch needle can stand up to heavy work and even doubling of thread.

Quilting Needles

You can use a universal or topstitch needle for quilting. However, there are sewing machine needles made specifically for quilting. Quilting needles have a thin, tapered shaft that allows them to pass smoothly through multiple layers.

Wing (or Winged) Needle

A winged needle is a specialty needle for sewing loosely-woven fabrics like linen. This type of needle has flanges on the side that open a wide hole in the fabric. 

Why might you want this? Well, certain kinds of heirloom stitching uses wide holes as decoration. Also, it can facilitate sewing with embroidery thread. Finally, the flanges can help you to seal off raw, easily-frayed hem edges by pushing the edges back through the fabric, forming a seal. Have a look. 

What About the Colors?

Some sewing machine needle manufacturers put a colored stripe across the shoulder of each needle. The color corresponds to that needle’s intended use.

  • A yellow band means the needle is for stretch fabrics.
  • Blue indicates the needle is for denim.
  • A needle meant for use with microfiber cloth may have a purple band.
  • A red band means the needle is meant for machine embroidery.
  • Green bands are often seen on quilting needles.

What do the Numbers on Sewing Machine Needles Mean?

As we’ve already seen, the size of a sewing machine needle can play a big role in the ease and quality of sewing. Size affects the way the needle interacts with your materials, and also affects stitching quality. Also, different sized needles are suited to different types of work.

Needle size refers to the diameter of the needle. You might also hear it described as gauge. If you’re wondering what gauge is a sewing needle, it’s important to understand the numbering convention.

To make it even more difficult, the United States and Europe have different conventions.

American Sewing Machine Needle Numbering

American sewing machine needle sizes range from eight to 19. The larger the number, the larger the diameter of the blade.

European Sewing Machine Needle Numbering

European sewing machine needles come in sizes ranging from 60 to 120. Again, the larger the number, the larger the diameter of the blade. A size 60 needle, for example, has a 0.6 millimeter blade.

What About the Numbers on the Package? 

Since many needle manufacturers sell their wares around the world, packages will often list both American and European sizes, separated by a front slash. The European number comes first. Therefore:

  • 60/8 is for very fine lightweight fabrics like thin silk
  • 65/9, 70/10 and 75/11 work best for lightweight fabric such as taffeta and lining fabric
  • 80/12 and 90/14 work best for medium weight fabrics, linen, and flannel
  • 90/14 and 100/16 are for heavier weight fabrics such as denim, fleece, tweed, and wool
  • 100/16, 110/18, and larger are for heavyweight materials such as leather, vinyl, and canvas ducking

Thread Weight And Needle Size

sewing machine needle with thread

If your thread keeps breaking, shredding, or skipping stitches, it’s possible you’re not using the right size needle for that thread. So, which size needle goes with which size thread?

Confusingly, the thread weight measuring conventions look similar to the measuring conventions for needle gauge: two numbers separated by a slash. But the numbers don’t have the same meaning at all.

Thread Weight Explained

There are several different conventions for describing thread size. The weight standard is one of the most common conventions, so this is the one we’ll be looking at here. [4]

With needle gauges, the smaller the number, the smaller the needle. With thread weight, it’s the opposite: the smaller the number, the heavier the weight of the thread.

Also, unlike needle gauge, which measures needle diameter, thread weight measures weight. Specifically, how many kilometers of thread it takes to make one kilogram. So, if you have a 30-weight thread, that means 30 kilometers of that thread weighs one kilogram.

A 50-weight thread, on the other hand, is lighter, as it would take 50 kilometers of that thread, rather than 30, to make one kilogram.

But what if your thread is “30/2”? What does that second number mean? The second number is the number of plies, or strands, in that thread. 

Here are some examples.

50 and 60 weight thread is good for general purpose sewing.

A lot of quilters like to use 30 or 40 weight thread when they want their stitches to stand out visually. 30 weight thread is also often used for decorative stitching in upholstery.

20 weight thread is for ultra-heavy weight materials.

12 to 18 weight thread is often used for hand embroidery.

Note: another standard, called the Number Standard, labels threads as #100, #50, and so on. Although in this system, like in the weight system, higher numbers describe thinner threads, #50 thread is not the same weight as 50-weight thread.

How to Match Thread Weight to Needle Size

Here’s the rule: the larger the number on your needle, the smaller the number should be on your thread.

The higher the needle gauge, the larger the shaft of that needle will be. Possibly the eye will be larger as well. This type of needle is built for a heavier thread. By contrast, smaller, thinner needles require a finer thread–that is, a thread with a greater thread weight measurement.

Confused yet? Here’s a chart. Please note that this is a rough guide. There are heavier and lighter threads and needles not represented here:

UsageNeedle GaugeThread Weight
Ultra-light fabric, fine silk60/8100 weight
Lightweight fabric70/10100 weight
Medium-light fabric80/1250-60 weight 
Medium fabric90/1440 weight
Upholstery100/1630 weight
Leather and other heavyweight materials100/1620 weight

Tips for Using the Right Sewing Machine Needle Every Time

sewing machine needle and bobbin

Every time? Well, no system is perfect. But these tips can help.

Consider Your Task

What kind of sewing will you be doing? No matter what your task, it’s likely there’s a specific needle for it. A universal needle is fine for most general sewing tasks, however you may want a task-specific needle for:

  • Embroidery
  • Quilting
  • Leather
  • Knits
  • Stretch fabrics
  • Heirloom sewing

Think About Your Fabric

Once you’ve chosen the right type of needle, it’s important to match the gauge of that needle to the weight of your fabric. Lightweight fabrics require a thinner, lighter needle, while heavier materials need a very thick, very sharp needle. Remember that a larger needle will leave a larger hole, so figure this into your calculations.

What Kind of Thread Are You Using?

Now it’s time to match your needle to your thread. This can go hand in hand with your fabric, but it doesn’t always. Lighter, finer threads require a smaller needle. Metallic thread is very fragile, so you should use a needle made for metallic threads. And thick, heavy thread requires a thick needle with a larger eye, of course.

Remember: the smaller your thread-weight number, the larger the needle gauge you will need.

Try to Thread Your Needle

When you’re preparing to sew, pay attention to how easy it is to thread your needle. The thread should pass easily through the needle’s eye. It’s easy to tell if the thread is too thick for the needle. But if the needle is too big, that can cause problems, too.

Your thread should snuggle nicely into the groove of the needle. If it fits well in the groove and passes easily through the eye, you have a better chance of producing even, high-quality stitches.

Make a Few Test Stitches

Before you start sewing, make a few test stitches. Are they tight and evenly spaced? Are they the same size? If not, it could be an indication that you’re using the wrong size needle. (It could also mean that you’re not using the correct thread tension.)

How Often Should You Change the Needle On Your Sewing Machine?

sewing machine needles

A dull sewing machine needle can harm your fabric, cause skipped stitches, snag or even break your thread, and throw your thread tension off. On top of that, it can damage your sewing machine motor. So, how often should you change it?

The amount of time is about the same, but people have different ways of measuring that time. Some suggestions include:

  • After 6 to 10 sewing hours
  • After going through three full bobbins that you wound yourself
  • After two full pre-wound bobbins
  • After completing a single project

Different factors can influence these times, including working with heavier or layered materials and sewing through coated materials.

Sewing machine needles experience a variety of pressures in addition to punching through fabric. These pressures can cause different types of damage. Always check your needle for dullness, chips, abrasion, and other damage before using it.

Sewing it All Up

Your sewing machine won’t speak up when it’s time to change the needle. And it can’t tell you if you’ve chosen the wrong one for your project. Unfortunately, your first sign of trouble may be damage to your project or even to your sewing machine.

Choose your needle carefully. Consider your fabric type, thread weight, and what sort of sewing you’ll be doing. Inspect your needle regularly for damage, and change it often.

What’s your favorite kind of sewing? And what’s your favorite needle to use? 

identifying sewing machine needles

REFERENCES: 

  1. Archaeology Magazine | Denisova Cave Yields a 50,000-Year-Old Needle | https://www.archaeology.org/news/4784-160823-denisova-cave-needle
  2. Bernadett Csaszar | Choosing the Right Needles for Your Machine Embroidery Projects | https://blog.hatchembroidery.com/choosing-the-right-needles-for-your-machine-embroidery-projects/
  3. Wisegeek Writer | What are Uses for a Ballpoint Needle? | https://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-uses-for-a-ballpoint-needle.htm
  4. Superior Threads | THREAD WEIGHTS AND MEASUREMENTS | https://www.superiorthreads.com/education-thread-measurements

Sewing Machine History: Who Invented It, Why, When, and Where?

sewing machine history

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Who invented the sewing machine? The answer is more complicated than you might think. Like a lot of great ideas, the evolution of the sewing machine is a series of inventions, innovations, improvements and hacks. And one can’t simply ask what year was the sewing machine invented, because it took place over a long period of time.

In fact, the evolution continues to this day.

Why Was the Sewing Machine Invented?

sewing pre-industrial revolution

People have been sewing by hand for a very long time. The oldest sewing needle on record is 50,000 years old. The needle is made out of bird bone, and wasn’t crafted by Homo Sapiens, but by the Denisovans, one of two other humanoid species alive at the time. [1]

The sewing machine, by contrast, is a fairly recent development. Although many people were involved in its evolution, and that evolution is still continuing today, we can trace the first sewing machines to the end of the 18th century.

The Industrial Revolution

The 18th and 19th centuries in Europe were a time of rapid and widespread scientific and technological development. The Industrial Revolution saw the mechanization of many handicrafts, as well as a shift from rural to urban life. Nowhere was this revolution more noticeable than in the textile industry. [2]

The invention of new technologies like the flying shuttle (1733), the spinning jenny (1770), and the power loom (1785) made fabric production faster and more efficient. It’s only natural that the market would demand faster and more efficient sewing technology as well. [3, 4, 5]

The Calico Acts

During the 17th century, British factories in India produced around one quarter of the world’s textiles, primarily cotton. Eventually these factories began to produce finished cotton products as well. These imports were less expensive than the wool and linen clothing produced in Britain. This proved to be a grave threat to Britain’s domestic textile and garment industries.

The Calico Acts of 1700 and 1721 banned the import and sale of finished cotton products, though it was still legal to import raw cotton. Eventually a new, cotton-based textile industry developed in Britain. [6]

By the time the Calico Acts were repealed in 1774, Britain had its own thriving cotton goods industry. This new industry fueled the development of new spinning, weaving, and later sewing technologies.

New Markets

In addition to technological and political developments, shifting market forces were at work. The influx of workers to cities meant increased demand for cheaper, ready-made clothing. The rise of a new, urban consumer class also added to this demand. The less expensive fabric was there; people just needed a faster way to turn it into clothing and household items.

Who Invented the Sewing Machine?

Who was the inventor of the sewing machine? It’s difficult to point to a single person, as so many people, from a surprising number of disciplines and backgrounds, contributed to the technologies that led to it. 

Like so many inventions, the development of the sewing machine is a story of good ideas that, more often than not, took many years and many different attempts to catch on. The story of the sewing machine illustrates the sad truth that a good idea doesn’t necessarily translate into immediate market success.

Rather, success is the harmonious convergence of ideas, personalities, and luck. And sometimes a bit of strategic patent infringement.

Let’s have a look.

Charles Frederick Wiesenthal

Charles Frederick Wiesenthal was a German inventor in the 18th century. While living in Britain, he invented the first known mechanical sewing device, though it wasn’t a sewing machine as we know it.

In 1755, he also invented a double pointed machine sewing needle with an eye at one end, for which he received a British patent.

Thomas Saint 

Newton Wilson's copy Saints sewing machine
Newton Wilson’s copy of Saint’s sewing machine (1874).
Image by Panjigalli, CC SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

In 1790, English cabinet maker Thomas Saint designed and patented a hand-cranked device for sewing leather with a chain stitch. His design had the arm that we’re so familiar with, a feed mechanism, a needle bar, and a looping mechanism. Many believe that Saint built a prototype, however, he never built his machine for sale.

Thomas_Saint's_chain_stitch
Thomas Saints chain stitch used on the first ever complete sewing machine design for leather work. An awl preceded the eye pointed needle to make a hole in preparation for the thread.
Image by Panjigally and shared via CreativeCommons Licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

In 1874, English engineer William Newton Wilson found Saint’s patent drawings and built a working sewing machine.

James Henderson, Thomas Stone, and John Duncan

1804 was a big year for sewing machine innovation. British engineers James Henderson and Thomas Stone built their version of a sewing machine. It didn’t work very well, unfortunately, and was quickly abandoned.

Also in this year, Scotsman John Duncan received a patent for a multi-needle embroidery machine. It, likewise, failed to catch on.

Balthasar Krems 

In 1810, Balthasar Krems invented a machine for sewing caps. It didn’t work very well, and he never patented it. 

Josef Madersperger 

Josef Madersperger was an Austrian tailor. In 1814, he invented a machine that he called “the Sewing Hand.” This was one of several designs, none of which, unfortunately, caught on.

In 1839, Madersperger tried another design, which used chain stitching to imitate the process of weaving.

 „Nähhand“, Josef Madersperger, um 1830
Image by Reinraum, license CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

Rev. John Adams Dodge and John Knowles

The Reverend John Adams Dodge was an American pastor and inventor. He invented numerous items related to the production of horse collars. And, in 1818, along with John Knowles, he invented a sewing machine.

Dodge never pursued production, sale, or even a patent for his machine, as his duties as a pastor kept him too busy.

Barthélemy Thimonnier 

A_copy_Thimonnier's_Machine

In 1830, French tailor Barthelemy Thimonnier received a patent for his sewing machine. The machine used a barbed needle to puncture the fabric and pull the bottom thread back up to the surface. 

Thimonnier started a factory, and intended to use his machine to make military uniforms. However, workers burned the factory down after he received the patent, as they were afraid the machine would put them out of work.

A copy of Barthélemy Thimonnier’s sewing machine from about 1830 can be seen on the left. Image courtesy of Panjigally via CreativeCommons: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

Walter Hunt 

Patent_11,161 walter hunt sewing machine
Sewing Machine, patent 11,161 | U.S. Patent Office – inventor Walter Hunt | http://www.google.com/patents/about?id=lyVNAAAAEBAJ&dq=sewing+machine+Walter+Hunt

American Walter Hunt was a mechanic by trade, but he was also a prolific inventor. In addition to a lockstitch sewing machine (1833), he invented the safety pin (1849), a nail-making machine, a knife sharpener, a streetcar bell, and many other useful things. [7]

Hunt didn’t initially patent his sewing machine, fearing the machine’s production would put seamstresses out of work. Instead, he sold the rights to a businessman who abandoned the design, also without seeking a patent. When Elias Howe patented a sewing machine that contained elements of Hunt’s design in 1846, Howe initiated court proceedings against previous sewing machine designers, including Hunt. 

The case ultimately recognized Hunt as the inventor, but because he never patented his machine, awarded intellectual property rights to Howe. In 1858, Isaac Singer, whose designs owed a lot to Hunt’s original design, agreed to pay Hunt $50,000.

Unfortunately, Hunt died before the first payment arrived.

Newton & Archibold

In 1841, British business partners Newton and Archibold introduced the eye-pointed needle, as well as the new technology of employing two pressing surfaces to hold pieces of fabric in position during sewing. 

John Greenough

In 1842, John Greenough patented the first American sewing machine.

John Fisher 

Englishman John Fisher managed to combine all of the successful elements of previous sewing machine models into a device that resembled today’s sewing machines. He filed his patent in 1844. Unfortunately, the patent office lost his paperwork, which meant that Isaac Merrit Singer was able to patent a very similar machine in 1851, and go on to fame and fortune.

Elias Howe

Elias_Howe_Sewing_Machine_1846

American Elias Howe created the first American lockstitch machine, which he patented in 1846. But that’s only the beginning of his story.

While in England, drumming up interest in his machine, Isaac Merritt Singer and others were putting forth their own designs, some of which infringed on Howe’s patent in different ways. The resulting court case drew in numerous parties, including Singer and Walter Hunt. Howe won his case, and Singer was forced to pay Howe for a license under Howe’s patent.

Allen B. Wilson 

Meanwhile, American Allen B. Wilson didn’t invent a sewing machine, but he did invent two technologies that improved existing designs. In 1850, Wilson invented the vibrating shuttle. In 1851, he invented the rotating shuttle. 

Later in 1851, Wilson entered a partnership with Nathaniel Wheeler. Together they invented a rotary hook, which would replace the shuttle altogether. Wilson also invented a four-motion feed mechanism that is still part of many modern sewing machines.

Wheeler and Wilson then went into business producing sewing machines. Their enterprise was highly successful.

Charles Miller

Also in the mid-19th century, American Charles Miller invented a buttonhole-stitching machine.

Isaac Merritt Singer

American entrepreneur Isaac Merritt Singer created an improved version of the sewing machines that existed at that time. He was granted a patent for it in 1851.

Ellen Curtis Demorest

Ellen Curtis Demorest is responsible for the invention and development of the paper pattern. She published a pattern catalog in 1860, Madame Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions. The catalog was so successful that by 1865, Demorest had built an all-female sales and distribution force 200 women strong. 

She also used a lot of the profits from her company to support women’s rights and the abolition of slavery. 

Helen Blanchard

In 1873, American Helen Blanchard patented the first zig zag sewing machine. Blanchard would go on to found the Blanchard Overseam Company in 1881. She ultimately registered 28 patents, with 22 of them having to do with sewing machines. [8]

James Allen Edward Gibbs and James Willcox

American James Edward Allen Gibbs, a farmer, patented the first single-thread chain stitch sewing machine in 1867. He partnered with James Willcox to form the Willcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine Company. The Willcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine company closed in 1973, but their commercial sewing machines are still in use today.

But Who Invented the Sewing Machine First?

That’s a vague question with a lot of answers. Perhaps it’s time to sharpen the question.

You might ask, who was the original inventor of the sewing machine. Or who made the first working sewing machine? Or who patented the first sewing machine? What about the first sewing machine that went to market? Or the first that was mass produced? 

Each of these questions has a different answer, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of this complex and contentious history. 

Let’s have a look.

What Year Was the Sewing Machine Invented?

The very first mechanical device for sewing was invented in Britain in the mid-1700s. There’s no record that the inventor, Charles Frederick Wiesenthal, ever built a prototype. However, Wiesenthal did patent a sewing machine needle in 1755.

In 1790, Thomas Saint designed and patented a hand-cranked lockstitch sewing machine. He may or may not have built a prototype, but nearly 100 years later, another inventor built a working model based on Saint’s design.

In 1830 Barthelemy Thimonnier patented a sewing machine design and built a factory, but his workers, fearful for their jobs, burnt it down.

In 1846 Elias Howe patented a sewing machine that incorporated elements from previous designs, including one that Walter Hunt had failed to patent. However, while Howe was in England trying to generate interest in his machine, Isaac Merritt Singer beat him to the punch with production.

In 1851, Singer patented his own design, which eventually went into production.

Who Patented the First Sewing Machine?

Ah, now that’s a bit easier to answer. The first sewing machine patent went to Englishman Thomas Saint in 1790.

But that’s not the end of the patent story. Numerous patents were filed in the years after that. A flurry of development in the mid-19th century resulted in a flurry of litigation that had an unprecedented ending.

The Sewing Machine War

In the mid 19th century, sewing machine manufacturers were springing up across the United States and England, and many times their claims to the intellectual property rights of various technologies overlapped. In the United States, the resulting patent thicket turned into a series of lengthy and expensive court battles.

In 1856, several of the major players, Singer, Howe, Wheeler, Wilson, and a company called Grover & Baker, formed a consortium called The Sewing Machine Combination to pool their patents. Other manufacturers had to license technologies covered by these patents from the consortium.

The Sewing Machine Combination, also called the Sewing Machine Trust, was the first patent pool in United States history. It lasted until 1877, when the last patent in the pool expired. The three most important patents in the pool were for the lockstitch, the four-motion feed, and the combination of a vertical needle used with a horizontal sewing surface.

What Role did Isaac Singer Play in the Invention of the Sewing Machine? 

As we’ve seen, it’s not enough to merely have a good idea. And it’s not enough to patent your idea, or even to build a prototype. Success also means being in the right place at the right time, seeing opportunity, and acting on it.

Isaac Merritt Singer didn’t invent the first sewing machine. He didn’t patent the first sewing machine, either. His designs drew heavily upon the many, many sewing machines that had come before — sometimes to the point of patent infringement.

What Singer did do was to design a working sewing machine, patent it, mass produce it and sell it.

Singer’s advantage wasn’t being the first. Rather, he made his machine the most marketable. Singer’s design adapted easily to home use, which opened up a new market of home sewists. He also expanded his sales overseas. I.M. Singer became one of the first multinational corporations, with a factory near Glasgow and offices in Paris and Rio de Janeiro.

With regard to manufacturing, Singer made use of the new ideas of mass production and interchangeable parts for his machines. This cut production costs in half, which allowed him to both lower the cost of his sewing machines and significantly increase his profit margins.

Singer also pioneered the idea of purchase plans, which allowed customers to pay for their sewing machines in installments. The 1944 Education Act, which mandated dressmaking for young women in public schools, further increased Singer’s market reach.

Although Singer did patent a sewing machine in 1851, his innovations in manufacturing and business practices really made Singer a household name in sewing.

Where Was the First Sewing Machine Made?

The first working sewing machine prototype was made in Britain. But it’s arguable whose prototype came first.

  • Charles Frederick Wiesenthal designed a sewing device in the mid-1700s, but there is no evidence that he built it.
  • Thomas Saint designed and patented a hand-cranked leather-sewing chain stitch machine in 1790. A prototype has never been found, but in 1874, an engineer constructed a working model based on Saint’s designs.
  • In 1804, James Henderson and Thomas Stone built a working sewing machine. Scotsman John Duncan built an embroidery machine that year, too. However, neither machine worked well enough to pursue production.

The first sewing machine that was produced for sale was made in the United States by Isaac Merritt Singer.

Sewing Machine History Timeline

  • Mid-1700s Charles Frederick Wiesenthal invents a mechanical sewing device
  • 1790 Thomas Saint designs and patents a hand-cranked leather-sewing chain stitch machine
  • 1804 James Henderson and Thomas Stone build a working sewing machine.
  • 1804 Scotsman John Duncan builds an embroidery machine
  • 1810 Balthasar Krems invents a machine for sewing caps
  • 1818 The Reverend John Adams Dodge and John Knowles invent a sewing machine
  • 1830 Barthelemy Thimonnier patents a sewing machine with a barbed needle, which pulls up the bottom thread.
  • 1833 Walter Hunt invents a lockstitch sewing machine
  • 1839 Josef Madersperger invents “The Sewing Hand” and a chain stitch machine
  • 1841 Newton & Archibold introduce the eye-pointed needle and a technology for holding pieces of fabric during sewing.
  • 1842 John Greenough receives the first American patent for a sewing machine.
  • 1844 John Fisher files a British patent for a sewing machine design, but the patent office loses his paperwork.
  • 1846 Elias Howe patents the first American lockstitch machine. 
  • 1850 Allen B. Wilson invents the vibrating shuttle.
  • 1851 Allen B. Wilson invents the rotating shuttle.
  • 1851 Allen B. Wilson patents the rotating hook, which replaces the shuttle.
  • 1851 Isaac Merritt Singer patents his sewing machine.
  • 1852 Allen B. Wilson patents the four-motion feed.
  • 1852 Charles Miller patents the design for a buttonhole stitching machine.
  • 1851-1856 The Sewing Machine War
  • 1856 The formation of the Sewing Machine Trust
  • 1856 Isaac Merritt Singer founded I.M. Singer & Co.
  • 1858 Singer introduces the first lightweight domestic sewing machine, the “Grasshopper.”
  • 1860 Englishmen William Jones and Thomas Chadwick found the first English sewing machine manufacturing company.
  • 1860 Ellen Curtis Demorest invents the paper pattern and publishes a wildly popular pattern catalog.
  • 1867 Ebenezer Butterick patents paper patterns for men’s and women’s clothing.
  • 1867 James Allen Edward Gibbs patents the first single-thread chain stitch machine.
  • 1873 Helen Blanchard patents the first zig zag sewing machine.
  • 1877 Joseph M. Merrow invents the first crochet machine.
  • 1885 Singer patents the vibrating shuttle sewing machine.
  • 1889 Singer introduces the first electric sewing machine to the market.
  • 1893 The Bernina Sewing Machine Company is founded in Switzerland.
  • 1908 Kanekichi Yasui founds Yasui & Co Sewing Machine Company (later Brother Industries)
  • 1921 The Pine Sewing Machine Company (later Janome) is founded.
  • 1935 Janome invents the round bobbin.
  • 1938 The Juki Sewing Machine company is founded.
  • 1971 Janome releases the first sewing machine with programmable functions.
  • 1975 Singer brings out the Athena 2000, the world’s first electronic sewing machine.
  • 1978 Singer introduces the first computer-controlled sewing machine, the Touchtronic 2001.
  • 1990 Janome releases the first professional-quality embroidery machine for home use.
  • 2003 Janome brings out the first professional-quality longarm quilting machine for home use.

Why Sewing Machine History Matters

The history of sewing and sewing machines is important in a number of ways. First, it helps us to understand how invention is rarely the work of one person at one time. Every invention builds upon earlier successes and failures. Innovations and improvements move design forward. And sometimes the secret to success isn’t in design at all, but in business.

Studying sewing machine history also gives us a glimpse into the personalities, politics, and the lives of everyday people, and how these change over time. Inventors may work alone, but it takes cooperation and new kinds of networks and organizations to build an effective industry. 

And a person may invent the best product, but if they don’t patent, market, and produce it, it remains simply an interesting idea.

The invention of the industrial sewing machine made clothing and fabric goods cheaper and more accessible to more people. The invention of the mass-produced home sewing machine empowered millions to craft their own clothing and unleash their creative potential. And these are just a few examples.

Final Thoughts

It’s a long, winding path from that first 18th-century design to the modern machine sitting on your sewing table. That path is filled with false starts, mistakes, unexpected twists of fate, and outright theft. It’s also filled with flashes of technical genius, small modifications that made a huge difference, and the entrepreneurial skill to build a worldwide industry that continues today.

Who invented the sewing machine? A lot of people did. But invention is just part of the story.

who invented sewing machine

REFERENCES:

  1. Eric Grundhauser | Found: The World’s Oldest Sewing Needle | https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/found-the-worlds-oldest-sewing-needle
  2. History.com Editors | Industrial Revolution | https://www.history.com/topics/industrial-revolution/industrial-revolution
  3. Kevin Beck | Description of a Flying Shuttle | https://sciencing.com/description-of-a-flying-shuttle-12556508.html
  4. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica | Spinning jenny | https://www.britannica.com/technology/spinning-jenny
  5. History Crunch Writers | Power Loom Invention in the Industrial Revolution | https://www.historycrunch.com/power-loom-invention-in-the-industrial-revolution.html#/
  6. Richard A. Webster | Western colonialism | https://www.britannica.com/topic/Western-colonialism/The-English#ref277894
  7. The Irish Times | Inspiring innovators: Walter Hunt | https://www.irishtimes.com/business/2.790/inspiring-innovators-walter-hunt-1.585062
  8. National Inventors Hall of Fame | Helen Blanchard | https://www.invent.org/inductees/helen-blanchard