The Sewing Machine Classroom: Learn the Ins and Outs of Your Machine

The Sewing Machine Classroom: Learn the Ins and Outs of Your Machine

by Charlene Phillips

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Make the Most of Your Sewing Machine!

Join author Charlene Phillips as you learn all about your new best friend—your sewing machine! From fabric to feet to finished product, you’ll be guided through techniques for mastering your machine and using it to perform basic to advanced stitching tasks. Whether you’ve been sewing for years or just gotten the itch, you’ll find invaluable information inside for using your sewing machine to its maximum potential.

Learn how to:

   • Troubleshoot machine problems like skipped stitches, needle breaks and tension troubles
   • Perform basic maintenance on your machine to keep it running smoothly
   • Choose fabrics, threads and other materials that will keep your machine running at full capacity and result in quality projects
   • Recognize and utilize the best sewing machine feet to achieve the desired results
   • Refine everyday tasks from installing zippers to sewing buttonholes and constructing perfect hems
   • Create beautiful embellishments like scallops, ruches, smocking, pin tucks, cutwork, puffing and entredeux to enhance any sewn project or garment

An indispensable reference book to keep next to your machine, inside you’ll find quick answers to all your sewing problems. Take control of your sewing machine and achieve wonderful results every time!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781440216022
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/02/2011
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 150,814
File size: 9 MB

About the Author

Charlene Phillips owns and operates the Sew Box, where she sells sewing machine feet, notions and self-designed sewing patterns. She is the author of The Sewing Machine Attachment Handbook published by Krause in Fall 2009 and has written articles for magazines including Threads, Sew News, ISMACS News and Creative Machine Embroidery. Charlene has taught classes at conferences and quilt stores around the country. Charlene Phillips lives in Hamilton, OH.

Read an Excerpt


mastering the materials

A visit to any fabric store surrounds you with luscious fabrics in all colors, types and textures — silks to be admired and furs to be touched! Sewing projects immediately form in your head as you wander aisle after aisle of fabric. As you grab a bolt and head to the cutting counter, pause and read the end of the bolt. What's the fabric made of? Is it a silky blend? What special threads, needles or stabilizers are needed to sew a perfect project? Understanding your materials will help ensure a beautiful finished project!


Thread passes through the needle eye in an up-and-down motion very quickly before it forms one stitch. The threaded needle pierces the fabric and enters the bobbin area where a hook catches the upper thread. The hook carries the thread all around the bobbin case so it makes one wrap of the bobbin thread. The take-up lever pulls excess thread from the bobbin area and back to the top, forming a lockstitch. Ideally, a lockstitch falls in the middle of the fabric. The feed dogs pull the fabric along, and everything is repeated over and over again. Forming a perfect stitch begins with three things we normally don't think about: thread, needle and tension.

When beginning a sewing project, choosing the perfect fabric is usually what we think about first. With great care and enjoyment, we think about fabric type and colors to best suit our project. We may then choose thread based on a nice color match, and grab needles just in case those at home break. Admittedly, thread and needle choice is not as exciting as choosing fabric, but they may be the most important items we choose.

Learn to know your thread. For the best results, always choose high-quality thread which is smooth and doesn't split easily. Lower-quality thread has frayed edges and roughness which create excessive lint buildup and a multitude of stitching problems.

After choosing fabric to suit your project:

• Choose thread that's compatible with the fabric type and weight.

• Select the proper needle type that is compatible with your fabric.

• Select a needle size to match the thread.

sewing 101

Is it hard to thread the needle? The needle size may be too small for the thread. Refer to the chart on page 145 for choosing the perfect needle and thread combo for any project.


Each new combination of stitches, fabric or threads can result in machine adjustments. Keep a sewing journal of stitch samples and machine settings for future reference. Reach into your fabric scrap basket and start sewing. Whether learning new techniques or using a new sewing foot, jot down notes as you go. Did you increase or decrease tension for certain fabrics? Did stitch patterns change when increasing stitch width? How did you keep two thread colors from tangling with twin needles? Sew out some stitch samples to place with your notes. No journal? Try index cards!

the importance of thread

Although economically enticing to use one spool of thread for all your projects, whether silk, vinyl, crepe or cottons …think twice! A spool of cotton/polyester thread may not produce perfect results on silky or stretchy fabrics. Choosing the proper thread is crucial to eliminating frustration later. frustration later.


Years ago, I always bought thread on sale. The cheaper the better — five spools for a dollar was always so enticing. Why not buy a lot and store it until needed? Had I given a thought to thread quality, I could have saved myself many problematic issues of thread breakage, weak seams, skipped stitches and balled up tangles of thread. Add excessive lint buildup and trouble was inevitable.

We have so many thread choices with the many quality threads on the market today. They may initially cost more, but quality thread can help eliminate many sewing frustrations. Try several brands with your sewing machine and see which behaves best. Your machine may have a preference.

To form a stitch, thread passes through tension discs, thread guides and through the needle — up and down the threading path and into the bobbin area, catching the bobbin thread perfectly. There are many chances of breakage as thread travels along this path. Continual lint buildup and pieces of thread caught in the tension discs ultimately create problems with maintaining a balanced tension.

Magnify different threads, and you will clearly see the difference between those with fraying fibers and those with a smooth finish. Hold a piece up to the light and notice any fuzzy or loose threads. Poor quality thread is also twisted unevenly, having thick and thin areas. Toss it!

So which thread to use? Higher quality cotton threads can be labeled mercerized, extra long staple, Egyptian or Peruvian. Although it is not as durable, strong or elastic as polyester, choose cotton thread when sewing natural fiber fabrics like silk, cotton, wool and linen. Choose synthetic polyester when sewing leather, vinyls, imitation leather and suede. Silk thread is a good choice when basting or sewing sheer fabrics as the thread is nearly invisible, and the fineness creates less bulk in the seams.


We can place thread into four categories based on the material used:

• Natural fiber is made from animal (wool, silk) and plant (cotton, flax, jute).

• Rayon fiber is made from cellulose.

• Man-made fiber is made from mineral (glass, metallic).

• Synthetic fiber is made from polyester, nylon, elastic, acrylic or polypropylene.

Threads begin as simple yarns. Twisting short fibers or continuous filaments produces these yarns and is responsible for the flexibility and strength of a good sewing thread. Two or more yarns are combined in this way, and then a reverse twist is added to make thread. Without the reverse twist, threads would separate when passing through the needle and tension discs.

Twists are the number of turns per inch put in the thread. Too little twist results in thread that frays and breaks. Too much twist results in thread that snarls, loops and knots. For machine sewing, an additional left twist (Z twist) may be added. The action of sewing will increase the left twisted thread, so if the thread was twisted entirely to the right, it would become untwisted. To test the twist, hold the spool in your left hand, and roll the strand of thread towards you with one thumb. Left twist will tighten and right twist will loosen.

Ply is the number of yarns twisted together to make a thread. Two-ply thread is two yarns twisted together and three-ply is three yarns twisted.

Thread finishes are added for varying sewing uses. Soft thread is left unfinished and only dyed and lubricated. Mercerized thread is cotton thread treated in a caustic solution that allows the fibers to swell and take dye more readily, while also increasing strength and luster. Gassed thread is mercerized cotton that is passed quickly through a flame to reduce fuzz, resulting in a higher sheen and a soft, iridescent appearance. Glazed thread is cotton thread that is treated with starches and other chemicals, heated, and polished for high luster.


Sewing machine thread comes in weights from very fine to heavyweight. The most commonly used thread is all-purpose, medium-weight thread.

Here are a few tips on choosing a thread weight:

• For general sewing, buttonholes and topstitching on medium-weight fabrics, use all purpose or regular threads.

• For general sewing, buttonholes and topstitching on delicate, lightweight fabrics, use extra-fine cotton-covered polyester, fine cotton machine embroidery, lightweight polyester or lightweight silk thread.

• For general sewing, buttonholes and topstitching on heavyweight fabrics, use topstitching, machine embroidery or heavy threads.

• The heavier the fabric, the heavier the thread weight.

Experiment with different thread weights to find what suits your sewing project for elasticity, strength, durability and appearance. Using a thread that's too thin for topstitching will mar your garment's appearance. Read the thread spool! You will generally find information to guide thread selection: manufacturer, color number, fiber content, weight and number of plys, and whether or not the thread is mercerized.

sewing 101

If your machine has a vertical thread spool, place the thread on your machine with the top part of the spool up. How can you tell top from bottom? When placed on the spool pin, the thread should unwind from behind the thread spool. Always check each thread spool for burrs that can cause the thread to catch and break.


All-Purpose Thread

All-purpose thread is usually made from cotton-wrapped polyester. Cotton gives the thread strength, and polyester gives it flexibility and stretch. All-purpose thread can be used on many fabric types, especially blends. For heavyweight fabrics, use 40 weight thread. The cotton thread fibers have been mercerized to add strength, ability to take dye and add color fastness.

100 Percent Polyester

Polyester thread provides strength and flexibility when sewing knits and stretchy fabrics as the thread stretches and doesn't shrink. It is perfect on natural fabrics, fabrics with blended fibers and synthetic fabrics. Polyester thread sews well at high speeds with less breakage. It has more stitch volume and works well for satin stitches. It's also more "forgiving" of mechanical conditions of the machine or poor adjustments. Wind the bobbin slowly — polyester thread has some stretch to it; if the thread stretches, the seams will pucker.

100 Percent Cotton

Cotton thread is made from a yarn of plant origin, such as cotton or linen. One hundred percent cotton thread is best for use on cotton and linen fabrics.

100 Percent Mercerized Cotton

Mercerized cotton thread is treated with a caustic solution which causes fibers to swell and increases luster and strength. Because it's preshrunk, it tends not to shrink like regular cotton thread.


Silk thread is strong and has a bit of stretch; it is smooth and free of "fuzzies." Silk thread blends almost invisibly into seams. It is perfect for basting as it doesn't leave an impression on the fabric. Silk thread takes on the color of the fabric, so a huge color assortment is unnecessary. Perfect for sewing all fabrics, it is excellent for sewing silks and woolens. Silk thread also does a beautiful job sewing rolled hems with a tighter edge.

sewing 101

Try sewing cotton thread on a piece of cotton and then on a polyester piece. Compare the stitches.


Nylon thread is heavy duty, abrasion resistant and doesn't deteriorate. It is perfect for both indoor and outdoor projects, and is available in many colors. Use nylon thread for upholstery and heavy-duty home decorating projects. Nylon thread can melt at low iron temperatures. Choose a needle size to match the thread weight.


Fusible thread provides a temporary bond until final stitching. It melts together when pressed with a steam iron. Use it on hard-to-sew fabrics, such as suedes, knits and leathers. Fusible thread keeps both fabrics in place during permanent stitching, preventing creeping.


Rayon thread has a smooth finish, a pronounced sheen, and provides consistent, trouble-free sewing. Oftentimes used for machine embroidery, it holds up to high-speed sewing without fraying. Use it for decorative stitching, such as embroidery, thread art, satin stitching and couching. Rayon thread comes in an array of colors, and is generally available in 30 and 40 weights.

sewing 101

Keeping rayon and metallic thread in the freezer prolongs its lifespan!


Metallic thread is available from fine to heavyweight. The finer thread is used for machine sewing, and thicker threads can be couched or used for bobbin work. Always use a metallic needle and sew at a slower speed to prevent thread breakage. There are various types of metallic threads, such as silver metallic and those made of viscose/metallis blends. It is available in variety of textures and thicknesses from 12 weight to 50 weight. The finer 50 weight is perfect for fine monograms, filigree embroidery and intricate stitching. Use needle size 100/16 when sewing with 20 weight, and use a 120/19 wing needle if hemstitching.

Monofilament (Invisible)

Monofilament thread is made of 100% transparent nylon or polyester, and is available in clear and smoke. Use in the bobbin when bobbin thread shouldn't show or use as upper thread when couching (see pages 124–125) shouldn't detract from the underlying threads. This thread is strong with a little stretch. The most popular sizes are .004 and .005. Use for appliqué, sewing crafts, machine quilting and home decor projects. Cover the spool with a spool net when machine sewing to prevent tangling.

Pearl Cotton

Pearl cotton thread can be cotton or rayon. It is available in three weights — 5, 8 and 12. A 2-ply, high-sheen, non-divisible twisted pearl cotton thread (one strand) is used in many forms of needlework. It is oftentimes used in the bobbin area only for bobbin work or decorative stitches. When used for couching (see pages 124–125), couch over two or more threads.


Jeans thread is heavyweight and makes a durable stitch. Use it for machine embroidery, topstitching and general sewing of denims. Colors Blue Jean Gold and Indigo match traditional blue jean colors. Use it with a jeans/denim needle.

sewing 101

Does your thread tend to twist and knot during hand sewing? The proper method is to thread the needle with the tail that comes off the spool. Thread does have a "nap," so instead of folding the thread over and knotting it, cut a second piece of thread and thread both ends in the needle eye. Your thread is now doubled, but not twisted.

Silk Ribbon

Silk ribbon is a flat, lightweight ribbon that is soft and pliable. Sizes 2mm and 4mm can be used for couching, embroidery or bobbin work. Wind it onto a bobbin by hand or very slowly by machine. Use a heavy tapestry needle to pull the ribbon to the wrong side of the fabric at the beginning and ending of stitching to tie off.

Ribbon Floss

Ribbon floss is small, thin ribbon that is braided, not woven; it has great pliability and reduced twisting. It is usually rayon, but metallic ribbon floss is also available. Use ribbon floss for bobbin work and hand embroidery. When used in the bobbin, wind it by hand or very slowly by machine.

Silk Buttonhole Twist

Typically used for hand sewing buttonholes, this thread can also be used for silk ribbon embroidery, bobbin work or crazy quilt embellishments. It is available in sizes 6, 8, 10 and 12. Size 6 is heaviest, and size 10 is the most common. When hand sewing, thread the loose end of the thread onto the needle and knot the end that was closest to the spool.


Basting thread is a soft, cotton thread that breaks easily. Use it for basting seams and tailor's tacks.


Bobbin thread is a fine 60 or 70 weight thread made from cotton and polyester. It is typically used for embroidery, but can be used for many sewing techniques. It is available in black or white. Although not as strong as regular thread, it can be used in the bobbin for piecing a quilt or general sewing. Its fine, thin quality results in a flatter and more accurate seam allowance.

Water-Soluble Basting

Water-soluble basting thread provides a temporary hold until final stitching. It dissolves when steam pressed or washed. It can be used used in the bobbin and the needle.


Lingerie thread is an extra-fine nylon thread with some stretch. It is available in black and white. Use it for sewing tricot, lingerie and lightweight woven synthetics. It can be used in the bobbin for free-motion sewing or embroidery.

Button and Carpet

This is a cotton-wrapped polyester, strong, heavy-weight thread. Use it for sewing buttons and heavy-duty items.


Excerpted from "The Sewing Machine Classroom"
by .
Copyright © 2011 Charlene Phillips.
Excerpted by permission of F+W Media, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Special Offers,
About the Author,
SECTION ONE: Taking Control,
CHAPTER 1: Mastering the Materials,
CHAPTER 2: Demystifying Your Machine,
SECTION TWO: Increasing Your Sphere of Influence,
CHAPTER 3: Project Preparation,
CHAPTER 4: Hems and Edgings,
CHAPTER 5: Buttonholes and Zippers,
CHAPTER 6: Embellishments,
CHAPTER 7: Surface and Thread Embellishments,
Appendix and Reference Charts,

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Sewing Machine Classroom: Learn the Ins & Outs of Your Machine 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Hearthrose More than 1 year ago
I received this book for my birthday last year and was initially not terribly excited. After all, doesn't my sewing machine manual cover everything I might need to know about my machine? This book takes you well beyond the sewing machine manual. Certainly, it discusses fixes for sewing problems, but it goes beyond to discuss the proper use of sewing feet, including fairly exotic ones. It gives you ideas that can be taken directly to your sewing room, not just mechanical know-how. You wouldn't expect a "sewing machine" book to tell you how to do cutwork with your machine - but this one does. I could not possibly recommend this book more highly. It deserves a place on your shelf.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I saw this book in the library and was so impressed I bought it. It has everything you wanted to know about your sewing machine and more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
because it would have made things so much simpler. Don't get me wrong--I learned a lot from winding bobbins and adjusting the needle tension on my machine(s) incorrectly, breaking needles, fighting with an attachment to get the desired result, etc. but not everybody enjoys doing it the hard way. The Sewing Machine Classroom is easy to understand, methodical without being dull and comprehensive. Ms. Phillips carefully identifies all the factors that can contribute to a problem, shows how they all work together and then guides you through it in a way that isn't geeky technical or overwhelming. She also inserts basic sewing tips throughout that are very helpful. Best of all, the book is spiral bound which makes it easier to refer to while sewing and it's a really attractive publication. I think this is a good purchase.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago