page title icon How Does a Sewing Machine Work

As much as they can be frustrating sometimes, particularly when something goes wrong, sewing machines actually are helpful.

In some cases, it’s difficult to imagine what our lives would be like without them. Especially when it comes to activities like sewing.

Sewing machines remove the tediousness of manually sewing large pieces of fabric and reduce the time it takes to complete the task significantly.

We know that these machines are incredibly helpful, but quite often we don’t understand how they work. 

Sewing machines are fascinating, and today we’re talking about how sewing machines work.

We’ll look at all the intricate processes that enable the machine to quickly compile stitches and achieve a finished garment significantly quicker than sewing by hand.

So if you’re interested in understanding how your sewing machine works, please read on.

How does a sewing machine sew?

When you watch a sewing machine at work it might be difficult to understand exactly how it works.

Stitching by hand requires you to manually pull the needle through one piece of fabric then through the other, weaving between upwards and downwards movements until the fabric is completely combined.

Based on this it can be hard to understand how a sewing machine works. The needle of the machine only moves up and down making it difficult to see how it can pass the needle back and forth through the fabric without getting tangled. 

The sewing machine manages to do this as it uses a different stitch than when you sew by hand called a lock stitch. This stitch requires the machine to use two different threads, one feeding down through the machine, and the other feeding up through it.

This stitch works by the needle threading the top thread down through the material. It then loops and catches on the shuttle below the material.

Through the shuttle, the thread loops around the bobbin thread (which feeds upwards) as the needle pulls upwards. This pulls the bobbin thread through the material to form a stitch. 

The machine repeats this process of feeding the thread down and pulling up to form successive stitches until all the material you want to sew together has been combined.

How does a sewing machine work?

Now that we understand how the sewing machine sews, it is also important to understand how the sewing machine itself works.

Sewing machines often used to be powered through hand-power, but they are now more commonly powered by electricity. Sewing machines are not appropriate for all sewing tasks, however, they are very helpful when it comes to tiring sewing jobs. 

In electric sewing machines, the heart is the electric motor. This is essential for the running of the machine as it provides electricity to three different mechanisms that allow the sewing machine to sew.

To understand how the sewing machine works, it is important to understand the layout of it. The electric motor is located near the bottom of the sewing machine and on the opposite side of the device to the needle.

The motor is connected to the needle via a system of pulley arrangements that drive the handwheel that in turns drives the needle to complete its up, down movement. 

The first mechanism that is powered by the electric motor is the needle mechanism. This is the mechanism that you will be able to see working as it is located outside of the sewing machine.

This mechanism is powered by the shaft driving the handwheel which subsequently drives the crankshaft and makes the needle rise and fall, allowing the needle to stitch the materials together.

The second mechanism is also involved with the stitching process directly, and it is the bobbin and shuttle mechanism.

For the machine to be able to connect the stitches, the shuttle and hook need to rotate faster than the needle mechanism.

Electricity directed towards the shaft allows the machine to rotate the mechanism fast enough that both the needle thread and bobbin thread connect and form a stitch. 

The final mechanism powered with electricity is the feed-dog-mechanism. While the other two mechanisms focus directly on the stitch, this one focuses on the material that you are sewing.

The feed-dog-mechanism feeds the fabric through the machine allowing the stitches to pull the two pieces of fabric together. This must happen at a steady speed otherwise the stitches may become messy and unequal.

This mechanism works by moving up and downwards simultaneously with the needle and the bobbin and shuttle mechanism, ensuring that the processes all run smoothly and you are left with a neat stitch.

How does a sewing machine stitch?

That explains how the sewing machine works, but it is still unclear exactly how the mechanisms work together to form individual stitches.

The sewing machine forms stitches through the coordinated use of the three mechanisms we discussed earlier.

The sewing machine can form stitches quickly as it is powered by electricity, but it works through a step by step process which allows us to understand exactly how it works. 

When the sewing machine begins to form a stitch, the needle must be positioned high. This allows the needle to move downwards at speed, and puncture the fabric.

This feeds the thread through the material ready to form the next stitch. While this is happening, simultaneously the shuttle turns beneath the fabric and the hook moves upwards approaching the needle and thread. 

After puncturing the fabric the needle rises again but leaves behind a loop of thread, this forms the beginning of the stitch.

Once the needle has moved, the shuttle hook moves upwards, passes through the loop, and catches. As the needle continues to rise, the shuttle hook pulls the loop of thread around so it is locked in the bobbin thread.

The movement of the needle pulling upwards tightens the thread and pulls it back from the shuttle hook. The threads lock together forming a stitch, then the process repeats for the next stitch.

As long as the sewing machine is running, this process will continue until all of the fabric has sewn together. 

Summary

It can be difficult to understand how sewing machines work, but once you know that they use a different stitch to hand stitching it becomes a lot clearer.

Sewing machines are a great way to reduce the time it takes to sew, especially when completing tedious sewing tasks.

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