How Does a Sewing Machine Work: The Mechanism Explained

Last Updated: November 30, 2020 by Philip Williams

Few inventions from the past 200 years are as important as the sewing machine. And it is not a surprise why. You may be asking, but how does a sewing machine work that it is so critical? Well, it all comes down to its mechanism.

When you start to understand how vital this mechanism was to the hundreds of industries from the past 200 years – then you find out why sewing machines may have changed the world. Just consider how fast they made clothing manufacturing.

In comparison to when sewing machines didn’t exist, people literally sewed with their hands, a laborious and time-consuming process.

There’s nothing to hate about sewing machines. They’re part of the monstrous improvements we’ve experienced over the last few hundred years. And here, we’re going to show you how exactly they work.

So, do you want to learn more about these fantastic machines? Then keep scrolling!

What is a Sewing Machine?

There’s no better way to explain sewing machines than saying they are machines that sews thread into other threads. That’s the literal explanation.

But if you want to go a step further, you may say a sewing machine is an electric motor connected to a mechanical system that automates sewing.

The whole focus is to push a needle up and down through the fabric. This creates the sewing that produces clothing and accessories.

Instead of having to do it all by hand, sewing machines ensure the thread is used efficiently and quickly enough to save time and tons of effort.

But it wasn’t always like this. The first few sewing machines were all clunky and had tons of problems. After several years and thousands of iterations and advancements, sewing machines became the mechanical devices that were used in almost every industry that uses fabrics.

Today, you may find sewing machines with an electrical motor, a mechanical interior, and an electronic system (microchip) that makes them even more practical.

Now that you have a better idea of what a sewing machine is – let’s go a step further and explain how it’s composed.

Parts of a Sewing Machine

There are hundreds of sewing machine parts, from large to small ones. Each one has a purpose and makes sure the sewing system can work neatly.

Among the things you can see from outside, there are:

  • Needle thread slot(s)
  • Wingnut for loosening & changing needles
  • Needle
  • Presser foot (over the feed-dogs system)
  • Drawer (with bobber & shuffle inside)
  • Handwheel for needle height
  • Handwheel for needle length
  • Stitching type selector
  • Stitching controls
  • Thread tension system

These are just the parts you see from outside. You use the needle thread slots to install the thread you want to use, the wing nut to change the needle as necessary, the needle below it, and then you find the presser foot and the drawer – which work together as a press to make precise threading. The rest of the parts are used for adjusting the machine.

But what about the things you find under the housing? Well, those are a little more complicated. Here’s a list of them:

  • Electric motor
  • Upper drive shaft
  • Lower drive shaft
  • Crank
  • Belt (connects the shafts)
  • Bobbin
  • Shuttle
  • Feed-dog

Be aware that all these parts compose other parts, and at the same time, these parts are formed by different components.

But what can you do with these parts that make the sewing machine work? Well, next you have a more detailed explanation of its mechanism.

Sewing Machine Mechanism

So you’re interested in learning more about the sewing machine mechanics, but you don’t even know what a sewing machine is precisely.

Well, don’t worry – we’re going to give you a comprehensive explanation of what it is. Then, you’ll learn how it truly works.

We can’t show you a sewing machine diagram about the parts we mentioned above. But we can do our best to explain how these internal parts of a sewing machine work together to produce the sewing.

For that, we need to explain the mechanism in differents parts:  

1. Needle System

The first mechanism you’ll find is the needle system. It is made of the upper shaft (drives a wheel) and the lower shaft (pushes the needle up and down). These shafts transform the motor motion into the up-and-down motion.

While the motor produces a rounding mechanism, the upper shaft receives it and drives a wheel. Then, that wheel connects to the lower crankshaft, which transforms the motion into reciprocal movement. Then, the needle can go up and down.

Sure enough, the needle needs a thread. This thread goes into the needle eye and comes directly from the thread bobbin.

2. Bobbin & Shuttle

The shuttle system is what gets the thread from the bobbin into the needle and then the fabric.

It starts with the bobbin that rotates to deliver the thread to the needle. This thread is pulled out of the bobbin by an arm or hook from under the stitching plate.

Below the needle, there’s a set of gears or pulleys that move a shaft. This shaft connects to the hook that grabs the thread when the needle goes down.

3. Feed-Dog

As the name says, this is what feeds the machine with the fabric for the threading to happen. And even though it sounds simpler than the rest, it is actually the most complex.

This system moves forward and upward at the same time using two mechanisms from a primary shaft. The shaft has an egg-shaped wheel in the center. This wheel touches a lever that rocks back and forth.

The lever connects to a crank that moves the other part of the shaft. When this part of the shaft moves, the egg-shaped wheel touches the lever again. This ensures the lever moves back and forth consistently.

While the lever rocks back and forth, the shaft moves up and down. The two crank mechanisms make it possible for a set of teeth to move the fabric. It moves upwards and forward to move the material on top.

How Does a Sewing Machine Work: Step-by-Step Explanation

So you learned a little about the sewing machine mechanism and its parts. Now let’s explain how can a machine sew in simpler words:

  1. Everything starts with the needle. Using the force coming from the shafts, it manages to go up and down through the fabric.
  2. While the needle goes through the fabric, a small arm or hook below catches the thread. This arm is part of the shuttle mechanism from below.
  3. When the hook catches the thread, the needle goes back up again. But part of the thread stays on the hook. This hook makes a slight circular movement that locks more thread from the bobbin. And at the same time, it locks up the thread on the fabric.
  4. Now that the hook has some thread that stays behind, creating the loop on the fabric, the feed-dogs system makes sure the fabric moves outwards.
  5. Then the process repeats, but the needle goes through the fabric in a slightly different area. Then it goes back up again, and leaves some thread behind that creates the stitching.

Follow how a sewing machine works now? Then you’re ready to start using one. Here is a video of visual details on how sewing machine Works!

Videos of Sewing Machine Mechanism

How Does a Hand Sewing Machine Work?

The general idea of sewing is to punch a threaded needle through the fabric and get it on the other site. Then this needle comes back out of the fabric but leaving part of the thread behind. Once this happens, the machine repeats the same process until it creates something.
But a hand-sewing machine doesn’t work this way.

It is composed of almost the same parts as an electrical model, but instead of a motor, it is operated by hand. This automates the process slightly, making it a lot easier than manual sewing but not as easy as an electrical model.

Types of Sewing Machines

There are hundreds of sewing machine models out there. But they are separated into two major types. Here, we’re going to explain both:

1. Industrial Sewing Machines:

These are the machines used in manufacturing environments. From clothing companies to outdoor accessories, and many others – they all use industrial sewing machines.

Industrial models use a clutch motor, which is automatic and produces constant stitching. Similarly, it drives the fabric along a path to make the sewing process faster. These machines usually don’t rely on their precision but on their speed and strength.

Among these sewing machines, you can find flat-bed, cylinder-bed, post-bed, and off-the-arm models. Each one has its own purpose and type of operation.

2. Domestic Sewing Machines:

These are the ones used in domestic environments, so don’t rely on speed or strength but on precision and stylistic stitching. Mostly used by enthusiasts and professional tailors.

Domestic models use a servo motor. It is operated manually, so it is slow and not as potent as an industrial motor. However, it delivers extra precision and can be adjusted to provide all kinds of stitches.

Among the many domestic sewing machines, you’ll find manual, electronic, computerized, and overlocking models. They all work for different purposes and in different ways.

Brief History of Sewing Machine

The sewing machine’s history is one of the constant advancements, especially in terms of design and features available to consumers. With technology becoming the way of life for people worldwide, more innovations are being made regularly to make sewing simpler and faster.

Sewing machines have been around for quite some time. They were initially made for home use, but their use in professional settings grew in popularity.

This is where the first sewing machine came into use. It was a simple machine, but with the advancements it had over time, it became very powerful and became the machine of choice for many.

In earlier times, it was not so common to find them in professional settings. Although, indeed, most of the early sewing machines were only used at home, they became trendy in offices in which professional singers used them regularly.

From these early machines used by professionals, we now have a lot of different manufacturers that offer a wide range of other models. Most of these machines still have the same essential functions, with only minor improvements made over the years.

It is no surprise then that we still have some of the same models from the olden days. All it takes to make a machine better than the last one is to add a few improvements.

Sewing Machine was an essential tool for people and professions in the past. When the first sewing machines were used at home to the day when people were sewing clothes for their families, these machines have been a fundamental part of our lives.

No matter how much technology we have today, we will always need a good sewing machine to sew. This history of the sewing machine is essential because it gives us the understanding that things will always be necessary.

Who invented the sewing machine?

The inventor of sewing machines is not officially accepted by everyone in the industry. But there’s a lot of evidence that the first-ever sewing machine came from the hands of Elias Howe in 1846. [Source: ISMACS International]

Supposedly, the patent didn’t come from Elias Howe, but from Thomas Saint. He patented the sewing machine in 1790. Then Elias Howe, after years of experiments, finally built the machine that eventually revolutionized the clothing industry.

This sewing machine, however, was not as we know it today. The early versions were hand-powered using a handle or treadle system. After several years of advancements, sewing machines became electrically-powered and more mechanically efficient – similarly to the one we know today.

Extra Knowledge Base

Lock Stitch

A lock stitch is probably the oldest mechanical stitch ever created by a sewing machine. The word “lock stitch,” often seen on dress shirt labels, refers to lock stitch. It is typically the result of using two needles that come together to form a line of stitching.

This stitch was used in the early 19th century in England, and it became a favourite for many home sewers because it was simple to do. The only problem with this type of stitch was that if the fabric being sewn had any uneven stitches, it would show up during the final finished product. Modern technology has significantly improved the lock stitch’s ability to produce a smooth, even, and attractive final product.

Modern technology has made it possible for manufacturers to produce more than one line of lock stitches at a time. This allows the manufacturer to create a different pattern of stitching depending upon what the customer orders. These patterns can be done manually or through an automated system.

In the past, lock stitch has often been used in dress shirts to decorate a shirt’s edges. The latest lock stitch patterns have become popular among people of all ages who want to make a decorative statement with a functional garment. While it may take some practice to master the art of lock stitching, it is a fun and rewarding skill to learn.

Shuttle Hook

Many sewing machines with the motor have a shuttle hook attached to it. Most old and cheap sewing machines have either electric or vertical oscillatory shuttle loop system.

Do you know? How vertical oscillation shuttle loop system and oscillating hook work? Both vertical and horizontal loop systems make the same basic sewing stitch type, however, they make it differently in their operating technique.

Horizontal oscillation stitches are used when you are stitching something that is more textured than solid. These stitches go back and forth. And vertical oscillation stitches are used when you are stitching something that is more flat and straight, which helps to get a more professional look to your work.

In order to use either a vertical or horizontal oscillator needle, you must be able to adjust it to the amount of yarn that you are stitching with your shuttle needle.

To do this, you simply move the needle closer or further away from the hook. With most sewing machines, you have to turn the knob in the back of the machine to change the needle’s height. After you have done this, you will find that the shuttle needle no longer acts like a traditional vertical or horizontal needle. This will be important later on when you’re sewing delicate fabric.

Final Notes

By now, you shouldn’t be asking yourself, “how does a sewing machine work?” anymore. While they’re not necessarily simple, they are not rocket science. So there’s nothing to be scared about. Just remember how many things you can make with one. Once you understand that, then you can get the most out of them.

With all the different advances made in today’s modern version of the sewing machine, it is no wonder that people enjoy the benefits of having a new model of the same. There is something about this history that can always be fun to study and learn about. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned expert in sewing machines, you will never get bored.

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