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!
Table of Contents
How Does a Sewing Machine Work: Detailed Guide
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.
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
- Presser foot (over the feed-dog 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
- Belt (connects the shafts)
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.
The Mechanisms of a Sewing Machine
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 three 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.
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.
So you learned a little about the sewing machine mechanism and its parts. Now let’s explain all in simpler words:
- Everything starts with the needle. Using the force coming from the shafts, it manages to go up and down through the fabric.
- 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.
- 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.
- Now that the hook has some thread that stays behind, creating the loop on the fabric, the feed-dog system makes sure the fabric moves outwards.
- 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.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
After this comprehensive and somewhat confusing article, you’re probably left with a few questions. Here we may answer some of them:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Philip K. Williams is a tool enthusiast and machinery expert for the last 5 years. He has been a great passion for writing about everything related to tools, machinery and DIY. Philip runs the editorial team at MachineryHacks.