How To Set Up Your Sewing Machine


Tutorial No. 1 in the series, Learn to Sew at Oliver Rabbit

This post presumes you have read the Learn to Sew Series Introduction.


Wait! This tutorial is not nearly as intimidating as the photo above might make it seem. I promise. Whether this is your first time using a sewing machine or you just need a refresher, congratulations! You are about to enjoy countless hours of sewing pleasure.

In this tutorial, I will guide you through the basic functions of your sewing machine and try to better explain what is often not clear in a manual. There are many different brands of machines on the market today, each with its own specialty features, but the basic functions are the same across all models. Buttons, levers, screws, etc., are generally located in the same proximity to one another and serve the same purpose. I am going to use a PFAFF hobby 1016 and a Kenmore 150 (made by Janome) for this tutorial. 

Let's Get Started!

1)  Set Up

  • Unpack your machine and set it up on a clean sturdy work surface, like the kitchen or dining room table. Warn your friends and family now that they will be eating on their laps forever more. Opt for a space with good light. You will also need an electrical outlet nearby. 
  • Have your Instruction Manual handy and take inventory of any extra parts and accessories that came with your machine. Some of these may already be stored in a special compartment within your machine or they may come wrapped separately.

2)  Plug your sewing machine in and get comfortable!

  • Your power and foot pedal cords will either be joined together at the end where they plug into your machine or there will be two separate cords. The socket(s) for these cord(s) are located on the right side of your machine, usually toward the back. Plug in your machine and connect to a power outlet. You can turn on your machine to make sure it works but turn it back off again. You will not need it on until you are winding your bobbin in the next tutorial.
  • Position your foot pedal where you can reach it comfortably. I'm right footed so my pedal is on the floor to my right. I Iike to sew barefoot or with just socks on. I find shoes make it difficult to gauge the pressure I'm putting on my foot pedal.
  • Refer to the diagram in your Instruction Manual or at the beginning of this tutorial and familiarize yourself with where things are, especially your presser bar lever.

3)  Attach your needle

  • Your machine may have come with a needle already in place. If so, you want to learn how to change it. Needles, like thread, are sized to correspond with the fabric you are sewing. For example, you will use a thick needle for thick material like denim and a fine one for lighter weight fabrics like quilting cotton. The shape of the point of your needle will also vary.
  • Look at a needle. It is pointed at the bottom and should be very sharp. (The average life span of a needle is approximately six hours of sewing, so since you're just beginning, be careful!.) Your needle has an "eye" just above the point where your upper thread will make its final pass. At the top of your needle, one side is rounded and the other is flat. This area may be colored with a metallic paint, either gold, green, red. These colors correspond to the needle size and type. 
  • Lower your presser bar. Using your hand wheel, raise your needle holder to its highest position.
  • Loosen the needle holder by turning the little black screw located to the right of the needle holder. If there is a needle in your machine, it will fall out.
  • To insert a needle, position it with the curved side front and flat side toward the back. Push your needle straight upwards until it won't go any further and twist the screw tightly. 


  • Presser feet are little metal gadgets that attach to the bottom of your pressure bar and rest on your fabric, holding it flat as it feeds through your machine. They  are interchangeable and come in all shapes and sizes to assist you in performing different types of sewing tasks such as straight stitching, installing a zipper, button holes, etc.
  • TIP:  Using your hand wheel, raise your needle to the highest position when interchanging presser feet.
  • Locate your "standard presser foot" and install it on your machine. (see next bullet for help) You will use this foot for most basic stitching projects. It may have come pre-installed on your machine. If it did, remove it and put it back on!

NOTE:  Some pressure feet are attached with screws on the left side of your presser bar; others snap on. Mine is a snap-on. There is a little grabby-shaped piece at the bottom of my presser bar that hooks around a horizontal pin on most of my presser feet.

  • Raise your presser bar and position your standard presser foot directly under it. Lower the presser bar until the grabby hook snaps securely around the pin.You may have to move the foot "just so." Raise your bar back up once the foot is on.

NOTE:  Consult your manual for instructions to remove your presser feet if you do not have a release button or lever. Feet are removed from the PFAFF model in this tutorial by gently pushing the front of the foot up and the rear down.

Now let's thread your machine and get stitching!