How to use your sewing machine
Get to grips with your sewing machine with our handy guides
How to use a buttonhole foot
For a buttonhole foot with button placement, you will see two protruding arms on the left of the foot. Push the back one away from you to open it up. Place your button in the gap and bring the back of the foot forward again so it is held snugly.
Clip the foot into place on your sewing machine, then pull down the lever which is tucked under the back-left side of the sewing machine, adjacent to the needle mechanism. It will have a little button illustration on it. Pull it down so it butts up against the front protruding arm on the foot.
Select the buttonhole stitch. Try it out on fabric scraps that are the same type and thickness as the one you will be working on (make sure there are at least two layers of fabric, preferably interfaced for added stability). Most machines will stitch the hole from front to back.
When the buttonhole is complete, take the thread tails to the back of the work and feed them between fabric layers before snipping off. Push the buttonhole lever back up.
If your foot doesn’t have the sliding back for the button, it will have markings to help you achieve the buttonhole size. First measure the diameter and add 3mm. Mark this length on your fabric. To create the right size buttonhole, you will stitch from the first marked line down to the second. Attach the foot as above, with the front marking on the foot in line with the mark on your fabric.
How to insert a concealed zip
Stitch the concealed zip into the back opening using a zipper foot or a concealed zipper foot. Fold and press the seam allowance along the two sides of the back opening. Open out the seam allowance and with the right side of the fabric facing, place the opened zip face down matching the teeth to the crease line in the seam allowance. Pin in place.
If you are using a concealed zipper foot, place the teeth of the zip into the groove and, as you sew, the foot will uncurl the teeth and the stitching will be placed right alongside the teeth. If you are sewing with a normal zipper foot, you will need to uncurl the teeth with your finger tips; stitch to the top of the centre back seam.
It is impossible to sew to the end of a concealed zip, so leave approximately 3cm of the base unstitched. Back stitch, then sew the other side of the zip in place. Carefully thread the zip pull through to the right side at the top of the centre back seam and pull up to close.
How to change a needle
Place a scrap of fabric under the presser foot, then using the screwdriver in your tool kit, loosen the screw holding the needle in (to the right and above the needle). Unscrew enough for the needle to drop out.
Select the appropriate needle for the project you are about to work on and insert as far up as possible in the hole. Machine needles have a flattened shank on one side which is used to ensure correct insertion. Generally the flat part is faced to the back of the machine (check your user’s manual).
Holding the needle in position, tighten the screw by hand, then finish using the screwdriver. This is important to ensure it remains securely in place when stitching. A needle that becomes loose will wobble about and bend or break, possibly damaging the throat plate and bobbin race.
If the needle breaks when stitching (without any apparent reason) it is probably too small. Try a larger one. If the seam pulls up, there are obvious stitch holes or stitches are skipped, it may be too big, so try a smaller needle.
How to adjust your tension
Generally speaking, leave the tension dial alone! It will have been set in the factory for general sewing and today’s machines are very forgiving. The tension dial is used to alter the needle (top thread) tension. However, stitch problems are rarely caused by the tension.
The average/correct tension is usually highlighted in some way on the dial with different colours, shading or boxes around the numbers. For general sewing, keep the tension set within these.
If you do have stitch problems, rethread the machine and the bobbin. Most issues are caused by incorrect threading, or even the thread having jumped out from between the tension discs.
If the fabric is puckering as you sew, check the stitch length is suitable for the fabric; too long a stitch on fine fabrics will cause it to pucker. Use a small stitch length of 2.2 on fine fabrics, 2.5 on most wovens, and 2.8 – 3 on thick fleece or several layers.
Check the needle. A blunt one causes stitch problems such as skipped stitches or uneven stitching.