Sewing machine features explained

Lynn Wright / 20 May 2016

Here’s our guide to the most important sewing machine features to consider when shopping for the perfect sewing machine for you.



Although all sewing machines share the same basic function, the sheer range of features available on different models makes choosing the best sewing machine far from simple. Here we guide you through some key sewing machine features to look for.

For more information on sewing machines read How to choose the best sewing machine.

Sewing machine features to look for

Automatic buttonholer This lets you sew a buttonhole in one step without having to stop and turn the fabric or manipulate a dial. Some sewing machines let you place the button in a slot on the foot, so the machine can sew the correct sized buttonhole to fit.

Auto thread tension Some machines calculate the correct thread tension for your fabric automatically, although most offer an override option so you can adjust this manually.

Feed-dog adjustment Feed dogs are the zigzag shaped teeth that guide your fabric through the machine when you are stitching. All machines should allow you to lower the feed dogs below the sewing surface to do free-style embroidery or darning.

Free arm This cylindrical arm on a sewing machine lets you sew sleeves and trouser legs. It is usually concealed in the body of the machine, so you first need to remove part of the machine bed so the arm protrudes.

Controls Choose a sewing machine with easy-to-use, responsive controls. Electronic machines, for example, should respond to variable pressure on the foot pedal, while dials and touchpads should be easy to read and use. In addition, ensure there’s enough room to the right of the needle for your fabric and hands.

Weight Consider how you plan to use and store your sewing machine. If you have to haul it out of a cupboard or other storage place every time you want to sew, look for a lightweight machine that’s easy to lift. If you sew home furnishings or upholstery, consider buying a sturdier machine that copes well with heavier fabrics.

Integrated dual feed Useful when sewing two pieces of fabric together such as in quilting, this ensures both fabrics feed smoothly across the sewing plate avoiding ruching.

Needle position This lets you move the needle from left to right to change the stitching line, or move it up or down when you stop stitching. With the needle down, you can lift the presser foot and turn the fabric to sew in a different direction without creating a jump stitch.

Automated needle threader A hook and spring operation that guides the thread through the eye of the needle. A handy feature that helps prevent eye strain and gets you sewing faster than a mechanical needle threader.

Lock stitch facility This ensures all stitches are securely locked off at the end of the sewing sequence by using a reverse stitch.

Presser foot Your sewing machine may come with several presser feet, which hold the fabric against the feed dogs. You can buy additional feet for your machine but look for a multi-purpose foot, a zipper foot and buttonhole foot as a minimum. The ability to adjust foot pressure is also useful for sewing differing fabric thickness and weights.

Top loading bobbins With older machines, the bobbin must be slotted into a recessed compartment, which can be a little fiddly. With some modern machines you can drop the bobbin in at the top of the machine, saving time, and its clear cover lets you see when thread is running low.

Stitch selector On basic models, you change stitch type by turning a dial on the side on the machine. Computerised machines have touchpads and LCD screens that let you select from hundreds of stitch types.

Ready to choose the perfect sewing machine for you, read our guide to the Five best Singer sewing machines.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.