Sewing machines – the essential guide

Advice on everything from choosing the right model, to understanding the jargon

Understanding the jargon

Feed dog

The set of teeth below the needle which, in conjunction with the pressure foot, feed the fabric from the front to the back of the machine. Some machines have a drop feed facility, useful for freehand embroidery.

Free arm

A projection to the left of the needle revealed by detaching a section of the machine’s base. Simplifies sewing round small items such as sleeves and pockets.

Long arm

Describes the distance along the bed of the machine between the needle and the motor. A machine with a long arm is particularly useful for sewing bulky items such as curtains and quilts. A standard arm is around 15cm; a long arm, from 23cm.

Walking foot/Automatic dual feed

Can be an attachment foot or, in advanced machines, a built-in feature that ensures multiple layers of fabric feed through evenly. As the needle goes in, the foot comes up, ensuring that all layers of fabric move through together. This is particularly important when it’s necessary to match patterns, such as checks.

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