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Mini sewing machines are a decent option for sewists on the go. Weighing less than 3 pounds, you can travel with them and store them in small spaces.
However, the manual that came with my miniature sewing machine left much to be desired in terms of usage and troubleshooting instructions.
If you are frustrated with getting started, this post will describe how to use a mini sewing machine step-by-step.
I hope the pictures and descriptions make even beginners feel comfortable setting up and using their new sewing companion.
What is a miniature sewing machine?
Miniature sewing machines are smaller, less-featured versions of standard home sewing machines.
While a mini sewing machine can’t sew knit garments well or hem heavyweight fabrics, it does take up a small footprint, is affordable for crafters on a budget, and can be used for basic sewing tasks like mending.
Here, I will specifically cover portable, miniature, electric sewing machines that are NOT handheld.
For example, the portable, mini electric sewing machine I have is pictured above.
This machine goes by many different brand names, but all versions are essentially the same machine. (Examples include Varmax, Magicfly, KPCB mini sewing machine, etc.)
Thus, the instructions contained in this post will apply to all of these machine varieties.
Parts of a Mini Sewing Machine
First, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with this small sewing machine’s parts. I’ll refer to these parts by name later when it comes time to set up and use the machine.
First, the bobbin compartment or area is on the machine’s left under the needle. This is where you will replace the old bobbin when it runs out. Most machines come with a threaded bobbin in the case.
To the right of the bobbin area is the metal presser foot, which sits on fabric and helps it move through the machine.
On top of the bobbin area is the needle, which is the last stop when threading the machine. This general area also includes the needle clamp and needle clamp screw.
The tension screw or dial allows you to adjust the tension on the sewing machine. Keep this at the factory setting unless you have problems. To increase tension, turn the tension dial clockwise toward the plus to decrease the looseness of the top thread.
The handwheel is on the right side of the machine. Turning the wheel toward you advances the needle.
Inside the handwheel, you will find the bobbin winder spool pin, which comes out when you press and turn it to the left.
Setting Up the Mini Sewing Machine: Threading
Before you use your machine for the first time, you need to provide it with a source of power.
You can either put 4 AA batteries into the bottom of the machine or rely on electricity from an outlet. The power cord is so short that I have to use an extension cord when not using battery power.
Once your machine has power, you need to thread the mini sewing machine.
I have an entire post on winding the bobbin and threading a miniature sewing machine that provides step-by-step pictures for both processes.
However, here is a brief overview summarizing the main points in less detail than the aforementioned post.
1. Threading the Bobbin
First, place the bobbin thread on the extended spool spin.
Next, press down on the bobbin winder pin inside the handwheel and turn it to the left.
Then, remove the old bobbin from the bobbin compartment.
Next, hand wind the bobbin several times and trim the thread tail.
Place the primed bobbin on the bobbin winding pin as shown.
Then, turn on your machine and use the foot pedal or “on” button to start spinning. Hold the thread with your fingers to help feed it and provide an even tension while winding.
Cut the thread, and place the bobbin with the thread oriented as shown above. Replace the compartment top.
2. Threading the Upper Thread
Next, replace the bobbin thread spool with the upper thread spool. You can also use a bobbin of thread on the bobbin spindle instead.
Then, pass the thread through the first thread guide, in between the tension discs, through the following thread guide, and finally, through the thread takeup lever.
(For reference, the thread guides are the small metal circles, and the takeup lever is the big metal piece that moves up when you move the needle.)
Pass the thread through two more thread guides and finally through the eye of the needle from left to right.
You can thread the needle more efficiently using a wire needle threader tool.
Last, pull up the bobbin thread, and place both threads behind the presser foot to prepare for sewing.
How to Use a Mini Sewing Machine Step-By-Step
Now, let’s cover how to use a mini sewing machine after setting it up and threading it.
1. Add the Extension Table, If Desired.
Most miniature portable sewing machines come with an extension table, which can be used to support larger projects.
To add the extension table, first, open all its legs.
Then, connect it to the side of the sewing machine. To get the table straight, you will have to adjust where the black grips fit.
Alternatively, you can open the first two small legs, connect the black grips, and finally adjust the height on the larger left leg post.
The most important part is that the table is even and won’t catch fabric going over it in any spaces.
2. Placing The Fabric and Starting to Sew
First, raise the needle to its highest position by turning the handwheel.
Next, lift the presser foot using the lever on the back of the machine. (Pretend like my bobbin is thread and placed above.)
Then, place your fabric underneath the needle and presser foot.
Use the back lever to lower the presser foot onto the fabric.
3. Locking a Seam
Portable electric sewing machines do not technically have a reverse stitch, so you need to keep the thread from unraveling at the beginning and end of stitch lines.
One way to do this is to leave a few inches of thread at both ends of a seam and tie the threads by hand before clipping the thread tails.
The other method is to make your own reverse stitch.
To create a locking stitch, turn the handwheel clockwise away from you to take three stitches backward. You cannot use the foot pedal or “on” button for this reverse function.
[NOTE: If you have a full-size sewing machine, NEVER turn the handwheel backward.]
Once you’ve finished reversing, use the foot pedal (if it’s plugged in) or the “on/off” buttons to start sewing forward. You can change the stitching speed using buttons on the front of the machine.
(If you are hesitant to use the handwheel and reverse stitch, your other option is lifting the presser foot and reversing the direction of the fabric, as shown above. Basically, sew 3 stitches, flip fabric and sew 3 stitches over the first 3, and then flip fabric again and start sewing.)
When finished sewing, lock stitches at the end of a seam in the same way.
4. Feeding Fabric
When sewing, it’s helpful to guide the fabric with both hands on either side of the workspace.
Do not apply pressure or tug the fabric at any point, as you risk damage to your machine or uneven stitches.
Also, keep your fingers away from the needle! This machine stitches fast for such a little thing.
5. Finishing A Seam
My favorite way to finish seams if I’m at a fabric end is to treat the machine like a serger that chains off.
This means that once you get to the end of the fabric (and do any necessary reverse stitches), keep sewing off the fabric.
Use one hand to pull the fabric to the back of the presser foot while continuing to make stitches.
This leaves a nice thread tail that you can trim with the thread trimmer on the side.
However, if you aren’t at the end of a piece of fabric and need to end a stitch, simply raise the presser foot as well as the needle to its highest position.
Gently pull the fabric away from the needle, leaving an extended thread length before cutting. (It’s no fun to rethread the needle or pull up the bobbin thread.)
Hold your fingers at the end of the seam while pulling so resistance doesn’t pucker the fabric.
Mini Sewing Machine Maintenance and Troubleshooting Tips
Of course, if you’re a beginner, you will likely have some troubleshooting issues. Here are some solutions.
1. How to Change the Needle on a Mini Sewing Machine
If your needle breaks or dulls and needs replacement, raise the needle to the “up” position, and change it using a flat-head screwdriver. Using a screwdriver with a shorter handle will make reaching the screw in the workspace area easier.
Right (clockwise) tightens the screw while left (counter-clockwise) loosens it.
Once the screw is loose, pull the needle down and then out of the workspace.
When putting in a new needle, pay attention to the location of the needle’s flat side. It needs to be facing toward the back right.
Place the needle as far as it goes into the needle clamp, and tighten the screw to hold it in.
2. What Needles to Use in a Mini Machine?
Miniature electric sewing machines use standard household sewing machine needles.
Choose your needle size based on the thickness of the fabric. A bigger needle size works for thicker fabrics, whereas a smaller needle size is for lightweight fabrics.
Since this machine is not intended to sew knit fabrics (you need a zigzag or stretch stitch for this), choose either a universal or sharp point needle.
If you need help understanding needles, check out my sewing machine needle chart and guide.
3. Troubleshooting Stitch Skipping, Thread Tangling, and More
In my experience, at least 75% of all my sewing errors have been from my machine threaded incorrectly.
Thus, to troubleshoot, rethread the top thread, making sure it hits all the thread guides and goes between the tension discs. Verify the thread goes left to right through the needle.
Sometimes the thread will get tangled around the thread takeup lever, so keep an eye on that area when troubleshooting.
Next, check that the bobbin is oriented in the correct direction and the thread is not getting caught during the stitching process. Clean the bobbin case if it’s dirty.
After that, consider a new bobbin, a new needle, and a new type of thread.
Adjust tension as the last resort but pay close attention to where the dial started so you can return to that value later.
It’s also helpful to turn the handwheel toward you to troubleshoot problems rather than using the foot pedal or “on” button. The hand wheel will advance the needle slowly so you can see where and when the thread catches or stitches malfunction.
You can also sew with the bobbin case open to watch how the thread behaves in there.
4. Cleaning a Mini Sewing Machine
First, use a small vacuum and lint brush in the bobbin area to clean your miniature sewing machine to remove any dust and thread specs. Unfortunately, you can’t easily get very far into the space.
Avoid using compressed air, as this can push dust into your machine’s motor.
Next, check your tension discs for thread build-up. If you notice any dust or thread lint, clean with a brush. You can also pull UNWAXED dental floss from right to left through the discs.
How to Operate a Mini Sewing Machine: Final Notes
If your mini sewing machine instructions didn’t help you much either, I hope these colorful photos and step-by-step instructions have helped you learn how to set up and use a mini sewing machine.
Please let me know if anything is unclear or if you have additional questions!