Top Loading/Drop In Bobbin
A sewing machine has a thread that comes down from the top (spool) and a thread that comes up from the bottom (bobbin) and the two threads meet at the needle and make a locking stitch. Machine bobbins can be loaded into the machine two different ways. Some machines have side loading bobbins as pictured below.
The round plastic or metal bobbin would go into the metal case that you see at the bottom of the picture and then loaded into the side of the machine. You often see this on very basic machines with just a few stitches and that cost less than $100 - 125. I have many students that have this on their machines and they struggle with first, learning how to load the bobbin, and second, the bobbin tangles easily for them making it not so user friendly for a beginner.
Here is a top loading or drop in bobbin:
Here the bobbin sits on top of the machine arm near the needle. Many machines have a see through plate that allows you to see if you are getting low on bobbin thread and also what color thread is currently loaded in the machine. You simply pop off the plastic cover and drop in the bobbin according to the picture you see right on the cover. Draw up the bobbin thread through the hole under the needle and you are ready to sew. This type of bobbin does not tangle nearly as often (unless you have threaded it wrong to begin with) and my students that have this type of machine find it easy to learn and use.
Speed Control Lever
The speed of the sewing machine can be controlled by the foot pedal on the machine but some machines also have a speed control lever as seen pictured below.
It is the sliding lever with the arrows that goes from left to right. You can set it on slow so no matter how hard you press the foot pedal, it cannot go any faster that that. This is especially helpful for younger students but many of my adult students love this feature as well.
Needle Up and Down Button
Most sewing machines that have the speed control lever also have a needle up/down button. It is located right under the lever and either has a picture of a needle or two arrows pointing up and down as my does in the picture below.
With this button, you can control if the needle stops up or down when you take the foot off the pedal. With most machines, when you take your foot off the pedal, the needle stops wherever it is at in the stitch. Then you have to use the hand wheel on the side to bring the needle up and out of the fabric.
With this button, as soon as you take your foot off, the machine finishes the last stitch and then brings the needle up for you so you are ready to lift your presser foot and take out your fabric. If you are sewing something bulky with a lot of fabric, you can set the machine to stop with the needle down to help hold everything in place for you. This is a great feature but is can be hard to appreciate if you have never sewn with a machine that did not do this for you.
Computerized Sewing Machines
I often do recommend beginner students to purchase a computerized sewing machine. The basic difference between these machines and the electronic and mechanical machines is a lot like the difference between driving an automatic car and a stick shift. There is a little brain in the computerized machines that tells it what to do when you select the stitch number that you want. It has a default stitch width and length which you can overide if needed (some mechanical machines do not allow you to control the stitch width and length to varying degrees). On electronic or mechanical machines, you select the stitch you want but then still have to set the stitch width and length if that is an option on the machine.
Computerized sewing machines also tend to go slower and are quieter. As you can see in the picture below, each stitch has a number associated with it. Just put the number of the stitch you want in the digital display, and you are all set.
Computerized machines are not as expensive as you might think. You can purchase one for around $150 which is well worth the money for a very user friendly machine.
On the right sidebar of my blog, you will find links to sewing machines that I often recommend to beginners and that many of my students have purchased. They have the features that are mentioned in this post but may come with different stitches and presser feet (hence the differences in price). One of the Kenmore machines is not computerized (the one with fewer stitches).
If you have any questions on machines, please feel free to email me or leave me a comment!