What Does the Handwheel Do on a Sewing Machine?

Last Updated on March 5, 2023

Discover What Does the Handwheel Do on a Sewing Machine: The handwheel is an integral component of a sewing machine. It’s the main mechanism for controlling how and where the material you’re working with is fed through the needle, allowing you to make intricate designs out of fabric or threading yarn.

With its aid, you can then sew many delicate fabrics. In this article, we’ll look at what the handwheel does on a sewing machine and how it works in concert with other components, resulting in a sewn complex pattern.



The handwheel on a sewing machine serves two main purposes:

  • Tension adjustment
  • and Threading.

It is found at the side or front of most machines and looks like a knob with ridges or “teeth” around it called cogs which latch onto the main shaft that powers your sewing machine needle. Tying into this shaft is also a small gear that controls how fast (or slow) your needle moves up and down as you sew.

Purpose of Handwheel 

Turning the handwheel towards you, called “back-gearing,” tightens up (or increases) tension on the thread, moving it closer together as it passes through different areas of fabric while keeping adequate pressure between layers to ensure proper stitching

In contrast, rotating it away from you, known as “front-gearing,” will loosen or decrease tension on fabrics as they are being stitched together so that they don’t tug at each other too much when moving freely through your project or quilting frame.

The other purpose of this wheel is threading your machine’s bobbin case before each session of sewing by connecting the thread from the spool to its corresponding hook located near where this wheel interacts with your needle bar assembly, thus introducing said hook point into its normal flow when winding through components prior reaching actual fabric pieces themselves.

As this happens, turn slowly, ensuring everything moves in sync but avoid increasing normal rotation speeds until ready to start seaming fabrics together. If the fabrics are not yet locked in place due to possible shifting/jamming from time to time when trying higher speeds, pre-sewing prematurely.

What Does the Handwheel Do on a Sewing Machine?

What Does the Handwheel Do on a Sewing Machine

The handwheel on a sewing machine is used to control the needle thread position. It lets you choose where the needle will go down, for example, if you want to turn a corner or work with different fabric types. The handwheel also helps to regulate the speed of your sewing and control the tension in your stitches. 

In addition, it’s convenient and allows you to stop your machine quickly in case anything goes wrong with your work. Understanding how to use your handwheel correctly can make a huge difference in achieving high-quality sewing projects.

1. Threading the Needle

The primary purpose of a handwheel is to thread the needle. The wheel should be turned towards you to guide the thread through the eye of the needle. It is essential to hold onto both threads so the tension doesn’t cause them to snap off halfway through threading.

2. Adjusting Tension Settings

The hand wheel can also adjust tension settings on a sewing machine, allowing you to choose how tightly or loosely your stitches will be sewn. Different fabrics will require different tension settings, so it is essential to practice manipulating this wheel for the best results with each project.

3. Changing Stitch Lengths

The model of your particular sewing machine may also allow you to use the handwheel for changing stitch lengths and widths, producing various decorative stitches, from satin stitches to zigzag patterns and much more. The dials on some footwear suggest which setting corresponds with each desired stitch type.

4. Managing Trim Level

Finally, modern machines may also have built-in trim settings, which allow you to trim excess fabric as you sew rather than needing separate craft scissors after each seam is finished. These settings are typically adjusted using the hand wheel as well. It can save time when completing large projects or tailoring clothing items quickly and efficiently.

Monica Skov, One of my favorite source of knowledge shared a quick snip from a series of beginner sewing tutorials and is about the anatomy of a sewing machine. Specifically, it focuses on the hand wheel and the importance of bringing it towards you in a specific rotation to develop good habits.


Mastering your hand wheel is grasping complete control over your machine’s settings and mechanisms to produce beautiful sewing projects with an optimal finish every time!

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