The Taming of the Serger

We Carry
by Sara Snuggerud in Archives

Sergers truly are one of the wonders of the sewing world, yet most people don’t know why they need one. If you look inside any of your store-bought clothing and see all the thread encasing the seam allowance, it was a serger, sometimes called an overlock, that sewed the seam. Sergers make seams look professional, as well as make beautiful rolled hems and edgings. They sew knits and stretch fabric without stretching it out of shape like a sewing machine might. Best of all it cuts sewing time in half!

Just looking at a serger frightens many people. It looks nothing like a sewing machine. There are two needles, not one. They see four cones of thread with FOUR tension settings, and right there it looks too complicated. It has a knife that cuts the fabric, which sounds like a good idea but makes the machine seem that much more intimidating. When properly “tamed”, people may love their serger even more than their sewing machine!

After years of being told that sergers are hard to thread, one of our customers recently stated after purchasing her new serger, “People who say sergers are hard to thread are giving sergers a bad name! They are not hard to thread at all!”

Now that you have a serger there are a few guidelines that can help you and your serger have a peaceful sewing experience together. I have narrowed the “taming of a serger” down to four MUSTS. If you focus on the following four points, you and your serger will live in perfect harmony forever.

#1 – Clearing the Threads
This is the term that means that when you are rethreading the serger or changing threads, be sure that the needle threads are not wrapped around the lower looper before beginning to serge. Serger books will state, When rethreading, remove the needle threads from the needles, rethread the serger, then thread the needles last. This does make sure the machine is threaded correctly, but who wants to have to thread those two needles again! If you do not take the time to “clear the threads” before starting to serge, you WILL have to rethread the serger again.

Solution: Take a small screw driver, tweezers or a piece of fabric and drag it under the raised presser foot from front to back looking for the needle threads to be drawn out of the lower depths of the machine. The threads should flow from the needle eyes directly out the back of the serger.

#2 – Always Leave the Knife in Place
The knife is the key to perfectly even seams because it trims extra fabric down to the exact size of the seam. There may be an occasion where you think you might not want to cut the fabric and the knife may be rotated out of the way. Many publications will state that if you do not want to cut the fabric to remove the knife. Unfortunately, both novice and experienced serger owners are taking their serger’s health in their own hands by not leaving the knife in place.

Here is what happens: The cutting knife is a visual guide as to where the fabric needs to run into the serger. Without the knife in place once fabric is moving through the serger, it can easily drift too far into the moving upper and lower loopers. If this happens, the loopers will be on a crash course with the fabric at a very high rate of speed, usually ending with an impaled looper through the fabric. This horrific event can cause the serger bodily harm and sometimes lead to broken loopers, bent needle plate, and the machine is thrown out of time. The only fix is to head to your local serger surgeon for new parts and complete timing adjustment.

Solution: If the fabric edge is not to be cut, simply guide the fabric edge next to the cutting knife.

#3 – Needles Heights
Sergers have two needles which are at different heights when properly inserted into the machine. The left needle is HIGHER than the right needle. We often see sick sergers arrive with their needles positioned at the same height. Opps!

Solution: Always make sure the needles are inserted as high as they will go into the shaft. When changing needles, or switching between 4-thread and 3-thread settings, keep one needle in the serger rather than taking both out at the same time. This makes it easier to put the needle back in and will provide a visual confirmation that each needle is in the correct position.

#4 – Quality Thread
Sergers do have different thread tolerance levels. Some sergers are picky about the thread quality, meaning that it may be more difficult to adjust the tensions to get the perfectly balanced stitch. The biggest problem with low quality thread is the excess thread lint build-up in a serger’s tension disks. The build-up can cause horrible tension problems that can’t be adjusted by turning knobs or dials. Low quality red or black thread leads to inconsistent tension settings and stitch formation due to the harsh dyes used in these colors.

Solution: We love to use the Isacord embroidery polyester thread for its lint free qualities and the large range of colors available. For those of you who own embroidery machines, you already have all the thread you ever would need for your serger!

Did I say four points? There is one more.

#5 Serger Mastery Class

When you purchase a serger take the Serger Mastery Class. You will learn the above four points first hand. If you have a serger hopefully these points have been a reminder for getting the most from your machine. If its been a while since you last saw your serger maybe its time to take it out of the closet and re-introduce yourself. You might be surprised how your relationship will grow. If you are thinking about getting a serger come and try one and see how easy it can be to get along with a serger. With these simple serger solutions, there is nothing you and your serger can not accomplish together.

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