Hi SewMcCool readers! What’s up? I’m Irene and I’m the blogger/mom/IndieDesigner behind Serger Pepper.
If you know me, you already know that I have a strong passion for sewing, I especially love anything serger-related (remember? I shared here my Best Serger Tension Tips and a – gone viral on Pinterest- Stitches 101 Cheat Sheet).
I’ve bought Santa brought me my (beloved) serger (or overlocker, if you’re from UK or Australia!), I’ve found hard finding practical tips for using it at its best… … enter:
My Serger Dictionary
Let’s collect some of the best info I’ve tried and tested for you, because your serger can do a lot more than simply finishing seams!
Note that some of the features listed below are optional (you can add some of them later, others you can’t… and maybe you won’t ever need them!).
Let’s organize them by alphabetical order, for quicker reference!
It’s a REALLY long one! We’ve decided to split this post in two parts.
Adjustable feet pressure
Search for a screw or a knob, usually placed right above your needles, on top of your serger, that can help you adjust the pressure of the sewing foot to accommodate the particular type of fabric you†are sewing on.
Lower it for thicker fabrics, or stretch ones. Increase it if you need to have more pressure.
I’m not so lucky to have this one: my serger is a basic kind!
With some high-end (I’ve seen it on Babylocks, but maybe there are other brands too) you can have this feature that threads your loopers using compressed air: just plug your thread heads into their respective holes, press a button and… that’s it!
Serger is threaded!
Baste before you serge
Fact: serger feet are long.
This often leads to the upper layer of fabric separating from the bottom one before it reaches the needle and, when you start serging, it’s not caught in the seam.
There’s an easy fix for that: basting, either by hand or by machine!
Are you a beginner? Try reading my 10 best tips for using a serger… and some are also intermediate-friendly 😉
You may think a serger can’t use bobbins… you’re wrong!
Usually I don’t bother using threads perfectly matching fabric’s colour for my serger: I use neutral blending colours (gray, beige, brown, black, cream, white, pale pink… ).
Sometimes (for example if I’m sewing a cardigan or an unlined hood) I absolutely need to have all the threads in the right shade!
Obviously (for me) I don’t buy 4 cones each time, I buy only one and fill several bobbins to be used in needle thread (and a looper).
Why in needle thread? Because loopers are much more thread-consuming (they use about 2x the needle’s thread) and the risk is to use up the bobbin in no time (usually in the middle of a curved seam).
Always make sure you’re checking every the looper using the bobbin now and then and change it as soon as it comes to the end (this is why I told you to prepare several bobbins and not only three! You don’t want to un-thread your other looper every time you need to create a new bobbin… just knot-thread and pull the thread until the knot is out-of-the-way! … see “knot threading” in part 2).
When you decide to buy a new serger, you need to set a budget… and you may be tempted to buy a cheap brand because of their supposed convenience.
Just think that *maybe* you’re going to need some maintenance… or spare parts… are they going to be easy to find?
I am reaaaaallly frugal and I accurately weighted all the offers from retailers and on the Web, before buying (ehm… yes, I told you Santa gave it to me… you know…Santa does not exist… sshh!) mine.
I went for a Necchi (that may be unknown to you, but it’s a good old brand here in Italy), bought from an official big seller with an extended warranty and a little school for using it, with a real person teaching me… nothing against CDs but (sometimes) a real person is better IMHO!
Cheat sheet stitches
When you first start using your serger, if you are like most, you’ll use it to finish seams and, if you’re really adventurous, maybe you’ll use it for constructing knit garments (I think this is the main reason a lot of us justifying the need for a serger!).
if when you actually open your manual, you’ll see that you can do so many stitches, with a number of settings and knobs to turn, stitch fingers in multiple sizes (or even without), knives to engage or disengage… looks like a serger is daunting and paralyzing!
Too many options, if you’re used to your good-old comfy sewing machine!
And try one new stitch every time you turn on your serger… you’ll see that it’s not that scary, at all: your projects will upgrade and hubby will understand why you spent all that money for “another sewing machine”!
Check for lint
90% of the problems your serger is going to have their origins from… lint!
If you think “your baby” is starting to make strange noises or tension isn’t like you would expect… my first suggestion is to completely un-thread it, release tension disks (just lift your presser feet) and give
it him a good cleaning! … and this carries us to the next one:
Because of the speed, threads and fabrics are going to lose a lot of lint inside.
If you simply ignore them, you’ll end with a trip to maintenance-land very soon! My suggested cleaning routine:
a) completely unthread your serger
b) open the serger’s bell and give it a good blow with either canned air (the one you use for cleaning your keyboard… because you clean your keyboard, isn’t it? You can find anything inside it!) or, even better, an air compressor, like the ones that inflate car’s tires! Someone will suggest you to vacuum clean it but, unless you have a really tiny attachment set like this you’ll end with an unproductive cleaning session, like… “nothing done”.
c) You should have a tiny brush between your serger accessories: use it†to reach hidden zones! Even better, an old make-up soft brush, that will collect more lint than the rigid brush included.
d) Release tension (by lifting pressure feet) first, floss your tensions disks using a white cotton thick thread, exactly if they were your teeth!
e) Add an oil drop at visible metallic joints (if you’re in doubt, consult your manual).
Cloth guide/cutting width gauge
Really cool accessory, some will hate it, some will love it!
It’s a metal piece you can slide on or screw in, depending on your serger model; some are even built-in!
It has lines that can help you serging using perfect and consistent seam allowances throughout your whole project.
Another tip that helps you keep seam allowances consistent when trimming is to mark them with little dots (use your favorite marking tool, I use my Frixion pen) every now and then, so you can cut with the blades exactly on dots!
Creating perfectly rounded pointy corners like the one you find in collars is a really easy task if you’re using a serger.
Start serging one edge, fold (and press to crease) along the just-serged seam.
Sew the second crossing seam right on the folded serged seam, turn inside out, press and admire:
Color codes with nail polish
If you have a recently bought home a serger, your “thread ways” are almost certainly marked with a color code.
If you have an older one or you’re the lucky owner of an industry second-hand serger, you can use a simple trick and put some nail polish dots following each way (choose contrasting colors!)
Another #1 trick is snap a shoot of your threaded serger to keep on your smart phone and easy to reach when you’re in trouble!
Some high-end sergers can be converted to coverstitch.
If you think it’s cool, stop and carefully notice if the conversion is practical†to do (you will need to un-thread the whole machine, change some parts like thew presser foot and disengage the knife, then re-thread… and repeat to re-convert…I’m tired after only writing it) and what’s the price for the serger/coverstitch Vs. a simple serger + a simple coverstitch you can leave threaded and ready for you, when you need it!
Corners and curves
They’re not the easiest thing to do with your serger!
Practice makes perfect, but you can always use some of my tips, learned on my skin…
a) do not look at the needle! Always look at the fabric guide and the knives: this is because your fabric is first cut, then sewn… the risk is that (such as in inner corners or curves) you cut the fabric where you shouldn’t… and this (usually) isn’t good!
b) be gentle and try not to pull your fabric on curves/corners, but guide it and rotate it smoothly for perfectly wrinkle-free serged corners/curves.
For concave curves, you need to gently straighten the fabric while you serge it; for concave corners, clip the seam allowance in the corner to help your fabric lay flat.
For convex curves it’s easy to simply serge around the edge; if the curvature radius is big (and the curve is really accentuate), you may need to stop needle down, lift the presser foot and reposition the fabric below it just to keep the curve smooth.
For outward corners, best practice is to serge one side just a couple of stitches over the fabric, lift the presser foot and release†the thread from stitch finger.
Reposition the fabric under the needles and, before you start serging the second edge, make sure there are no loose threads by gently pulling threads right near to the spools, before the tension disks; lower the presser foot and go on sewing!
You can easily achieve fancy effects just using yarn or rayon or even wool thread on loopers. Think of a shining silk rolled hem!
As always, better results comes with testing first on scraps, playing with tension (thicker thread = lower tension) and stitch length/width, exactly as you were playing with your sewing machine.
Even if you don’t think you’ll use it again, I’d suggest you keep your tuned trial scraps, writing settings on them: they can be a good start point whenever you’re attempting something similar! if you’re more tech-savvy you can take a shoot and save them to Evernote, keeping a collection of settings (I prefer having scraps I can touch… I’m an Old Fashioned Sewer, sometimes!).
Another suggestion – clean your serger well after using it with thick threads. They create a lot of lint! Better clean it right before use than leave the lint stuck in hidden places!
I think all sergers now have this feature.
Basically your serger has two independent†feed dogs, one in front and one in back of the needles. They work together to pull the fabric, but they can work at different speeds.
It’s really useful to prevent knits from stretching and helps you to use stretch fabrics without damaging your material. You can play with it for gathering and easing!
If you want to study it in depth, I’d suggest Coleen’s video.
If you start playing with your serger and become more confident, you’ll notice that some stitches will need you to move your blades out-of-the-way, to be sure you’re not going to cut your fabric (think to pintucks or flatlock).
This is another moment where your manual comes in handy. In my serger, I simply need to press and turn the blade, others have a screw to loosen… today’s homework is trying to disengage your knife!
If your serger’s manual is lost somewhere, consider searching the web (a plain Your Serger Brand + Your Serger Model + download manual on Google will do the trick!) to find it right now: you’ll need to consult it several times, better†save it†on your pc 😉
Another nice place where you can find any kind of manuals is ManualsLib… and you can download them or save them on your personal library.
When you buy a serger, usually a dust cover is included in the box: use it to keep dust away from your serger surfaces, but also for saving it from direct sunlight that will cause its†premature aging of the plastic parts.
Think of a rounded bottom edge of a pocket or a hi-lo hem… with the serger you can create subtle gathers that helps you easing a hem just increasing a tad the needles tensions, increasing the differential feed.
If your prefer, lengthen a 4 thread overlock†and pull the needles threads to create some†gathering… easy as 1-2-3 😉
Another way to add some pizzaz to your next serger project is to sew it inside out: it gives your project a relaxed deconstructed look, perfect for sportswear or even loungewear.
To do that, just ignore your patterns instructions about putting right sides together, match wrong sides instead and sew using a 4-thread overlock, then press it to one side (usually toward the bottom or the sides) and topstitch to make them lay flat!
Cool, isn’t it?
Faux flat felled seams
Your jeans will look like you’ve bought them, and nobody will see you cheated on flat-felled seams! It’s fast and easy if you sew your inside leg seam with a sewing machine, serge seam allowances together and press to one side.
Topstitch from the right side of the fabric, making two rows: one on the edge, the other parallel to it but still on the seam allowance… and maybe use two different denim thread colors, for a fashionable look!
Using a narrow/rolled hem and, if you like it, a thicker thread on loopers (rayon, thick polyester) you can quickly add interest to any seam (like in a yoke on a button up shirt) without all the boring piping-related stuff!
Just turn under one of the two seam allowances, press to crease along the seam line and make a rolled†hem on it (for thicker fabrics like denim, just cut along the seam line and sew a narrow hem on it).
Baste it above the other seam†line and sew it in place using a sewing machine.
Finish seam allowance using a 3-thread overlock, or simply trim with pinking shears.
Most of of you with sergers will use your machine only for finishing seams, and there’s no doubt that it IS the king of seams finishings.
You can finish seam allowances together or separated, pressed open; you can finish them after you sew the seam or even before: if you’ve sewn a muslin and you’re sure that your garment will fit, you can serge all around your pattern pieces and finish them right before you start assembling, without the bulk of a garment in progress to move around a serger blade (and the risk to cut it when you’re nearly done – been there!).
As a rule of thumb, choose a 2-thread overlock for light-weight fabrics, a 3-threads for quilting cotton weights and a 4 thread for highly fraying and/or thick fabrics.
If you’re sewing chiffon skirts or dresses and you’re struggling on a flat hem that’s missing some body and movement, fishing line is the answer!
Add it to a 3-thread narrow hem, threading it into the hole placed in top front of the regular presser foot or a cording foot and keep an eye that it’s staying between the needle and the knife.
When you reach the end of the seam, cut it leaving a long tail and secure it on each end using some liquid sealant or a bar tack made using your sewing machine.
You can see a helpful video here.
This decorative and functional stitch is used mostly on sportswear; it’s easily achievable sewing with a 3-thread overlock (you can make a sample†using these tensions: needle 1, upper 4-5, lower 7-8).
This stitch can be used on both sides, if you want loops on top, sew using wrong sides together; if you prefer the ladder stitch on the outside of the garment, sew right sides together!
When you’re done sewing, you need to gently open the fabric and lay the two pattern pieces side by side (the low needle tension will help you laying the whole thing flat, if it’s not sitting properly try sewing just a little more out of the fabric, leaving bigger loops hanging on the right side of it!)
Completely optional functionality: my serger doesn’t have it and I’ve missed it only when sewing cuffs on really tiny sleeves, because of the long presser foot sewing on small circles it’s hard but, if you sew on the inside of the sleeve it’s totally doable.
I wouldn’t change my serger for the lack of this feature… it’s a nice add-on but nothing I *NEED* to have!
That’s it for today! I hope you’re enjoying this “little” serger dictionary 🙂 If you feel like you need to add something, please do it in comment section below! Let’s make this dictionary grow! Don’t forget to check out Part 2 here! Hugs from Italy,
Irene @ SergerPepper.com
Irene Valle, “Mamma Nene” of SergerPepper.com, is a contributing blogger on sewmccool.com. To make sure you don’t miss any great posts, please follow SewMcCool by e-mail (the link is at the top of the right-hand column) or join me on BlogLovin’ – the button is just below the e-mail feed box! 🙂