This seemingly clumsy machine can turn gathering with a serger into an easy task. The serger, or overlocking machine, is often classified as a utility machine just able to do the special technique of sewing and overlocking while trimming off the excess fabric. The most important part of the process is setting up the machine and here I will show you all the settings you need for gathering with a serger. Once this is done, away you go ‘serging up a storm’ of beautiful gathers.
Gathering with a Serger
If you are new to sergers then read my article first on what is serging. Gathering with a serger is best done on light to medium weight fabrics. Quilting cotton is the ideal weight for this technique. For heavier fabrics, the best method is gathering with cord or machine gathering.
Gathering with a serger is best done on flat ruffles where the precise length is not necessary. I like to cut the ruffle strip much longer than I need and then cut off any excess at the end.
If you need to work out a particular ratio of gathering, cut a test strip of 10 (25cm) inches. Gather it using your serger and measure its new length. If it is now 5 (12.5cm) inches then the ratio is 1:2 gathers. You can now make adjustments to get to your desired ratio.
Once you have done gathering with a serger, it is difficult to adjust the stitches at the end so test thoroughly first to get the amount of gathering correct.
Step One- Set up the Cones
Set the serger to a 4-thread machine. You need 4 cones of thread for gathering with a serger.
Step Two – Tighten the needle tension
Neater gathering with a serger will occur with two needles engaged and the tension on the needles tightened. It is important to only tighten the needle tension and not the looper tension. It is the increased tension will cause the fabric to gather.
To tighten the tension turn the needle dials to a higher number. My dials are at the front of the machine but yours might be wheels on top.
It is quite common for the needle dials to be the ones on the left but consult your manual if in doubt. (How to find sewing machine manuals)
See how both my needle dials are now set at 9 (this is the highest setting) while the loopers remain at their standard-setting which is 3-4. When you start testing, you may find that you get the best results by having slightly different needle settings. For example, the left could be a 9 and the right could be an 8. Start with them both the same and then come back at the end and make further minor adjustments.
Your machine will have slightly different standard looper settings but it is usually around the 3 to 4 mark.
Step Three – Adjust the Differential Feed
Tighten the differential feed by setting it to a higher number. The higher the number, the tighter the gathers. My knob goes from 0.5 to 2.5 so I set it at 2.5. For normal serging it is set at 1.0. The differential feed knob is usually on the right of the machine but consult your manual if you can’t find where it is.
About the differential feed: Your serger has two sets of differential feeds which are controlled by the feed dogs that move the fabric under the presser foot. A higher speed on the feed moves the fabric faster on the first set. The second set is slower and the fabric gathers as the feed dogs pull the fabric through.
Step Four – Start Serging
Guide the serger along the edge of the fabric and the machine will do the hard work of gathering with a serger for you.
Remember the serger will trim the edge as it sews. Either factor this in as you sew your gathers or disengage the blade and do not trim the seam edge.
It is important to be certain that the line of stitching made by the gathers, does not exceed the seam allowance. If this happens then the stitches will end up showing below the finished seam or the band if you are gathering to fit a waistband. As the stitches are so dense, they are really hard to unpick.
Tips for Gathering with a Serger
- When gathering with a serger, remember to always experiment on a scrap first to test settings.
- Leave a long tail before and at the end of the gathered edge. This way you can make slight adjustments at the end.
- It is hard to tighten gathering created on a serger but easy to loosen it so don’t make your gathers too loose.
- Before gathering with a serger, write down the original settings for your machine. This makes it easier to get everything back to normal after you have finished.
- If the gathers are too tight, simply release the tail threads.
- If it all goes wrong, read my article on how to unpick a serged seam or simply cut the edge off and start again.
- You can adjust the amount of gathering on your machine by experimenting with different differential feed settings. Here is a photo showing you some different settings. As you can see, the 2.5 setting produced the deepest gathers and the 1.5 was the gentlest.
Gathering with a Serger – In Conclusion
Once you have finished gathering with a serger, you can now adjust your gathers to fit your skirt or sewing project. As stated earlier, it can be a little difficult to adjust the stitches tighter or looser so hopefully, only a small amount is needed.
Now you are ready to surge ahead and gather up that row of super, special gathers using your serger machine where the only tension is in the fabric and not your shoulders.
Other Methods of Gathering
Gathering with a serger is just one way to gather fabric. Other popular gathering methods include: