The serger (also called an overlocker in some countries) is an amazing machine and well worth looking at purchasing. It can sew, neaten the raw edges and cut excess fabric all at the same time. Learn how to use a serger and you will have no more trimming seams and then zig-zagging! Your serger does it all for you and the end result is a very professional finish.
Any serger that you buy will have a sewing manual included and many suppliers offer free lessons, but here are some simple tips on how to use a serger to get you started.
SERGERS: Multi-tasker is its middle name and making sewing easier its mechanical game.
What can you do with a serger?
The main functions a serger can perform are:
- Finish seams on woven fabrics
- Sew seams on knit fabrics
- Rolled hems and fancy edges
Does a serger replace a regular sewing machine?
It does not replace your regular sewing machine but rather compliments and enhances your sewing room making your projects look more professional and last longer in the wash. In most cases, you will sew a seam with your regular sewing machine and then finish the seams with your serger.
Do you need a serger to sew knit?
While you don’t NEED a serger to sew knits, the stretchy durable seams it sews on knit fabrics will certainly make you want one! Knit fabrics can be sewn on a regular sewing machine with a zig-zag stitch.
What is the difference between a serger and an overlocker?
Nothing, they are the same thing! It just depends where you live as to which term is used. In the US the term serger is used and in the rest of the world, it is referred to an overlocker.
How to use a serger: Parts of a serger
Make sure you know all the different parts of the serger. Look them up in the handbook and identify them on your new machine.
The main parts you should know are:
- Tension dials – these are important for getting nice smooth stitches without any loops.
- The 3 or 4 thread spools (or more on some bigger machines). These are normally at the back or top of the machine.
- Two needles – but you can sew with one if necessary
- Fabric cutting blade
- Stitch length dials
- Differential feed dial – this is useful for gathering (gathering with a serger)
The below images were taken from my old Singer U34 serger manual. Each brand of serger will have slightly different configurations and placement of dials so please check the manual for your machine. If you don’t have a manual, most manufacturers have downloadable links on their sites. (Read Free Sewing Machine Manuals links) Alternatively, look for second-hand manuals on eBay.
How do you Thread a Serger?
So, how do you thread a serger? Don’t be put off by its extra threads and cutting blade. Just follow the simple steps in your manual to get your machine ready to go. The threading does look complicated initially but as your confidence grows you’ll never look back.
FRUSTRATION SAVING TIP: Always use quality thread to avoid snapping and having to thread all over again!
On most models, the directions for threading can be found on the inner panel of your machine and the colors are set to assist with the threading process.
The important thing to remember for most machines is that the order of threading does matter. If I thread my Janome machine in anything other than the 1,2,3,4 order shown on the panel below, it won’t work.
If you don’t want to have the laborious task of rethreading each time you want to change colored threads then try this little trick:
TIME SAVING TIPS: Cut your threads at the top by the spools and tie on the new color. Gently pull the new color through the machine and away you go sewing with a bright new color with no fiddly re-threading to be done.
How to Use a Serger: Sewing
It is always advisable to test drive on a scrap before you start on a new garment. It takes a bit of practice to get used to the serger’s ability to take the fabric and run with it! You are the guide in every situation and too much pulling or pushing can upset the rhythm of the machine.
When you are ready to sew, insert your fabric just under the foot. Have a tail of chain thread hanging out the back at the end. Hold on to this chain as you start to sew so it doesn’t get caught up in your fabric.
Let the machine’s presser foot and plate guide the fabric through, while the stitches sew and the blade cuts to create the very neatest seam.
Keeping a careful eye on your speed via the foot press is important. Speeding can cost you some precious seam allowances. Take it easy and slow for best beginner results. After some practice, you’ll be whizzing away and running up dresses in no time.
Once you have mastered the straight edge seam you will be ready to learn the next technique – the curved edge.
How to Use a Serger for Curves
Cut out some curved edge pieces from a scrap fabric to practice on.
Convex or outside curve instructions
- Sit directly in front of the machine; put the fabric just under the foot ready to sew.
- Help feed the fabric with one hand and gently guide it around the curve.
- As you go, be sure to watch the blade as it cuts off the excess fabric and make sure you don’t go off the edge.
Concave or inside curve instructions
- This is a bit more fiddly as you have a smaller space to sew.
- Straighten the edge to sew along in line with the blade. Just grab the edge of the fabric and pull it straight. (See the red arrow below.) This will mean the fabric will bunch up on the side.
- Keep your fabric close to the blade as you sew.
Now for some square corners!
How to Use a Serger for Corners
Once again practice, practice, practice on a scrap before launching into the real thing.
- Start sewing as normal along the first edge.
- Stop at the end of the first corner, at the very edge of the fabric.
- Take one or two stitches off the edge. Go slowly so you don’t take too many stitches. You just want to create enough of a chain to allow you to pivot the fabric in the next step.
- Lift the foot up and pivot the fabric in line with the next edge. Put the foot down to continue sewing. (See picture below.)
Starting and Stopping with a Serger
Depending on your project you may need to start and stop at the same point and overlap the serged stitching. An example of this would be when you are sewing an armhole or a ruffle to the bottom of a skirt.
Start stitching at your beginning point, running the stitches onto the fabric at an angle.
When you come to the point where you started, overlap the stitches and run off the edge at an angle and cut the chain from the machine.
Trim the chain even with the edge of the fabric. If you used a matching thread, the overlap will be almost invisible.
If you are worried about the cut stitches unraveling, you could use a liquid seam sealant such as Fray Check by Dritz.
Is learning how to use a serger challenging? Yes, but it is well worth the effort to see how neat and secure the seams and edges are after the serger has added its value to your handiwork. You will soon see that as a team, you and your machine are invincible.
Buying a Serger
Thinking of buying a new serger or your first serger? I have both a Janome and an old Singer. My Singer is over 20 years old so I definitely got my money’s worth with that purchase! Here are some popular models from Amazon.