This is the third installment of Serging Savvy Series here at 3 Hours Past. I sat down with my good friend and machine expert Janet, a former coworker from Sewco Sewing and Patchwork here in south Brisbane. The aim of this series is to inspect and define the functions of these useful machines to help you either make an informed purchase or get the best use out of your existing machine.
I am using my Husqvarna 905 (a great workhorse) overlocker, but most machines have similar functions and features, check your manual if you’re unsure.
We’ve tested the speed and efficiency of overlockers against two kinds of seam finishes on domestic sewing machines. Then we took a close look at the differential feed feature. See also Backstitching On a Serger/Overlocker.
Tonight I’m looking at threading and tension. Threading an overlocker strikes fear in the hearts of stalwart sewists everywhere, but it need not be terrifying. Take a deep breath, everything will be fine!
First I’ll walk through the threading process and describe how threading and tension work together. Then I’ll show you how I fine-tuned the settings on my machine for a perfectly overlocked finish on a soft, drapey wool woven.
It’s possible to re-thread the machine by cutting the old threads, tying the new threads to the ends of the old, lifting the presser foot and gently pulling the old threads through. This is effective, mostly, but I tend to simply re-thread my machine. I find it’s less fiddly to just re-thread, and I take the time to dust the machine.
Many, if not most overlockers will thread in this order- upper looper, lower looper, left needle, right needle. It’s vital to thread the machine in the order the manual tells you; otherwise the threads won’t work together as intended.
The thread guide above the top of the machine is the first “tension” point while threading. Individual machines vary, but in general the thread should be looped through these thread guides. It helps feed the thread into the machine more smoothly.
Heavier threads may not need to be looped. Some specialty threads need extra tension control and can be placed in a paper cup behind the machine or even on the floor to allow the machine to feed the thread smoothly. Usually, however, the thread should be looped through the thread guides for optimal performance.
My machine has two more thread guides to control the thread before it reaches the tension discs. The first one helps keep bulky or specialty threads in place, the second is intended for regular thread. I usually slip my threads through both.
This is ground zero for threading tension- the tension discs. This is the place where machines differ greatly. My machine has discs that open up when the presser foot is raised, and squeeze together when the foot is dropped. It’s simple. It’s easy to clean.
Some machines have spring dial tension on the front. This is an older way of maintaining smooth tension, and it can be slightly more fiddly and tougher to master. On either type of machine, the tension default should be marked. If it isn’t, check the manual and mark it yourself for quick reference.
The lower looper is threaded next, through the lower looper match points. To the far left, under the presser foot and feed dogs, some machines must be half-disassembled in order to change the lower looper thread. Mine has a tiny guide that snaps over to one side for simple threading.
When shopping for an overlocker, keep in mind that simplicity will cost money up front but save time/frustration in the long run. It’s up to you, but personally I prefer a slightly more pricey, but simpler to operate machine.
Once the needles are threaded, it’s very easy to mangle the three, four, or five of them before finishing the threading. Once I learned this threading habit, I quit making a mess of the threads before I had a chance to sew. Guiding all four threads toward the back of the machine sets up optimal use.
I used scraps of wool “suiting” to test my stitch settings before working on the actual garment. Learning which settings to adjust takes time, but it’s all fairly regular. This is how I adjusted the thread settings for this particular fabric.
- I chose to adjust the differential feed first to reduce bunching. This is often the simplest fix to “tension” issues. It helped, but not completely and the loops also looked loose.
- Then I gently tightened both loopers (as they were equally loose) one “notch” tighter.
- Finally, as a perfectionist I lengthened the stitches slightly. The looper threads still looked loose, but they weren’t loose “in the fabric”. Lengthening the stitch slightly helped the thread and the fabric work together more effectively.
It’s a mistake to change more than one setting at a time, or to change it dramatically. It doesn’t take much time to stitch a few samples and compare the results, and it helps build an intuitive understanding of the process. I think of it as “fingertip knowledge.”
It’s tough to learn how to troubleshoot, but understanding that the stitch quality is controlled by both the tension discs/knobs and the threading points as well as learning to adjust the tension gradually is the first step to greater success and a cleaner finish when working with an overlocker.
I have a Serging Savvy Series post in the works about the blade and also rolled hem functions, and a post solely on savvy buying including- yes, a worksheet. If I can, I will also make a coverhem machine post. Am I missing a vital topic? Let me know.
What are your serger threading woes? Are you a confident thread-changer, or a knot-and-pull-through type?
Meanwhile, I’m turning my blogging attention to Frosting Fortnight topics. Mari’s blog has been cooking with posts on actual food as clothes (it’s not just for Lady Gaga), Goldilocks dressing, and a look at Laura Mae’s dreamy and exquisite vintage wardrobe. Check it out! I’ll be picking up my end of Frosting Fortnight with posts on wearing quilting cotton well as well as tips for mending, blending, and ending wardrobe orphans. I’ve been dyeing and scrapping and re-fashioning and mending like it’s 1944!