Why You're Gonna Love Sewing With Your Serger

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Many people who like to sew can get by — no prob — without a serger. But once you try sewing with a serger, you'll never go back.

What's so special about a serger? Let me give you the rundown.

What Is a Serger?

Sergers are sewing machines that use multiple spools of thread to create complex stitches.

Many of these stitches require three spools of thread. Yes, three! That might seem like a lot, but really, it's just one more than a regular sewing machine.

All sergers today come with both utility and decorative stitches. You'll want to experiment a little to decide which stitches work best for you.

Why Use a Serger?

Sergers are FAST. You can quickly repair torn seams, make a pair of PJs for your kid who's growing too quickly, or whip up a last-minute gift.

A serger's basic stitches tend to be sturdier and stretchier than regular sewing machine stitches, making your garments and accessories more durable.

Finally, sergers come with a blade that can slice off excess fabric as you stitch. This means you can get perfect hems with no extra cutting required.

Serger Settings

By adjusting the cutting width, differential feed and thread tension, you can create different types of stitches.

Cutting Width

The cutting width adjustment affects the amount of fabric within the seam.

Want more fabric within a seam or rolled hem? Change the cutting width to a higher number. For example, if you're trying to create a rolled hem and your fabric is really ravelly or thick, increasing the cutting width might help.

For fine, delicate fabrics, you might need to reduce this setting to get a nice rolled edge. If there's extra fabric bunching up under your overlock stitching , try reducing the cutting width.

Differential Feed

Serger stitching involves two sets of feed dogs with a differential feed system. The front feed dogs push the fabric under the presser foot, and the back feed dogs push the fabric out of the serger.

Usually for a medium-weight fabric setting, setting the differential feed on “N” or 1 causes the fabric to feed uniformly through the serger. Moving the setting to a higher number causes the fabric to gather, and moving it to a lower number will cause it to stretch out a little.

So how can you use this to your advantage? Try increasing the differential feed (turn the dial to a higher number) when you want to ease something in, such as a sleeve cap into the armscye or the hem of a flared skirt. Try decreasing the differential (turn the dial to a lower number) if you're sewing on a lightweight fabric that is puckering.

Thread Tension

Thread tension settings are the source of many serger stitching woes.

First, start by using the recommended settings for your serger and the stitch you plan to use. If that doesn’t produce the result you want, try threading your machine with a different color thread in each placement so it's easier to spot which thread is creating the issue.

Once you identify your problem thread, adjust the tension setting by a smaller amount and test again. Continue until the stitch quality is appropriate for the intended stitch. For 3- and 4-thread overlock stitches, you want a balanced stitch with both looper threads visible and “connected” along the cut edges.

Must-Have Serger Functions

Seam Finishing

I love the way a 3-thread overlock stitch quickly neatens and finishes seam allowances on woven and knit fabrics. Using this seam finishing means you never have to use pinking shears to finish seams.

Seaming Knits

Serger overlock stitches have built-in elasticity that make them a natural fit with knit fabrics. Most of the time I use the 3-thread overlock for seaming, too.

Gathering

Gathering is a quick and easy way to add a ruffle to garments or home furnishings. The best method for gathering is to increase the differential feed — meaning turn to a higher number. This will help push more fabric under the gathering presser foot as you serge.

Coverstitching

Ready-to-wear garments are all hemmed with a coverstitch machine, and since I like my garments to look as ready-to-wear as possible, the coverstitch function on my serger gets a workout. Not all sergers have a built-in coverstitch, but if yours does, give it a try.

More Useful Serger Functions

Rolled Hem

This stitch is awesome for quickly hemming children's clothes and for whipping up napkins.

Chain Stitch

I love the look of this decorative topstitch, especially with denim or topstitching thread. I used it on a cotton skirt and plan to use it on my next pair of jeans. Yes, with this stitch, if you pull the wrong thread, the whole thing pulls out!

Elasticator Application

The elasticator foot only handles ¼-inch elastic, so while it's useful, it is also somewhat limited. It's great for quick half-slips, though.

Flatlock Seams

Over the years, I've made a few pairs of running tights with this stitch because I didn't want a seam edge on the inside to cause any rubbing. Comfy!

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