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One of things we are asked about on a regular basis is sergers. For many people, even seasoned sewers, they are equal parts tantalizing and terrifying. They can do so many cool things at once: seam, trim, and finish – all at lightning speed. But to make it happen, there are a lot of threads working together and… knives! Luckily, the benefits should outweigh your apprehensions. Adding a serger to your sewing room arsenal is a great way to save time and give your seams a professional quality finish. We put together our top five reasons for making a serger your sewing machine’s newest companion.

Our thanks to Janome America Education Coordinator, Nancy Fiedler for providing her helpful tips and samples. She worked on a Janome 1100D serger and used four different thread colors to make it easy to keep track of which thread was doing what.

We just told you a serger does so many things. But in actuality, a serger does only one thing: it sews forward. To achieve the various stitches, settings and tensions are changed. The most important things to remember is to always, always test the stitch you want, using the exact thread and fabric as your project. Different fabrics and threads all behave differently. Testing is the only way to find the adjustments that will give you the results you want

Your serger should come with tweezers; they make it easy to reach into the tight spaces when threading. The second super handy tool is a brush to help keep the lint at bay. Sergers create a lot of lint, dust, and scraps because of their cutting action. A can of compressed air is also a good cleaning aid.

The tolerances on a serger are extremely exact. All those rapidly moving parts have to operate in perfect unison. Make sure to only use the recommended needle type. This is so important, it’s usually printed on the face of the machine.

Reason 1: To secure and finish seams in one pass

A serger allows you to sew a seam, trim the seam allowance, and overcast the edge all in one step.

This stitch is called a 4-thread safety stitch and it can be created on all sergers.  A perfectly balanced stitch has the upper looper thread (red in our sample) and lower looper thread (green in our sample) meeting right along the edge of the seam, while the needle threads (yellow and blue in our sample) lay perfectly flat on the upper looper side and are barely visible on the lower looper side.

Use this stitch to quickly sew seams that will not ravel. It’s also a perfect choice for knit garments because the seam is secure yet still stretches with the fabric when worn.

Reason 2: To overcast raw edges

Sometimes you just want to overcast the raw edge of a single layer of fabric. Some common examples of this situation are facings, hems, or before sewing a traditional seam with your sewing machine on a ravel-prone fabric.

The best stitch for this is a 3-thread overcast. On most sergers, this can be done with a wide stitch (upper and left edge on the sample below) or a narrow stitch (lower and right edge on the sample below).

On some sergers the width is determined by which needle you remove. Other sergers allow you to change the width by moving the cutting blades. Refer to your owner’s manual for specifics about your machine. Or ask your dealer to demonstrate this adjustment.

When overcasting an edge, you simply skim the raw edge of the fabric with the knives to create a smooth, finished edge.

Reason 3: To make tiny, perfect rolled hems

Nothing is easier than creating a rolled hem with your serger. Napkins, scarves, bridal veils, and more are a snap to finish.

The stitch finger that the overcast stitches have been forming on is removed. The machine is then set up with one needle and thread in both loopers. The stitch length is shortened to .5mm-1mm, and the lower looper tension is tightened. Your manual will show you how to do all of this and will give you recommended settings; it’s not hard!

The fabric is rolled around the serger’s pin and encased in thread. You have a beautiful hem in minutes. Use matching thread for an almost invisible edge or change to contrasting thread to create a decorative effect.

Corners are just as simple. Sew off the end, turn the fabric, and stitch the next side. When the hemming is complete, place small drop of seam sealant on each corner, let it dry, and trim the thread tails flush with the corner.

NOTE: Remember, we are using different thread colors in our needles to help show the process. For a “real” rolled hem you would use all the same color, which will give your edge a more solid and uniform finish.

Reason 4: To create flatlock seams

A flatlock seam lays flat with no seam allowance and is also reversible. You can use it for color blocking or just as a cool decorative seam. Contrasting color thread will add an extra design detail. One side will display the upper looper thread (green in our sample) and is called the “loop side.” On the reverse side is the “ladder,” which is the needle thread (yellow in our sample).

Following the instructions in your manual, thread one needle and both loopers. To allow the seam to flatten, you loosen the needle tension (usually to about .5 – 1). Once set, simply sew the seam, guiding the edge of the fabric along the edge of the needleplate. When done, open the seam and give it a gentle tug to flatten.

As you test (because you have taken our advice and are testing before you start with your actual thread and fabric), you may find you need to tighten the lower looper tension slightly to best hide the needle thread.

Reason 5: Because differential feed is super cool and helps edges to ease and flatten

A serger with differential feed has split feed dogs. There is one set of feed dogs toward the front and another set towards the back.

The speed ratio of these feed dogs can be adjusted to compensate for fabrics that stretch or pucker. Turn the dial higher to ease fabric that is stretching. Turn the dial lower to stretch fabric that is puckering.

Overcast the raw edge of a project with the differential feed at 1.5 – 2 to create what I like to call “automatic easing.” It can make the hem of an A-line skirt lay flat and add a perfect curve to a sleeve cap before inserting it into an armhole.

You can also use differential feed to quickly gather lightweight fabric. Adjust the stitch length to its longest setting, tighten both needle tensions to the highest number, and set the differential dial to 2. Sew at a medium speed and gathers will magically appear behind the presser foot!

Going forward

These are our five fave reasons to have a serger, but of course there are many more features to think about if you decide to follow your urge to serge.

If you use quite a bit of lightweight and sheer fabric, you may want to investigate 2-thread capabilities. A 2-thread overcast or rolled hem lays better because the lighter weight will not compromise the fabric. In the same way, if flatlocking is one of your favorite techniques, a 2-thread flatlock will be even flatter because, as with the rolled hem, a thread has been eliminated.

A serger with five threads gives you the option of a cover stitch. If you don’t have room for more than one extra machine in your sewing space, this may be the machine for you. We have another article just about the clever cover hem.

As with all machine shopping, your very best option is always to visit your local dealer and “test stitch” several models for yourself. Check out the full selection of Janome sergers online to compare and contrast the features, including the Janome 1100D featured in this article.

Our thanks again to Janome America Education Coordinator, Nancy Fiedler for her help with this tutorial.

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Nancy Malcomson
Nancy Malcomson
3 years ago

You can use a walking foot to sew stretch fabric.I got a server gave to me .I have been sewing for years but never used a server.

Liz Johnson
Liz Johnson
3 years ago

Hi Nancy – Indeed! They are always other options (presser feet as well as fabric) for stretch fabric. A serger is certainly a choice. You might try out a serger at your local dealer one of these days, just for fun. It’s always interesting to test a new option.

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