View Full Version : Don't Fear the Serger

10-10-2018, 06:10 PM
Two Christmases ago, in 2016, after we'd opened the gifts and had the meal and were just hanging around, one of our kids noticed that the serger sewing machine both girls adore had gone on sale at the cheapest price they'd ever seen. As someone who sews, I should get it, and now!

So I did. It arrived the day they both left. The room in which I sew was and is a clutterfest, so I didn't even set it up right away. No, first I had to do a significant amount of rearranging to clear a flat surface. Once I did, I discovered there was no available outlet. Months later I remembered to buy a cube tap for the nearest outlet. Now we're cookin', right? Not really. Even in daylight, the space is dark. I had an available outlet but no lamp that wasn't in use.

Okay, so I get this hideous orange architect's lamp out of the basement--how can metal retain that basement smell?--and mounted, and... holy Mother of God, how do I thread this? And where's the DVD that came with the machine? No idea. It's not in the box. Did I bury it when I cleared the space? Maybe. I go through all the debris. Nope.

YouTube has videos, so I become a connoisseur of Threading the Serger porn. Most of it's poorly done, with forearms blocking what I need to see, staccato narration I can't quite make out, or a camera that gets tilted so only a portion of the machine is in the shot. (Seriously, you decided that was worth sharing?) The best ones seem to indicate I don't have all the parts, such as four plastic cones on which my cone thread sits, or the requisite tweezers for the tightest threading spots. None explains the little plastic tray I do have, which looks like it escaped from my refrigerator door.

Anyway, after watching probably two hours of video, I have threaded the machine and made it chain. I have already cut some straight-line sewing projects. I'm doing this!

Maryn, scared of new tech, apparently

10-10-2018, 09:57 PM
I feel the exact same way about my Brother embroidery machine. I needed to replace my old "vintage" sewing machine because something was wrong and I could NOT set the thread tension at all and it was screwing up all my projects. My husband went with me to the store and then that somehow all turned into "Surprise, I got you an embroidery machine on Amazon!" It's got all these hoops and extra spindles and a touchscreen and levers (but no dials at all) and it's just weird and alien to me. I mean... it cuts its own thread. :Wha:

It took me, I don't know, a year to set it up and then we moved and it went into storage. Then we moved again and I dragged my feet for another year in setting it up. But now it's set up with dedicated space and power. I have figured out how to thread it, but I seem to still have trouble with the bobbin and I broke two needles. And don't even get me started on how confusing the embroidery bits are. I don't like the manual and I'm terrified of breaking it because it was expensive. I have done zero sewing projects since I got it, and they're piling up.

I really need to get started on a few low risk projects so I can figure it out before I launch into this dog bed I'm supposed to be making.

10-10-2018, 10:13 PM
I agree, some really simple stuff first. I happen to be having an issue with my ordinary machine (which is about 45 years old) and looking at replacements. Apparently they literally don't make 'em like they used to; getting the new version of this guarantees way more plastic parts and earlier breakdown. Yet I don't want a fancy-pants computerized machine like you have. I'm sure your husband thought he was getting you the best rather than terrorizing you.

Tentative research, and not much of it, suggests there's a middle ground with some features I'd appreciate but not so many it's overwhelming. Stuff like winding a fresh bobbin without removing the empty one, or the needle automatically stopping in the down position unless you lift it with the hand wheel. And I'd sure like something that can buttonhole.

Although maybe I should just take old faithful into the shop and let them find the loose or broken wire.

10-11-2018, 05:52 AM
I absolutely understand this. It's like too much technology and too much time thinking about how things work, becomes a barrier to creativity and actually getting stuff done.

Needles and yarn - easy. Sewing thread and needles - ditto. Fancy, schmancy machine with so many bells and whistles that if it had wheels you could drive it to work? A complete hindrance to the process.

As an aside, I've been pinning simple woodworking projects on my Pinterest boards for months. My first project is going to be a headboard bench with an old headboard I found in the garbage. I've got the wood to make the frame. I've been driving around with the headboard for weeks in the back of my car. I've got paint. I've got screws. I've got access to a workshop with all the tools. What's stopping me? Not only do I not know how to work the electric saw, I'm terrified to turn it on. I'm thinking I will have to go old school with a hand saw. :Shrug:

10-11-2018, 06:40 PM
Considering the damage a power saw can do, your fear may be justified. If the sawing isn't too much, ain't nothin' wrong with hand tools. IMO, there's a kind of honesty and dignity to creating something that way.

It's odd, at my house. Mr. Maryn is pleased to teach our older daughter about woodworking. He buys her power tools. She has the beginnings of a small shop. She makes her own shelves and simple bookcases. But me? "Show me how to use the drill press?" "What do you want drilled? I'll just do it."

Anyhoo, yesterday was total success! I did the first seam on seven pillowcases with the serger and got a lot more comfortable with it. I also learned that it cannot begin to sew over a pin and makes an I'm-dying noise if you don't pull it in time, and that "in time" is earlier than you'd think. Today I need to do some measuring and marking to make the five that coordinate all exactly the same size before I do the next step. After I pressed them, they were up to an inch different. Not cool.

Maryn, with more exacting standards than Penney's

Old Hack
10-12-2018, 11:01 PM
I LOVE MY OVERLOCKER (which is what we call sergers in the UK).

A handy hint: if you have to thread it with a different coloured thread, don't pull the threads out of the machine. Break the threads near the spools, then tie the new threads onto the old ones and just pull them through. Peasy.

When I first used mine I spent a day sewing different samples, mostly adjusting the tension on just one dial at a time so I could work out what effects each one had on the finished work. It was time well spent.

Moving onto sewing machines, I have several. I have sold several over the last year and now just have three. The things that I find invaluable now are a needle up, needle down button so I can always stop with the needle in the position I want it in; and a thread trimmer. It's so much easier to press a button than to pull the work out of the machine, hunt down my scissors, and then snip all the threads. If you can get a machine with these two things on then do it.

Most modern machines will sew a good buttonhole now.

Don't be afraid to look on eBay. I've bought several very good machines from eBay, and have got a few bargains. Just know what you're looking for, and read the descriptions well.

10-13-2018, 12:22 AM
Oh, I like that idea, tying the thread. Will the knot go through the small holes near the very end? Threading the two overlock spools was not intuitive and I had to wonder if I have mild color blindness because the blue and green dots that guide the different spools look very nearly the same to me. I'm considering turning one some other color with nail polish. So maybe I'll have pink, yellow, green, and purple.

I've been a little leery of buying expensive things on eBay. I guess too many stories of people being cheated. But my own kids sell their stuff there, so I should get over it. Maybe it's generational.

That's good news about modern machines and buttonholes. Mine from the early 70s had this weird cam and only made them in four sizes, not especially well. I did better freehanding with the zigzag, but it was hard to make them identical. For a short time I lived in a Utopia called Boston where an old Italian guy in a tailor shop near my workplace would do buttonholes really cheap and absolutely perfect. He didn't speak a word of English or have many teeth, but he had mad skills with his machine. I made suits in those days, all very serious and urban.

Maryn, who doesn't even own a suit

Old Hack
10-13-2018, 10:57 AM
The tied-up thread goes through everything in my overlocker, so it should work with yours. Pull them through one thread at a time (you'll need to have the presser foot up to release the tension disks) and it should be fine but you'll soon see if there's a problem.

I've bought several machines on eBay. If you pay by Paypal and the seller sends it to you via a tracked service, you'll be protected if there's a problem with the machine and should be able to get your money back. A couple of years ago I bought a Janome 6500 for about 250 and it's in pristine condition and works really well. I love that machine. I now have three Janomes, and only one of them was new when I got it.

Buttonholes: all my machines have a buttonhole foot with a space where you insert the button you're making the hole for. You then slide up the foot to enclose the button, and the machine then makes the buttonhole the perfect length. It works really well, but you must do a trial buttonhole on some scrap fabric before you start on the main garment, just to make sure you've got all the settings right. It's very easy.

10-13-2018, 05:27 PM
Wow, really? Hey, machine, here's the button. Do your thing. I'll wait right here.

Mirabile dictu!

Maryn, remembering only snippets from Latin classes

Ol' Fashioned Girl
10-13-2018, 07:28 PM
I cannot sufficiently express how much I admire you sewing people... I hate it. I have hated it since I took home-ec in the 7th grade. The sewing part isn't so bad... but that 'ripping out mistakes' part. Ewwweee.

I have a sewing machine I bought brand-spanking new when I worked part-time at Hancock Fabrics in the early 2000s. I don't think it's got fifty feet of sewing under its belt... but I've got the manual taped to its bottom in a ZipLock bag, just in case. What can I say? They had a sale... and I got a ridiculously fantastic discount. It had to be mine.

You never know... it might happen that I get a wild-assed urge to sew some day.



10-13-2018, 09:04 PM
OFG, I get that. It's how I feel about some of the hobbies my family members have. I'm glad it brings them pleasure, but man, so not for me!

One of the biggest drawbacks in sewing is that often it takes certain skill levels to do what you bought the machine to do. You may have no interest in tote bags and pillowcases, but sewing simple stuff with straight lines is a way to ease into sewing before you tackle a lined, fitted jacket with bound buttonholes.

Hm. Kind of like writing, now that I think of it. Although deleting is easier than picking out stitches!

10-22-2018, 05:41 PM
And now, for all the world to see, my first project on the serger is complete.

There are two matching pillowcases for the newlywed daughter, stacked on the left. And five coordinating pillowcases for the daughter with many loves. Behold!


10-22-2018, 05:44 PM
Beautiful work, Maryn!

10-30-2018, 02:02 AM
Nice pillowcases, Maryn!

I once had a student who wished to learn how to use a serger. I don't have a serger because I just use the overlock stitch on my sewing machine. I explained this to my student, but he kept insisting that I buy a serger, just so I could teach him to use it. I politely declined.

For those considering a new sewing machine, you might find this (http://yesterdaysthimble.com/sewing-basics/buying-a-sewing-machine/) helpful. Also, Amazon is a great place to buy sewing machines. There's usually a lot of reviews that tell you what features the machine has, how well it works, whether it tends to have problems or not. And if it breaks, they have a good returns policy.