Serger Tips for Beginners

It's been about a year since I purchased my first serger, and I've learned quite a bit through trial and error. The most important thing I learned is that threading it is not nearly as complicated as some folks led me to believe. And no, I don't have the "self threading" type. I have an American Home AH-100 -- it's a 4 thread, 2 needle, fairly small machine. It's also the twin to the Babylock Lauren which retails for about $100 more than the American Home AH-100.

If you're thinking of getting a relatively low priced machine there are several options available. But be sure to compare carefully because not all like priced machines are equipped with like features. At the end of this article I will offer some suggestions for those who are shopping.

Note: I get questions from beginners such as "can I make a complete garment on a serger?" Yes you can, but there are limits -- it depends on the style, and type of garment or accessory. I've also been asked "should I buy a serger or a sewing machine?" A serger does not replace a sewing machine -- if you have neither, and you want to begin sewing then what you need is a sewing machine. If you don't know how to sew, you're aren't going to easily grasp the concept of the serger, so learn to sew first. Click on "Read more" to continue.

Start at the Beginning:
When you bring that new serger home start by using the owners manual to identify the various parts, and features. Don't expect yourself to memorize each one, or immediately understand how the adjustments effect the stitches. Just get familiar for now -- and keep the owners manual handy when you start using the machine. If the machine came with an instructional video, watch it -- it will be much easier to understand the written instructions once you've seen someone else perform the task.

Thread the Machine Yourself:
Most instructional videos, and manuals provide instructions on using the pull-thourgh method of threading so that you can change thread without completely re-threading the machine. That's a great method, but it's not a substitute for learning how to thread the machine yourself. Most of the new models that are not "self threading" are color coded, and feature an illustrated threading guide inside the cover, or "door" of the machine, so you won't need to get the manual out each time you thread the machine.

Your machine probably came with a pair of long handled tweezers -- use them for threading. Don't be afraid to turn the hand wheel while you're threading -- sometimes you need to move the loopers in order to make threading easier. And if you're an old broad like me, keep a magnifying glass handy. The first few times you thread the machine it will seem complicated, but with just a little bit of practice you'll become more confident.

Try it Out:
The best way to learn is to just do it. Grab some scrap fabric, and just go through the owners manual, trying out each function. For some things, such as rolled hemming, you'll likely need to change the throad plate, and remove one needle. Doing it will take the mystery out of it, and you'll see that it's not very difficult at all.

Learn how to Trouble Shoot:
This takes a little more time, and patience, so try not to get frustrated when things aren't going right. Just as you have learned to do with your sewing machine, you'll soon learn where to look when things aren't going well with your serger -- and most of the time it's pretty simple.

When you're threading the machine, always work from right to left. Start with the lower looper, then the upper looper, then the right needle, then the left needle.

If you're using just one needle, or one needle and one looper (two thread serging) completely remove the thread for the unused needle and looper -- don't even leave it hanging in the thread hanger. Some machines include a subsidiary looper for two thread serging -- this closes off, and dis-engages the upper looper.

Here are some of the problems I have encountered while learning how to use my serger.

Thread Breaks: I was recently having trouble with my serger thread breaking frequently. Turns out, the problem was that I did not have the extension bar of the thread hanger pulled all the way up -- that was causing the thread to get caught up.

Thread Looping on the Edge of the Fabric: I simply had the stitch width set too wide for the fabric I was using.

Seams Were Puckering: Once I adjusted the differential feed, I was able to sew a smooth, straight seam.

Fabric Not Moving Smoothly, or Slipping: There is a pressure foot adjustment on the top of my machine. I keep forgetting about that until I start sewing, and my thin fabric is slipping around. Another reason to always do a test piece first.

Rolled Hem Not Turning Enough: I was sewing too close to the edge of the fabric -- there needs to be enough edge for the machine to grab, and roll the fabric edge.

No Change When Adjusting the Tension: This was the moment when I nearly slapped myself. I was sewing with just one needle (the right needle), and I kept adjusting the left needle tension...DUH! That taught me to adjust from right to left, instead of left to right -- start with the lower looper, then go to the upper looper, then the right needle, then the left needle.

Difficulty Moving the Blade: When we're in the throes of a problem, sometimes the simplest things escape us. When moving the blade to engage or dis-engage it, use the hand wheel to place the needle in the down position.

If you're shopping for a serger, here are some suggestions for entry level models. Most of the major sewing machine manufacturers produce a full line of sergers. Whatever brand you choose, I recommend you go with a known name such as Tacony (American Home, Babylock, Brother), Janome, or Singer. Of course there are additional well known names -- I suggest these simply because it is easier to find information, and obtain servicing in most areas. If you want to see the machines in person, you'll need to go to your local dealer, or stop by that major chain fabric store to try them out first.

American Home AH-100 Serger: I have this one, and it's a great little machine. It retails for around $249, and is not sold in stores -- this is an on-line only item. I've seen it for as low as $230 on Amazon (be sure to look to check to see if the vendor you're choosing offers free shipping). This is the twin to the Babylock Lauren serger which retails for around $350, and is sold only through dealers, so if you have a Babylock dealer in your area you can go in and look at the Lauren to see what the American Home serger is all about.

It features 4/3/2 thread serging. The two thread option allows for flat lock stitching. Included is a blind hem foot, and an elastic foot, and a rolled hem needle plate.


Brother 1034D: Although very similar in features and the American Home serger (and priced slightly lower as well), this machine does not do 2 thread serging for flat lock stitching. This machine uses 3 threads for flat lock stitching. Flat lock stitching can be used for decorative purposes, and is also very useful for seaming faux furs, and other heavily textured fabrics. This machine comes with a blind hem foot, and a gathering foot (which is curious to me because with the American Home serger, no special foot is needed for gathering -- it is accomplished by setting the differential feed.) It also uses regular sewing machine needles (serger needles are typically slightly longer that sewing machine needles.) This machine is available on-line, and in retail stores including discount department stores.

Singer Stylist II: Singer does have a lower priced model than this machine, but I'm just not the least bit impressed with it -- even for the price. The Stylist II does 4/3/2 thread serging, and is fairly comparable feature wise with other sergers in its class. It includes only one foot, and does not come with a DVD instructional video. This machine would not be my first, or even second choice, but if you're a fan of Singer, check this one out. This machine is available on-line, or at discount department stores.

Janome 8002D: This little 3/4 thread serger has similar features to the American Home, and Brother sergers but does not appear to include any extra feet. It appears that a throat plate change is necessary for doing a rolled hem. It also does not include an instructional video. I mention this one only because people who use Janome sewing machines are generally avid lovers of the brand, but for the price, I'm not terribly impressed.

1 comment:

  1. I like your tip to just "try it out". There isn't any better way to learn something then just jumping in and doing it yourself. I am a beginner seamstress that just works on personal projects. Right now I have successfully hemmed pants and brought in the sides of a shirt. I love the relaxation that sewing brings!