April is National Serger Month

April is National Serger Month
By now, most home sewers would know what a serger is (also known as an overlock machine) and what it does – trims, stitches, and overcasts a fabric edge with multiple threads all at the same time. Like a traditional sewing machine it uses threads that are guided through tension discs, needles, feed dogs and presser feet, yet sews incredibly fast. It uses two distinctive looping mechanisms found under the throat plate instead of a bobbin. Loopers overcast the fabric edges trimmed by the actions of the machine's scissor-like knives. Loopers act much like knitting needles.

A serger uses multiple thread cones (usually 3, 4) at one time in concert with one or two needles. All threads pass through adjustable tension discs. Sergers are compact and portable and do most sewing on the fabric edges or folds. All ready-to-wear commercially sold garments are made mostly on industrial sergers.

The serger was first developed for the garment industry in the mass production of textile goods and used mostly by professional garment factory workers. In the later 1960s it was Baby Lock, an industry leader among sewing machine manufacturers, that introduced the home serger to the general sewing public. The popularity of the home serger continues to grow. As a companion to the traditional sewing machine, the serger vastly increases choices in the sewer’s world by adding speed to finishing techniques and producing professional quality, nearly flawless seam finishing and vast embellishment options.

It is good practice to not allow lint from fabric and threads to build up under the serger's throat plate as this will clog the knives. A thorough brushing with a soft art brush will take off the lint easily. A gentle burst of canned (compressed) air helps to dislodge lint from hard to see places in the serger mechanisms. The owner’s manual for the serger will inform where to oil the machine and how often. Use oil sparingly. A drop of oil would cover just the head of a flat head straight pin. Not any oil will do; use only oil specifically for sewing machines.

Sergers have two very sharp long-lasting knife blades that act like scissors to trim the fabric edge neatly so the looper threads can encase the edge. How often knife blades need to be changed depends on the kinds of fabrics sewn. Cotton fabrics do not dull blades as fast as synthetic materials. Inspect the sewn overcast fabric edge. If the trimmed edge is somewhat frayed, one or both of the blades may need to be replaced. Note: A word of caution - do not sew over pins, not ever.

Serger needles wear more quickly than sewing machine needles due to the speed of the serger - almost 1700 stitches per minute. Use the best quality needles; change them after every one to three sewing projects for the best serging results.

Use the best serger threads if possible. Discount threads are cost-savers in the short term for sure, but some have a tendency to fray, break or produce just too much thread fuzziness that can interfere with stitch quality. Serger thread in contrast is light weight and manufactured with a special finish that is perfect for high-speed sewing. Although regular sewing machine thread may be used in a serger, the small amount on the thread spool can be a drawback if used in the loopers as much more thread is needed in producing the overcast stitches.

If using regular conventional sewing machine thread be sure to remove the triangle-shaped thread cone adapters on the serger's spool pins and place the notched or wrap-around end of the thread spool facing down. Older thread spools have a notch or small slit to capture a thread end to prevent unraveling when not in use; newer thread spools have a wrap-around tiny indentation slot at the thread spool top to do so. It is best to use cotton-wrapped polyester threads for most serging. Nylon threads work well for swimwear and fitness clothing, 100% cotton thread although not as strong as other serger threads works well for close-woven fabrics and wooly nylon thread is durable, soft yet strong for knits.

While the speed of a serger in creating overcast stitches and the neatness produced for seam finishing is wonderous, balancing the tensions for the one or two needle threads and two (sometimes more) threads for the loopers so all work together can be challenging. Patience is a must. Closely following the machine's manual and illustrations helps greatly in achieving the best tensions for the desired overcast stitches.

Sergers are wonders of the sewing world. They produce beautiful rolled edges, ravel-free seam finishing, stretch seaming, gathering, with practice of course properly tensioned pucker-free seams that will lay flat, hemming options and decorative ornamental embellishing.

Thank you Baby Lock for beginning an awareness of the versatility and functionality of the home serger by long ago proclaiming April as National Serger Month.

Happy serging!

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