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This guide has been written in conjunction with Franklins Group, a chain of sewing machine shops in the UK and distributors of JUKI sewing machines and overlockers. 


Choosing and Using an Overlocker
 

Guide to buying and sewing with an overlocker


Introduction

Why might you consider buying an overlocker (or serger if you're in the US)? The overlocker is a great companion to your sewing machine, especially if you are a dressmaker looking to bring your sewing up to a professional standard.  They are a popular choice for sewing knit fabrics as the stitches produced have a lot of 'give' in them.

A basic overlocker machine joins seams and finishes the edges by trimming off the extra fabric and are a great way to finish seams neatly inside a garment. There are overlockers that sew with three, four or five threads and coverstitch machines that finish the right side of the garment with a double line of stitching and without cutting the edge off. This is how commercially made clothing is finished off neatly on the right side and this can only be achieved with a coverstitch machine.

  

Features to Consider Before Buying

You should consider having the following features when buying an overlocker: 

  • Number of threads - ideally a machine would have four threads.
  • Adjustable stitch length.
  • Adjustable pressure foot for different fabric thicknesses.
  • Differential feed (similar to a walking foot where thicker fabrics feed through evenly).
  • Free arm for sewing sleeves etc.
  • Retractable knife so you can move it out of the way and overlock without the knife cutting the fabric.

  Overlockers are mechanically the same. The difference between overlockers is the build quality and different features. You should consider how much you are going to use an overlocker and research the market before buying. 

Entry level overlockers (around £199) stitch a basic range of dress fabrics, but don’t deal with more difficult fabrics such as thick or fine fabric. Multiple adjustments to  three or four different tension dials may be required to get a neat finish and sometimes, even with much adjustment, it doesn’t always stitch out perfectly – this can be down to the build quality of the machine. It’s really worth saving up for a better quality overlocker if you have the budget and think you will use it regularly.

 

JUKI Overlockers

The following features are standard on every JUKI overlocker: 

  • Colour Coded Threading Guides throughout the machine make threading easy and efficient.
     
  • Adjustable Stitch Length by simply turning the knob inside the machine within the range of 1-4mm.
     
  • Adjustable Differential Feed is controlled and adjusted by a dial conveniently located on the outside, left-hand side of the machine.
     
  • 1-Rotation Thread Tension Dials with normal tensions highlighted for simple, consistent tension adjustment.
     
  • Easy Dial Knife Adjustment makes the upper knife completely self-adjusting.
     
  • Heavy Duty Knife System operates with dedicated drive to assure consistent and easy cutting of light to heavy weight fabrics.
     
  • Automatic Rolled Hemming can be created wit built-in finger tip control – there is no need to change the foot or plate.
     
  • Sewing Light is placed to give optimum lighting to the fabric and needle areas.
     
  • Multi-Purpose Foot is equipped with a slotted tape guide for sewing woven tape, elastic, sequins and ribbon.
     
  • 2/3 Thread Converter is easy to install and allows 1 needle thread and one lower looper thread for securing overedging.
  • Sewing Width Gauge takes the guesswork out of seam allowances and is conveniently located on the guard cover.

 

JUKI MO-644D @ £299
 JUKI overlockers from Franklins Group

 
This is the starting price for a quality overlocker, which will encourage you with its easy-use. The JUKI MO-644D sews over thick seams down to fine fabrics with absolute ease. Compared to entry level overlockers where you can get puckering on fine fabrics the MO-644D overlocker stitches beautifully.


JUKI  MO-654DE @ £399
 Buying an overlocker

 
The JUKI MO-654DE is one of a most popular models – there are a number of reasons why. First this overlocker has a safety feature that when you open the covers, the blades and machine will not operate. The stitch length dial and differential feed dial are on the right-hand of the overlocker - this makes it easy to adjust the length of stitch without having to open the covers. However, the main reason more than any other is that the JUKI MO-654DE threads the lower looper for you. This is the most difficult part of any overlocker but the JUKI MO-654DE makes it very easy. The roll hem sewn on the JUKI MO-654DE is considered one of the best. 

 

JUKI MO-734DE @ £575

The JUKI MO-734DE has the same build quality as the JUKI MO-644D & MO-654DE but with its self-guide system this machine can be threaded up in no time. The MO-734DE also has the advantage of having an auto-needle threader for both left and right needle.

 

JUKI MO-1000 Air threader @ £879

Air threading overlocker

 
The MO-1000 is taking the market by storm. This machine has been featured on TV and sales have increased due to the air-threading system. Customers who have had an overlocker for a few years with the traditional frustrating threading system or for customers who struggle using their fingers then it’s worth looking at the MO-1000. This model will thread the lower and upper loopers automatically.  


Threading and Sewing with an Overlocker

Before threading the machine, open the front cover and elevate the presser foot and upper knife. Place the thread stand at the back of the machine with four spools of thread.

Most overlockers will have four spool holders for four threads and it is worth practising with using a different thread colour for each of the four threads so you can differentiate them easily. The machine should be threaded in the following order:

Upper Looper - this is where you can use fancy threads if desired

Lower Looper

Right hand needle

Left hand needle

A good machine will have a colour-coded guide that you follow - be methodical and follow the thread guides down and you will thread the machine successfully. Use tweezers to thread difficult parts where you can't get your fingers in easily. Make sure all your threads are extending out the rear of the machine and have a long tail to avoid unthreading. Franklins have a YouTube video here showing how to thread an overlocker. Once threaded, bring down the presser foot and upper knife, close the front cover and run a piece of fabric through to get it started. 

To begin sewing, put your left hand on the fabric to push it slightly until the tip of the fabric sits exactly behind the presser foot. To finish sewing, make chain stitches at the end of sewing for a few cm to prevent the thread from untying and having to re-thread. Cut the thread a few cm from the presser foot. 

To change a looper thread, cut the existing thread near the spool, put the new thread on the spindle and tie to the end of the first thread. Lift the presser foot and set tension to '0' to allow the knot to pass through smoothly and draw the thread through until it's well past the presser foot. 

To change a needle thread, repeat as aboce and cut the knot off just before threading through the needle eye.

Check the tension for the fabric you want to use by consulting the chart in your user manual. Normally use loose tension for thin fabrics, medium tensionfor medium to thick material and tight tension for the thickest materials.
 
 
Sewing a Rolled Hem 

Simply pull the rolled hem lever towards you and increase the lower looper tension to get a perfect rolled hem on basic or delicate fabrics. Try watching this video clip on YouTube from Franklins Group.
 
 
Sewing with Different Fabrics

A good overlocker will handle all types and thicknesses of fabric. Watch this video from Franklins Group on using different fabrics including calico, organza, jersey, thick denim, vinyl and stretch fleece with the differential feed.

 

Useful Resources

For further guides to choosing and using overlockers, see the following links: 

Wendy Ward from MIY Workshop has some thoughts on buying an overlocker  https://wendyward.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/should-i-buy-an-overlocker/

Must-have features for a serger from So-Sew-Easy http://so-sew-easy.com/must-features-first-serger/

Tips for choosing an overlocker by Serger Pepper http://sergerpepper.com/2014/12/best-tips-choosing-serger.html

The Sewing Forum have a number of discussion threads on choosing an overlocker http://www.thesewingforum.co.uk/showthread.php?t=11357

 

 If you found this article interesting, you might like our sewing machine techniques section and how to choose a sewing machine.

 

Techniques with a sewing machine

 

 Best tips for buying a sewing machine