Monday, 21 March 2016

Learning to Love My Overlocker

A while ago, I bought a Singer over locker from Lidl, at the bargain price of £129. Up to that point I had only a few forays into sewing knits, such as here, but I thought it was about time I explored this arena. And I was looking forward to using it as a quick and easy way to finish seams, rather than the time consuming (but pretty!) French seams I tend to go for.

Source - Kestrel Makes
I seem to be getting more impatient in my older age, and this piece of equipment tested it no end. She is a total DIVA! I know it's bad, but my other machines are full of fluff and chug along with blunt needles, sewing all manner of materials and thicknesses. But this princess needs constant attention, playing up when just the smallest bit of fluff accumulates, and only cooperating after brushing and total rethreading. 

I had a good read up about overlockers (Kestrel Makes blog post helped), and it seems this is just how they are. But it's also been about learning a new set of sewing skills - a new type of threading, a whole new area of fabrics to understand, how to use them in making garments, tensions and stitch types to become familiar with, and so on. The instruction manual didn't help, with it's terrible pictures and unclear diagrams, but with repetition I think I've finally got there.

Among other things, the the repetition has taken the form of making these 3 slash neck tops:

I love t-shirts, but in a bid to cut down on buying any clothes I wanted to start making my own. I saw this pattern hack from Heather B on Pattern Review using Grainline Studio's Lark Tee, but I think you could use any t-shirt pattern for the body. I myself used the Tilly and the Buttons Agnes Top as it fits closer to the body at the waist. Go have a look at the tutorial - it's an ingenious way of doing facings, and super easy!

Anyway,as a way of becoming more confident with the overlocker and stretch fabrics, these tops were ideal learning experiences. Here's what I've come to realise:

  • Tension is key. Use all of your scraps to test the tension before every new project, and with the change of every fabric. This particular machine seems to get 'upset' with every change of fabric, and behaves very differently between stretch and woven fabric.
My first project - that's some BAD tension!

That's more like it - good tension.

  • Like anything, all stretch fabrics are different. The pink leopard fabric I would describe as 'hard' - it doesn't stretch in the way the other 2 do in that it doesn't seem to snap back. Maybe the Lycra content is low, or it doesn't have any? The overlocker certainly didn't like it as much as the red or pink fabric, especially where bulk was involved, where it just would snarl up - see below:
Shoulder seam snarl up!
- but the other 2 fabrics were lovely to sew with and went through the machine like a dream. I would describe the red as 'springy', as you can see in the twin needle hem I used below.

  • I can't believe how much quicker everything is with an overlocker! I'm all for slow sewing, I have no problem with hand sewing, or generally 'taking the long way round' if it means a better result in a garment. But it's also nice being able to make a top in a couple of hours.
  • Don't give up - if you get annoyed with it (you will!) either walk away and have a cup of tea, or put the machine away for a few hours, then approach it refreshed. 
  • Read the manual, but don't take everything it says as gospel. Other then the threading, I've found that not everything the manual recommends is exactly true - tensions differ fabric to fabric, and you can be creative with stitch uses and don't have to do exactly as they say. 
  • If all else fails, un-thread it, give it a brush/hoover/dust, and re-thread it. Who knew fluff was such a nuisance!
These are just my personal thoughts on working with the overlocker - there are lots of other resources out there if you need something more technical, but hopefully this will encourage those of you who are a bit nervous of approaching overlockers, or who have given up on an existing one. Keep going!

See you soon!


  1. Thanks for this! have this same machine and it's currently not working - it won't form a thread chain. It's been in the cupboard for months because I can either fix it, or sew, and I know how I'd rather spend my time. Maybe it just needs a good clean, though?! I never thought of that. Thank you!

    1. Hi Helen, Maybe you ahve threaded it incorrectly. I am no expert, but with mine if I put the right hand needle thread under rather than over the looper it will not make a chain. It took me ages to get this sorted out but it was simply how I was threading. I need to move the needles up before pulling through the foot. Its hard to explain here sorry if this makes no sense.

    2. I agree - the over/under thing does make a difference, though with this machine the needle threads aren't as important as the lower and upper looper. With this model I found the lower looper thread over the upper looper works best.

  2. I know I need to work harder at the tension settings on mine 😊 this is inspiring me to try again, thank you x

  3. Thanks Nicole, that's a handy post. I'm waiting until Lidl run that offer again, as I'd like one, but am a bit nervous about using an overlocker. Though after seeing your tops, it looks like it'll be worth it - especially if it makes sewing quicker!

  4. My main help was a Youtube video that said to always thread from right to left. I had broken needles and broken thread several times and was just trying to rethread the one needle. That can be done but the main thing to remember is to move the needles up and down to correspond with with bit you are threading now. I have not experienced any of the issues you seem to have with the Singer. Mine is a Janome 8002DX. Bought from Amazon. I can honestly say the only time I have had to play with the tension was when learning to do rolled hems because you have to disconnect the front cutter. Other than that it has been a dream to use. Before buying the overlocker last July 2015 I had never used one. I still hate having to rethread and if it runs out or breaks I usually leave it until daylight to rethread because my lighting is not brilliant and I absolutely hate rethreading. The real downside of this is whatever I make has to be sewn in black thread because although I also have white and red I simply cannot handle taking the black out and rethreading unless I have to due to it breaking. I find rethreading THE main issue with the overlocker. I totally agree about the ease and speed of sewing though I would not want to swap an overlocker for a normal sewing machine. You do need both.

  5. Lovely tops by the way. Thanks for the link to the hack. I will have to try to make one of these.

  6. Interesting, so perhaps I need to be hoovering it out a bit more often, my overlocker is an ANCIENT Frister and Rossman but it does work ok just not as well as I am used to with my other machines. I am glad I am not alone!

  7. I have the same machine and would be lost without the wonderful posts on threading and tension over on the Makery blog. Highly recommended if you've not come across them.

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