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Care and Feeding of Your Serger

Sergers can be temperamental and have to be threaded *exactly* to work correctly. The old saying about the little girl with a curl always comes to mind when I think about sergers:
When she was good, she was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.
When a serger is working well, it sews like a dream, but then sometimes something goes awry and you can spend a great deal of time and energy trying to track down the problem and fix it. Sometimes a thread will have popped out of one of the tension disks or horror of horrors, a thread might have broken, requiring you to rethread the whole thing from scratch. It is important to take good care of your machine and use the best supplies to ensure that it continues to function well.


The inside of a serger can be intimidating, with pointy loopers and needles going every which way, but it is important to access the compartment frequently and clean it out. Lint and the stray trimmings can muck up a serger pretty quickly. While most of the trimmings usually end up on the outside where they are supposed to, there are always little threads and remnants that fall through the opening into the interior part of the machine. The best way to clean the mechanical parts is to use a soft brush and/or a small vacuum to remove any dust, lint or threads. DO NOT blow into the compartment with your mouth or with compressed air. This may seem like a quick, effective way to clean up, but your breath can introduce unwanted humidity into the machine and any type of blowing can push pieces further inside and clog the machine even worse. Tip: When brushing or vacuuming, hold the thread tails in place on top so that the cleaning action does not tangle or disturb the threads (my position on rethreading is: AVOID AT ALL COSTS).


Some sergers require oiling and others don't. It is always best to refer to the owner's manual to determine the oiling requirements and recommendations for your particular machine.


serger sewing machine serger threadSerger thread is specifically made for use in sergers and is sold on a cone rather than on a spool like standard sewing thread. This is because of the sheer volume of thread used by the overlock stitch. Serger thread is also lighter-weight and thinner than standard thread in order to minimize the bulk that might be created by four threads.

There are different types of thread for different purposes. The most commonly used thread is spun polyester that is appropriate to use for most serging. Wooly nylon is another popular serger thread that is a fluffy, stretchy thread that provides wider surface coverage than the standard polyester thread. It is particularly well suited for rolled hems, swimwear, activewear, knits and lingerie.

Tip: When I purchased my first serger years ago and went to purchase cone thread, a friend recommended purchasing two cones of various colors instead of four and then blending them together. So, for example, I have two cones each of light pink, rose, and bright pink and I use them in various combinations to create a blend that works for the fabric I am using. This is a huge savings in terms of both cost and storage space. For storage, I use plastic boxes made especially for storing serger thread. The boxes are less convenient when I need to change colors, but they keep the thread dust free.
Be sure to use only high quality, name-brand threads in your serger. Since you have probably made quite a financial investment in your machine, it only makes sense to use the best products in the machine to ensure that it continues to operate efficiently over the long haul. Cheaper threads often use low-quality fibers and are not spun as tightly and smoothly as the more expensive cone thread brands such as Maxi-Lock. The lower quality thread often has small bumps, tends to be fuzzy, and is weaker overall which can contribute to thread breakage and excess wear and tear on the tension disks and needles.


Serger needles are again different from standard sewing machine needles. Refer to your serger manual for the proper brand and size of serger needles to use in your machine. It is good pratice to replace your needles frequently after two or three projects. Not only do the points of sewing needles become dull and prone to snagging with overuse, but the eyes of needles wear as well and can cause thread breakage.


Keep an eye on your trimmed edges and if you notice them coming out frayed or shaggy, it may be time to change one or both of your trimming blades. Refer to your owner's manual for information on changing the blades or contact your local sewing repair shop.
Tip: Sewing over pins is a surefire way to damage your trimming blade. To prevent this, insert your pins parallel to the egde, at least one inch to the left of the seam allowance and remove them as you sew.
I hope you have enjoyed this basic introduction to the serger sewing machine. While not strictly necessary for garment construction, they are nevertheless a wonderful addition to any sewing room. Additional articles will be forthcoming discussing in more detail, specific aspects of the serger overlock machine.

Happy Serging!

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