Serger Series – Part 1: Anatomy

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

On November 4th 2013 I got my longed for overlocker. *Confession*. Up until a few weeks back I had only ever used the 4 thread overlock that it had come factory threaded with. I had literally been too scared to unthread the thing for fear of being unable to re thread it. Resolutely sticking to this method of changing the thread cones. Sound familiar? Well a few weeks ago, after my machine had a bit of a hissy fit at me; I decided enough was enough. I decided that, like in any successful relationship, if she and I were going to fulfil our relationship potential; then I had to invest some time in getting to know her better.

So over the past few weeks I’ve taken my overlocker to bits (yep, with a screwdriver and everything) cleaned it, reassembled it, and played with it. I’ve watched you tube videos, played with sample swatches  and **shock horror** read my manual!! (C’mon…I’m not the only one to never read a manual, right??) What I’ve discovered is that overlockers are nowhere near as scary as I thought. Yes, they still sound and run like sewing machines on steroids BUT threading one is now like “oh, was that it?!” and diagnosing (and correcting) the cause of loopy weird stitching is now a piece of cake.

So I  thought I’d share my discoveries in a new series aimed at beginner, scaredy cats like me. Cos I know you’re out there. Just wanting to get serging/buy a serger  and wondering if you’ll be able to get to grips with it. Well….you will!A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

The best place to start is a tour of a serger and it’s various components. What they are and what they do. First I better introduce you to my machine. A Singer 14SH754.  A 2, 3 and 4 thread overlock machine with differential feed. (We’ll get to what differential feed is in a bit!) Here’s how she looks from the front….

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

and from this angle you can see the key elements at the side and the back of the machine. Ready for the tour? Here goes….

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

Starting at the back you have the thread spools. No different to a sewing machine except there are 4. Those clear plastic things that sit at the bottom of the spools are removable and are there to accommodate the large thread cones that you typically use on a serger. Remove those and you can use a normal size thread spools. So if you have a more obscure colour and don’t want to buy 4 massive cones of it, you can use normal ones too! In the middle is a telescopic metal thread bar. The whole thing extends up and the threads slip inbetween the crossover part at the top of each loop and sit in the bottom of the loop. There to separate and guide the individual threads and keep them at tension.

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

Visible just behind the carry handle in the previous pic. More thread guides. This time they look like the hook part of a hook and eye fastening. There to help keep the the threads separated, at tension, and guide them through that channel there, that leads to the tension dials/discs around the front….

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

Lastly (at the back, for now) the presser foot lever. Just the same as on a standard machine. Raises and lowers the presser foot. Simple as. That white “bar” you can see to the left is part of the knife mechanism. We’ll get to that in a mo!

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

Moving around to the side. There’s your presser foot. Nothing strange there. Note the angle of the needles and the presser foot bar though. On a standard machine the presser foot bar and needles point straight down. Slightly angled on a serger. Also note the white bar that we saw in the previous pic has the blade attached to it….

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

Presser foot lifts up and down as on a standard machine. Underneath are the feed dogs and throat plate. As on a standard machine. Presser feet are changeable (for different actions/stitches) on overlockers just as they are on standard machines. So…just the blade that’s any different here really!

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

There are your needles from the front. Released and changed using those tiny screws. Left needle (B) sits higher than the right needle (A). The little “pig tail” curls keep the needle threads separate, at tension and guide them into the right place for threading. In the right foreground of the pic you can see that blade again…

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

The blade points downwards and snugs into the presser foot. You can disengage it by pushing it in towards the white cylinder and using the black knob on the right to rotate it out of the way…

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

Here is the blade from a different angle. In reality there are 2 blades. The one that is attached to the presser foot bar and moves up and down. And a fixed blade that sits just under the throat plate/feed dogs…as you sew, the fabric slides over the throat plate and between the upper and lower blades…

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

As the needles move down, so does the upper blade. Slicing the fabric between the upper and lower blades in the process. Ouch! (At the same time that this is happening, the needles behind it will be picking up the threads from the lower looper to help form the stitch on the underside of the fabric)

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

Just infront of the blade you can see a white switch with “R” stamped to the left of it and “S” stamped to the right; and below that a black dial. This relates to adjusting the stitch width. For normal overlocking that white button is pushed forward to the “S” position. We’ll revisit “non normal” stitching in a later post 😉

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

So we’re back round to the front….

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

Open the door at the front and this is what you see. The part that seems scary. The inner workings of the upper and lower loopers. But bear with. It’s honestly not that scary 🙂

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

Let’s start up top with the tension dials. Ignore the numbers here. I’ve been playing and we’ll get to those in another post. For now let’s talk function. Just the same as a standard machine except, again, there are 4 instead of 1. They set how “tight” your stitch sits in the fabric. Inside each tension dial are 2 metal discs that look a bit like finger cymbals. Same as a standard machine, the higher the number you set the dial, the closer the discs squeeze together and the tighter they hold the thread that runs between them. That tension is transferred to the stitch as it goes through your fabric. Getting the correct tension for your fabric is pretty important and I have a whole separate post lined up for that 🙂 For now…just note that they are colour coded….

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

Underneath each tension dial are yet more thread guides. Alot of thread guides on a serger. But then there’s alot of thread to guide! Thread guides on this machine that are directly under their alotted tension dials are left plain. The rest are colour coded with coloured dots, that relate to the relevant tension dial,  so you know which thread should be passing through…

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

And here is the cause of my irrational past fear. The upper and lower loopers! Upper looper (red) forms the overlock stitch ontop of your fabric. Lower looper (yellow) forms the overlock stitch on the underside of your fabric. Undeniably the lower looper is  sliiiiightly tricky to thread. The rest is a cinch, honestly!

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

Here’s a slightly different angle….The reason the lower looper (yellow dots and diagram) is slightly more tricky is because the lever thingy part of it (that part of the diagram on the right of the photo) is tucked right under the feed dogs/throat plate and even when fully extended, requires a little bit of slight of hand to loop the the thread around it. But that’s why it has it’s own diagram I guess. Never the less, after a couple of goes (tweezers are a MUST) you get the knack and it’s fine…

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

This machine, and most machines will have a threading guide on board. But I have a whole post lined up on threading too. So we will return to that. I think that’s enough on threading for now! Nearly there. How you feeling? Geeked out yet? Just a couple of bits left to see!

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

Back round to the side of the machine. A couple of dials and a lever…

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

Top dial is your stitch length. For the majority of standard stitches set between 2.5 and 3…

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

The big wheel is your hand wheel for your needles. Just like a standard machine. On/off switch and power source behind that. Nothing different there. In front however is the differential feed lever. This controls the rate at which the feed dogs pull the fabric through the machine and depending on the setting can either stretch the fabric out, or gather it. For normal stitching its set at 1 (in the middle). Again…separate post line up for that too 😉

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

Worth noting the air vents for keeping the motor from overheating. Do not obstruct whilst in use.

A beginner serger series at www.makery.uk

Then finally back to the back and a little tip. I keep a photograph of the make and model numbers of my machines on my phone. Then if I’m out and about and accidentally stumble into a haberdashery (as you do…accidentally) and want to check if a bobbin/blade/presser foot is compatible with my machine…then I can tell the store owner what my machine is…because I can never remember model numbers!

Anyway….there ends part one. Alot of images I know but hopefully useful in acquainting you with the anatomy of a serger and preparing the ground for the next few posts which will hopefully have you fearlessly serging away in no time.

Watch this space. Next up…the dreaded threading!!

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49 Comments

  1. Olivia May 21, 2015

    This has been a revelation! I did an audible Ah! in the office. I never knew you could thread a serger by just tying on the new thread. I’ve been doing it the hard way (as infrequently as possible) all this time! Tonight I will change my threads FOR FUN.
    I’m looking forward to the rest of your series. I’d like to mention my beginner top tip… Don’t forget to raise the threat hanger. Too often I’ve forgotten this and justI sat down, turned on and rattled away until it spluttered to a halt and one or more threads broke. Very frustrating.

    Reply
    • portia May 23, 2015

      Oh I do love an audible Ah! I’ve had a few of those recently too!

      Reply
  2. Ann Shelton May 21, 2015

    Excellent!!! I only wish I had your tutorial before I went through the torture of teaching myself, much in the same way you have. I often forget or doubt myself so I will keep this for future reference. Thank you very much for sharing it.

    Reply
    • portia May 23, 2015

      Ah, thanks Ann 🙂 Weirdly I’ve been finding it quite fun delving into the mechanics of it all, lol!

      Reply
  3. Helen May 21, 2015

    Thank you for this! I bought the exact same overlocker at the same time (because of your blog post letting everybody know about them!) and I’ve been quite intimidated by it ever since. I can thread it, but that’s about all. I’m looking forward to learning my way around it via all of your hard work!

    Reply
    • portia May 23, 2015

      What a bargain huh Helen?! I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the quality of it actually, I mean for that price I half expected it to go wrong (touch wood) but it’s a sturdy little thing! I was intimidated by it too Helen, lol. That’s why I decided to start getting to grips with it once and for all!

      Reply
  4. Jean C. May 21, 2015

    You are so sweet! I for one did not grow up using a serger….my girls learned in scool sewing classes. Me, i just made do without, because of costs and what I believed to be a difficult thing to learn…. because of the threading. Now, maybe not… an old can possibly learn new tricks or talents. Thanks

    Reply
    • portia May 23, 2015

      That’s the big revelation to me Jean. It’s nowhere near as difficult as it seems or as difficult as I had built it up to be in my head. I think we look at these things, see how complex they LOOK and subconsciously convince ourselves they are out of our range of ability. The reality is more like ” oh! Is that IT??!” Hopefully this series will help convince people of that! 🙂

      Reply
  5. Linda May 22, 2015

    very cool! I had noticed that my needles were not even when I replaced them, and have been meaning to address that, now I know I don’t need to worry! My blade is getting dull…. Are you going to address sharpening it, or did you find a good resource on how to do it? I have an older model Singer. Thanks for the info and looking forward to the next installment!

    Reply
    • portia May 23, 2015

      Will make sure I include that in one of the posts Linda 😉

      Reply
  6. Ola Russek May 22, 2015

    I have the same overlocker (bought from Lidl), so I’m really looking forward for more posts 🙂

    Reply
    • portia May 23, 2015

      Yep, mine was from Aldi Ola 🙂

      Reply
  7. Nathalie May 22, 2015

    haha you are not the only one that doesn’t read the manual. I broke a needle on my overclock and even than it took me more than a month to discover the secret compartment with the spare needles that came with the machine. I have no idea what machine I own (technically it’s my moms machine) but is an ‘easy thread able’ machine and it that is easy I hope i never have to thread a normal one!

    Reply
    • portia May 23, 2015

      I did EXACTLY the same thing Nathalie, ha ha! I was even moaning that my machine didn’t come with tweezers. Then one day I removed the extension table and found them….there the whole time….doh!

      Reply
  8. Marsha Healy May 22, 2015

    Thank you for the first installment. I will wait for further instructions.. Good Job. Marsha

    Reply
    • portia May 23, 2015

      Thanks Marsha 😉

      Reply
  9. Elly Pepperell May 22, 2015

    hey, you wouldn’t believe how helpful that has been (or how much I’m looking forward to the next instalments!). I bought mine on the same day in the same fab offer from that supermarket chain 🙂 I know I haven’t used it to its full potential though even though it is used regularly so looking forward to hopefully becoming the master of it (it sort of feels like it’s the other way around at the moment)!

    Reply
    • portia May 23, 2015

      Ah Elly, so pleased you found it useful! I thought there might be an appetite for more info on this machine (and serging in general) and judging by the responses there is 🙂 I was exactly the same in terms of who was in charge of who, lol 🙂

      Reply
  10. Lesley May 22, 2015

    Thanks for a fantastic post! I have the same machine (special offer in Lidl?) and I’ve used it a bit, but it’s great to have it all properly explained without having to put in major effort!

    Reply
    • portia May 23, 2015

      Special offer in Aldi for me Lesley 😉 I figured there were quite a few people out there with this machine and I may as well save them the trouble by sharing what I’ve discovered 🙂

      Reply
  11. Jan May 23, 2015

    Portia, this is so generous to share your learning and expertise with us out here! Sharing and learning are the best aspects of the www for me and people like you make our virtual and actual worlds a better place. Bought my over locker at Lidl earlier this year at an amazing price and it has been great but I have been nervous about what to do when the inevitable problem surfaces. Can’t wait for more posts! Thank you!

    Reply
    • portia May 23, 2015

      Ah Jan, thank you. That’s such a kind sentiment and you are very welcome 🙂 Mine was from Aldi at a bargain price too 😉

      Reply
  12. Olly May 25, 2015

    This is so helpful – my overlocker was bought on eBay, I wanted one sooo much after seeing it used on the Great British Sewing Bee … and then I’ve been unsure how to use it, although I have learned to thread it from scratch and agree it’s not as scary as I first thought. I’m really looking forward to future posts! Some tips on what you use yours for would be great, I know it is capable of much more than just finishing raw edges but don’t feel I really understand it.

    Reply
    • portia May 25, 2015

      Glad it’s useful Olly 🙂 Your requests have been duly noted 😉 Px

      Reply
  13. Anne May 30, 2015

    Thank you for this post! I’ve had my serger for 10 years and still find it kind of intimidating… I’ve got a Craft Gossip post scheduled for later this morning that links to your tutorial: http://sewing.craftgossip.com/?p=82728 –Anne

    Reply
  14. Betty July 1, 2015

    Thank you SO MUCH!!!! I have never used my serger and I’ve had it for a dozen years, at least. I’m excited to try to use it now 🙂

    Reply
    • portia July 2, 2015

      Yay Betty! You’re welcome and I’m glad!!! 🙂

      Reply
  15. Marilyn Fletcher November 3, 2015

    It’s all so simple – what did I find so difficult? Thank you, thank you, thank you

    Reply
    • portia November 5, 2015

      I was the same Marilyn! I think we build things up in our heads to be mor difficult than they actually are!

      Reply
  16. Laura November 4, 2015

    Have you any advice on which thread to use? I’m new to my Lidl overlocker bargain and don’t want to waste cash on the wrong thing. Thanks!

    Reply
    • portia November 5, 2015

      I’m still using the thread cones I got from Lidl when I bought the machine Laura. Not had any problems with them 🙂

      Reply
      • Laura November 5, 2015

        Fab thanks!

        Reply
  17. Christine November 8, 2015

    As an accomplished dress maker and crafter my overlocker has made me feel like a total novice. Your instructions have been so helpful and given me the faith not to give up. The overlocker was a 60th birthday present from my kids so need to do it justice. Thank you!

    Reply
    • portia November 10, 2015

      Awesome birthday gift Christine! And thank you for such kind words. I’ll bet there’s much more I could learn from you than you can learn from me, lol!

      Reply
  18. Irina November 15, 2015

    Thank you for these great posts about this overlocker! After missing the deal for the last 2 years I finally bought my Singer overlocker in Lidl! I still haven’t taken it out of the box, but after I read all your posts I will be more confident to do so.

    Reply
    • portia November 16, 2015

      Once you get into it you’ll be fine Irina! So glad you found them useful! 🙂

      Reply
  19. Bev C December 4, 2015

    Hi, I bought this overlocker from LDL this year too. I’ve sussed the threading. I practised on some fleece whereby it did a lovely overlock. I then started on some more fleece to make some Christmas present snoods. For some reason I got it jammed and it kept jamming. I have the rolled hem finger out of the way, ie te switch pushed forward away from R. I broke the left hand needle and since then it hasn’t cut. I’d like to know what the black knob under the fixed blade is for. I have a feeling it’s a blade adjustment and controls a spring. Both myself and my hubby have fiddled with it and now I don’t know what to do with it.

    Reply
    • portia December 7, 2015

      Hi Bev! Ah I feel your pain! Sounds very similar to what happened to me a few weeks back! Your machine will still be under manufacturers warranty. So if you contact the number on the paperwork they’ll come collect it, repair it, and deliver it back free of charge. Despite the fact that the manual states it’s suitable for heavyweight fabrics I find mine struggles with them too. According to the warranty company this shouldn’t happen. So they WILL fix it free of charge. I was sewing with scuba when this happened to me. The likelihood is that the fit your machine had when the needle broke has knocked your knives (and possibly loopers) out of alignment. Get it fixed. Going forward; I’ve come to accept this machines limitations. It doesn’t cope with thicker fabrics like fleece (no matter what the warranty company say!) and personally, I’d stick to standard knits and sew thicker knits on your standard machine. They don’t fray and a snood won’t suffer from being sewn on a standard machine. That black dial adjusts the stitch width by moving the stitch finger position 😉 Good luck! So sorry you had this happen!

      Reply
  20. caroline oneill December 30, 2015

    A spur of the moment purchase from Lidl or Aldi some time ago and used successfully as an overlocker only, for several months, until I broke the needle!! Machine boxed and returned to the bottom of the wardrobe with the thought I will sort that one day. So yesterday being so wet and husband hogging the tv for football I decided to retrieve it and sort needle. OH HOW I WISH i had found your review sooner it took a long time to realise needles are not level !!!!as this did not seem clear in my instruction book. My congratulations on writing such a helpful post. I intend to take your advice and ‘play’ with the machine before trying to use it on serious projects.

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie December 30, 2015

      Ah thanks Caroline! Glad it’s encouraged you to give your machine another chance!

      Reply
  21. Denise Foreman March 12, 2016

    Portia

    Your advice is so helpful. I look forward to further information about using my overlocker.

    Thank you,

    Reply
  22. Mark October 10, 2016

    Spiffing! Thank you so much.

    Just read all three overlocker posts in preparation for Xmas. A little far off, but I bought one of this model at Lidl on Thursday as a joint Xmas pressie for my wife & I.

    Nowhere near as scary as it looks!

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie October 11, 2016

      Awesome! Nope nowhere near as scary once you get going. I don’t think twice about re threading mine now. Have fun!!!

      Reply
  23. Josephine Taylor April 16, 2017

    Hi Portia,does this machine come with tools? Can I open the bottom Left side of this machine? I’m looking for the tweezers and tools that may be with it.

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie April 16, 2017

      If I recall correctly…slide the flatbed/extension table off and they are in there. There’s a release lever/button thingy underneath, front left of the machine I think.

      Reply
  24. Beverley Cattell April 18, 2017

    Hi Portia, I posted about my Singer Overlocker in December 2015. How I messed it up with thick fleece. After your reply I emailed Singer Customer Services. They collected it the next day and returned it FIVE days later, all fixed and no charge. It works like a dream now and I’ve just three thread overlocked the edge of some linen, prior to making an artisan apron for a friend. Thank you for your encouragement.

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie April 18, 2017

      Hi Beverley! Ah yes! That’s good to hear! They were very prompt with repairing mine too. Overall the service is excellent. So glad you got it sorted 🙂 Px

      Reply
  25. Hannah Clark April 25, 2017

    Great post! Looking into purchasing an overlocker soon, and this was very informative… I’m sure I’ll be back once I get a machine to reference the threading and tension guides 🙂

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie April 29, 2017

      Go for it Hanbah! You won’t regret it!

      Reply

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