Serger Series – Part 3: Nailing Tension

How to nail serger tension once and for all

Loopy stitching and puckered or curled fabric edges be gone! It’s time to nail the whole tension thing once and for all! The best way to diagnose a problem when it crops up is to understand the effect that the various tension settings have on the various threads that form your overlock stitch; and the best way to do THAT is to sew a sample swatch for each one.  Yes there are more fun things to be doing like actually making stuff! But this is a one time task which, once you’ve done it, will give you the means to diagnose problems, and put them right, quickly and easily without any of that “why the HELL is it doing that?!! kind of frustration. So that’s gotta be worth it, right?!! If nothing else it will save your loved ones from putting up with the “effiing & blinding/cussing” coming from your general direction (I KNOW that’s not just me!)

How to thread a serger at www.makery.uk

So. First things first. You’ll need to thread each needle and looper with a different colour thread. (If you can match it to the colours in your threading diagram even better! Threading guide here if you need it)  This will aid in identifying which thread is doing what, the effect it has on other threads and generally help to differentiate.

How to nail serger tension once and for all

This is what the aim of the game is. One swatch for each needle and looper with each swatch containing samples of the stitch at each tension setting. At the end of which you’ll be able to mark the optimum tension settings (and ratios) for each thread. I’ll explain further along how this is useful as you might well be thinking that working out your tension on calico is pointless when you’re sewing predominantly with knits & possibly a whole variety of fabrics…but bear with me. It does make sense I promise!

How to nail serger tension once and for all

So for the swatches I used simple calico. Just because it’s plain, medium weight, I had some, and I could draw on it easily and permanently. If you have other fabric that fits that criteria, fab. Use it. You’ll also need a ruler, biro/pen and fabric scissors…

How to nail serger tension once and for all

Cut 4 strips about 8″ wide (one for each tension dial) and long enough to accommodate a 1.5″ section for each of your tension settings plus a header. So basically, my serger has tension settings from 1-9. So I divided each strip into 10  x  1.5″ sections.

How to nail serger tension once and for all

Fold/press in half along the length. Then at the top of each one write the name of the thread/section you are swatching (so…left needle, right needle, upper looper, lower looper) and the colour of the thread that you have used for that section. (I also added the number that corresponds to that section on my threading diagram. But this isn’t that necessary. Call it thoroughness overkill on my part!) Then write the numbers 1-9 down the left hand side of each strip….

So the process is the same for each swatch. Start with all dials at a medium setting of say 3 or 4. Something that you know will give you a basic overlock stitch without being ridiculously loose or tight. Just set them all the same. Then “swatch” each tension dial in turn as follows. Left Needle, Right Needle, Upper Looper, Lower Looper. (So basically left to right on your tension dials).

Starting with the left needle, set the tension dial to 1…How to nail serger tension once and for all

…then serge down the right hand side or your swatch fabric until your needles hit the line. Stop.

Move the tension dial to 2…How to nail serger tension once and for all

Serge until your needles hit the next line…How to nail serger tension once and for all

Stop.

How to nail serger tension once and for all

Set your tension dial to 3…

How to nail serger tension once and for all

Serge until your needles hit the next line and stop.

How to nail serger tension once and for all

I suspect you’re getting the gist now! Keep moving the tension dial up one increment at a time…

How to nail serger tension once and for all

…and sewing up to the next line…until you’ve swatched each tension setting on that dial. At that point, examine the stitch and mark the tension setting that gives you the best, most balanced stitch. (more detail on what constitutes a balanced stitch further down, so bear with. We’ll get to that part) Set the tension dial at that setting. Leave it there, and move on to the next tension dial and repeat the process for that one. once you’ve established the optimum setting for the second dial, set it to that, and move onto the third, then the fourth…

How to nail serger tension once and for all

So, by the time you’ve done all that you’ll end up with 4 of these! So, now what to do?

What these Swatches Tell You…

So how do swatches made on calico relate to sewing with knits? I might have gone to all this trouble to get a perfect stitch on a double thickness of calico, but the tensions will be completely different when I start sewing jersey, right? Welllll…yes…..and no! The numbers may be different but the basic concept of what these swatches tell me will be much the same, proportionately, whatever fabric I’m using. Firstly there’s the ratio/differential between each setting. From my swatches above you’ll see that  my “ratios” are 6-6- 4-3. (Don’t be surprised if this differs slightly from your manual’s recommended settings! Every machine is different.) So basically my needle tensions are the same as eachother, and my looper tensions are 2 and/or 3 notches lower than my needles. This rough relationship between the tension settings is my starting point with any other fabrics I now sew with. It’s a ratio that I now know, works. So when I sit down at my serger with a new piece of jersey, I might lower them all by half a notch, if my common sense tells me to do so, but generally my starting point is roughly the same.  It may be +/- half a notch or a notch, but in my experience (and I sew with mostly light or medium weight knits and wovens) there isn’t a dramatic deviation from those numbers or ratios even after I’ve done a test swatch on my fabric. Now, before I even start….I know I’m roughly in the right ball park!

The other thing these swatches tell you is why your overlock stitch or fabric is behaving in a particular way and allows you to identify where you might need to fine tune from your starting point. Take a look….

Left Needle  (Too Loose)

We’re looking at the BLUE thread here. (Ignore the rest) With the needle tension set really low, much as with a standard machine, the stitches will not sit flat on the surface of the fabric. You can see a little “daylight” between the stitches and the fabric here at the lowest setting. It’s not terrrrrrible but wait….How to nail serger tension once and for all

How to nail serger tension once and for allOn the reverse it’s waaaay more obvious that the tension on the blue thread is too low. See those little blue loops that gradually get smaller as you move from the left to the right of the image? IAs the tension increases the thread will sit more flush with the fabric. So if your left needle thread is looping at the back like that…increase the tension.

Left Needle  (Too Tight)

There’s alot more play and forgiveness in needle tension  than there is in looper tension in my experience. Especially at the upper/tighter end of the tension scale. The effect here isn’t quite as obvious on this calico as it might be on a fine tissue knit but at the highest tension setting (we’re still looking at the BLUE thread. Last segment. Left of the screen, numbered 9) you can see the fabric is starting to pucker ever so slightly…..How to nail serger tension once and for allHow to nail serger tension once and for all

Maybe more visible on the reverse….see that slight dimpling along the stitch line and the way the corner can’t lay flat? It’s all just a little bit “tense” isn’t it?! So any sign of puckering along the stitch line, lower your needle tension.

Right Needle  (Too Loose)

This time we’re looking at the CREAM thread and the right hand needle. As I said, both my needles are always set at the same tension and the effect that having the tension too low or too high is the same….How to nail serger tension once and for allHow to nail serger tension once and for all

Loopy means it’s too low. Increase the tension.

Right Needle (Too Tight)

This time, the blue thread has already been set to the right tension. We’re looking at the CREAM thread and on the highest setting it’s causing the same puckering that the blue thread did… look at the way the edge of the fabric on the far left is sliiiiightly wavy and not sitting flat….How to nail serger tension once and for all

How to nail serger tension once and for all

See the way the corner is lifting, the sliiight wave to the fabric edge and that slight dimpling along the stitch line again? Same as before….reduce the thread tension.

So to summarise…needle tensioning on a serger is pretty much the same as on a standard machine. Check the underside as well as the top. If it puckers it’s too tight. If it loops it’s too loose. adjust up or down accordingly. Simple!

The Loopers

The loopers is where the “balancing the stitch” part comes in. The upper and lower looper threads form loops that loop round eachother and cover the edge of the fabric. Hence the term loopers, I’m guessing! To get a “balanced stitch” you want the part where the upper and lower loopers link together, to sit right on the edge of the fabric. We’re almost at that part; but first lets look at the way incorrect tensioning affects the upper and lower loopers interact with eachother. They have a co-dependant relationship if you like! If one’s not quite right then the other can’t do it’s thang!

Upper Looper (too loose)

We’re looking at the GREY thread in this pic. Having the upper looper  tension too loose allows the loops to float over and under the edge of the fabric…How to nail serger tension once and for all

To put it another way, the loops of the upper looper (grey), should be exactly the same length as the loops of the lower looper (yellow) and meet eachother at the edge of the fabric. If your upper looper thread is passing over and under the edge of your fabric like this, but not causing it to curl….it’s too loose. Increase the tension on the upper looper.

Upper Looper (too tight)

At the other end of the scale if the upper looper tension thread is too tight, it will make the grey thread loops too short/tight and pull the lower looper thread (yellow) round from the other side and curl the edge of the fabric in the process….How to nail serger tension once and for allHow to nail serger tension once and for all

So if you have short loops on top pulling and curling the fabric around from underneath like this? Your upper looper tension is too tight.

Lower Looper (too loose)

We are looking at the YELLOW thread of my lower looper now. It’s the same interaction as before but the effect is reversed. If the lower looper tension is too loose, it allows the lower looper thread to float round to the top of the fabric rather than sit on the edge. You’ll notice this makes the grey upper looper threads too short in relation.How to nail serger tension once and for all

But there is no curl which means it’s a “looseness” problem rather than a “tightness” problem. Increase the lower looper tension.

Lower Looper (too tight)

With the lower looper tension set too tight the YELLOW thread (now no longer visible) is pulling the upper looper (grey) thread around and under and curling the fabric edge again, but this time it’s curling under….How to nail serger tension once and for all

Curling is sign that one oor other of your loopers is too tight. If it curls upwards it’s your upper looper. If it curls under, as it does here, it’s your lower looper. Lower the tension of the lower looper.

The “Perfectly” balanced stitch…

So this is what we’re aiming for. The holy grail of serging. The “perfectly” balanced stitch. Truthfully there’s no such thing as perfection, lol! But this is what to look for as you are deciding on the optimum setting for each swatch, and setting your tension for each new fabric.

Stitching lines (blue and cream thread) flat to fabric and not looping or causing puckers on either side. Upper Looper loops (grey thread) extend right to the edge of the fabric where they meet the Lower Looper loops (yellow thread) from the underside…How to nail serger tension once and for all

How to nail serger tension once and for all

The lower looper thread from the underside view. Neat little “Y” shapes with just the teeniest bit of the blue and cream needle threads visible from the other side. The yellow “Y”s (lower loops) extend right to the edge of the fabric where the meet the grey thread of the Upper Looper loops….

How to nail serger tension once and for all

….and finally that spot, right along the edge of the fabric (extremely tricky to photograph one handed!), but hopefully you can see both looper threads meeting and looping around eachother to enclose that raw edge. In essence, THAT is the perfectly balanced serger stitch.

The swatches give you a starting point at which you have a rough idea of the tension ratios of your machine. From there,  you can diagnose problems with any given fabric, by looking at how it (and the stitch) is behaving and comparing it to your swatches. He’s a few “rules of thumb” I’ve discovered since getting to know my serger this way.  In general if part of the stitch is loopy, then the tension is too loose.  Loopy = Loose. Get it?! The swatches will help you identify which part of the stitch you are looking at and adjust the relevant tension dial. If the fabric edge is curling then one of your loopers is too tight. If it curls upwards it’s your upper looper. If it curls downwards it’s your lower looper. If there’s puckering along the length, then needle tensions are likely too tight.

So, with serger swatches in hand, the next time you sit down at your machine, hopefully there will be less cussing, and more beautifully balanced stitches 🙂

Questions?? Feel free to leave them in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer!

Serger Series: Part 1. Anatomy

Serger Series: Part 2. Threading

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83 Comments

  1. Olly June 29, 2015

    Thank you so much, this is starting to make sense now. I’ve been too scared to get the overlocker out of its case, but now I’ve got a project – making the swatches. I think this will really help me to understand it.

    Reply
    • portia June 29, 2015

      Ah you’re welcome Olly 🙂 I totally identify with that feeling! Another thing I found quite enlightening was to open up the looper cover/door, then turn the hand wheel and watch how the various components move and interact with eachother. Gives you an idea, in slow motion, of what’s going on inside when you press that presser foot down!

      Reply
  2. Lisa June 29, 2015

    🙂 thank you …. I’ve not tried this before. I am most certainly going to give it a go!!!

    Reply
    • portia July 2, 2015

      Do it Lisa!!! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Sarah June 29, 2015

    So useful! Thanks so much!

    Reply
  4. Di Ross June 30, 2015

    Thank you, this is great. So doing this. The tension issue always happens when you are in a hurry.

    Reply
    • portia July 2, 2015

      You’re so right Di! I was rushing yesterday….I should never sew when I’m rushing :/

      Reply
  5. Ingrid June 30, 2015

    Oh man I neeeed a serger. Will possible (if I have sent clear enough signals to my poor boyfriend) get one for my birthday later this summer and then your blog will be my first pit stop!

    Reply
    • portia July 2, 2015

      Employ someone to walk around in front of him with a sandwich board carrying the words “Serger + Ingrid + Birthday”. That should sort it 😉 Px

      Reply
  6. Leigh June 30, 2015

    This is so helpful. Thank you!

    Reply
    • portia July 2, 2015

      Thank you Leigh, and you’re welcome 🙂

      Reply
  7. Anne June 30, 2015

    Great post!! I have a Craft Gossip post scheduled for later today that links to your tutorial: http://sewing.craftgossip.com/?p=83249 –Anne

    Reply
    • portia July 2, 2015

      Thankyou so much Anne! 🙂

      Reply
  8. Elisalex June 30, 2015

    Pinning this, bookmarking this, basically just leaving this page forever open from now on. THANK YOU

    Reply
    • portia July 2, 2015

      Mwah!

      Reply
  9. Jean July 4, 2015

    That’s all very good but don’t you need to change tension with different weights of fabric??????

    Reply
    • portia July 4, 2015

      Absolutely Jean. Up or down depending on the weight of the fabric but the ratios between the tension dials remain roughly the same; the swatches give you a starting point regarding approximate ratios; and also help you identify which dial needs adjusting to fine tune the balance of a stitch 🙂

      Reply
  10. Fiona July 6, 2015

    This is such a fantastic post! I’ve been looking for something that explains tension this clearly for basically EVER. Great method for getting to grips with it

    Reply
  11. Christina July 8, 2015

    This is great – so much information, and all in one place. My serger and I argue every time and it’s gotten to be a case of, “What’s going to go wrong NOW?” Maybe it’s time to try being friends again. 🙂

    Reply
    • portia July 11, 2015

      So glad it’s useful Christina!

      Reply
  12. Holli July 13, 2015

    Such a good idea! I just recently discovered your blog and I think I’ve got a lot to catch up on:) I LOVE refashioning so I’m excited about August! Great content, I’ve got some idea of stitch balance on my serger but have never been so methodical. I think I’ll have to give it a try!

    Reply
  13. Beth C. August 10, 2015

    Thank you so much for the serger series of info! You said the ratio tension dials roughly remain the same when adjusting tension for different weights of fabric – when you switch from, let’s say, woven to a thin knit, which stitch in your sample on the knit to you “visually” gauge to adjust the tension dial? A needle stitch? A looper stitch? Once you make the choice of which dial to tweek first, if you have (example) a two to one ratio do you change all dials and stitch the new knit sample to see how close to balanced stitches you have?
    Sorry for such a lengthy question….thanks! Beth in AL, USA

    Reply
    • portia August 11, 2015

      I usually adjust the loopers first. Once those are balanced I’ll set the stitch dials according to my usual ratios then test swatch again. 🙂 Px

      Reply
  14. kat August 24, 2015

    Thank u for this!! Just got a second hand brother 3034d that had been stored for awhile and got a bit rusty. I cleaned and oiled her up and she’s running great, except I cud not get the tension right! It curls at the standard 4 using quilting fabric. I got the needle tension right but the loopers drove me loopy!! Just wud not work!
    Can’t wait to try this method out. Lucky I got a roll of calico ready to go! Crossfingers it works and I don’t have to get it serviced! !! ?

    Reply
  15. Marilyn Fletcher November 3, 2015

    This is so useful and I didn’t take long to do it. I feel so much more confident now. Amazing. Thank you.

    Reply
    • portia November 5, 2015

      So glad it was useful for you Marilyn!

      Reply
  16. Laura December 11, 2015

    Today I hate my serger. I got it from Lidl in October but only had a chance to play with it today. I’ve rethreaded numerous times and used various tension settings but nothing seems to be helping, not one setting I’ve tried keep it tight enough to not just pull the 2 sides of fabric apart! I’m 3.5 hours in and getting nowhere. I think I’m done for the day. Anyone with any inspriation for me?!

    Reply
    • portia December 11, 2015

      Take some pics of the settings and the fabric and email them to me at kitschycoo@hotmail.co.uk and I’ll try and help. Px

      Reply
      • Nina October 8, 2016

        This sounds exactly like what is going on with me. Doesn’t matter if all tensions are 9 it is still way too loose and if I pull 2 fabric pieces apart it looks quite stretched! Approx 3mm apart! Your tutorial is the best I’ve seen yet. Were you able to help the person above? If so you might be able to help me! 😀

        Reply
        • Portia Lawrie October 9, 2016

          Afraid I don’t know if the advice I gave Helen worked or not. Have you checked your stitch length & width and differential feed is set to standard? Are the threads definitely running between the tension discs? Does your machine have a flatlock stitch and it’s inadvertently been set to that? See this post by Mirjam for how a flatlock stitch looks: http://www.makery.uk/2016/08/the-refashioners-2016-mirjam/

          Reply
    • Gilly October 4, 2016

      Hi Laura

      I found this thread when desperately web searching for answers – I presume you have this sorted but just been through the same frustrations as you with the same overocker and found the issue and how simple it was! I rethreaded numerous times, tried differrent settings, different threads, different fabrics and nothing seemed to work, then on rethreading for about the 5th time I realised that the needle threads were sitting in the right pplace but not fully seated in the discs – I loosened the tension on the needle thread discs and then really made sure I flossed them in until they sort of popped and vanished from sight – set the dials to 3 and voila! Beautiful serging at last – Even if you are now sorted hopefully this will help someone else with their Lidl Singer 14SH754

      Reply
  17. Sheri April 22, 2016

    Hi thanks sooooooo much for this tutorial. I have followed your steps but it doesn’t matter what tension I use the stitches are to loose. Do you know what could be wrong? I just got the machine back from being serviced and I am pulling my hair out at this point. I have rethreaded the machine thinking that may be what is wrong but still have the same problem.

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie April 24, 2016

      Gosh Sheri. It’s times like these I wish I could come and sit down in front of your machine and have play. It’s nigh on impossible to answer your question from here. You could try setting ALL the dials at say 3, then 4, then 5 etc. Rather than messing with individual ones to start with. This may get you in the right ball park at least. Then you could tweak from there. Also check your diff feed and stitch length and width dials have been put back to the default position after servicing. I had a similar thing happen when my machine came back. All the tensions and dial settings had changed! Threading obviously. But it’s unlikely you’ve suddenly forgotten how to thread 😉 I would take it back to the service people to be honest along with samples of the stitch you are achieving post service, and if you can, example of the stitch you were achieving pre service. If the two are vastly different, then they’ve obviously changed something they need to “unchange”. So annoying. I do empathise ?

      Reply
  18. Olly July 18, 2016

    Finally, a year after reading this, I plucked up the courage to get the overlocker out, cut up some calico and try this. As well as giving me a better understanding of tension, it’s familiarised me with threading the overlocker. Several times. However, I’ve now got the optimum tension settings and can see what needs adjusting in future.

    I keep checking the blog in the hope that there’ll be another post in this series! Thank you so much for this tutorial, it has made me determined to learn how to use my overlocker properly.

    Reply
  19. Betty July 20, 2016

    Ihave a singer overlocker 14SH754 all of a sudden it has just come a mess all stitches are loose and loopy Ihave done the 4 swatches but still all loopy I bought in October last year from Lidle and I don,t use it very often I have threaded it many times when I make the chain the chain looks ok but not the stitches Hope you can help me thankyou in advance.

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie July 23, 2016

      It will still be under warranty Betty. Phone the number on the paperwork and they will arrange to have it collected, serviced/repaired and returned to you at no cost. Good luck!!

      Reply
      • betty July 29, 2016

        Thankyou so much after all the time I spent on it it was a simple thing like the thread needle came loose from the hook it goes under.

        Reply
  20. Patty September 19, 2016

    EXCELLENT!!! SUPERB!! Finally someone explains how the stitches SHOULD look and how to determine which one is the culprit! I especially appreciate the info that if it curls to the top side of the fabric, the upper (top) looper is probably too high/tight! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie September 20, 2016

      Ah thanks so much Patty! So glad you found it useful!

      Reply
  21. helen greig September 22, 2016

    Hi! I am going to have to print your notes out – excellent!
    I have got my bernette stitching looking really good, but when I turn the fabric/article right side facing the stitches are very loose. Please help. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie September 26, 2016

      If the overlock stitch itself looks good and balanced, then I would try increasing the tension slightly on ALL FOUR dials EQUALLY. Maybe half a notch at a time and see if that helps. Make sure your differential feed, stitch length and stitch width are set on the standard setting unless the fabric you are using dictates otherwise. Let me know! Px

      Reply
      • Helen Greig September 27, 2016

        Many thanks Portia!
        Will do as you say whilst crossing my fingers 🙂

        Reply
  22. Sharon September 26, 2016

    What a fabulous article! I was given an over locker and avoided using it as I couldn’t get the tension right. Thanks to your article it now works and I’m looking forward to using it on my next project 🙂

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie September 28, 2016

      That is so awesome!!!

      Reply
  23. Shirley October 8, 2016

    Thank you so much, your pictures were just what I needed, I got my overlocker/serger on Thursday. Looked for some inspiration and came across your blog. You explain things so well, I have unthreaded and rethreaded my machine. I have put 4 colours in and done my swatches. Awesome! I have never used a serger before but feel much more confident and can’t wait to make my first project. Thanks again.

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie October 9, 2016

      So glad it was useful Shirley and good luck with your first project!!! Px

      Reply
  24. jo October 12, 2016

    Hi I just got the overlocker from Lidl and was getting really loopy stitches. Me and my mum spent ages fiddling around and then she discovered we didn’t have the threads running through the tension plates correctly. We did that until they ‘clicked’ into place, the stitches look great now – just minor tweaks needed.

    Reply
  25. Anke October 15, 2016

    Thank you so much for that detailed description. I have been thru all this quite a while ago but if I would have found this site earlier it would have helped me a lot.
    Now I am commenting often on Singer posts. The mashine is fine if you only thread all 4 cones completely and know how to adjust tension. Unfortunately often the Singer mashine is blamed for deficiencies sitting in front of it 😉

    Reply
  26. Sue Tucker October 16, 2016

    Brilliant guide to master the Tension Settings. It did take me a couple of hours to cut the material, mark it up then go through each tension setting for each thread, but I feel it is time well spent. Having completed the exercise and worked out my optimum settings I then tried out other weights of fabric and was able to quickly work out any adjustment to the tension and more importantly which thread. I am a total newbie to overlockers but your brilliant guide has given me the confidence to have a go. Thank you so much.

    Reply
  27. Norma Bain October 29, 2016

    I’m so happy to have found this! I am going to do tension swatches tomorrow, thank you so much.

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie October 31, 2016

      Ah yay! You’re welcome Norma! Good luck and enjoy! Px

      Reply
  28. Elize November 2, 2016

    Hi, what do you suggest the best setting for lycra/spandex fabric? I’ve got a Singer overlocker, it used to work fine.. But, now it’s all messed up and I can’t get it right 😔 .. Like, I don’t know what any of the dials should be set to? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie November 3, 2016

      Elize have you followed the steps in this post and done some tension swatches to get to know your machine? If you have, then you will know your base settings. So you can start there and adjust up and down (usually it’s only the loopers that need adjusting).If you haven’t done test swatches, I can try my best to put you in the right ball park, but every machine is different so I can’t give you a definitive answer. So… 4, 4, 4, 4. Is normally a good starting point. So set all dials to that point. (Test this on a stable woven fabric scrap first. If you don’t get anything resembling a normal stitch ((and i don’t mean it’s just a bit loose. I mean a “wtf” type stitch)) on that fabric at these settings then I’d advise re threading from scratch, if it’s still not giving you any kind of stitch, get your machine looked at.) However, if it works on the woven scrap. Test it on a scrap of your spandex. Examine the stitch, and adjust up and down accordingly. Sometimes it’s only a fraction of a notch that’s needed. Again, you shouldn’t need to adjust the needles. Just the loopers. On something like spandex you may also need to adjust your Differential Feed veeeery slightly if your machine is over stretching the fabric and giving you a wavy edge. If you haven’t changed your needles in a while, do that. Make sure your threads are between the tension discs (this is a common one and gives a wtf stitch ;). See how you get on! Hope that helps some 🙂 Px

      Reply
  29. Silvy November 6, 2016

    Thanks for this useful guide.
    I did try but I can’t find any combination that works. It’/ driving me insane;-( what do u suggest me? Trying re thread the machine ? ( it’s brand new and i think is the same model as the yours in the picture….). Thanks silvy

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie November 6, 2016

      Yep. If in doubt, rethread. Make sure the the dials are set to “0” first; and when you thread make sure the threads are passing between the 2 tension discs. Then try again on a scrap of stable woven fabric and see how you get on. You can refer to the post on threading if you’re unsure or want to double check. Hope that helps some! Px

      Reply
      • Silvy November 6, 2016

        Thanks for the super quick reply Portia,
        I tried re-thread the machine (thanks for your guide is very useful) but I still can’t sort the problem.
        I think the problem is on the needle tension, anyway I change it it’s still bulky on the wrong side of the fabric and the Y shape isn’t showing up.
        I double check that the thread is in between the 2 metal discs

        Also, the problem is that when I sew two layers of fabric, on the reverse side of the fabric the seam always opens up showing the stitching:-(
        I tried and take a picture here:
        https://ilovebeautifulthings.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/stitching-samples.jpg

        The only other option I can think is that the thread maybe isn’t a very good quality one, but the machine is brand new and is driving me crazy!!!:-(

        Thanks for your help in advance.
        S

        Reply
        • Portia Lawrie November 9, 2016

          It honestly looks like the right needle thread and the lower looper thread are not in the tension discs. Did you double check that element and wind the dials down to zero when re threading?

          Reply
          • Silvy November 9, 2016

            I finally managed, basically I wasn’t pushing the thread inside the tension disc enough, I really had to push it quite a lot!
            Now it’s working!!! I’m soo happy with it! I can’t wait for making lots of jersey and stretc makes ahhaha
            Thanks so much for your assistance!!

            Silvy


          • Portia Lawrie November 20, 2016

            Ah Yaaaaaaay!!! So good to hear!


  30. Marea November 7, 2016

    Ciao Portia sono da poco iscritta al tuo blog, pochi giorni fa ‘ho acquistato dalla Lidl in Italia la taglia e cuci stesso modello del post, che dire…….. è capitato a fagiolo utilissimo e chiarissimo, anche io ho avuto difficoltà nel posizionare il filo nel cursore giallo, quello che ho trovato interessante ed utile nel tuo tutorial è l’idea che hai avuto nel segnare nel tessuto i vari passaggi del filo e le varie tensioni, una Genialata

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie November 9, 2016

      Ciao Marea, Così felice si pensa che utile! Buon divertimento con la vostra nuova macchina. Non vi pentirete di acquistare uno 🙂

      Reply
  31. Julie T-D November 8, 2016

    Thank you, this is the most useful and sensible approach to getting the right tension that I have found, I haven’t used my overlocker for a couple of months because it seems so hit and miss as to whether I can make it work on whatever fabric. I generally waste hours and thread and fabric doing trial runs. I “upset it ” attempting a rolled hem and can’t get it back to normal. I’m confident this approach will help – thanks so much.

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie November 9, 2016

      Ooooh, fingers crossed it helps Julie! Let me know?!

      Reply
      • Julie T-D January 20, 2017

        hello again Portia, I have finally found time to do the tension tests and it was brilliant, I now realise 5.5, 5,4 and 5 are the happy settings for my machine and the trouble shooting is so easy. I’d like to share what I did afterwards before taking out the coloured threads, I fed through a sample of the two most commonly used fabrics I use (a firm stretch twill and a very stretchy thinner cotton type Jersey and noted the settings for those using my happy settings as the starting point. now saving hours of set up frustration and have made friends with my overlocker again. Thank you again. Julie x

        Reply
        • Portia Lawrie January 26, 2017

          Hey Julie! Yaaaaaay! SO glad it helped you to find your “happy settings”! And that is a most excellent name for them too….I may have to adopt that! Great idea to do additional swatches in the most commonly used fabrics too. It IS SUCH a time and frustration saver isn’t it?!

          Reply
          • Julie T-D January 27, 2017

            Thanks again, and feel free to use the term ‘happy settings’, it just seemed to sum up how I feel about finally understanding the idiosyncrasies of my overlocker nicely!


  32. Kim November 11, 2016

    Hello! I’m so happy to have stumbled upon your serger series. I’ve finally worked up the courage to get to know my serger (after about a year of it languishing on a shelf) and this is by far the best explanation I’ve found of the anatomy of a serger stitch. Thank you very much!

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie November 20, 2016

      Ah! So glad it helped Kim! (I could’ve really done with this info when I first got my overlocker so thought I’d share!)

      Reply
  33. Art February 15, 2017

    Thanks for this post.
    I’m a retired upholsterer with a BabyLock that an evil employee tampered with. Left the tensions in total disarray.LOL
    I want to sell the machine but would not be comfortable doing so if it doesn’t sew properly so adjust I must.
    I will try a slightly different method than you suggest inasmuch as not using four different thread colours but rather feeling the tension on each thread one at a time while adjusting the tension controller. From there I will try to determine which thread performs which function.
    As a last resort I will use your method.

    Reply
  34. Honnu March 3, 2017

    Your post is fantastic! I have been sewing for years and fight with the serger every time I have a new type of material. I am attempting chiffon (roll hem) which I have never worked with before and, to be truthful, I am saying much more than “why the hell is it doing that” . This post got me to go back to square one and it was so worth it! Thank you so much for taking the time to give detailed instructions. Now I’m ready to tackle the chiffon challenge.

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie March 8, 2017

      Woweeeee! Good luck with the chiffon! You’re a braver gal than me that’s for sure, lol! So glad the post was a help!

      Reply
  35. FLOSSIE March 9, 2017

    As soon as I read this post, I got the serger out and tested this out – and now I have perfect settings! Thanks so much!

    Reply
    • FLOSSIE March 12, 2017

      And I quite like the 4 colour stitch – I might leave it like that!!!

      Reply
    • Portia Lawrie March 17, 2017

      Yaaaaaay! Nice one!

      Reply
  36. Maggy Heath April 1, 2017

    I have been struggling with the tension on my overlocker since I bought it two weeks ago. This is the best article I have found and I think I’ve cracked it! I did the sample pieces and found that I needed the needle dials set to a higher number than I thought – 6-6-3-3 seems to give a good result and I’ve already used the machine on my first garment – the side seams on a skirt. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie April 10, 2017

      You’re welcome! Yes mine were alot higher than the manual recommended too. So well worth doing this. Glad it helped! Happy overlocking!

      Reply
  37. Cindy April 12, 2017

    Thank you for all the time and photos you put into on serging. I have the same serger and am in a delimma. I have managed to fix issues prior to now. I recently serged a blind hem and ever since then I can’t get my serger working. I have my stitch length at 2 1/2. Have never adjusted my differential feed, and have tried every tension setting possible. Problem is I have loops on the backside of the fabric. Any suggestions? I have over 7 hours of trying to get it right. Thank you for your time

    Reply
  38. Cindy April 12, 2017

    Thank you for all the time and photos you put into on serging. I have the same serger and am in a delimma. I have managed to fix issues prior to now. I recently serged a blind hem and ever since then I can’t get my serger working. I have my stitch length at 2 1/2. Have never adjusted my differential feed, and have tried every tension setting possible. Problem is I have loops on the backside of the fabric. Any suggestions? I have over 7 hours of trying to get it right. Thank you for your time

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie April 16, 2017

      Rethread from scratch I’d say.

      Reply
  39. Jordan April 13, 2017

    Hi there,

    Thank you for the fab tutorial, I’ve tried out your technique and overall it worked wonders! I’ve found the right tension settings for 3/4 of the threads – the left needle however seems that no matter what tension it is set to, it’s still too tight or too loose and from the swatch I did it was best at around 2 however even on 2 it’s abit loose and I tried to see if it was just because of the the swatch length so I continued on with a larger piece of fabric just for the left needle to test tension at 2 and it went in and out of being sub-par, I’ve tried everything that’s been suggested in the comments and in your brilliant walk through but still nothing seems to work? Any ideas you think it could be? I know it’s a tad difficult without actually seeing what the machine is doing 😬😅 thank you for any help

    Reply
    • Portia Lawrie April 16, 2017

      Have you tried rethreading the needle from scratch and making sure the thread is laying in the middle of the tension discs?

      Reply
      • Jordan April 17, 2017

        i have tried this, three times now – i think my machine may need servicing? i have even attempted a three thread overlock stitch and taken the problem needle out and it works fine for a little while, not great but it does revert back after some time so i think ill have to look into getting it serviced

        Reply
        • Portia Lawrie April 18, 2017

          It does sound like something is amiss Jordan. Would defo get it checked out. If your machine is under warranty then first port of call would be to phone the manufacturer. Good luck!

          Reply

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