Ok, so I've had some fellow sewists ask about about sergers, and this is the blog post that was promised. I don't know how well I can embellish with videos/photos, but if you sew like I do, let's chat about SERGERS! Note - most fashion designers/commercial sewists will call these Overlock machines. Serger, overlock... it is one and the same and I use both terms interchangeably.
The basic function of these machines is that it trims the fabric edge and encases it in a thread-wrapped seam.. the seam ends up flexible and doesn't ravel. If you go in your closet and take a look at the inside seams on your clothing, you'll see a lot of serged (overlock) seams... most commercial sewing just leaves these on the inside of the garment, rather than on the outside as you've seen in my recycled sweater treasures. You'll find serged or overlock seams on both woven, as well as knit garments. The trickiest thing about sergers is that it cuts the fabric... yes, you CAN un-pick a serged seam (but OMG why would you want to... what a pain.😣). You cannot however, un-CUT. The fact that the machine cuts the fabric, plus the threading, seem to be the two sticking points that makes most folks fear the serger. If you can overcome those however, these are just great machines. I promise. Pinky swear!
Generally there are home sergers and industrial sergers... prices can range anywhere from ~$200 up to $6000 depending on which machine you get. Here are the machines that I have, and they all have names, because of course they have names. Why wouldn't they? 😁
By far, Tank is my favorite. Let me extoll her virtues and explain why... She just does one thing, and does it well. She is quieter, more powerful, and much faster than my home machines - she does a max 7,000 stitches per minute compared to a max of 1,500 stitches per minute on the average home serger. Note that 7,000 stitches per minute is SUPER FAST... like so fast it's scary. However, there's a speed control on the motor itself. You have to reach under the table to adjust it, but it's there. Babylock's newer home sergers also have a speed control, but they charge a high premium for this feature (booooooo!), that Juki just includes as standard. Neither Buddha nor Darwin have a speed control. Babylock's Ovation serger was the first Babylock model I know of to introduce this, and they charged a premium for it that I couldn't afford. Their new Triumph is now their flagship model with speed control but the automatic needle-threading features are just... meh. I can't justify shelling out $6-7K to have speed control, needle-threading, and the small handful of other design changes - none of which are a good substitute for basic sewing skills, and a little patience and persistence. 😎
Because Tank is "fully submerged" into her table, there's less vibration. I also never have to hunt for the foot pedal and it never runs away from me - it's just built into the table. The big pedal on the left is like the "gas pedal", touch that and off she goes... and the pedal on the right is like the clutch - it raises the presser foot. Once you get used to this, it's a big time-saver. I LOVE not having to hunt for the foot pedal.
Tank's knife system is also great. It uses a "guillotine" style knife where the upper knife comes from above and so far, nothing has slipped past. So no fluffy bits slipping past and getting caught in the seam. Replacement knives are also fairly cheap - much more so than for my Babylock machines. Juki knives are around $5.00. Babylock knives are ~$20 and up.. and each Babylock model is slightly different so my spare knives for Buddha can't be used on Darwin. Boooooo! 🙄
Tank is also easier to clean because the needle-plate is held on by two screws that are easily accessible.. a ton of fuzz tends to build up there and being able to remove the needle-plate to clean all of that out is such a big help. Babylocks are designed to make you take the machine in to the shop and pay to have it cleaned. I wouldn't mind as much if the machines weren't priced so high up front.
The thread stand on Tank is also better and sturdier. It looks like Babylock has changed their thread stands a little, but the ones on the models I have are very bouncey, and sewing with bulky items is tricky and you have to really take care not to bump the thread stands lest you end up with a tangled mess and broken needles/threads from the thread tangling around itself up in the thread stand. That was just driving me nuts, and was another reason I invested in an industrial machine.
So at this point you might be wondering why even have the Babylocks or home machines? They're more expensive, they've got a lot of plastic parts that break easier, they're slower, louder and go in the shop for repairs/cleaning more often... Well okay... here is where the home sergers do have some advantages:
- It's easier to adjust the stitch length and stitch width on Buddha and Darwin. Turn a dial and done. (This is sort of shown in the video below)
- Because threading is faster, it's also quick to remove one needle and switch to a 3-thread seam for an easy rolled hem, or very narrow hem. Both Buddha and Darwin have the "jet air threading".. the machine has an air pump inside that basically blows the thread through tubes.
- Buddha and Darwin both gather and stretch easier. The differential feed on the Babylocks is a LOT easier to adjust.
- Tension is essentially automatic on the home sergers - I never fuss with it.
- If I really want to, my home sergers will both do a decorative "wave" stitch which the machine does by alternating the tension on the loopers.
- You can disengage the knife on the Babylocks.. when I make arm-warmers, I like to put the seam on the pinky side, and because I can disengage the knives, I often use this feature when making thumbholes. (I owe you a photo and this will make more sense).
So really the main advantage of the home sergers is you can make quick adjustments and changes, but their motors just aren't as powerful as industrial ones so they are not as good on really thick/fluffy fabrics, and the easy features are a big cash commitment up front. They are lightweight and you can carry them around, but I have never taken one of those "serger classes" promised by the dealer, so meh. I'm an introvert, I figure stuff out at home. The idea of carting my machine around just seems silly. As for the industrial machines, they are heavy, the machine head alone weighs ~30 pounds, so you will shed bitter tears if you ever move. Plus you have to change the oil on the things every so often, depending on just how much you're sewing. As for service, if you do need some sort of repair, frequently the dealer will come to you... they'll just charge for the time and the drive. My Juki dealer is 60 miles away, so yeah, it'll be a bummer if I break something but thus far.. Tank is mostly indestructible. 😈
As for threading being a sticking point on the industrial machines, it's very similar on most industrial machines. Once the machine is threaded, the easiest way to change your thread color is to just cut the thread and tie a good sturdy knot between the old thread and new thread.. the knot will pull through everything except the eye of the needle... so once you get it threaded, life is fairly easy. However, you still need to know how the thread the darn thing. Spoiler alert: the color-coded dots are your friend. I don't want to re-invent the wheel, so these are my favorite videos for how to thread these machines...
The University of Derby has a great basic video which takes the time to explain how to thread from the thread stand, which helped me tremendously. I was able to thread my MO-6814D the first time just by watching this video and taking my time. Note that not everything here is applicable to the MO-6814... I just mentally skipped over those parts. But they at least explain the thread stand, which if you've never used an industrial machine, how would you know? 🤔
Probably the most valuable thing in the video above is the thread stand part. In a nutshell:
With the top tier:
thread from back to front
With the lower tier:
thread top-to-bottom first
then thread from back-to-front
With the thread guide on the machine head above the tension knobs:
thread the right hole back-to-front
thread left hole back-to-front
Then it's sort of like flatware at a fancy dinner... start at the outside and work your way inward... in other words:
- Thread the lower looper (tension knob on the right)
- Thread the upper looper (tension knob second from right)
- Thread the right needle (tension knob third from right)
- Thread the left needle (tension knob fourth from right)
Sewing Gold did an awesome video on this for the MO-6814S... so if you have an MO-6814D like I do, this will make even more sense because the threading is the same... I don't want to re-invent the wheel, so here's their video:
I posted links in this blog post but here they are again... so if you want to check out Juki overlocks, you can start here. Bear in mind, they have TONS of other machines like coverstitch machines, buttonhole machines, all sorts of amazing machines which I'd have to throw out all my clothes and run around nekked in order to have room for so... eh - you're on your own for learning about those. However - check with your local Juki dealer, they may have classes on Industrial machines. Denver Design Incubator does, so if you're in Colorado, there you go! They are right next door to Ralph's Industrial Sewing, where I bought my MO-6814D.
I mentioned more powerful motors earlier, and industrial machines come with different types. Alexander Dyer does a FANTASTIC video about this on YouTube, soI won't reinvent the wheel here. I will say that my machine has a servo motor which has all the power I need and when not in use, the machine is absolutely silent. It reminds me very much of a family member's hybrid Honda Accord, which when you stopped at a stoplight, the car would turn off, you got none of the subtle "jiggle" that you get sitting at a stoplight when the engine is running.. it felt like the car had stalled, it was almost creepy.... but step on the gas and off it went! By contrast, a clutch motor on an industrial overlock will generate some constant level of noise when you turn it on.
Here's Alexander Dyer's video on motor types. He goes into a LOT of detail:
If the industrial machines are just too big and heavy and scary, you can check out Babylock sergers here. Note that my Evolution is from 2012 so that model is long discontinued, along with the Enlighten as well. There's nothing wrong with buying a used machine if you want to save some cash. The downside is it's not under warranty, but I've actually had really good luck with my Enlighten. I bought Buddha used for ~$1400 several years back and I use him a lot more than Darwin. The main reason I keep Darwin is that he is a convertible machine... which means that you can change a setting on the loopers, swap out the overlock guide for a table and turn him into a coverstitch machine. If you don't know what a coverstitch is or are just curious what that looks like, Edith Sews has a decent video about this:
I have um, not yet even used this function. 😜 If you like to sew with a lot of knits and want to be able to do both overlock/serging as well as coverstitch, a used Evolution might be right up your alley. The home machines are versatile, and designed for light-weight sewing for folks who like to go slow and be super precise in their stitching.....HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! That is so NOT me.
Hands down, I love my Juki the best. I did buy it fully assembled so I haven't included unboxing/setup instructions for you, so if you do get one, I really recommend your local dealer. The cost is going to be about the same anywhere you go (~$1600.00), and it was just easier. The only thing I had to do was set the machine head into the table, and attach the rubber belt to it that the motor uses to move the pieces-parts, and add the oil. OMG do NOT forget the oil!! Think of it like a small car engine. 😉 This video on the MO-6816, will apply to your MO-6814. 👇
Sewing Gold has another video, also about three minutes that shows you how you will need to change the oil on these machines... this is something to keep in mind when wondering whether to buy one.
I do owe you a video on how to change the stitch length on the MO-6814D, as I haven't found one that I felt explained it really well, so check back later for that update.
If you have your machine threaded and your stitches are coming out wonky, here's a helpful graphic to help you troubleshoot which tension setting might be wrong. Full credit to DIBY club for this. Read their full post HERE.
If you live within driving distance of me and still fear the serger/overlock, reach out and we can arrange a time for you to see my studio and I'm happy to help you overcome that fear.
The serger/overlock machine is a WONDERFUL work of magic that is well worth it. It's been around since 1881 and has only gotten better and easier to use in the last ~142 years. If your great-grandparents used one, it looked a lot more like this:
Here's an old Singer 81-20 with the side and front covers open so you can see a little more of the inner workings:
You can see the machine has just one needle, so this only does a 3-thread stitch - the one needle thread interlocking with the upper and lower looper threads.
Here's an old illustration of the same machine that might be a little more clear...
There is some variation on all machines, but on more industrial machines, the "head" is the portion you're looking at, which does not include the motor. Many of these old antiques are still floating around and still WORKING, which is super cool. Vintage Sewing Machine Garage on YouTube has a great video where he puts an old Merrow A-3DW-3 to use and the thing still works. The video is a bit long for my ADHD short attention span, but it is super cool to see one of these machines still working:
If you want to get a better view of the loopers and the inner workers of one of these older machines, Alex Dyer comes to the rescue yet again with this awesome video where he cleans and restores an old Merrow 60 BW and the thing overlocks just as well as when it was first sold. WOW. I think this model came into production around ~1924, so this machine is literally nearly 100 years old.
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Looking for more sewing tidbits?
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- Where I get my SUPPLIES...
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