10 Best Beginner’s Serger Tips

Let me share with you all the good tips I’ve learned about sergers (after the threading tutorial  you love!)

If you’re more a sewing machine type of sewer… check my Top 15 Beginner’s Sewing Tips or my 30 Best Sewing with Knits Tips! 

First of all: what is a Serger (or Overlocker)? 

It’s a sewing machine who can also cut (and finish off) your seam allowances while you sew, saving your precious time and leaving clean and tidy all your seams.
It’s not difficult to use, you only need some practice and I hope you’ll take advantage of my
SergerPepper - Best Beginner Serger Tip

 

italian version

1. Buy good quality thread

First time I’ve used my serger, it was already threaded from the seller (it was cotton, n°50): everything went smooth for a while, then I decided to change and use a polyester thread I bought, thinking it was better, stronger and ideal for the serger: nothing worse (probably quality wasn’t one of the best)! It started to broke on my upper looper and I’ve been re-threading for a whole afternoon: not that good, I started to think I wouldn’t be able to use the serger without help (I’ve bought it online, it was a great deal but included a serging lesson only several weeks after receiving the serger). Tip: I’ve found that the big store located 45 minutes from home has better prizes (and a quality you can touch by hand) than ebay good deals on huge cones (5-10000 yards), so better compare before buying!

SO: Please try changing the thread spools

if you start experiencing multiple brokes!

SergerPepper - Best Beginner Serger Tip

2. Take several pics of the original threading

As soon as you open the box containing your new serger, open his “belly” and take some pics (with your phone is perfect, you’ll have them always on hand when needed!) before starting to play with it: recreate the same threading will be a breeze!

SO: Do not procrastinate: take some shoot!

SergerPepper - Best Beginner Serger Tip

3. Learn soon to re-thread from scratch, not to knot and pull thread

Someone will tell you to start like this, but I think it’s better to start your relationship with your new machine knowing her, and which better way to know it than learning to thread her? You’ll be ready and not scared when (and it will happen) things will go wrong and thread will make a mess and broke!

BUT: When you’re in a hurry, you can knot-and-pull, only please don’t let the knot pass through your needle’s eyes or you’ll end with broken/bent needles…

 

4. A serger can’t backstitch

Well, in fact, it can… but you will not desire to do so, because it will cut your newly made stitches!

You have to leave long tails and fix the in some way (post full of pics coming soon), just NEVER cut chains near the end of the fabric, as my mother-in-law did with my Recycled Pajamas when came to my home and saw the tails dangling from LilPotato’s sleeves (because she couldn’t wait me to fix them, she had to wear her new pajamas NOW!) or the seam will unravel soon!

SergerPepper - Best Beginner Serger Tip

OR: you can turn your fabric and try to sew a couple of cm without approaching to your knives, but it’s not a beginner’s trick, believe me!

5. Never Sew on Pins (or at least put them far from the knives!)

This is a Rule!

I never baste (and my mother always turn up her nose when I say that) and often use pins (well, in fact, now that I’m a serger owner, I often sew without pinning too…) when I use my sewing machine, I often leave pins in and sew above them (I know, it’s not good, but I’m so lazy sometimes often!). With the serger you can either pin on the left side, far from the seam and paralleled (or perpendicular as on sewing machine, if you put your pins at least 5 cm far from the seam line) or

Do Not Pin At All

(It depends on what are you sewing, obviously!)
But, if you pin, keep them far from knives or they’ll probably lose their sharpness (or, worst, broke)!
SergerPepper - Best Beginner Serger Tip
Can you see the pins? Hint: they’re inside the black ovals!!!

6. (This is a savvy/frugal tip)You don’t really need to buy 4 cones of each color

When I started serging, I was worried about the huge quantity of thread I was going to buy: a serger uses a lot more of thread then a sewing machine, due to the fact he sews mostly with 3 or 4 threads.

If you’re sewing a (let’s say) purple dress, you’ll be worried to show white stitches when seams stretch, so you’ll go to the store and buy ONE ONLY 10000 yds cone (because it costs less than the little spools you used to buy until now), to be put on the left needle, which is the most noticeable on the right side of the fabric; while you’re at the store, buy some white and black and neutrals (grey, nude, pale pink, and so on) HUGE cones (you’ll use them onto the right needle and the loopers, WHICH AREN’T SHOWING AT ALL on the right side of your dress!!!).

Buying huge spuns, will grow your thread collection, you’ll end with a lot of colors in no time and without spending a lot every time.

By the way: if you’re sewing a cardigan or a piece of clothing that will show the inside when you wear it (or you have a lot of money): buy 4 cones of the perfect shade of your fabric

OR: you can buy one only cone on the perfect shade of color and make 3 bobbins to be loaded on needles and one looper (remember that loopers uses a lot of thread, so you’ll end bobbins in no time!)

SergerPepper - Best Beginner Serger Tip

7. Create Your Personal Serging Book, using different colors for each thread and moving tensions around

This is a good advice: to learn which thread makes what, try threading your serger with 4 differents colors (using the same drawn on the machine makes things simpler) and start sewing; try moving tension around (marking down variations you made) and see what happens to stitches… You’ll learn soon which thread stitches are from and which tensions change to make perfect seams, where looper’s threads meet on the middle and nothing seems too tight or loose.
If you want to do something smarter, you can write down the four tension numbers and pin a piece of scrap on the same page, showing the kind of fabric and the kind of stitch you used: you’ll use it when, in the future, you’ll need to sew the same kind of fabric…

I’d really like to see some Personal Serging Book,

you can share your on SergerPepper’s flickr group

8. A Serger goes faster than a sewing machine (a.k.a: don’t push down your foot!)

You’ll learn it the hard way if you start pushing down your feet: the serger goes A LOT faster and when you reach curves or angles it’s harder to control where you’re sewing and go out of way! Being a serger, you won’t only sew on the wrong place: you’ll CUT your fabric… and this is harder to be fixed!

SO: slow and steady wins the race!

9. Differential feed: my new friend!

This is a staple to have on a serger: it means we have two different feed dog, one in front and one right below your feet (well, not Your Feet, your serger’s feet!!!); changing the ratio between the two speeds, you can sew different kinds of fabric and obtain/avoid different results (think ruffles!): it’s like stretching or pulling your fabric while you sew.
SergerPepper - Best Beginner Serger Tip
Normally you have a knob or a switch that will let you change the number from 0,5 to 2,5  (or something similar, mine has a range 0,7-2): this is one more thing to sew and add to Your Personal Serging Book.
SergerPepper - Best Beginner Serger Tip

10. Clean. Your. Serger. FULL STOP

You can’t sew with a serger full of lint: someone says you have to clean it at least every 3-4 hours of sewing: because of the knives cutting and cutting your fabric, your serger will soon change from a dream to a nightmare: threads and needles will start to broke, tensions will get worse, nothing will seems right. It’s time to spring cleaning: open your serger’s belly, unthread and clean around with a brush, then with an air compressor (or a can of compressed air, like the one you can use for cleaning a keyboard). When all is clean: a couple of oil drops on every metallic connecting, then sew on a piece of rag just to be sure your oil won’t go staining your good fabric!

Read more here!

HOMEWORK: Try to clean it a little every time you’re going to stop to sew.

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About the Author:

Hi there! I love sewing, creating my own patterns and refashioning pre-loved clothes... If you love the same things, why not be friends? See you on Pinterest http://Pinterest.com/MammaNene

40 Comments

  1. Sarah at Journeys of The Zoo December 1, 2013 at 17:29 - Reply

    Bookmarking this for the next time I get a chance to serge. We’re going away so not until April. Thanks for the tips. So much to learn. I’ll be back with questions.

    Besos, Sarah
    Blogger at Journeys of The Zoo

    • Mamma Nene December 2, 2013 at 20:23 - Reply

      Thanks Sarah! I whish you an happy journey, how lucky you are to travel for such a long time!
      And, for April when you’ll be back, please ask me if you need help 😉

  2. Glenn Williams December 19, 2013 at 01:26 - Reply

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  5. scooterphoenix February 20, 2014 at 14:18 - Reply

    I sure do wish I would have taken photos when it was fresh out of the box.
    Also, great idea about turning the tension to 0 when threading. I will give it a try.

    • Mamma Nene February 21, 2014 at 10:25 - Reply

      Yes, but now that you’re learning to rethread you can take some pics… just in case you stop using your serger for a while 😉
      To put tensions to 0, a little trick is to lift up the presser foot, as I said yesterday!

  6. Nancy greene February 26, 2014 at 17:35 - Reply

    So many people are afraid of a serger, wonder how it works….a very nice lady.let’s say, susan, at Jo an fabrics, did a very patient and kind demonstration, I’m sold….you will be also….hands on,….can’t be beat. !!!! Enjoy your new toys..ha ha. !!!!

  7. Nancy greene February 26, 2014 at 17:38 - Reply

    Thanks Susan….thanks sergerpepper

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  11. Laura June 24, 2014 at 23:42 - Reply

    I never really got into sergers because they just seemed like too much work for my tastes, which this post shows me they are, lol. However, your extremely helpful tips have got me thinking I just may give it a try again. I have a good girlfriend who has quite a few and she’s offered to lend me one in exchange for one of my many sewing machines and I think I just may take her up on her offer now!!! Thanks for this informative article!

  12. Mamma Nene July 14, 2014 at 12:02 - Reply

    Hi Jessie!
    I hope I’ll be able to teach my grand-daughter sewing (and serging) me too… sounds: Oh! So Much Fun!
    Thanks for appreciating my post <3

  13. Nancy November 15, 2014 at 05:07 - Reply

    Thank you so much for this info. I want to say that I avoided purchasing a serger for years thinking I could not figure it out. Well, I broke down and bought a used Imagine Serger that is Babylock brand. I know they are very expensive but I am totally in love with this machine! The best part is the way it is self threading and it will sew on thin and thick fabric without touching the tensions as It automatically does it for you!

    • Mamma Nene November 15, 2014 at 11:16 - Reply

      Hi Nancy, happy to hear you decided it was time for a serger 😉
      I have to admit that the automatic threading isn’t a feature that could make me spend one single buck more, but the automatic tensions are cool! Can you by-pass this and fix them manually? I’m thinking to flatlock and other decorative stitches that need to be manually settled…

  14. Elisabetta December 5, 2014 at 20:09 - Reply

    Mio marito mi ha appena regalato una serger (natale anticipato al cyber monday 🙂 ) questo post mi sarà utilissimo!

  15. Lisa W. Degregorio April 21, 2015 at 12:42 - Reply

    Nice post, I can’t even remember when I first touched a sewing machine,anyway I enjoyed your writing.

  16. Mary E. Nault April 22, 2015 at 08:56 - Reply

    Nice post, thank you for share

  17. Andrew D. Roper April 22, 2015 at 14:26 - Reply

    Nice post, A user friendly sewing machine is what I offer you.
    Thanks for this informative article!

  18. Jenny August 30, 2015 at 17:26 - Reply

    you’ve shared the secret of good and practical. Thank you very much

    • Mamma Nene September 4, 2015 at 17:30 - Reply

      Thank you Jenny, happy to see you appreciate 🙂

  19. Andrew December 17, 2015 at 05:32 - Reply

    Hi Mamma Nene,
    what a nice blog with a lot of secret information about sewing and serger. especially, I like this article so much. It provide me the basic information about serger machine which i know little before.
    thanks

  20. James L. Martin December 21, 2015 at 08:55 - Reply

    You’ve shared the secret of good and practical. Thank you so much!

  21. Jan Tice December 28, 2015 at 04:21 - Reply

    I have had my serger for over 22 years. I believe it is a Simplicity. I bought it when I made my daughter’s wedding dress. It came with a manual and a VHS tape showing the threading etc. I have to admit sometimes it sits so long that I have to get the video out and check it again. I have used it for many things over the years and can only imagine the improvements that have been made. I made complete liners for my son and grandsons hunting jackets and used nothing but my serger. I doappreciate your tips so much.

    • Mamma Nene January 3, 2016 at 16:04 - Reply

      Thanks Jan!
      I think a video resource is invaluable, if you use it every now and then. I often go back to my own posts to remember about settings for special stitches and so on 🙂
      Happy New Years, and thanks for writing me

  22. Linda Cohen January 5, 2016 at 19:15 - Reply

    I was planning on taking a Master ‘seamstress II class, Serger Basics , University of Rhode Island, that unfortunately was cancelled due to lack of enrollment. I took your 10 tips in stead just now and am definitely going to try the serger book and make stitches. Played around with the 3 stitch rolled hem this summer trying to edge silk organza for a wedding dress. It definitely takes practice to get professional results. I never did get the thread and tension exactly right. Back to the serger for more trial and error. Thank you for your information. Linda Cohen , RI

  23. susan February 14, 2016 at 09:37 - Reply

    Thank you so much for your tutorial! I love it! I was wondering what to sew for Christmas this year as extras and you helped me solve that. I loved your tutorial so much I posted it to my FB page for Sewing Seamstress. Thanks again!

  24. kevin March 19, 2016 at 07:44 - Reply

    great. great article. I really like the song of thanks for sharing Commit..

  25. Carmen December 31, 2016 at 20:55 - Reply

    This post is so great I can’t say enough good things about it in a post 😀
    I purchased my sewer at Joann’s and I would recommend the Singer ones, specially for beginners. Manual is full of pictures and detailed instructions, it even comes threaded with different colors and all tension buttons and threading lines are colored according to the thread line you want to modify.
    I grew up surrounded by sewing machines, but my mother never allowed me touching or even getting close to her sergers LOL Now I know why.
    Thank you for taking the time and writing this post with pictures and very helpful tips!! It’s people like you the ones who make this hobby a real pleasure and worth the try.
    Happy New Year!

    • Mamma Nene January 14, 2017 at 11:45 - Reply

      Thank you, Carmen, and happy new year to you too!
      I wish you a year full of threads, needles and seams 🙂

  26. Robyn March 9, 2017 at 20:14 - Reply

    This post was SO helpful 🙂
    I bought myself a second hand, and fairly old, serger a few weeks back and have been winging it ever since! All this info has filled in the gaps. I’ve surprised myself by making two tops for my toddler that didn’t turn out complete disasters despite me being a total sewing novice. I’, such a serger fan now.

  27. Scott Adams June 12, 2017 at 22:27 - Reply

    I’m glad you talked about buying quality thread so you don’t have to re-thread. I have been wondering how much of a difference the thread in the serger made. After reading this I’ll make sure to only find quality thread to use, thanks!

    • Irene June 16, 2017 at 12:21 - Reply

      Thank you, Scott!
      Thread has a huge effect onto your seams 🙂

  28. Sandra July 18, 2017 at 21:09 - Reply

    Thank you, Ms Irene. Awesome Tutorial. I’ve been a big serger fan for years. I love, love mine. I am on #3, but still love a good serger. Thanks for the thread information. I make scarves (a lot) and am trying to perfect the rolled hem. I tried using the settings in my book, but they just don’t turn out as thick and tightly rolled as I want them to be. I’ll just keep experimenting (during my down time) until I get it right.

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