Introducing Serger Series! A 'hints and tips' series to help you improve your serging, or even inspire you to give serging a try! If you have any questions along the way, please feel free to leave a comment below, and I will hopefully be able to help you out.
Serger Series is not intended to replace your machines instruction manual. Please refer to your manual for instructions on how to thread your machine and maintain it. If you have a second hand serger, and don't have a manual, I would strongly suggest searching online for a copy of your sergers manual for download and print. I did this when I needed the manual for my old serger, and I remember it only cost a couple of dollars to purchase a manual online.
My number one tip for anyone learning to use their serger for the first time, is to thread it up in different colours! This means that you will be able to more easily identify the offending thread if your stitching tension is wrong. You will need: 1 serger and 4 spools of thread (yellow spool, red spool, blue spool, green spool).Use yellow, red, blue and green in the correlating places (refer to my picture). I promise you I’m not going to ask you to actually serge real garments with these threads, this is just a practice.
An example of my old machine threaded up - note the coloured threads match the tension knob colours.
My new machine threaded up according to the coloured dots (you might need to click to see it better)
When you look at your serger, yours might look a little different from mine. That’s ok! Threading them can be slightly different for each one. I would suggest referring to your instruction book to learn how to correctly thread your machine. If your serger was obtained second hand (just like my first one) type the model details into google and you are sure to find an online copy of your overlockers instruction booklet. Basically the main rules you need to follow when threading your serger, is to always thread from the right to left.
Always make sure your presser foot is in the raised position when threading your machine. That way it is easy to pull the thread through (as the tension discs aren't engaged until the presser foot is down).
Machine now threaded up? Ok, back to the rainbow.
Sewing with a serger can be visualised best as a balance. You are stitching to balance. Your two looper (bottom) threads produce the ‘big’ stitches (red and green thread) while the needle threads provide the stabilising stitches (yellow and blue). You want your tension in all four to be balanced so that the stabilising stitches (blue and yellow) remain small and tight, whilst your red and green stitches sit flat with the fabric and meet at the fabric edge. This is the best way I can describe it, and really helps when trouble shooting your tension.
A comparison between one-colour serging and rainbow serging. The different colours make it very easy to identify which thread is causing the trouble. It also shows you the role each thread plays in the stitching.
Here is an example of incorrect tension... (click to enlarge)...
See? The green thread is being pulled over to the red thread side.
For this example, if your green thread is appearing on the red threads side, this could be due to two reasons: 1) Green tension is too loose
2) Red tension is too tight
You don’t know which it is, so trouble shoot by tightening the green tension dial by 1. Then test sew. If the problem is still present, loosen the red tension dial by 1. Then test sew. Continue until you are balanced and the threads sit nicely and meet at the edge again. Do you see the balance metaphor? Don’t be inclined to change only one dial more and more and more and expect to have symmetry and balance in your stitching. The machine needs to be gradually adjusted between the two threads until it sews right again...
Likewise for the needle threads (blue and yellow thread), although from my experience this is the least threads to play up.
You will find that when you change between sewing different weight fabrics, your tension will need to be adjusted. My tip would be to make a note somewhere (inside your manual cover?) of the correct tension settings when working with certain fabrics (wool, quilting weight cotton, rayon, etc) as a quick reference for the future.
Disclaimer: Always refer to your own serger/overlocker manual for definitive advice on how to set up, thread and sew with your machine. I do not claim to be an expert on every model and thus am only sharing my personal experiences using two ‘lower end’ models (Toyota3400d and Janome1110dx).