We know many of our lovely Sew Obsessed readers are dedicated home sewers, so we’ve decided to start a series of Sew Smart advice articles to answer some of your burning questions. First thing’s first… what is an overlocker and do you need one for home sewing?
What is an Overlocker?
When looking at your shop bought clothes you may have noticed something unusual along the edge of the seam of your clothes – this flawless and finished seam is indicative of the use of an overlocker with its characteristic stitch. This machine, also known as a serger, creates overcast stitches and trims away excess fabric along hems (stitching up to speeds of about 1,700 stitches per minute!) to create an extremely professional product. It is important to remember that this is the defined purpose of the machine; you will still need your regular sewing machine to do the grit of your work.
Overlockers are great for finishing seams and stopping fraying, they make your home sewn products last much longer, especially after a few washes, an unfinished seam will start to unravel. They also make sewing jersey at home much easier, as the overlocked seam lets the fabric stretch naturally.
Pros and Cons of Buying One at Home
An overlocker can be markedly expensive, costing from £200 and upwards for a quality product (trust me, you don’t want anything less – those kinds of risks on your fabric are not worth a slightly cheaper price). So make sure you plan to get enough use out of it to get your money’s worth.
If you are an occasional sewer or are not quite experienced yet, you might like to wait a little until you feel confident to invest. Not that I want to put you off, they are a great investment, but they do take a while to get used to and with three or four spools, they are a lot trickier to thread. Although these days many overlockers come with their own set of instructional DVDs and endless books – something you might like to look for if you decide to go ahead!
Once you get used to it, you can expect a finished product in a distinctly shorter amount of time. Depending on the type of diversity your overlocker allows, you can introduce a variety of beautiful hems for your product. You can even use it for attaching elastic.
Using One: What To Watch Out For
Using an overlocker is pretty permanent. What I really mean by that, is because of the cutting mechanism and all the threads that go into one stitch – it is a total nightmare to rectify mistakes. The fact that it cuts as it sews means that if you get any unintended fabric caught in your stitch, your product could be nearly all but ruined. The stitches are also timely to undo. There is also a certain level of skill that goes into understanding the tensions and how to run the thread. BUT these are all part in part of sewing! And the joy of a beautifully finished product far outweigh the odd mistake, in my view.
What Should I Look For if I Am Going to Buy One?
There are a few basics to look for when trying to find the perfect overlocker. Here are a few tips:
- The basics: an adjustable pressure foot, variable bite width, and stitch length.
- Consider the location of the thread cutter and make sure it is in a comfortable position.
- Also consider a vertical needle position and an overlocker with a built-in blade if you are going to work with thicker fabrics.
- If your budget allows, also consider a machine with a built-in rolled hem stitch.
- Regardless of how cheap or expensive you are looking to go: look for a differential feed! Be careful with this one, ask for the “true” ratio and don’t be afraid to ask for proof.
- Try to go for a four-thread feature as that allows for more variety in your stitches and hems.
Some brands are more credible than others and some directed research will quickly lead you in the direction of reputable names in the industry. Be careful not to just settle with the one or two brands offered in your local store; sometimes, traveling a little further is worth the advantage of a choice.
Keep an eye on the second hand market too. Many people take the plunge with an overlocker before they are quite ready, so they sometimes sit unused in peoples homes. You may be able to find one in perfectly good condition, and for less money.
Not Ready Yet? Overlocking Alternatives!
Don’t fret, overlockers aren’t for everyone. There are many techniques you can do on your home machine to get a nicely finished edge without this extra machine. For example, you can do a zig zag stitch on the edge, and even a simple straight stitch prevent an edge from fraying. Here’s this great blog post by A Fashionable Sitch on How to Finish Seams.
Some sewing machines also come with an extra overlocking foot, be sure you check your manual for how to use yours!
One of my personal favourites for neatness is also doing french seams to encase the raw edges into your seam. I really like this Craftsy post on how to sew them.
Remember, you can also sew jersey fabrics with a small zig zag stitch which also stops the stitches from breaking.
Whilst overlockers are a handy tool, especially if you want a super professional finish, they aren’t an essential. If you are looking to market your products, it may well be a good investment as it will give your designs a professional, finished look and an upper hand. And if you are a prolific jersey sewer, again, it may be worth it. However, they are expensive and there are ways to get around not having one and just using a domestic sewing machine – think of all the fabric you’ll be able to afford instead! One thing is for sure, once you commit, it quickly becomes very difficult to imagine a life of sewing before it!
In the end it’s a very personal choice, we hope our advice has helped your decision making! If there are other sewing topics or questions you want answered just get it touch – [email protected]