Monday, May 7, 2012

What Is An Overlocking Serger?

Many sewing machine technicians are a bit threatened by sergers.  They do not see as many sergers as standard sewing machines, and sergers are very different from regular sewing machines.  After working for a while on sergers, however, they become far less intimidating and much easier to service.

Frequently, I find  active sewers who are unfamiliar with sergers.   Sometimes we get the idea that everybody already knows what we know, but when it comes to sergers they appear to be a bit of a mystery to a lot of people.

Have you ever wondered what people think about something?

I do?  When it comes to sergers I decided to find out.  I set out on a mission to ask complete strangers what a serger was.  The responses I got were amazing.

At the department store, people are busy looking for stuff themselves.  They usually, look past you and ignore your presence.  When you ask them a question, some people appear shocked or they just look past you in a blank stare.  Fortunately, a few people were friendly and really tried to help me figure out what a serger is.   People had some truly creative opinions.  A young boy thought it might be a team logo or a new video game.  A lady thought it was a new type of fruit.  One of the workers pointed me to hardware and said what I needed was a special kind of electrical fuse.

Now, your question remains.  What is a serger?

Unlike the ordinary  home sewing machine, the serger  is a  particular type of machine that sews a hem, overcasts the edge of the fabric, and trims the fabric all at one time.  Almost any sewing project can be accelerated by use of a serger whether the application is for utility (hidden away) or decorative to  embellish the project.  Note the serger does not do embroidery and does not follow embroidery designs.

In 1846, Elias Howe patented the first practical sewing machine, but it was not until 1881 that the first serger was introduced by the Merrow Sewing Machine Company.  This machine produced a two or three thread overlocking stitch often called a Merrow stitch.  This provided a huge advancement over the typical straight stitch machine.  The Merrow was able to sew a hem or seam while overcastting the edge of the fabric.  In some cases this was done without trimming, but usually it included blades that trimmed the fabric leaving a beautifully finished edge.  

It is interesting how words evolve over time.   The Merrow became the overlock and is most commonly referred to today as the serger.   The terms overedging, overcastting, overlocking, and serging are often used interchangeably.

Sergers were the domain of industry and factories until 1964, when the Baby Lock brand of home sergers launched.  Several engineers  at Juki had envisioned a scaled down version of the heavy industrial serger, but the Juki company was not interested.  So the designers  formed their own new company and launched Baby Lock home sergers.

Unlike the standard  sewing machine that uses needle and hook assemblies to create interlocking stitches, the serger uses devices called loopers.   A lower looper and an upper looper assist interact with the needle to create the overlocking stitches.   Instead of using a shuttle or bobbin, the serger uses multiple cones of thread guided through tension assemblies to the loopers and needle.   Sergers also use special needle plates with stitch fingers or horizontal needle fingers to help form the stitches. 

Sergers double the speed of ordinary  home sewing machines, but are far slower than their big sister industrial sergers.  Home sergers are designed to for convenience and creativity.  They are much lighter, smaller, sleeker, and more user friendly than the heavy duty industrial models.  Industrials commonly sew up to 9,500 stitches per minute, but only produce one overlocking  stitch.  Home sergers sew between 1,500 and 3,000 stitches per minute and may produce a dozen or two different overcastting  stitches.

Sewing machine repair and serger repair are very similar.  Although the serger replaces the hook with loopers, it is essentially an oscillating hook sewing machine.  With experience it is as easily repaired as other sewing machines.

Today Baby Lock offers a serger that uses up to eight cones of thread to produce as many as 86 different overlocking  stitches.  Sergers of many different brands today come in a variety of configurations, but generally you will find sergers that can sew using 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8 different threads. 

Today the home serger has become an integral part of a quality sewing room set up.  It is capable of streamlining sewing projects producing far better quality while cutting sewing time in half.  Yet, it does not replace the regular  sewing machine.

So, how do you reply to the question, What is a serger?  Is it your super sewing machine that seams, overcasts, and trim at the speed of light?  Is it your creative finishing machine?  Is it your overcastting, overedging, overlocking, serging machine?  Of course it is your serger.

To learn to sew and how to sew with a serger check out
To learn about sewing machine repair see 
To find quality sewing machines online see
To find quality embroidery designs see