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May 25, 2011

Feel the Fear...and Serge it Anyway!

So I spent a few hours with my Brother 1034D yesterday.  Readers, I serged, I serged, oh, how I serged!  

By day's end I had a wastepaper basket full of fabric scraps, but I had de-mystified serging -- at least basic serging.  And if I can do it, you can do it -- time permitting, of course. 

Here's what I did:

I re-read the instruction manual.  (Actually, this may have been the first read.)

I dug out the little packet of accessories that came with the Brother and discovered I had a blind hem foot.  I actually put it on the machine and tested it!

I removed the stitch finger -- it took, what, 2 seconds? -- and discovered how the threads now looped around a narrow needle-like protrusion on the face plate (that metal plate beneath the presser foot), creating an altogether different-looking stitch (a narrow overlock or rolled edge stitch) I'd only read about before.

I played with all the various tensions and then successfully restored them to their original positions!

I changed stitch width, stitch length, and differential feed settings.  I tried loose stitches and tight stitches, long stitches and short stitches.

I oiled it.

I even retracted the upper knife!

I sat down with Serger Secrets and picked up a secret or two.  Following the directions in the book, I made a little V-neck tee muslin out of some stretch polyester (think dancewear) someone sent me a long time ago.  I made a few mistakes, but it basically worked and I think I'm ready to try this with my blue cotton knit.

There are still things I have yet to do, which I hope to get to this week, including:

Change the needle for the first time ever.  (Do you believe I haven't changed the needle (I use the right one only) in nearly a year and a half of serging?  I've never had to.

Try some different quality threads.

Create a successful flatlock stitch (where you serge two pieces of fabric together and then pull them flat, creating a flat seam.

I know, based on yesterday's copious comments, that many of you are true serger-phobes.  All I can say is, schedule in a few hours of quality time with your machine and get to know it.  If you're scared to change the tension settings, write them down first or take a photo of them before making changes.  Nothing is irrevocable.

It's normal to feel anxiety around an unknown machine, but don't let that stop you from using it.  The only way to learn is by doing, making mistakes, and learning from them.  And there are so many instructional videos on YouTube and tutorials on people's blogs. 

Reading your recommendations yesterday, I may pick up an additional serger book myself.  I noticed that you can view a good portion of The New Sewing With a Serger book, from the Singer series, on Amazon, if you "Click to Look Inside."  There are so many popular serger books available and used copies can cost just a few dollars.

I think I'll still be using my serger primarily to finish seam allowances, as many of you do.  But it's nice to know it's there for other things.  Other than t-shirts, men don't wear a whole lot of knits -- or am I missing something? 

Serger-phobes, what's one simple step you could take in the next few days to move forward?  It's time to take that serger out of the box already!

Have a great day, everybody, and happy serging!

PS - I found this 7-part YouTube video to be extremely helpful.  Here's a taste:


  1. This is so funny! After your last post, I put the preschooler down for a nap, dragged the manual out for my serger and set to playing with it! I had to rethread it, reset the tension and made notes along the way about what the best settings for simple overlocking and rolled edge hemming are. Thank you for giving me a push! (Does this mean a serge-along is in the plan somewhere?)

  2. Now you can do the rolled hem Peter, you too can experience the joy of using a mere 20 cm of 150 cm wide fabric and turning out a finished scarf in ten minutes. OOh I love it when I see a teeny remnant of expensive stuff in the remnant bin! Snip, tear, to straighten the cut edges, brrrm brrm to make rolled hems and voila an instant unique luxury scarf for self or a loved one and still money left for groceries. Ah, my overlocker I love you! The only thing I love as much at the moment is the rubber matting I found for $2 in a charity shop that stops the machine from scooting off the table when I get overexcited and really plant my foot down.

    May all your remnant bin rummages bring you joy and may you and your overlocker/serger rumble happily along ever after!

  3. Excellent advice for any fearful life sit.

    I have a librarian question for you: why do you not check out some of these books at the library? If the library doesn't own them, they should be happy to borrow them for you. You are already paying tax money for them.

  4. Oooo, I have the same machine but haven't oiled it yet and I think it needs it. I didn't find any oil maintenance tips in the manual; did I miss them? Do you have any suggestions about where to oil or get inforamtion about maintenance for this specific machine?

    ps. blogger won't let me log in. -restlessgrace

  5. Sue, I DO use the library, but I like to own my sewing books when I can.

    Grace, there are only 2 oiling points: they're covered in the back of the manual on p. 57.

  6. I am scared of sergers. I have seen them demonstrated on HSN and they make them look easy, but overwhelming for me.

    My ex sil had one, and she made the really lovely lingerie with hers.

    You did a great job.!


  7. Hey Peter - I love my serger - I use it every day! For the best results I always use Maxi Lock thread - it is really high quality, won't leave a lot of fibers in the workings and it makes a beautiful rolled hem. Atlanta Thread always has it on sale - less than 2 bucks a cone!

    The rolled hem works like a dream on organzas and chiffons -but watch it on the bias - always test!

    Happy Surgery!

    Mary C

  8. I exchange my needles often - I really like to use (Schmetz) ball point needles for knits.

  9. Thank you!! When things settle down here at my home, that bad boy is coming out to play!!

  10. Thank you for sharing this! I definitely am afraid of my serger, but you've now motivated me to just get on with it ;o)

  11. Nothing to do with sergers, but I saw this and thought of you, because didn't you once write about underpants and zippers? Maybe not in the same post. Here's a vintage ad for underpants with a zipper.

    (Not my blog, I have no gain in posting this)

  12. Well, Peter, the one thing I am going to do is buy that serger, finally. I believe I will buy from Allbrands for $249.00. Of course, I am going to buy the make and model you have, since almost all of the reviews I have seen have been very favorable! I'm REALLY excited!

    I also agree with you about the books, I like to own my own copies - and for sewing/mixed media books I love Amazon, where you can buy used for next to nothing!

  13. As K-Line says, the serger -- she gives and she takes. When it is good it is very, very good, and when it is bad it is horrid.

  14. tip - don't throw out your scraps- keep them and label them with the settings, so next time you want a rolled hem on lycra, or whatever, you know what stitch length/ width/ tension/ diff feed you used. Actually I suck at doing this but we made scraps in a class I went to, using long strips of fabric and changing one element (eg diff feed) every couple of inches. They're great for reference.
    And - well done! I love my brother too. The only thing I didn't like was the blind hem foot, but I guess I should try again.

  15. When you change the VERY CAREFUL with that teensy little screw that holds it in. On my serger it's like a seed bead! The first time I changed a needle I dropped that little thing into the machine and never saw it again! Screeching and cursing ensued. Just saying.....

  16. Oh, and the t-shirt looks GREAT! You have taken this skill and RUN with it!

  17. Lovely talk down, Peter. I'm sure people were happy to see you take on the hydra. :)

    I have a recipe scrap book of a lot of different serger settings with different types of fabrics in my serger manual. Thats the key to a lot of it, remembering your tensions.

    Keeping track of the recipes is such a life saver!

  18. Great timing - I have just taken my overlocker down from the shelf where it has sat for two years, ( it had a very busy previous life making formal wear), but I have been making bags for the last two years so haven't needed it much. I bought some great stretch fabrics , and am planning a few pieces for my summer wear...fingers crossed it still works:)

  19. This was an inspiring post, Peter, as I'm one of those sewers who uses the serger only for finishing seams, and have no idea how to sew a seam with it.

  20. I'll have to watch those videos, Peter. I have books that explain and show things well, but somehow action shots are better sometimes.

    Thanks for the idea of keeping the samples in a recipe book, Shelleyj! I usually have to make a few new samples every time I use the serger, so this would be a time saver.

    I really should sit down with my machines this weekend and play. I mean learn some new tricks and solidify some old ones.

    JustGail (who can't post under normal means for some reason)

  21. Hello Peter, do you still use/love the Brother serger? I'm finally getting ready to buy a serger and looking around. My mother, a very experienced sewer, swears by BabyLock auto-threading machines (duh, who wouldn't) but, com'on mom, I don't have a few thousand dollars laying around collecting dust. So I need to be realistic and look at more affordable yet easy-to-use and reliable serger for my first serger. I know your post is more than a couple of years old. So I can really trust your opinion, from someone who has used this particular serger for a while. (And of course, because it comes from YOU!)

    1. Totally. I use it all the time and it has worked flawlessly. It's definitely a little "plastic-y" on the outside, but it's a solid performer.

  22. Thanks, Peter!! It sounds like it's going to be the only newer plastic-y machine I will have in my family!


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