Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Threading Your Serger or Overlocker

I'm so excited for our first Serger Series post!

The first session is the hardest in any relationship counseling. This week, we are getting into the nitty gritty of threading your serger or overlocker. It may not be glamorous, but knowing how to thread your serger correctly is the basis for a long and happy life together.

Along the way I'll share a few frustration saving tips and tricks

Click the link below to get started! You can see more serger tutorials here or at the tutorials tab at the top of the page.
 Relationship Rescue Week 1: Threading Your Serger

If you are already a pro at threading your serger, skip ahead to our Week 2: Perfecting Serger Tension post. 

Ok, let's jump in! These instructions assume you are using a 3 or 4 thread serger that is not 'air threaded'. 

One caveat-- I'm trying to be as detailed as possible, especially when it comes to threading those pesky loopers. That being said, I haven't seen your particular machine. If you are having issues, I encourage you to read through your manual-- and you can always email me or comment here for help!

Thread & Tension Guides

Threading your serger starts with your thread! Since sergers feed thread through the machine faster than a regular sewing machine; using spool caps and thread cone inserts are a must.

Pull your thread through the fully extended thread tree and the thread guides above the tension disks.

Pull your threads through tension disks making sure they are well seated between the disks. I find it faster to do this for all 4 threads at once, since I'm short and I have to stand up to reach the thread tree.

I've labeled the looper and needle threads in the picture above. Order matters in serger threading-- always thread in this order:

1) Upper looper
2) Lower looper
3) Right needle
4) Left needle

Threading out of order will cause thread jams.

Upper Looper

Always start with the upper looper thread. Pull the thread through the thread guides. (Yours should be similar-- check your manual to be sure).

Turn your handwheel toward you until the upper looper is accessible.

Then, using your tweezers pull the thread through the eye in the upper looper .

Okay, the upper looper's done!

If you have had problems with your serger, the lower looper is probably the one that makes you cringe. If that's you, take a deep breath because that's what we're doing next.

We are going to cover two lower looper threading systems- regular and 'lay in'.

Lower Looper-- Regular (non- lay-in) version

(I switched to my old machine for these photos)
Pull the thread through the lower looper thread guides.
Turn your hand wheel until you have access to the thread guides that are attached the lower looper and pull your thread through the guides.
Now turn your handwheel until you see the  left edge of the lower looper peeking out.

Use your tweezers to grab the thread and thread the eye or thread guide on the left side of the lower looper.

Now, using your tweezers again, bring your thread back to the right side of the lower looper. 

Here is the tricky part. Because we have to keep turning the handweel to thread the lower looper, it's easy to get the lower looper thread under the upper looper arm. This will cause the thread to jam every.single.time.

We need to make sure the upper and lower looper threads do not cross.

The best way to do this is to turn the handwheel (always toward you) until the lower looper is above the upper looper. Then thread the lower looper.   

Here's a close up:

See how the upper and lower looper threads are free of each other? That's exactly what we want.

Lower Looper -- Lay In Version (I'm using a Brother 1034D)

This style is slightly easier to thread since the 'threading lever' threads the left edge of the lower looper for us.

Pull the thread through the lower looper thread guides.

For this style, pull out the small 'threading lever'. Position the thread so it's just resting against the lever as shown.

Push the lever back into place while holding the end of the thread.
Thread the eye of the lower looper, making sure not to cross threads with the upper looper. In other words, make sure that the lower looper thread is over the upper looper thread.

Needle Threads

Yay! Your loopers are done. Happy dance! Threading the needles are the easy part. Thread the right needle first then the left needle second.

Make sure your thread is well seated in the tension disks, then run it through the thread guides.

Then pull the thread through the thread guide in front of the needle bar and then the needle.

And you're done!

Thread Chain
Just like with a sewing machine, I find it's easier to start serging with a small piece of fabric under the presser foot-- it helps keep the thread from being pulled back into the machine. After that, you should easily be able to make a thread chain.


If your looper threads are jamming or breaking:
  • Verify your looper threads aren't crossed
  • Make sure the needles were threaded after the looper threads
  • Check that your needles are installed properly. Remove them, and push them all the way back in. Your left needle should be higher than your right needle.
If your stitch quality is poor or inconsistent
  • Check that your thread is in the tension disks properly
  • Make sure that the thread caps and cone inserts are on properly
  • Consider changing your needle and/ or cutting blade
General Hints:

  • I use a bit of thread wax (or even candle wax) to stiffen the ends of my thread to make it easier to thread the needles and loopers.
  • It is possible to rethread your loopers by 'tying on' a new thread.  Snip the upper looper and lower looper threads between the thread tree and tension disks. Replace the spools, tie the new thread to the old with a small overhand knot and pull through the loopers.  
  • If you are running short on thread cones, you use thread spools in your needles. You can even wind your own threads spools from your serger cones
Phew! I know this was a detailed post, but I wanted to make this 'guide' as complete as possible. I hope this was helpful to you and we'll see you back next week. We are going to tackle tension! (Edit: The Week 2 post is up: Perfecting Serger Tension)

If you have any tips of your own you'd like to share-- or have questions about troubleshooting your serger, email me or leave a comment here!


  1. I always wondered what the difference was for a 'lay in style' serger, now I finally know! The one step that always gets me in trouble is the lower looper thread not going over my upper looper, this typically happens for me after breaking the chain and trying to 'salvage' my threading.

  2. Kirstin, I'm so glad this helped. I just recently got the lay in style serger-- and I admit it does make things easier. I'm thinking of doing a quick post on how to ahem... cheat on threading your loopers next week. I took the pictures, but was just too much to fit into this post!

  3. Thank you very much for detailed review on threading a serger.

  4. Irisha, you are welcome! I hope it's helpful to you.

  5. Thank you for the serger instruction series. I found this via Sew Mama Sew. I will be sure to check each posting. I feel like I may be able to try using my serger again after a long hiatus.

    1. I hope you give your serger another chance! If you run into any problems you can always comment or email here.

  6. Hello! I just received this serger as a gift. I have successfully used it, but now when I'm threading it, something is going wrong. I think I've isolated the problem to my lowerlooper thread and the threading lever. It seems that when I push the threading lever back to the left (so that the arrows line up), the thread pulls itself to the right and gets stuck in the clasp. Has this ever happened to you? Do you by chance know how to fix it? I would call Brother to ask, however, wouldn't you know this happens on a Saturday. If you can help, thank you! If not, thanks anyway for the tutorial!

    1. Hi Megan! Things always seem to go wrong on the weekend, don't they! If I'm understanding correctly, it sounds like your thread end is getting sucked into that little notch in the thread lever? That's happened to me before, but I just try to be really gentle when I push the lever and give the thread a little slack. Let me know if that helps!

  7. I've sewed for 20 yrs on industrial sewing machines for my job and I've never had the trouble I've had with this one home machine...the thread lever is a pain..when I first bought it about 7 yrs ago I never had a problem with suddenly the thread has decided it wants to slip into the notch to far and breaks everytime..I'm so flustered with it I've pretty much given up with it..I can say I'll never own another one with an "easy thread"


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