Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Understanding Your Serger's Features

This is the third post in the Relationship Rescue: You and Your Serger series. Just in case you missed it, here's what we've done so far:

Week 1: Threading Your Serger

Week 2: Perfecting Serger Tension

This post is going to take all the drama out of your relationship with your serger. No more late nights stressing over crazy stitches, or finishing seams with our sewing machine because we can't understand why our serger is acting up!

After this post, you'll know what all those dials on your serger are for, how they work and when to use them. Click the link below to get started.

First, let's find our dials. We'll be reviewing differential feed, stitch length, stitch width as well as, how to remove your stitch finger.
Mine are located on the side of my serger.

Check your manual to figure out how to change these settings on your machine.

Differential Feed

 If your serger has a differential feed take a close look at your feed dogs. (I've removed my presser foot and ankle for this picture). You'll see two sets of feed dogs.

These two sets of feed dogs can move fabric (feed) at different rates. The setting for differential feed is expressed as a ratio. If the first feed dog is moving twice as fast as the second (a differential feed of 2.0) than the fabric will bunch up or gather. 

If the first feed dog is only moving three quarters as fast as the second one (a differential feed of .75), the fabric will stretch.

At a differential feed setting of 1.0 the fabric will feed through the serger normally.

When do I use this? Change this setting to:
  • Ruffle
  • Ease two peices of fabric together
  • Lettuce edge
  • Compensate for a knit that is stretching or bunching up under the serger's presser foot.

Stitch length

The stitch length on a serger works exactly like the stitch length on a sewing machine. The higher the number, the further apart the stitches will be.

 A small number makes stitches closer together.

When do I use this? Change this setting to:
  • Fully cover an edge with thread for a rolled hem
  • Controll how much a fabric gathers (increase stitch length for more ruffles)
  • Adjust stitch appearance.
Note: Since the stitch length effects how the thread wraps around the fabric edge, you might need to adjust thread tension and stitch width after changing your stitch length.

Stitch Width

My serger's stitch width setting confused me for a long time. I wasn't able to control how wide my stitches were. Here's a secret: adjusting the "stitch width" on your serger actually moves the cutting blade. The best use of this setting is to make sure your stitches wrap exactly at the fabric edge.

In these two pictures you can see the blade moving closer to the throat plate. 

If your cutting width is too narrow, the stitches will hang off the fabric edge.

 Increase your cutting width until the thread meets at the edge of the fabric.

When do I use this? Change this setting when:
  • working with very thick or thin fabrics
  • removing the stitch finger 
  • changing stitch length
  • decorative stitching. 

Stitch Finger

Removing your serger's stitch finger is the best way to get narrower stitching. If you look down at the machine's throat plate, you'll see these little pins or needle looking things next to the feed dogs. These are your stitch fingers. Next to them is another removable stitch finger.

The stitch fingers act like knitting needles-- the looper thread wrap around them to form the stitch. Removing a stitch finger results in a narrower stitch because there is less width for the looper threads to wrap around.

Most manuals will tell you to remove the stitch finger for rolled and narrow hems, but I lovity-love the look of a narrow 4 thread stitch on garments with exposed serging.

The process for removing or disabling the stitch finger varies from machine to machine. Some machines will require you to change out the throat plate. Some have a slider that moves back and forth. Mine has a little lever that releases the stitch finger attachment. Check your manual if you aren't sure how yours works.

When do I use this? Remove your stitch finger for:
  • rolled hems 
  • narrow hems
  • narrow four thread overcasting or seaming
Now you know your serger mechanics inside and out. If you'd like to learn more about some of the techniques mentioned in this post check out my other serger tutorials:

Next week will be the final week in our this series. But don't be sad! I"m going to have a serger post each day. Monday, I'll share a time saving serger threading tip (no, not tying on); on Wenesday we'll be learning how to serge curves, and we'll have a series wrap up on Friday.

As always, if you have any questions, leave a comment below! I'd love to hear from you. Hope to see you next week!


  1. Thanks you so much for this series! I received this exact serger as a gift last year and am very much intimidated by it. But I am learning so much from your tutorials and can't thank you enough!

    1. Hayley, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment! I really like this serger-- especially for ease of use. Don't be intimidated by it! If you have any questions, you can always contact me! I can answer here or in an email.

  2. I'm also very greatful for these series of posts. I had stopped using my serger after few months of buying it in 2010. And I had recently also tried to sell locally but did not get reasonable offers for it. After reading through these posts I have started using it again and its all starting to make sense. Thank you very much for putting together these tutorials.

    1. Anonymous, I had to smile at your comment about putting your serger up for sale! I often considered doing the same thing when I was frustrated with mine. I'm so glad that these posts helped you!

  3. Wow, I love this series! I've only used my serger to finish seams, but maybe I"ll branch out a bit and gather or do a rolled hem or two. :-) I still have trouble with ending my serging if I do something in the round. Is there a trick to keep from getting the pile of thread that tapers off to the side at the end of your serging? Will this be covered next week?
    Thanks for everything you've shared so far!!

    1. Threegirlsandaboy, I'm glad you are liking the series! I'll try to cover finishing circles next week. :)

  4. Thanks for this series, its a refresher course for me!

  5. serger is 13 years old and I've really only used it to finish seams. Not sure it has some of the features you've talked about in this post, but I'm definitely going to branch out! Thanks so much for taking the time to do this.

    1. Sondray, Erin, I'm so glad these posts are helpful to you! Erin, I'm excited that you are thinking of branching out! I was hoping that these posts would encourage people to do just that. :)

  6. Carmen (CountryMouse)August 23, 2012 at 8:49 PM

    This series is so wonderfully helpful! I've used my serger for three years but have always had questions about the how & why of many of the things you have discussed. Thank you so much for clearing things up for me!

    1. I'm so glad it helped you! I've been wanting to write this up for a while.

  7. Fantastic series! Thank you! :) I have that exact serger and use it a bunch to finish seams... I have done a rolled hem and was thrilled! I'm really looking forward to learning more about finishing those circles (neck lines) mine always look a mess! :D Thanks again!


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