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4 Techniques to Get Even More Out of Your Serger

Here's how to create simple gathers or lettuce edging with your differential control and how to precisely sew serger corners and curves.

Here’s how to create simple gathers or lettuce edging with your differential control and how to precisely sew serger corners and curves.

1. Gathers

Gathering lightweight to mid-weight fabrics is a breeze. For maximum gathers, set the differential to the highest number, the needle tensions to 6 or 7, and to the longest stitch length. Trim off a little fabric as you stitch and, voila, perfect gathers.

2. Lettuce edge

Lettuce edging is a sweet finish for knits and woven bias. Rolled and narrow-hem stitching work the best for this technique. Set the differential dial to the lowest number and watch the fabric stretch and furl as it feeds through the machine.


If the stitch is not catching the fabric’s edge, this is due to the fabric stretching away from the needle after the blade has made the cut. Prior to serging, press a 1/2 inch hem, serge along the fold, and trim away the excess.

3. Serging corners

For an outside corner, serge one or two stitches past the end of the corner, raise the presser foot and gently pull the thread tail off the stitch finger. Turn the corner and put the edge of the fabric right up to the needles. Pull up on the threads above the tension to get rid of any thread slack, lower the foot, and serge the next side.

The inside corner is stitched by straightening the corner. Make a 1/4 inch clip diagonally into the corner. Straighten the inside corner as you skim the fabric edge.

4. Serging Curves

An outside curve is hard to pivot around because the long presser foot holds the fabric. As you come around the curve, lift the presser foot and move the fabric from underneath the foot. Lower the foot and stitch a little more. Repeat as needed to complete the…

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  1. Betina | | #1

    I bought my first and only serger about 25 yrs ago, and I love it. It's starting to get tired though, and I'm sure things have changed in the newer models. Ease of use, ease of adjustments to tension controls etc. I find it very hard to switch tension back and forth, and remember the old settings, etc. so I tend not to move my tension disks at all which can be very limiting.

    So, I'm considering getting a new serger, but don't know enough about the new models to know what I'm looking at or looking for. Anyone have any recommendations? I don't want to spend a fortune, but do want one that will be easy to use and easy to switch back and forth so I'm not so intimidated about doing a lettuce hem, for example, and knowing I can easily get back to the precise settings for doing regular stuff.

    Do you have one that's particularly wonderful? Please let me know what to look for.


  2. Mari21 | | #2

    Mine are both Pfaff. I too am looking for another serger as the first one is getting to old, but that's the baby I go to mostly. One day it will stop. The new is a Cover Style and still learning. So far the last two days, though, plain serging is working well, but changing to the cover stitch can be a bit challenging. I was not impressed with the Brother limited edition or the thread carrier on it. So that means one hour drives to other stores that sell different models to check them out. I serge lots, and would like to have that extra easy one again. But as you say, newer models change. Sorry I can't be of much help.

  3. sewdancer | | #3

    Baby Lock is the perfect serger. I have a Evolve, Evolution is the newest version. It has 8 threads and does overlock stitches. Another option,depending on your needs, is to purchase a 4-thread Baby Lock (Enlighten or Imagine),and a separate overlock machine. the advantage of having a separate overlock machine is to have it set up and ready to use if you do a lot of overlocking. This is my second Baby lock and I would purchase another one in a heartbeat...if I needed one!

    The ease of threading and no tension disks is a winner!

    Happy Shopping!

  4. User avater
    Janet_likes_to_sew | | #4

    Hi Betina,

    I have owned three sergers and by far the best one is the Babylock. Babylock have managed to engineer their machines so there are no tension issues or threading problems. They aren't computerised - they just make mechanical machines which do a superb job. They aren't cheap but the productivity I get from my machine makes it worth every cent. n my books, Babylock is first, daylight second!

  5. jansquires | | #5

    Not only do I love my Baby Lock Evolution, I love the support that we have been given by our dealer. We have no less than 2-3 Baby Lock educators at our local dealer every year. We focus on education and techniques as we are not concerned with maintenance as my Baby Locks have never failed me.

    The article by Pamela Leggett is the most comprehensive and helpful to all levels.

    Love Threads!

  6. sewquilter | | #6

    I own an Elna 624 for about ten years now. I love it. I bought it when Elna was part of Tacony corporation. They made some great machines then. About two years ago I bought an Elna coverstitch machine. I have not used the coverstitch all that much, but when I do knit tops, I use quite often. I love my serger though. It takes everything thrown at it and I have cards that tell me the tensions, the DF and stitch length on them. They are held by a holder in front of the machine. They even gave more cards that I can write on for other projects that change the settings of the serger. I can also use regular sewing machine needles in it.The Elna dealer here does not realize that I can use regular sewing machine needles in it. That is even written up in the manual. It does 2 thread, 3 thread and 4 thread overlock, rolled edge and a few other stitches. I also know how to thread it with no problem. Once you do a few times, it is easy every time.

  7. huzhu | | #7

    I LOVE my Babylock sergers. I have 2 Imagines, 2 coverstitch and two Bernina Artistas and they all work hard every day. I highly recommend the Babylock sergers . They are just so easy to use and self thread. Something I doubt I could live without because I change thread several times a day.

  8. User avater
    KarenQuiltsTexas | | #8

    It's a Viking 936 for me after several years of trying various models, this machine has everything I need including coverstitch. I use it almost every day, as I make about 75% of my own clothing and am a quilter. I always serge the edges of every new fabric brought into the stash to prevent fraying - as everything is washed before going to the cutting table...
    Thanks for the nice pictures of the "basics"...

  9. Carolebarrel | | #9

    For Betina: Recent articles in Threads Magazine review sergers and I found them very informative. I have enjoyed using my Bernette and have for about 20 years to much satisfaction. Recently the material chewed the fabric vs. cut and I took the machine to be adjusted. Rather than strip the tightening screw of the blade, the mechanic slipped a piece of sandpaper between the screw and the metal to keep this from happening. Just thought I'd mention this problem should it happen to anyone after many years of wear and tear. Like a microwave when it first came out, I never thought I'd use it so much but a serger is indispensable to quality sewing and long lasting garments.

  10. Beth | | #10

    This are the clearest and best instructions I have seen.
    I have a Janome serger that does a 3 or 4 thread stitch. It works well for my purposes.
    this tutorial will help with adjusting the settings.

  11. shiwidesbois | | #11

    My comment is on a spelling mistake I have seen several times in your magazine. The French word in the sentence " ...viola, a perfect pleat" should not be spelled VIOLA, but VOILÀ. It makes a big difference, as viola refers to rapping... or, for people who likes XIV century music, a instrument (not a viola as we know it today). I feel bad each time I read "viola". Please, adopt " voilà ".

  12. mjdevaney | | #12

    I wish I could use the serger to create a really gathered edge--my Bernina even with the tension at 9 and the stitch length at 3 only creates a small gather on a satin fabric I'm using for some costumes. If anyone has tips, I'd love to hear them. I've got about 17 costumes to make and any way to make the gathering easier and quicker would be a huge plus! I didn't try trimming off any fabric--I did it with the cutting knife disengaged--so maybe I should give that a shot.

  13. User avater
    annieoconnor | | #13

    Thank you, Shiwidesbois, for catching that error. It has been corrected.

  14. User avater
    yourwildestseams | | #14

    This is for mjdevaney: Try looping one or both of your needle threads around the tension disk 1 or 2 extra times. A older gal showed me this trick when she taught me to use my new serger (years ago). Experiment & you can really shir up those fabrics!

  15. ahda | | #15

    I love the Bernina machines. I have 2 Bernina sewing/embroidery machines and 1 sewing only machine. I have 2 Bernina sergers. I had a Babylock Evolve and had many, many problems with it. I'm sure it must have been the bad apple in the bushel. My daughter has a Jenome serger and a Babylock and loves both of them. The Bernina sergers are also much quieter.

  16. User avater
    Sewlady1964 | | #16

    I just got a new serger 2 weeks ago today & even though I've had sergers (4) for the last 25 years & there wasn't a thing wrong with mine I was getting frustrated having to re-thread needles & loopers when a thread broke. Then I found out that the Baby Lock Evolution was easier to work with. When a thread breaks, you only re-thread that one, it doesn't have to be threaded in a certain order. It's also very easy to change to another type of stitch. I love my Pfaff sewing machines & as long as I didn't know there was an easier to use serger, I loved my Pfaff 4872. I never dreamed I'd own anything other than a Pfaff, my CV & 2170 aren't going anywhere though.
    If you're looking for a serger be sure to check out the Evolution.

  17. mjdevaney | | #17

    @yourwildestseams (love that name!)--thanks for the tip! I have Bernina 800DL, and I'm not sure exactly where I would loop the needle thread twice, but I'd to try. At 9 and stitch length 4, and starting with a ruffle that's 47 inches, I'm getting down to about 42 inches. I'd like to get another ten inches off (these are ruffles for bird characters), but I may just live with the less gathered ruffle because that was SO easy, compared to the three basting rows and the pulling up, etc., etc. that I used for the first five dresses.

  18. User avater
    scrum | | #18

    Thanks for the great tips. However I have a problem with the tip of serging an inside curve by straightening the curve. A straight line is shorter than a curved line. If you serge an inside curve by straightening it the curve will become shorter & it that will become a problem when you're ready to attach the piece to match another curved piece... now ask me how I know... I've read other tips to overcome this problem & the best I've found is doing the same technique as with an outside curve, serging a little at a time following the curve.
    I have an Babylock Evolve & I love it!!!! I just wish I had more time to play with all it's different capabilities.

  19. pochurch | | #19

    I've been to both Jo-Ann stores today. NO THREADS MAGAZINES!!! I really, really need the full article to get me going. Who else sells Threads?

  20. User avater
    ckreed1947 | | #20

    I need help. We are getting ready to move so I have already packed my current threads magazine. I learned so much on serging in the article in the current magazine. Can someone help me and send me the information on how to adjust the tension by looking at what my stitch is doing. I absolutely love that issue. I currently have three sergers, 3 different brands and love them all. My favorite thread for them is Gutterman and can be found for a reasonable price at Joann's. Betina, I just recently purchased a used Janome 1200 D serger from a local quilt and sewing store. It is a dream. I would have given it back to them the first two days until I learned the secrets to threading it. I got it because I wanted the overlock stitch with an additional chain stitch. I can almost thread it in my sleep. We had moved and my kenmore serger was buried in the garage. Couldn't find it with three different storage buildings. A friend gave me her mothers 25 year old Singer Merrit lock. I finally got it working (has gray thread on it), the Janome has brown on it because I am making my husband some western bib front shirts and the Kenmore has white on it. I hate thinking about giving the two light weights up so will hoard and use them a little longer. Husqvarna Viking has a lighter weight model with a lay in bottom looper threader but I haven't tried it. It does look nice. Keep an eye out on Craigslist in your area and most will let you try out one you might be looking at. Good luck too you...

    In the mean time if someone could send me the guides on the stitches I would really appreciate it.
    Thanks, Cindy

  21. user-2000832 | | #21

    Babylock Evolution! Worth every penny

  22. Pattiann42 | | #22

    CKReed, one method for checking the tension/correct threading of a serger is to use a different color for each looper and needle.

    Lift the presser foot, open the tensions and take any other steps given in the manual for threading the applicable serger.

    Lower the presser foot and set the tension mid-range. Then test and tweak as needed.

  23. User avater
    LongMMilburn | | #23

    Great tutorial. Thanks for sharing..

  24. User avater
    [email protected] | | #24

    to mjdevany: the easiest way to gather fabric that I have found is to use your regular machine and zigzag over a heavier thread, like crochet thread, which is secured at the beginning. When you get to the end, pull the crochet thread to gather your fabric to desired length. Pin in place or to a waistband, and stitch along the gathering line. VOILÀ.

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