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Serger terminology

jyang949 | Posted in General Sewing Info on

I’m getting more adventurous with my serger, a Elna Pro 704 Dex. This serger can sew fourteen different stitches*, but I’m having trouble understanding the differences between some of them.

For example, one stitch is called “4 Thread.” Four-thread *what*?–“overcast”? “Overlock”?

But they can’t mean “4-Thread Overcast” because there are already stitches that have “overcast” in their names. Assuming that they mean “4-Thread Overlock”–then how is an overlock stitch different from an overcast? It seems to me that every *overlock* stitch also *overcasts* the fabric edge to prevent raveling.

The black-and-white pictures in the manual don’t help much, so I’m going to sew a sample of each stitch, using different colors for the needles and loopers.


*The fourteen stitches listed in the manual are:
4 Thread
Stretch Knit
3 Thread
3 Thread wide
Flatlock 3
Flatlock 2
Overcast 2
Overcast 2 wide
Narrow Hem 3
Rolled Hem 3
Rolled Hem 2
Stretch Wrapped
Cover Hem


  1. MaryinColorado | | #1

    I suggest you get the book Serger Secrets which explains everything cool about serging with great photos.  There are also some in Secrets to Succesful Sewing.  Both are from Rodale Publishing.  The numbers that do not say thread after them refer to how many needles.  You can use a little mirror to look up under the needle hole area to see them more clearly, I have one with a magnifier in it.  Narrow means the needles are closer together, wide means the needles are farther apart. 

    I have a Viking serger that does all that too, aren't we lucky?  Blessed! 

    If you go to the Bernina website, under education.  Serger.  It explains some of this.  It will also help you to put a different color of thread in each needle, each looper.  Go through the steps in your manual and you will be able to see how each one looks.  Some stitches might even require three needles but I am not familiar with your machine.  Nancy's Notions website and Sewing With Nancy on PBS often have serging inro.  Also Linda Lee Vivian is known as the "serger Lady", she has a wonderful website lindaleeoriginals.com with patterns, a book, etc.  and last but not least marthapullen.com has books and patterns for the serger.  One of my favorites is Cathy McMakin's book on Serging for Babies and of course Martha does the heirloom serging so well!!!

    The coverstitch is like double needle top stitching sometimes on bluejean seams and hems.  You don't use the cutter with it, your manual should explain the set up.

    Knit refers to knit fabrics which require different settings. 

    I tend to run on and on, sorry.  I just get so excited when people get into serging, I use it for everything I make, and much more than the sewing machine though I love that too.  Have fun learning all the bells and whistles and playing with your new "tool"...(bumper sticker....urge to serge....                 Mary

  2. Kiley | | #2

    Your overlock or overcast stitches are all of your stitches except for the chain and coverhem stitches. Your rolled stitches are actually overlock or an overcast but have a tighter lower looper tension to cause the tight roll of the stitch. The rolled hem stitches are seen on napkins etc.

    The flatlock stitches are overlocked wider to flop over the fabric edges so that when overlocking 2 edges of fabric you can pull the fabrics apart and the flatlock will look like a ladder stitch on one side and on the other side is a flat seam  that resembles the exposed stitch on sweatshirts and knitwear. Flatlock can also be used in the body of the fabric when serging over a fold of the fabric instead of the edges. When the fabric is opened the fabric again is to be pulled apart to have the stitches lay flat.

    Your stretch knit stitch has the same characteristics of your safety 4 thread stitch but uses different differential feed and stitch length settings to prevent knit from stretching while sewing. The stretch wrapped stitch uses 2 needles and the lower looper. This is the stitch that has the maximum stretch.

    The coverhem stitches and chain stitch are stitches "only" done on the body of the fabric instead of the edges and can also be used for hemming and decorative stitches. Much can be done with the coverhem and chain stitch including making belt loops, binding attaching lace, tucks, and neckbands etc. In 5 thread sergers the chainstitch runs against the inside of the overlock in the 5 thread safety stitch. 

    1. jyang949 | | #4

      What stitch uses wooly thread?Janet

      1. ValerieJ | | #5

        Hi Janet, one of the nice things about a serger is that you can use almost any thread with almost any stitch. It really depends on the look you want. Woolly nylon is generally used as a decorative edge finish, so often it is used with a very short stitch length with a three or four thread stitch. It generally goes in the loopers as it is a little thicker than other threads.


        1. Kiley | | #6

          There is also "Extra Wooly" by YLI. I love it and use it often.

          1. fabricholic | | #8


            How are you?  I was Trans Am Lady.  Where do you buy your extra wooly?  I'm having a hard time finding the YLI serging yarn in different colors for my baby blankets.  Do you order it on line?


          2. Kiley | | #9

            Marcy, my local Joann's store has a rack of YLI Woolly and Extra Woolly and I usually use the 40 % off coupons. I don't order on line but you might be able to order it through the Joann's website and you can use the coupons on line too.

            I had to edit to say I just rec'd an email from Joann's and they do sell YLI on line for $5.99 a spool cone. They have several colors offered on line but not as many as in the store.

            Edited 9/14/2006 9:35 pm ET by Kiley

          3. fabricholic | | #10

            Thanks, Kiley. We just lost our Jo Ann store in Birmingham a few years, ago. I'll look at their website.

          4. KarenW | | #11

            I used to get woolly nylon extra from Nancy's Notions until we got a Joann's ETC, though their selection has gotten more sparse... I THINK AtlantaThread has it too - they also had the biggest selection of woolly nylon colors anywhere. 

            I like to use the extra with a wide 3 thread stitch in both loopers, loosening tension, shortening stitch length as much as possible to finish fleece items - turns out looking like a fuzzy binding.


          5. fabricholic | | #12

            I will look at the Atlanta Thread webside. I did find some at thread and more webside. I am going to my sewing dealer Saturday and I will see what they have at that time. I hate paying for shipping when I can get it locally. I can't wait to try the fuzzy binding you mentioned.Thanks,

      2. MaryinColorado | | #7

        It is also great for lycra, especially in exercisewear and swimsuits.  I like it for rolled edges too.  It fills in more than serger thread.

  3. jyang949 | | #3

    Thanks for the explanations. I actually bought Serger Secrets last year--and misplaced it. Time to visit the library.

    I'm guessing that the "lock" in overlock means it is a more secure stitch than overcast.

    They always say that a serger doesn't replace a sewing machine, but they must be referring to sewing machines that make fancy stitches. For sewing seams, I always use the serger's chainstitch. It's so much easier to rip out mistakes.


    Edited 9/8/2006 1:24 pm ET by jyang949

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