5 Essential Serger Tips for a Healthy Happy Machine

Serger Tips + Tricks | Grainline Studio
Lately it seems like sergers are getting more and more attention as an essential part of a home sewing machine lineup, and rightly so! Sergers not only can assist in cleanly finishing a woven garment, they can also be used to sew knits with ease. Today we’re sharing a few of our favorite tips & tricks to help you get the best serger results possible. If you’re new to sergers, or are just looking for a few tips to up your serger game, this post is for you!

Serger Tips + Tricks | Grainline Studio
First off I’d like to clarify that a serger, overlocker, and merrow machine are all the same thing – a typically 3-4 thread machine that trims and overstitches the edge of the fabric as you feed it through. Coverstitch machines on the other hand are a separate thing entirely and we’ll touch on them in a different post. The serger we’re using in our photos here is our studio serger, the BERNINA L450, and we love it so much! So now that we’ve established that, lets get to those tips.

Serger Tips + Tricks | Grainline Studio
Tip No. 01: It is highly worthwhile to spend a bit extra on high quality serger thread.
You probably already use high quality thread for your sewing machine, but it’s just as important for your other machines as well! As tempting as it can be to grab those always-on-sale thread cones at your local big box sewing store, we’ve got a few reasons why you’ll want to splurge on higher quality thread for your serger.β €


Much like with your sewing machine, higher quality cones, like these Mettler cones, have a smooth, even thread that passes easily through your serger’s tension discs. You’ll get beautiful tension with the machine’s default settings 95% of the time if your machine has an even thread passing consistently through it. High quality threads are not only smoother, they also have less lint which means your machine stays cleaner! Sergers especially collect a lot of fiber lint since they cut and sew, so we don’t need to add to it with a thread that sheds. A smooth, even thread is also stronger so this is especially important if you’re using the serger to put your garment together. You can see in the above image that the Mettler cone has a much smoother sheen than the cone on the right because the thread is smoother and stronger.

Serger Tips + Tricks | Grainline Studio

You can see more clearly in these closeup photos the difference between the two threads. We’re comparing the Mettler SERACOR serger thread that we buy here in the studio on the left with the cheaper Maxi-Lock All Purpose serger thread available cheaply at most larger craft stores on the right. We really think it pays off to use the nicer thread in your machines the majority of the time.

Serger Tips + Tricks | Grainline Studio
Tip No. 02: Purchase 1 specialty color spool for the upper looper thread.
Rather than buying 4 spools of an odd color you’ll likely not use very often, purchase one specialty color to match your fabric and have a good stock of basic colors like black, medium grey, and ivory. Put the special color into the upper looper of your machine and thread the rest with the neutral that stands out the least against your fabric. The other threads will barely show while the top side of your seam allowance will match perfectly! You can see how effective this is in the above photo.Β Like good sewing machine thread, high quality serger thread isn’t cheap, so this is a great trick to save money while still having the insides of your garment look as amazing as the outsides.

Tip No. 03: Save thread by rotating your spools.
The upper looper is the system that uses the most thread, followed by the lower looper. To make sure you run out of all 4 cones at approximately the same time you’ll want to rotate your cones occasionally switching the needle cones with the looper cones. This should help prevent you from having to make unexpected thread runs!

Serger Tips + Tricks | Grainline Studio
Tip No. 04: Watch out for those pins!
Running over a pin while sewing is never a great idea, but it’s especially troublesome on a serger. It can only take one pin to damage your machine’s knife badly enough that you need a replacement and you also run the risk of jamming the machine. Not only that but since the knife is rapidly going up and down the pin is likely to fly at you and that’s really never a great time. If you like using pins but don’t like hitting them, try using something like these Clover flower head pins. They’re easy to spot as they approach the knife meaning you’re less likely to run one over!


Tip No. 05: Clean your machine.
Last but not least, it’s important to clean your serger more frequently than your sewing machine. Due to the fact that your serger is cutting fabric while sewing it ends up collecting a lot more lint and dust than your sewing machine. Most machine’s come with a small lint brush you can use to keep it clean and tidy. In addition to brushing we also use our tweezers for grabbing larger fuzz puffs, as well as these microfiber cloths that I’m completely obsessed with. We highly recommend not using compressed air though, it can force lint back into places that are hard to clean and certain types of air that come out cold can actually damage or crack machine parts. The fuzz shown above is only from 2 small woven projects so you can imagine just how quickly debris builds up in there. Like any hardworking machine, you’ll want to get your serger professionally serviced about once a year along with your sewing machine. This will help keep it running smoothly for a longer length of time.

That’s it for our tips! If you have any you’d like to add, feel free to leave them in the comments below. We’ll be talking about serger tension and differential feed in an upcoming post so stay tuned for that!

44 replies on β€œ5 Essential Serger Tips for a Healthy Happy Machineβ€œ

  • shoes15

    Thanks for the tip about the threads – both the need for quality threads and the “upper looper” color match trick. I’m still getting used to my first serger – I’ve only had it a few months. I bought a box of expensive serger thread in five neutral shades from black to white, and I’ve also bought a few specialty colors in cheap thread that really stinks!

    Reply
    • Jen

      That’s super smart – I wish I’d had the option to buy a pack like that when I first started out! I started with all cheap thread when I bought my first serger 15 years ago and it was SUCH a bummer, but at least I figured out why my tension was always slightly off eventually

      Reply
      • Janet

        Brilliant, thank you. I read somewhere else to put the single matching colour in the left-hand needle, but looking at the pictures, the upper looper makes much more sense.

        Reply
        • Jen

          I’m guessing the reason that they said to put the matching thread in the left needle is because if you stretch the seam apart from the right side of the garment and you can see the threads, then you’ll see the matching color rather than a contrast. If you set your tension correctly though you’re not really going to have to worry about that.

          Reply
    • Jen

      I get it at my local BERNINA Dealer, Linda Z’s. Dealers always seem to carry high qual threads because it means they have to service machines less when people use them. Not sure where you’re located but Mettler has a retailer finder on their website, or if you google Mettler SERACOR you might find something near you.

      Reply
  • Kelly

    Gathering a collection of single colored spools for the upper looper is such a great idea! I have just been using cream, black, and medium gray for everything, and while it works most of the time it would be great to have the thread blend just a little more.

    Reply
  • Joen

    Thanks for the serger tips. I will be adding specialty colors for the upper looper – great tip! I’m looking forward to the coverstitch machine post. This is a machine I’d love to add to my sewing room.

    Reply
    • Jen

      The coverstitch is so fun, it’s one of those machines where before you have it you aren’t sure you need it but after, you’re not sure how you lived without it!

      Reply
  • Patty S.

    Great blog topic! Here’s a pinning tip I use when I’m serging stuff: Don’t place your pins horizontally, like you do with a sewing machine. Instead, place them vertically, to the left of the foot, with heads facing you. That way, you’ll never run the risk of hitting a pin with your knife or needle, and the pins are easy to remove as your serge along. Now, for a question: I’ve been doing a lot of serging in finer cotton knits. And using a great product my Maxi-Lock, their cool stretch thread. Makes for a bomb-proof seam or cover stitch. But, having some issues getting a cover stitch to work well on finer cotton knits, either with regular serger thread or stretch thread. I know it’s not so much recommended to use a wide (or narrow) cover stitch on finer cotton knits, but I’d really like to do a cover stitch for the waistbands and for the cuffs of leggings I’m making for my granddaughter. Any suggestions on what I can do to make a cover stitch successful on a finer cotton knit?

    Reply
    • Jen

      Good tip, thanks! Also last week I was tipped off to using mini-clips instead of pins since there’s no way they can go under the machine to hit the knife. It was pretty awesome. Have you tried lengthening the stitch a bit? Sometimes that helps, also adjusting the tension. It’s hard to troubleshoot specific things like this over the internet sadly.

      Reply
    • Gigi

      Patty, I do a lot of cover stitch hemming for my vertically challenged friend. I have found with knits that spraying with Best Press or light starch gives the fabric more body and makes it less stretchy. I also glue baste (washable school glue) or use a wash out hem tape to stabilize the hem and prevent wonky stretching. It takes a little more prep time but is worth it when you get a smooth hem.

      Reply
      • Patty S.

        Yea, have done all that, Gigi, but thanks for the tips. I buy Best Press by the gallon, literally (I’m also a quilter, love the stuff for everything I do, I keep the gallon container in my laundry room and fill my sprayer I keep in my studio). So, what I’m going to try to do with these next set of leggings I’m making, is try using either Pellon’s Knit-n-Stable tape or Sewkey’s Knit Stay Tape. And, a little glue baste with my Elmer’s School Glue stick. See if that adds just enough body to get a nice stitch on this lightweight cotton double knit, but no so much that the hem is stiff. I did get a much better result with my last leggings, so, hoping this really comes out nicely. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I have to relax and be happy with sometimes less than 110% perfection πŸ™‚

        Reply
    • Jen

      They’re sooooooo much fun. At first I couldn’t figure out why I needed one and now that I have one I can’t imagine life without it!

      Reply
  • Sam

    As a home sewer I bought my first overlocker/serger about 34 years ago – Juki babylock 4 thread – and used it successfully for 4 years but traded it in on a more modern 3 thread! Talk about not knowing what I was doing as they were supposed to be fantastic machines πŸ™ The replacement ‘Brother’ overlocker has sewn well for the last 30+ years with only one service 2 years ago! I do however clean thoroughly and use quality thread, tips I can recommend. Sam the Aussie

    Reply
    • Jen

      Haha well it sounds like your second machine has been treating you quite well despite being the three thread and not the 4. I agree, those are 2 of the most important tips for serging!

      Reply
  • Tyler Meredith

    I like that you touched on just how helpful spending the extra money on good thread can be. I didn’t realize that different threads would perform better than others due to how they’re woven etc. It’s something to keep in mind because my wife is looking to get a new sewing machine and while I’m sure that budget threads wouldn’t cause issues for the machine itself, I think it could be worth while if she’s going to take pride in the hobby.

    Reply
    • Jen

      I definitely think she’ll be happier with her projects using good thread. It’s so much easier to get and maintain tension and the finished product always looks better when you master those two things!

      Reply
  • Janice

    I have had a serger for more years than I can remember. I have made everything from panties to slips to sweatshirts to long underwear to fleece jackets, you name it and I probably have made it. I have always had Baby Lock machines but never knew the thread tip #2. This is a real money and thread inventory saver. Thank you so much for this blog.

    Reply
  • Wanda

    Great blog post! The tip about taking care not to sew over pins made me smile as i just had an incident of a broken flying knife and pin. Luckily no hits. For cleaning the machine I got advised when buying it to just use the vacuum cleaner which has worked fine so far.

    Reply
  • ARB

    Definitely second the suggestion of using mini-clips to hold seam allowances together. I damaged the knife in my serger by accidentally going over a pin – very costly to replace. I use Clover Wonder Clips that I discovered when I started quilting – they’re excellent – but I’m sure you could improvise with office supplies!

    Reply
  • Tammy

    Can you address guides to use for more accurate blade to edge to distance? I am a sewist regularly using my 1/4″ piecing foot for both 1/4″ seams and 1/8″ edge stitching. I am a beginning serger and have not yet figured out how to maintain accurate stitching lines from the cut edge of my fabric.

    Reply
  • Michele

    Excellent tips, Jen!! I’ve had a serger for over 30 years, am on my 2nd one, but the first, a Bernina, still works. I used to buy 4 cones of thread to match all my projects. Gave that up when I realized how little I used them. Now I just have good quality (Madeira) thread in neutral colors. In all my years of serging, I never thought to buy one cone to match my garment and put it in the upper looper. Count me as one who doesn’t know what I would do without my serger (though it still scares me sometimes!)

    Reply
  • Janet Murry

    Thanks so much for these tips – especially like #2 – one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” moments!!

    Reply
  • carmenross88

    Thanks for the tips. Can’t wait to read your coverstitch post because I’ve been thinking of buying one. So, how often do you need to change our your serger needles and knife?

    Reply
  • BJ

    I think I bought the first Singer serger that was ever built. I learned on it and loved it. Then there was a Bernina, then a fancy Viking that would hardly let me change the thread much less switch to a cover stitch. I’ve finally ended up with a Baby Lock Ovation. If there’s a fire I’ll grab the Ovation. You know it’s self threading, right?

    Reply
  • Alejandra

    Thanks so much for the tips! I just got a serger and had to take a craftsy class to figure it out. I don’t know why but after working in the fashion industry for 10 years as a pattern maker, I’m still afraid of sergers! We usually do high end first samples so lots of french seams and other ways to hide ugly seams. Anyways, I just wanted to ask you what are your “to go”‘stitches for which kind of garment. For example for sewing a knit vs just using it on woven fabrics to finish the edges. Will you ever just serge a woven garment?
    Thanks!

    Reply
  • Anita Chisholm

    Great post! Two questions….are ball point needles needed when serging knits?
    Second….how often should needles be changed??
    Yes, you guessed it…..I’m new to serging!!
    Excellent information!! Please keep it coming!!!!!

    Reply
    • Jen

      Your serger should say in the manual what needles it recommends. Most sergers use a serger specific needle, so check there and do as they recommend. For serging you don’t need to change your needle as often as with a machine. We change ours every month or two but we also serge more than the average person here!

      Reply
    • Patty S.

      Anita, oh golly, yes! Here’s the deal with using a sharp or even Universal needle on knits: It may look okay right after serging, but after wearing the garment a few times, you’re going to notice tiny holes popping up in the seam. So, I always always use ballpoint needles when overlocking or doing a coverstitch on knit fabrics of any kind.

      Reply
  • Michelle

    Fantastic tips, thank you! Other tips may seem obvious but can make a big difference like change your needles regularly, oil (a tiny bit) the machine according to the directions, keep out of direct sunlight, and cover when not in use to protect from dust.

    Reply

Leave a Reply