Obviously the past few weeks have been replete with a whole host of different developments for me – most of which have made it to Sew For Victory in one form or another. There have been so many new experiences – moving country, getting married and, most dramatic of all, setting up a whole new sewing system in the US. I brought what I could with me in my transatlantic move but shipping is so expensive that all of the big stuff – my sewing machine, work table etc. – had to stay in the UK. So I’m faced with the task of rebuilding my sewing space and my supply of tools. At the moment, I’m in a temporary living situation. My husband (it’s still super weird typing that) and I are staying with my parents-in-law while we look for an apartment but we’ve now found one we love that would also give me my own perfect sewing space. So keep your fingers crossed for us and hopefully I’ll be giving you a tour before too long! I’ve also introduced you to my brand new sewing machine, Agatha. She and I are having a great time working hard on new projects and I can honestly say that the Janome DC5100 is the best machine I’ve ever used. Definitely check out my review (linked above) if you’re on the lookout for a new machine.
But I’ve been keeping from you one of the greatest sewing developments that has occurred since I arrived in the US – I have a serger!! Meet my Brother 1034D…
Please excuse the table mess. I’m set up on the dining room table right now and working out of boxes and bags!
I’d never really thought all that much about getting a serger. I know a lot of people rave about them but I’d always felt pretty content using the overlock stitch on my old sewing machine. It did the job and, honestly, I was intimidated by what I thought would be an intense threading learning curve. But, after the move and seeing the extent to which my half-finished wedding dress had frayed, I thought that a serger might be a necessary investment. If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, you’ll already know that the wedding dress project went bust but I’ve been using my serger on my on-going projects and it has honestly been pretty revolutionary to the way I finish my garments.
Getting a strong finish on my makes has always been a bit of a problem. I’ve never been totally happy with the way the inside would look a little jerry-rigged in comparison with the outside. The edges were usually a bit ragged or, at least, sufficiently insecure that washing machines had become my nemesis. Using my sewing machine to overlock was a good interim measure but still didn’t give a totally neat, clean finish. Enter the serger! The Brother 1034D defied my expectations in that it actually wasn’t too tough to get to grips with. I used a number of resources to help guide me in learning how to thread and use the machine (listed at the bottom of this post for anyone interested) and, after a few test runs, I felt confident in my abilities! If you decide to invest in a serger, definitely don’t let yourself be intimidated by the potential learning curve. As scary as the machine looks, it’s really not much trouble.
I will add that the Brother 1034D comes with an excellent guide on the various components of the serger, how to thread, and how to operate. There was also a separate booklet demonstrating the different kinds of problems you could potentially encounter and how to determine threading issues by the way the stitch looks. I trawled through this and it has been incredibly helpful already. Since you’re working with four separate threads that all do different things, it’s important to know what does what. Of course, there are endless video and blogger tutorials to help with this too.
Threading the left and right needle is pretty similar to threading a regular sewing machine. Pulling the cover back shows the threading system for the upper and lower looper.
One thing I will mention is the tension wheels at the top of the machine. As with a sewing machine, you use these to dictate thread tensions. Since you’re juggling four threads with a serger, it can obviously get a little more tricky determining appropriate tensions. But using a good guide (check the list at the end of the post) can help solve any issues on this front. That said, I spent a good couple of hours re-threading because I couldn’t get the stitches to come through correctly, only to realise that I had jogged one of the tension wheels. The tensions wheels aren’t like those on a sewing machine in that they don’t click in place. They move very easily and, when you’re threading or manipulating your spools at the back of the machine, it’s incredibly likely that you’ll accidentally move the wheels. So just be sure to bear that in mind and, if there are any problems with your stitch, those wheels are a likely culprit. Because of these issues with tension – and the fact that the necessary tensions will vary pretty dramatically depending upon the type of fabric you’re using – it is always worth doing a test run on a spare square of your fabric. Keep testing until you get the tensions right and the threads are sitting where they should on the stitch.
This is a pretty good representation of how the stitch should look and what each thread does. The threads consist of left needle (yellow), right needle (red), upper looper (green), and lower looper (blue).
I’ve also found that judging where to place the edge of the fabric can be a bit of a challenge. For those not familiar with sergers, they come with an attached upper and lower knife on the right-hand side of the foot. As you serge your fabric, these knives operate to trim off any excess fabric. The knives made me incredibly nervous when serging seams because I was perpetually paranoid that I’d end up taking off too much excess and then stitching over my seam. The stitch itself is pretty wide so, where the seam is already sewn in, it can be a bit tough to judge how far in the stitch is going to reach. However, this is entirely a confidence and experience issue. The more I’ve worked with the serger, the easier it has become to make those judgements. And with typical seam measurements (I’ve serged both 5/8″ and 3/8″ seams), there are not problems with stitching over the allowance.
Even though learning to use a serger is undoubtedly a case of sitting down, watching videos, and troubleshooting a host of inevitable problems, it’s totally worth it. I’m currently working on my first pair of trousers (SO excited to share these with you!) and it’s made such an incredible difference to the way that the inside of the garment looks. Not only does it give a wonderfully neat finish, it also gives the edges enough security that I can finally pop my me-made clothes in the washing machine without being scared that they’ll fall apart. It’s honestly been such a worthy investment!
For those of you interested in learning to serge or looking for help with your serger, here are a few great resources that I’ve been using:
A side note – the Sew For Victory Book Club is making a return this month. I’ll be posting about the book at the end of July. For anyone who wants to read ahead, July’s pick is The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.
For those who have doubts about the relevance of this choice to the content of the site, I actually got half way through before deciding to make it the July selection. Not only is it an incredibly important feminist tract (which alone makes it SO worthy of reading), it is hugely insightful in terms of women’s lifestyles during the 1950s and 1960s. So for anyone with a particularly keen interest in reading about the female experience (disclaimer: this book does not do a great job of being intersectional, so I use the term ‘female’ to refer to an incredibly specific type of female experience), The Feminine Mystique is a must-read. I hope you’ll join me!