A Beginners Guide to Overlockers: Everything You Need to Know!

If you're a seamstress or sewists looking forward to elevating your business, then now might be the prime chance to consider the overlocker sewing machine. 

In case you’re wondering, we’ve searched the web and discovered that an overlocker sewing machine is used to make the edges neat on your sewing projects.

Here’s the deal:

Having a lot of projects that require thousands of stitchings and longer hours of work, can compromise the quality of your sewing projects. 

Even if you're just a hobbyist looking forward to making high quality garments , overlock machines can guarantee you with finished edges that look clean and more than professional.

This article will walk you through the basics of using the overlock sewing machine, and hopefully address any questions that you have regarding these machines.

what does an overlocker sewing machine do

What is an Overlocker Sewing Machine?

There are a lot of things that set apart an overlocker (aka a serger sewing machine) from a regular one.

You can think of it as a specialized sewing machine, with features that cannot be found on standard ones. 

Unlike a regular sewing machine, serger sewing machines often use just a single thread cone (two if you're using a double needle). 

They typically use 3 to 8 thread cones, and the most common use 3. To achieve a professional-looking and durable seam, those multiple threads are looped together, a task that a standard machine can't do. 

The number of threads needed will depend on the model of the machine and the type of stitch that you selected.

What Does an Overlocker Sewing Machine Do?

Overlocker sewing machines make the edges of your fabrics look neat.

If you don’t serge the edge, the most likely scenario would be that those edges would fray over time, with loose threads unravelling constantly.

To prevent fraying, the machine will sew the seams by locking the threads around it. Some even have specialized blade cutters, which trims the excess area of the seams, a function that is still optional in case you have one.

Surprisingly, an overlocker machine can also do the simple tasks of regular sewing machines.

Among these tasks include gathering the fabric, doing neat piping and hemming knits. 

What Other Capabilities Do Overlockers Have?

You have to remember that you can't just discard your regular sewing machine, as it proves more efficient in accomplishing most sewing projects like sewing buttonholes and zippers.  

The video posted below gives you more insights into getting started with overlockers and their uses.

Overlocker machines (sergers) are known for their speed in sealing raw edges, which can reach up to 1,700 stitches per minute

In fact, most home sewers use them to sew fast and sturdy seams in a significantly shorter period of time.

The basic stitches of sergers tend to be more stretchy too, making your garments more durable.

The Pros and Cons of Overlocker Machines

In the process of doing your research on the best machine that will suit your skill level and will fit your budget, you need to know the general pros and cons of serger machines. 

Also, while every machine has benefits and drawbacks, it is better to assess what exactly you are looking for in an overlocker (aka) serger machine for your sewing projects.

Here are a few pros and cons that we’ve discovered:

Pros: Multifunctional

Cons: Thread Usage

All models include a set of an upper and lower cutting blade that operates as soon as you step onto the pedal.

To cut it short, overlockers are not just meant to be stand-alone machines, but work in tandem with regular ones.

You can trim seam allowances while you're in the middle of sewing.

As opposed to regular sewing machines, sergers use a lot of threads. It can even reach up to 8 in industrial models, and as you can imagine, would run out in a matter of seconds.

Even if you're working on projects that do not require trimming, most models allow you to retract the blades.

Requires you to purchase larger cones of thread that can hold up to 4,000 yards, which as you can guess, can be pretty expensive.

What Types of Stitches Do Overlock Machines Have?

The overlock stitches created by serger machines make sure that the seams and edges of fabrics are finished to make them durable. 

To create stronger stitches, overlockers use multiple needles and threads. Listed below are the most common and useful stitches that they can do:

  1. 4-Thread Overlock 
  2. 3-Thread Overlock
  3. 2-Thread Overlock
  4. 2-Thread Flatlock
  5. Rolled Hem
  6. Five-Thread Overlock

If you decide to use overlockers for your sewing projects, there are a few settings that you need to familiarize yourself with.  

These settings include: adjusting the cutting width, thread tension and differential feed

Here are some tips on how to use these settings:

Cutting Width

You can adjust this setting to control the amount of fabric within the seam. If you want more fabric within the seams, crank up the cutting width to a higher number. 

This might be of large help in tricky situations such as when you're creating a rolled hem with thick fabrics.

On the other hand, delicate fabrics require this setting to be set on lower numbers, in order to prevent bunching up, so that you won't butcher the fabric itself.

Differential Feed

Unbeknownst to many, overlockers have a differential system with two sets of feed dogs. The front pushes the fabric under the presser foot while the back pushes it out of the surger. 

In most cases of medium-weight fabric setting, the differential feed is uniform.  However, if you want the fabric to gather, move the setting to a higher number and if you want it to stretch it out, then lower it. 

To use this to your own advantage, increase the differential feed if you want to ease the sleeve cap on a problematic hem of a skirt or on an armscye.

Thread Tension

The thread tension makes seamstresses scratch their heads a little with the many threading issues it causes. 

It’s best to use the recommended settings for your serger and see whether the results you want are produced.

If not, thread your machine with many colors in each placement and take note of them so that you can spot which thread is causing problems.

After identifying the thread, you can adjust the tension setting, each time with a smaller amount, before you can test again. 

Continue doing this until you find the quality of the stitch appropriate for the intended stitch.  

In the case of 4-thread overlock stitches, it is advisable that you strive for a balanced stitch with both threads and looper visible along the cut edges.

What Are the Best Overlocker and Serger Machines to use?

Here are some reputable overlocker sewing brands that are considered the best in the market:

1.  Brother Serger DZ1234

This machine might be noisy, but the efficiency and speed in which it can deliver will leave anyone awestruck.

This powerful machine features 22 built-in stitches in a compact body. It also includes a mat to keep it steady while in use.

Furthermore, the stitch length can be adjusted between 2 to 4 millimeters. The foot attachments on this one also accomodate thicker fabrics.

2. Brother ST4031HD Serger

This sturdy machine is one of the most affordable ones in the market. Featuring resilient metal frames, multiple foot attachments, and 3-and-4 thread options, this powerful machine can manage 1, 300 stitches per minute.

Not only that, the adjustable table accompanying it is suitable for larger projects. Users can also refer to the thread guides directly, as this one is color-coded. 

This machine is for you if you want something durable to last you years. However, this is probably not a good pick if you use elastic threads often. 

3. Singer X5004HD Heavy Duty Serger

The impressive all-metal frame feature of this serger renders the machine "heavy duty." It's ideal for big projects and features 2-, 3-, and 4-thread capacities, but remains lightweight on the pocket.

Aside from the color coded guides to assist your stitchings, a LED light will also illuminate your way through. And as a bonus, accessories like a lint brush, a scrap bag and tweezers are also included.

4.  Janome 8002D Serger

If you think you're not ready yet for the bulky space that a serger requires, then consider this compact machine.

Threading might be challenging at first, but eventually you will ease your way into it. Furthermore, this machine boasts its versatility, as it can handle a wide array of fabric types.

And as an addition, this also comes with a tension dial, needles, workbooks and more accessories.

5.  JUKI MO654DE Portable Serger

This simple but portable machine includes stitching adjustments such as width and length. And like most machines, also include color-coded threading guides, for easier visibility.

The differential feed will allow you to cater to many fabric types as well, so you can accept as many projects as you want.

Lastly, despite its compact design, this machine can perform just as well as its full-size models.

Once you have thought about it, no one is stopping you from purchasing a serger machine that can improve your sewing projects a few notches higher.

Wrap up and Conclusion

As long as your passion for sewing is satisfied, investing in a overlocker sewing maching can be your best idea yet.

Thanks for reading!


Shelly is the main editor and author of this website. She is passionate about helping fellow sewing enthusiasts find the right sewing machine for your sewing projects plus design beautiful sewing spaces that inspire your creativity. If you're ready to DIY a stunning sewing room (on a budget), be sure to check out the Sewing Room that Sizzles Workbook bundle (complete with a 50+ page workbook) and two Bonus Guides that will put you on the fast track to setting up, designing and organizing a sewing room that is TOTALLY you (on a shoestring budget).