Archive for December 2009

Aargh about sergers – second version

December 24, 2009

I’m thinking about getting an overlocker/ serger, and I’ve now learned a lot about the problems !

I wrote a first post on this in a fit of aggro about how difficult overlockers are to use. Now I’ve found out more, and some of the things I said in my first post are wrong. I had looked at some reviews at Pattern Review, and didn’t know enough about overlockers to understand what the reviews are saying.

If you do a search for sergers at YouTube you get a whole lot of useful information. As I knew nothing whatever about overlockers before starting on this, I found the Expert Village series particularly helpful.

After watching those, then the Palmer/ Pletsch DVD on Serger Basics has a great deal of useful information about sewing, but nothing on threading from scratch.

I now have a little practical experience with one overlocker – the Husqvarna Viking HuskyLock s15, but don’t know how it compares with other models.

– – –

My dealer told me overlockers don’t need to be threaded from scratch. But that’s not true. They do need to be rethreaded if :
– a thread breaks,
– threads get tangled,
– the s15 is a 2/ 3/ 4 thread overlocker. It’s necessary to unthread the upper looper to use the 2-thread stitches or attach the 2-thread converter.

On some overlocker models, to rethread the upper looper, it’s necessary to unthread the lower looper as well, as the upper looper must be threaded first, without the lower thread in place, or the threads get tangled round each other.

On some models, it’s necessary to unthread the needles before threading the loopers, so the threads don’t tangle round each other.

– – –

As I have shaky hands, I want to know how easy the loopers are to thread from scratch. And I’ve found several things worth checking which are not mentioned in product descriptions.

Here are some YouTube videos about threading lower loopers :
Video 1
Video 2

It’s helpful to think separately about the thread path leading to the hole on each looper, and about getting thread through the final hole itself.

The looper thread path

First thing to check is how easy it is to place the thread into the path leading to the final hole on the looper. On some overlockers, part of this path is recessed, In the descriptions of their models, some manufacturers say they have threading aids. These move some parts of the path forward so it’s easier to access.

When manufacturers don’t say they have aids it usually isn’t possible to tell, without actually looking at the overlocker, whether this matters. For example, on the Husqvarna Viking HuskyLock s15, the path is relatively easy to access, so aids aren’t necessary. But it isn’t possible to tell from the product description whether this is the case. So it’s important to check when trying out a machine how easy it is to lead the looper threads along the right paths.

– – –

Threading the final holes

The next thing to check is the size of the holes at the ends of the loopers. These are usually quite small. On the s15 they are less than 1 mm. across. I don’t know whether any overlockers have larger holes than this, but I would have thought the larger the better, for ease of threading. So it could be worth comparing overlockers for the size of holes they have.

What I had been naively hoping/ assuming was that some overlockers have a mechanism for moving the final part of the loopers forward so you can get at the hole more easily. But evidently not. Well, those parts have to move so fast they need to be very robust.

Also I haven’t found anything, except for BabyLock jet air threading models, which fully automates threading the loopers including through the final tiny hole. All the other aids appear to be for getting the thread along the path, not through the final hole.

– – –

The next thing to check is how easy it is to access the space behind the holes in the loopers, either with fingers or tweezers. And how easy it is to see into the space behind the holes. When you are threading through the upper and lower loopers from front to back, you need to be able to see into and grasp threads behind the holes, to pull the thread through.

– – –

It’s also helpful to have good light front and back in the looper area. On the s15, the overlocker light itself is no help. That is arranged to light up the sewing area. But the looper area is shadowed from it by the presser foot and cutting mechanism. So you need good independent light when threading.

– – –

You may be someone who has steady hands (not me) and good eye-hand co-ordination, in which case you’ll be able to thread by hand, or using tweezers. (I wonder if it would be helpful to set up a big magnifying glass on a stand, like the ones embroiderers use !)

There are several tips for stiffening the end of the thread :
– twist the thread so it doubles back on itself.
– pull the end of the thread through beeswax (as used by some hand quilters and sewers).
– pull the end of the thread through lip chap stick.

– – –

If threading by hand is difficult, what about using a needle threader ?

For threading sewing machine needles, I particularly like the plunger type of threader. But I couldn’t find any way of using one on the looper holes.

It may be possible to use the type of threader with a thin wire loop.

On the s15, I couldn’t find any way of getting close enough to the hole in the upper looper to push the wire through, either from front or back. I would need to remove the presser foot and the upper cutter. I don’t know if other people could manage it, or if there is more room on other models.

It isn’t possible to get a wire threader through from back to front of the lower looper on the s15, but I did manage to get one through from front to back. What help is that, you might ask, if the thread needs to lead from front to back. Well, there is a trick I’ve learned from other uses :
Put a loop of thin thread through the loop of wire, not a single strand.
So you pull 4 strands of thread from back to front through the hole, using the threader.
And when you remove the threader, you have a loop of thread coming through the hole from back to front.
Put your looper thread through that thread loop, and pull it through from front to back.

Fiddley and slow, but it is possible.
I didn’t bother to complete this process on the s15, as I already knew I couldn’t manage the upper looper, but I did find I needed to use a light colour thread, so I could see it against the dark inside of the overlocker.

– – –

Some people use overlockers to do decorative stitching with speciality threads, not only metallic embroidery threads but also threads like perle cotton or even 1/8 in. embroidery ribbon. The easiest way of threading these thick threads through the small holes is to thread a loop of thin thread through the hole from back to front. and use that to pull the thick thread from front to back, as I just described.

So when you are trying out overlockers, take some speciality threads, and check it’s possible to get them through the holes in the loopers.

– – –

Some aspects of the threading videos to be careful about :

Different companies use colours in different ways : blue for one company means left needle thread, and for another company means lower looper thread. There isn’t an International Standard for serger colours ! So don’t just follow the colours in the videos, make sure you use the correct colours for your own overlocker.

Also different companies thread the threads in a different order, so don’t just follow the sequence used in one of the videos, but check the correct sequence for your own overlocker.

– – –

So, the level of information provided by manufacturers and dealers about sergers/ overlockers is poor. They just brightly say they are easy to thread, with minimal guidance about how to overcome the difficulties. It really shouldn’t be necessary to spend many determined hours on the internet, and reading books and watching videos, before you can find out how to operate the thing.

I think it’s essential to try before you buy. If you might want to do decorative stitching, take speciality threads with you. You may never find a serger/ overlocker that’s easy for you to thread, but at least you can look for one that is possible for you and that you can put up with the difficulties of.

For me, it looks as if threading an overlocker from scratch myself isn’t possible. I have to decide whether I’d use it enough to invest in a BabyLock Eclipse with jet air threading, so I don’t have to face those pesky little holes 😀


Thanks to the people who commented on my first version.

Hatty suggested Pattern Review.

Faye Lewis said :
I hadn’t had any experience with sergers before I purchased mine either. I bought mine at a Singer store who promised threading lessons. Well they gave me one lesson the day I bought it, but when I got it home and had problems threading it I went back for another lesson and they were not that friendly about showing me again. I’ve had the serger for about 3 years now and still have problems threading that one looper. 99% of the time I don’t have to re-thread because I tie on at the top. I now own 2 sergers; and tie on with both.

December-January patterns – better alternatives for casuals

December 12, 2009

Isn’t it interesting that we can like one pattern more than another, even when they’re very similar ? Sometimes I have difficulty pinning down why that is, but it’s definitely true with some of the patterns in this month’s Sew Today (December – January issue of UK BMV magazine).

– – –

Note : Butterick-McCall’s-Vogue has changed their websites. My links now only get you to a page where you can search for a pattern number.
I apologise that I haven’t changed to the new individual URLs, but it would be a lot of work.

– – –

If I was still working I would be interested in the Vogue 1141 wardrobe, a Soft Classic look. I’m not a suit person, and luckily I’m retired so finding one I like is not a problem. But it is a relief to know there’s a pattern I wouldn’t mind wearing if I had to. I might omit the pocket flaps on the jacket – their present position is not ideal for someone with high hips !


For an intermediate weight jacket, there’s Butterick 5424. I like cape collars, and this has an interesting and rare feature for a reversible jacket : a fitted waist shape.


This is similar to Marcy Tilton’s Vogue 8600 which I’ve mentioned before. The Butterick looks easier to make.


As an outermost layer there is an old favourite of mine, the jacket from Vogue Woman 8526. A lovely padded coat for cold weather, and that big collar makes a hood. Oddly it doesn’t have a closure. Easy enough to add button loops in the front edge seam.


What about leisure wear ? Butterick 5409 in the magazine is a current cardigan look, especially view B. But there are several versions of this cut-off sleeve look which I prefer. My favourites are Butterick 5251 (above) or McCall’s 5932 (below), and they have interesting extra choices.


Connie Crawford’s new sleep wear Butterick 5434 (smock insert top and loose pants) is the sort of easy style I like. But there are other Butterick patterns with an inset yoke and more flair. For a tunic version my favourite is Butterick 4856. Gathers aren’t right for every body but they are good on me. I need to add some flare at the sides.


For an open fronted version of this style, my all-time favourite is Christine Johnson’s Inset Jacket 115 for wovens. Though I would add a button band.


It’s obvious from the magazine photo that the Connie Crawford Butterick 5434 pants have too short crotch extensions for the model. The strain lines don’t appear so clearly in this scan, especially the ones in shadow on the left (her right) inside leg. Poor girl – not the most comfortable pyjama bottoms. RTW pants often have short crotch extensions, as they ‘waste’ fabric. Happily we don’t have to put up with that when we make pants ourselves.


I have a large number of elastic waist pant patterns – get one as a free gift every time I buy a top pattern. For slopping around I don’t suppose there’s much to choose between the wide-leg versions. Slim ones are more of a problem. Around here many young people are wearing pants slim enough to fit inside calf-length fur boots (the look is so important to them they were wearing fur boots even in a warm spell !) But I’m still looking for a slim pant pattern for myself. I’m not sure it’s possible to slim down that far from my hips, but I am searching !

Although elastic waist pants aren’t ideal for my shape, I’m starting my slow search for TNT pants by making elastic waists for simplicity. I’m currently trying Butterick 5044 (left), for one-seam straight leg pants which are well reviewed at PR. Then McCall’s 5889 (centre) for slimmer ones with side seams (much better for my curved hips and saddle bags). Before perhaps moving on to Marcy Tilton’s Vogue 8499 (right) to see if those pockets make my hips look like weapons of war . . .


There are many other patterns in this Sew Today issue that I like, but I’ve already mentioned them in other plans !

To make a wardrobe from this selection, I would need to add a blouse. But otherwise it does make a lovely group of warm winter layers 😀

Patterns available December 09

The perfect shirt ?

December 3, 2009

Style is not just in the major choices, such as whether to have a straight or a gathered sleeve, but also the details. All the possible style adjustments in pattern making software gave me this ‘aha’ moment.

– – –

Which immediately reminded me of two patterns I’m intrigued by : they’re both shirts yet they’re so different. The differences need an eagle eye for detail, a way of looking at patterns that I’m not used to. Perhaps that’s part of why I’m not a top clothes designer 😀 I found it very interesting to look slowly and carefully at these patterns.


Left oop Vogue 2972 by Alice + Olivia.
Right McCall’s 5433 by Palmer-Pletsch.

In picking out these two shirt patterns, I’ve already made several major shirt styling decisions :
– I look better in fitted armhole styles, I don’t look so good in dropped shoulders.
– Although a yoke is a classic feature of a man’s shirt, and looks good on me, neither of these has a yoke. Yokes are difficult to fit on my sloping shoulders, but a yoke gives my shoulders more definition, which helps me as I don’t like shoulder pads.
– Some people say a style only counts as a shirt if it has no darts, and neither of these patterns passes that test either !

I prefer the shirt on the left, but I’m sure many people like the one on the right – it’s softer and more relaxed in effect, and more suited to the full busted. No pockets in the wrong place ! and the vertical lines of waist darts can have a slimming effect.

The left style has :
– crispness of fabric.
– visible ‘button’ detail
– this detail appears on the placket whether it is open or closed. (This is done by using poppas rather than buttons.)
– 3/4 sleeve (this sleeve is also a bit shorter than the 3/4 sleeve in the right hand pattern).
– neck opening worn up even though unbuttoned – that could be because of crisper fabric, or the way the placket is constructed, or the use of interfacing in the front band.
– deeper collar
– bust pockets
– shoulder point is at outer corner of shoulder, not above arm articulation point

Here are the line diagrams for the fronts :


(The size of one of the diagrams had to be changed. I’ve got them to the right relative proportions as far as I can.)
The line diagrams show there are differences in :
– collar point angle
– number of buttons, and button spacing
– depth of side slits
– possibly different angle of bust darts, related to possible differences of armhole depth.

The back drawings are :


Personally I get better armhole fit with back shoulder darts, so I might add them to these patterns.

Both have double button detail on the sleeve cuff, though the buttons are placed differently. Sleeve placket type not clear from these drawings, but there are several options.

The left pattern has an underarm sleeve seam, while the right pattern has the sleeve seam moved to the back so the placket is easier to make.

These two shirts don’t include several other shirt style choices such as : different collar / cuff / sleeve widths, different front and sleeve plackets, different yoke shapes.

– – –

So even something that looks as obvious as a basic shirt actually involves many detailed style decisions. No wonder we’re willing to buy patterns, to pay someone else to choose all the details that ‘look right’ to our individual taste. To use pattern making software to make something equally satisfactory, I would have to be aware of all these details and how they affect the look of the final garment. And I haven’t naturally got that sort of awareness. I expect I could learn a bit about it, but it wouldn’t ever ‘come naturally’.

Perhaps my ideal shirt pattern is a combination of these two patterns, details of styling from the Vogue pattern, combined with added waist darts, and shoulder darts or yoke. Perhaps it would be better if I looked for a different pattern altogether, some sort of ‘shirt-blouse’ . . . There are multiple possible patterns for a basic blouse with set in sleeves, wrist cuffs, waist darts, and either convertible (very easy) or band (easy) collar. I think I’ll choose between them just on how I react visually without detailed analysis – though of course the eye can be tricked by the style and quality of the illustrations, the fabric used. . .

Patterns available December 09