Aargh about sergers – second version

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.

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3 Comments on “Aargh about sergers – second version”

  1. Renee B Says:

    After I learned to thread and industrial serger, I never complained again to thread a domestic serger. I have a janome and a Juki. It is child play to thread them. Go for it, buy a Janome. The instruction book is very good.

  2. alison Says:

    I have had my first serger for almost a year, it was a holiday/birthday gift last December. I have a Brother 1034D, which I have been VERY happy with. I did a lot of online research beforehand and it got many good reviews from various sewing message boards; I was looking for a relatively inexpensive but sturdy one that would hold up well. I’ve used it a lot, and I don’t find it difficult to thread. The thread paths are clearly marked, and I didn’t need to tie the thread on to re-thread it. I haven’t tried using “thicker” threads, as that isn’t what I wanted it for. Both the lower looper eyes are visible and are quite a bit larger than regular sewing machine needle eyes, (probably big enough for embroidery floss or pearl cotton)

  3. Stace Says:

    I would agree with Renee B, purchase a Janome, it is so easy to thread,
    I have owned mine for two years now, the instruction booklet is very good you just have to be patient when you are doing it the first time to get the hang of it, in addition its a fairly inexpensive model, mine was $290, brand new.

    good luck,

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