Decorative Serger Stitches: 5 Easy Overlocker Special Effects

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A serger can help you to power through garments and housewares by making strong, flexible seams and edges. But did you know you can also use your serger for decorative sewing? You can! In fact, there are several fun and easy decorative serger stitches you can do on any overlocker to spice up your projects.

A Bit About Decorative Sewing

One of the main differences between a regular sewing machine and a serger is decorative stitches. Most computerized sewing machines have at least a dozen stitches that you can use to decorate your work, as you can see by the example stitch chart below:

singer 7258 stitch chart
The extremely popular SINGER 7258 stitch card shows a wealth of decorative stitches

Even when you look at the best sergers on the market, most don’t have decorative stitches.

There are exceptions, of course. Some Baby Lock machines can do Baby Lock’s proprietary wave stitch, for example, but the majority lack in the decorative stitching department. 

But that doesn’t mean you can’t use a serger for decorative sewing. You can. A serger just creates different types of decoration. And for the most part, serger decoration is fun and easy.

Decorative Sewing With a Serger

So, what can you do with a serger, and how do you do it?

We’ll show you. But first, we want to talk a bit about your machine.

Serger Techniques

In addition to knowing the steps to perform a certain technique, it always helps to understand the steps themselves.

There are five different adjustments you’ll be making when doing serger decorations: differential feed, stitch length, thread tension, cutting blade, and stitch finger.

Differential Feed

The differential feed adjusts the degree to which your machine stretches or compresses the fabric while you’re sewing. Increasing the differential feed stretches the fabric, while decreasing it compresses the fabric.

Stitch Length

Stitch length on a serger determines how close together the stitches are. For some rolled hem-based effects, like a lettuce edge, a very small stitch length is key.

Thread Tensions

Adjusting the tensions of your needle and/or looper threads in different ways can create different shapes and effects.

Cutting Blade

For many (though not all) serger special effects, you’ll want to retract or disable your upper cutting blade.

Stitch Finger

Many special effects begin by setting your machine for a rolled hem. Depending on your machine, this may mean moving or switching out your stitch finger.

5 Decorative Serger Stitches

Enough chat! Let’s get down to the decorative serger stitches, shall we? Oh, and don’t forget to check out our other article on some of the more common types of serger stitches once you’re done here.

Ruffles

One of the easiest and most recognizable special effects you can make with your serger is the humble ruffle. 

woman in dress with ruffles

A ruffle is made by compressing the fabric while you sew. Here’s how you set it up.

First, set your serger to an overlock stitch. You can do a two-thread, three-thread, or four-thread overlock.

Now, adjust your stitch length to a longer stitch. On my machine, the maximum stitch length setting is four, and this is what I used.

Turn your differential feed to at least 2. Two is the maximum on my machine, but some machines go to 2.25.

Finally, adjust your thread tensions. When you set your thread tensions for an overlock stitch, you set them all to the same number. On my machine, that number was 3, which is a medium tension.

Experiment with the tension of your needle threads. Greater needle thread tension means more ruffles.

For my example, I started with a seven-inch piece of fabric.

ruffles base fabric

Then I set my machine:

Stitch: four-thread overlock

Stitch length: 4 (the maximum on my machine)

Differential feed: 1.5 

Thread tension: 3

This was the result. A seven-inch piece of fabric ruffled down to six inches.

serger overlocker ruffles

But I wanted more ruffles, so I increased the needle thread tension to 5.

serger ruffles 3 inch

Then, I wondered what would it look like if I cranked the thread tension up even more. This was the result after putting the needle thread tension at my machine’s maximum. 

4 inch ruffles serger

Another way to increase the number of ruffles is to increase the differential feed.

Remember: increasing the differential feed compresses your fabric during sewing. This is how it looks with maximum thread tension and maximum differential feed.

finished ruffles overlocker

If your machine allows you to loosen your presser foot, this too will make more ruffles. The presser foot pressure adjustment is a small screw on the top left of some machines.

Settings Summary

  • Set your machine for an overlock stitch
  • Choose a maximum or near-maximum stitch length
  • Set your differential feed a bit higher than neutral

To increase the amount of ruffling, make one or more of the following adjustments:

  • Increase the differential feed
  • Increase the tension(s) of the needle thread(s)
  • Decrease the presser foot pressure

Settings can differ between makes and models, so play with your settings and experiment.

Serger Lace

This video has been getting a lot of attention lately. It shows a technique for making lace trim with your serger.

Very pretty, but how easy is it, really?

In the interest of science, I gave it a try.

First, set your serger for a four-thread overlock stitch. Your stitch length should be average (two to three on my machine.) Your stitch finger should be set at “S,” that is for stitching, not a rolled hem.

Make sure to retract your cutting blade. You don’t want to trim off the lace you’re creating.

Your thread tension should be at a medium setting (3 on my machine) and the same for all threads and loopers. The differential feed should be set to neutral (or 1 on my machine).

Now, line your fabric edge up with the cutting line. Make sure that your fabric edge is straight, and go slowly and carefully to stitch evenly along it.

how to make serger lace

Once you have a single row of stitches, you can begin the second row. In the video, the presenter works on a circular piece of fabric, which makes it easy to continue right along with subsequent rows. 

But if you’re working on a square edge, simply snip your thread ends at the end of the row as normal, then place your work back in the machine.

Either way, make sure that your left needle will be sewing along the right needle thread line for the previous row. In my photo, the right needle thread is the red thread.

Sew slowly and carefully, repeating the process until you have as many rows of lace as you like.

lace stitch serger 4 rows

Two words of warning. First, this is not as easy as it looks or sounds. Practice will make it easier, however, so give yourself plenty of time to warm up.

Also, if you’re not working in the round, the lace you create will be very, very delicate until you secure the edges by serging over them.

serger lace stitch
finished overlocker lace

Helpful Hints

  • Make sure your fabric edge is straight
  • Sew slowly and carefully to get your lace rows straight, as well
  • Be careful 
  • Be patient
  • Do lots and lots of practice

Also, I used four different colors to illustrate the positions of the different threads. However, using a single color for the lace will give you a prettier, more polished-looking lace.

Settings Summary

  • Set your machine for a four-thread overlock stitch
  • Stitch finger at “S” (that is, stitching, not rolled hem)
  • Medium thread tension
  • Thread tension should be the same for all needles and loopers
  • Retract the cutting blade
  • Your stitches should have a medium length
  • Select a neutral differential feed setting

Machines and their settings can differ. Make time to experiment with these settings to find the one that best suits your project.

Pintucks

Pintucks are another type of decoration you can create with your serger. Pintucks are a series of parallel rows where the fabric is tucked and stitched. There are a few different ways of making pintucks. This is one.

First, use a ruler to draw the lines where the tucks will go. A heat-erase fabric pen is a great way to go with this, as you’ll be ironing the tucks anyway.

how to stitch pintuck

Next, fold your fabric along the lines and press.

pintuck iron

Now, set your serger for a two-thread or three-thread rolled hem.Set the stitch finger and retract your cutting blade.

You’ll be using your right needle. Set your stitch length to 1 (or R, or whatever your machine’s minimum length is.)

Your thread tension should be at four, or the average setting. All threads and loopers should have the same tension.

Set your differential feed to 1, or neutral.

Now sew, keeping the fold at your machine’s guide line.

pintuck finished

Again, I used brightly colored and differently colored thread for visibility purposes. For your own pintucking, you will probably want to match your thread to your fabric.

Settings Summary

  • Set your machine for a rolled hem
  • Retract the cutting blade
  • Use the right needle
  • Stitch length set to 1 (or your machine’s minimum)
  • Differential feed at neutral (or 1)
  • Average thread tension
  • Thread tension the same for all threads and loopers

As always, you may have to play with your settings a bit to get the appearance where you want it.

Lettuce Edge

lettuce edge serger stitch

A lettuce edge is a wavy, thread-covered edge. It’s a popular finish for shirt sleeves and hems. For the most dramatic waves, use this finish on knit fabrics. You can also use it with wovens, but the results will be more subdued.

Here’s how to make your lettuce edge.

First, set your serger for the rolled hem of your choice. Move your stitch finger to “R” (or your machine’s rolled hem setting) and retract your cutting blade.

Your stitch length should be zero to one. 

Set your thread tensions like this:

  • Needle thread: 2
  • Upper looper: 5
  • Lower looper: 8

Again, you may have to experiment a bit to find the settings that give you the amount of wave that you want for your particular project.

Picot Edge

decorative 3-thread picot stitch

A picot edge has a delicate scalloped appearance. It gives a lovely finish to collars and cuffs.

To make a picot edge, first, set your machine for the rolled hem of your choice. For more delicate fabrics, a two-thread rolled hem will work best. I’m working with three threads for my example.

Retract your cutting blade, and move your stitch finger into the rolled hem position.

Now, increase your stitch length. I’ve set mine to 4, which is the longest stitch on my serger.

Increase the tension of your lower looper so that it pulls the upper looper thread over to the other side. In this example, my lower looper tension is on 9, which is the maximum for my machine.

Settings Summary

  • Rolled hem setting
  • Cutting blade out of the way
  • Use one needle (your choice)
  • Stitch length at maximum
  • Needle thread tension: average (I used setting 3)
  • Upper looper thread tension: a bit lower than average (I used setting 2)
  • Lower looper thread tension: near maximum (I used 8)
  • Differential feed at neutral (or 1)

As always, practice and experimentation will help you to get your settings just right.

Decorative Serger Sewing: More Than Just Seams and Edges

Your serger is more than just a tool for making seams and edges. You can use its unique features to create spectacular decorative effects, as well.

What’s your favorite serger decoration? Tell us about it in the comments!

decorative serger stitches how to

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