Serger, Coverstitch, Coverlock Machines…What’s The Difference?

difference between serger coverstitch coverlocker machines

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

You’ve probably heard the term serger and know it’s a type of sewing machine. You might also have come across the terms coverstitch serger and coverlock machine. In fact, some people use these terms interchangeably but, as we’ll find out in this post, this is a mistake.

TL;DR – What’s The Difference Between Sergers, Coverlock, Overlock, and Coverstitch Machines?

Firstly, sergers and overlock machines are the same thing. Americans use “Serger”, but almost everywhere else the same appliance would be referred to as an “Overlock Machine” or “Overlocker”.

Coverstitch machines are standalone pieces of equipment, typically used by sewists to hem garments made with stretch fabrics to a professional standard. Although somewhat similar to sergers, they’re actually quite different. There’s no blade and many will have three needles, not two. It also operates with just a single looper.

Coverlock machines are essentially serger / coverstitch hybrids. While no device can truly do everything, coverstitch machines offer those looking to save either space, money, or both an attractive alternative to purchasing both a serger and a coverstitch machine.


Sergers (or overlockers, as these are indeed different names for the same type of machine) and coverstitch sergers are distinct pieces of equipment. Although there’s a tiny bit of overlap in their functions (both can hem a garment, for example), they perform these functions differently. 

Not only that, neither of them can do the things you’re used to doing with your regular sewing machine — at least not in the same way. What’s more, an overlocker cannot make the same kinds of stitches that a coverstitch machine makes. The reverse is also true.

So, what exactly is a serger? What does it do? How are coverstitch machines different? And what on earth is a coverlock machine?

Most importantly, do you actually need any of them? And if you decide that you do, how do you choose a good one?

We’ll lay it all out.

What is a Serger?

Have you ever admired the sealed edges inside of commercially made garments? Or, perhaps you’ve wondered how to sew perfect, flat seams on stretchy knit fabrics? Maybe you want to try your hand at decorative edgings?

These are some of the things you can do with a serger.

Other Names for a Serger

“Overlocker”, “Overlock Machine”, and “Overlock Serger” can all be used to describe the same kind of device. Serger synonyms, if you will.

How Does a Serger Work?

A serger uses multiple needles and multiple threads to sew overlock or overcast stitches. 

This means that the needle or needles sew a straight row, while a looper or loopers wrap additional threads around the raw seam edges to seal them.

There are several different kinds of overlock stitches, and below is an illustration of how a three-thread overlock stitch works. The pink thread is the needle row, while the blue and white threads are made by the upper and lower loopers.

three-thread overlock

And here’s what a three-thread overlock stitch looks like on fabric.

3 thread overlock stitch
Image taken from our post on the different serger stitches an overlocker can perform

Most home overlockers have two needles and can sew with two, three, and four threads. 

You might find some budget models that only sew with three and four threads, but you can also find premium models that sew with up to eight. 

How People Use Their Sergers

Can’t you make seams with a regular sewing machine? Of course you can. Some regular sewing machines even have a mock overlock stitch that can reinforce the edges of fabrics prone to fraying.

But if you’re making a lot of garments, or if you’re using primarily knit fabrics, then a serger can make your work faster, stronger, and better.

Here are a few of the things that a serger can do.

Construction

A serger’s main job is construction. Whether you’re making garments, housewares, or accessories, a serger can give you strong, flexible, professional-looking seams and edges.

Serged seams not only stand up well to stress and strain. They also protect your fabric edges from fraying.

You can also use a serger for invisible hems on garments, as well as rolled hems on scarves and other accessories.

Edging

Edges are a serger’s specialty. Whether it’s wrapping seam edges to make a stronger seam, or creating different types of edgings on a single layer of fabric, edges are what a serger does best.

Have you ever seen a delicate, wavy edge on blouse cuffs or scarves?

lettuce edge finish

That’s a lettuce edge, and it’s made with a serger. You can make a lettuce edge by combining a narrow stitch width with increased differential feed (that is, increased stretch).

A rolled edge is a common way to finish light, ravel-prone fabrics. 

light scarf

Some sergers have a built-in rolled hem setting. With others you may have to manually adjust your machine.

Knits and Stretchy Fabrics

Sewing knits and stretchy fabrics can be tricky. Even if you match your thread to your fabric (as we spoke about in our article on how to sew seams), knits and stretchy fabrics can still bunch and warp.

As we’ve already mentioned, sergers have a feature called differential feed, which allows you to stretch or compress the fabric while you sew. This can help you to make perfectly smooth, flat seams and edges, even on stretchy knit fabrics. 

And if you want to bunch, gather, or warp your fabric edge, you can do that, too.

Serger Special Effects

A serger isn’t all function and no fun, however. You can use overlock stitches to create some dazzling serger special effects.

We’ve already talked about decorative edging, but you can also use a serger to create:

  • Ruffles
  • Gathers
  • Pleats
  • Pintucks

And check this out. You can even use a serger to make your own lace and custom trims. It’s relatively easy, too, once you get the hang of it.

Heavy vs. Light Fabrics

Although stretchy fabrics and knits are a serger’s specialty, you can use your serger to work with a variety of fabric types and thicknesses.

As a rule, if you’re working with ultralight fabrics, you’ll need a serger that can sew with two threads. For heavier-than-average fabrics, you’ll want to sew with a minimum of four threads.

Distinguishing Features of a Serger

What makes a serger different from a regular sewing machine? Quite a few things. Let’s have a look.

Multiple Threads

A regular sewing machine sews with a top thread on a spool and a bottom thread on a bobbin. 

A serger has no bobbin. Instead, it sews with one or more needle threads and one or more threads guided by loopers. We’ll talk more about loopers in a bit.

You can use spool thread with a serger. However, overlocking uses a lot of thread. For this reason, many serger users prefer thread that comes on large cones, as cone thread is more cost effective.

And if you’re wondering whether you can transfer thread from those enormous cones onto spools to use with your regular sewing machine, the answer is yes. Here’s how.

Needles

Your regular sewing machine uses one needle. Most modern sergers have two needles.

The two needles provide a way to adjust the stitch width. Sewing with the left needle only creates a wide stitch. Sewing only with the right needle makes a narrower stitch.

Four-thread stitches use both needles to create parallel rows of straight stitches while the loopers cast thread around the fabric edges.

Not sure which one to use for what? Check out our article on how to identify sewing machine needles for a simple explanation of all the different types available.

Loopers

We keep talking about loopers. What on earth are they, anyway? Let’s loop back to that now.

Loopers cast loops of thread over fabric edges to seal them and most sergers have two. The upper looper loops thread around the top of the fabric edge. The lower looper loops thread around the bottom edge.

You thread loopers just like you thread your needles. 

Some stitches use both loopers. Others only use one. 

Cutting Blade

One of the best features of a serger is its cutting blade. 

Every serger has a blade that trims the fabric edge as you sew. Some sergers have more than one blade, and those blades work together.

But there are some types of stitching, like a rolled hem, where you don’t want to cut your edges. For this reason, many models allow you to easily retract your blade to keep it out of the way.

Differential Feed

A regular sewing machine has one set of feed dogs. The feed dogs sit below the fabric and move it through the machine.

baby lock accolade feed dogs
A close up shot of the feed dogs found on the exceptional Baby Lock Accolade

A serger has two sets of feed dogs, and they can move at different speeds. The differential feed mechanism allows you to adjust the speed of each set of feed dogs relative to the other.

For normal sewing, the feed dogs should move at the same speed. But sometimes you might want to stretch the fabric, compress it, or prevent the fabric from stretching while you sew.

Adjusting the differential feed can help you achieve this.

High Speed

The average speed of a domestic sewing machine is around 850 stitches per minute. The average speed of a serger is around 1,300 stitches per minute.

This increased speed makes easy work of seams and edges.

Drawbacks of Using a Serger

An overlocker is a specialized machine. You’ve seen some of the things it can do, but it can’t do everything. 

Limitations

An overlocker does overcasting, full stop. It’s a specialized tool for making sealed seams and decorative edges.

You can’t use a serger for topstitching, and you can’t sew a line down the middle of fabric. Straight stitching only? Nope. And there are no decorative embroidery stitches on a serger. A serger also cannot attach buttons or zippers.

Finally, although you can use a serger for woven fabrics, serged seams are weaker for this type of material than the lockstitched seams made by your regular sewing machine.

For these reasons, a serger should complement, rather than replace your standard sewing machine.

Complexity

An overlocker is a complicated piece of equipment. Sergers are often difficult to set up, and they can be extremely temperamental.

Much of the complexity comes down to threading. 

You must thread the various threads in a specific order. Like on your regular sewing machine, each thread follows a path through a series of thread guides. Some of those guides can be difficult to access.

Worse, your machine can come unthreaded at the most inconvenient times.

Some higher-end serger models are self-threading. Mid-range and lower-end machines often have color-coded thread guides. Once you get your machine threaded and working, you can save yourself a lot of aggravation by using this quick threading trick.

Price

Overlockers are expensive. A budget serger will generally cost you the same as a mid-range sewing machine. And when it comes to high-end models, there’s no upper limit.

Do you actually need a serger? We’ll help you decide right now!

Do You Need a Serger?

Do you need an overlocker? Or can you get by without one? And if you’re ready to take the plunge, how can you get the best serger sewing machine for your needs and your pocket?

It’s always fun to buy new equipment, but it’s easy to mistake excitement for need. Do you need a serger? Ask yourself a few questions.

  • Do you work primarily with knits and stretch fabrics?
  • Is your regular sewing machine’s mock overlock stitch no longer cutting it?
  • Do you need to make a lot of secure seams fast?
  • Are you planning to do a lot of decorative edging?
  • Do you like learning new technologies?
  • Do you have a high tolerance for frustration?

If you’ve answered yes to one or more of these questions, then there may be a serger in your future.

How to Choose the Best Serger for Your Needs

If you’ve decided that a serger is the next addition to your arsenal of sewing tools, then you need to know how to choose a good one. Here are a few features to look out for:

Number of Threads

Three and four threads are all you need to create many of the seam types for which home sewists most often use their serger.. For most kinds of garment construction, a 3-4 serger will do just fine. As a bonus, 3-4 sergers are often less expensive than those with the ability to handle more threads.

On the other hand, if you think you might be working with ultralight fabrics, then you definitely want a serger that can sew with two threads as well.

Conversely, if you anticipate working with heavier than average fabrics, you’ll want a serger that can sew with a minimum of four threads.

Built-in Stitches

Just like a regular sewing machine, a serger comes with a variety of built-in stitches. And, just like a regular sewing machine, those built-in stitches can vary from device to device.

Just about every serger can do a three-thread and four-thread overcast stitch. In addition to these, though, you might also want:

  • Two-thread overcast
  • Two and three-thread rolled hem
  • Two, three, and four-thread flatlock
  • Decorative edgings, such as picot edge
  • Blind hem
  • Safety stitch and mock safety stitch

To name a few.

Built-in Rolled Hem

A rolled hem gives a fancy finish to a single layer of fabric. You’ll see it often on scarves.

With some sergers, you’ll have to remove parts or switch them around in order to make a rolled hem. But some models have a switch that makes the adjustments for you.

Stitch Width Selection

Your regular sewing machine has a knob or buttons that allow you to select the width of your stitches. With many sergers, however, stitch width comes down to three different types of adjustment:

  • Moving, removing, or switching out the stitch finger
  • Adjusting the cutting width
  • Choosing either the right or the left needle

Some sergers, however, come with a convenient knob that makes the appropriate adjustments for you.

Free Arm

Do you really need a free arm on a serger? Some people use it, and some people don’t. But if you use your serger for adding collars and cuffs, this feature may come in handy.

Convenience Features

Sergers can be fiddly and temperamental. So manufacturers have come up with different features to make them easier to use. Here are a few of our favorites.

Self-threading

You won’t find a self-threading serger on the budget shelf. This is a premium feature, but it’s still worth mentioning.

Self-threading sergers use a clever combination of air jets and tubes to make threading as simple as pressing a button.

Most other sergers, however, will give you a color-coded threading guide, which also helps quite a bit.

Needle threader

An automatic needle threader is a common feature on most regular sewing machines. Less so on a serger, but a few models do have one. Given the sometimes inconvenient placement of serger needles, it’s a nice feature to have.

Auto tension

After threading, tension is one of the more complicated parts of using a serger. Adjusting the tension of your looper and needle threads is the key to creating certain types of stitches, such as a flatlock.

Some sergers allow you to choose a stitch design, then they automatically adjust your tension. It’s very convenient.

Built-in thread cutter

Most sergers don’t have a built-in thread cutter, you have to use your snips. However, some models have a nifty little blade that you can raise to trim your thread ends.

Retractable cutting blade

For some types of serger sewing, for example rolled hems, you don’t want to trim the edges. Many models have an easily retractable cutting blade. With some models, however, you may have to remove the blade altogether.

Trim trap

A serger cuts seam edges to fit your seams. It’s an important feature, especially when it comes to determining stitch width. 

But it also creates quite a mess.

Some sergers come with a built-in trim trap to catch the trim before it falls in your lap, on your table, and on the floor. 

You can, however, make your own. It’s easy, and it’s actually many people’s first serger project! [1]

Price

How much do sergers cost? That’s a bit like asking how much a car costs. There are budget models that may run you as much as a mid-range sewing machine, and there are premium models that could cost as much as a used car.

Don’t choose a serger based on price alone. The available features can vary widely by model, so it’s best to look for one that does everything that you need it to, and worry about the price later.

Two of Our Favourite Models

Here are a few of our favorite models to get you started.

Singer X5004HD

singer X5004HD heavy duty serger

For more than a century, Singer has been America’s sewing machine company. They have a reputation for well-made, budget-friendly machines. And if you’re looking for a budget serger model, the Singer X5004HD is one to consider.

For the price of a low-end regular sewing machine, this model delivers:

  • A heavy duty metal frame
  • 2-3-4 thread serging
  • 1300 stitches per minute
  • Built-in rolled hem
  • A decent variety of built-in stitches

This is a straightforward, user-friendly serger that is exceptional value for money.

Singer Professional 14T968DC

singer 14t968dc serger machine

The Singer Professional 14T968DC will cost a bit more than the base model. However, considering what you get for that money, it’s an outstanding value. Features include:

  • 2, 3, 4, and 5 thread stitching
  • Self-adjusting tension
  • Four built-in rolled hems
  • 1300 stitches per minute stitching speed

If you’re already thinking ahead to advanced projects, this could be your new favorite sewing machine.

What is a Coverstitch Machine?

A coverstitch machine is sometimes also called a coverstitch serger. This is misleading, as a coverstitch machine isn’t a serger at all. Even though the two machines share some features, they are different machines for different types of sewing.

How Does a Coverstitch Machine Work?

A coverstitch is a two-sided stitch. On the right side of the fabric, there is a double row of straight stitches. On the underside, a chain stitch connects them. 

You can see the right side and wrong side parts of a coverstitch in the image below.

both sides of a coverstitch

Some coverstitch machines allow you to use the chain stitch alone in much the same way as you would use a straight stitch on a regular sewing machine.

How People Use It

A serger and a coverstitch machine can perform some of the same tasks, for example:

  • Sewing a blind hem
  • Sealing off raw fabric edges
  • Certain types of decoration

But it’s important to note that they do these tasks differently and that the results look slightly different.

Additionally, there are some things that a coverstitch machine can do that a serger can’t — and vice versa.

Here are some of the most common uses of a coverstitch machine:

Topstitching

As we said earlier, you can’t use a serger to do topstitching. But a coverstitch machine is made for this.

Topstitching is both functional and decorative. You can use this technique for securing facings and creating a sharp edge on collars, cuffs, hems, and bindings.

Yes, you can also do topstitching on a regular sewing machine. However, a coverstitch machine also seals off any raw edges on the reverse side of the fabric. This creates a secure, professional-looking finish.

Hemming

You can also use a serger or a regular sewing machine to make a hem. But for a coverstitch machine, hemming is it’s primary function.

How is a coverstitched hem different?

Instead of sewing along the fabric edge, you fold the fabric over on itself and topstitch. The right side of the garment will have one or two neat, parallel rows of straight stitches. On the back, a chain stitch connects the rows and binds off the fabric edge.

A coverstitch machine can also come in very handy for attaching trims.

Knits and Stretchy Fabrics

Like a serger, a coverstitch machine has a differential feed. This makes it a similarly good choice for working with knits and stretchy fabrics.

Decorative Stitching

Like a serger, a coverstitch machine can create decorative effects. But the special effects a coverstitch machine can create are different.

Sergers sew along fabric edges. A coverstitch machine sews on the top of fabric. 

You can use a coverstitch machine’s multiple needles to create two or even three rows of parallel straight stitches, such as you might see decorating the pockets and waistbands of blue jeans.

decorative stitching on blue jeans

You can also sew the fabric face down in order to use the stitch decoratively.

Because a coverstitch machine has a differential feed like a serger, you can use it to create pleats and other embellishments. Check it out.

“Regular” Sewing

It’s a bit of a stretch to say that you can use a coverstitch machine just like a regular sewing machine. But you can use a two-thread chain stitch to do some of the tasks for which you would use your sewing machine. These include:

  • Basting 
  • Making a seam
  • Decorative stitching

Here’s how it works.

Distinguishing Features of a Coverstitch Machine

Sergers and coverstitch machines share a number of features, which is one reason that it’s easy to mistake one for the other. However, if you look closely, the differences are pretty easy to spot.

Multiple Needles

A regular sewing machine sews with one needle. A serger generally uses two. A coverstitch machine, on the other hand, generally has three needles (though some budget models have two.)

Multiple Threads

Like a serger, a coverstitch machine sews with multiple threads. Most coverstitch machines can sew with two, three, or four threads. Some can sew with five or more.

Chain Stitch

One of the main differences between a coverstitch machine and a serger is the chainstitch. You can use the chain stitch like a straight stitch for construction. You can also use it for basting your seams. Chain stitches can also be used decoratively.

A few modern sergers have a built-in chain stitch, but it’s not typical.

Just One Looper

Like a serger, a coverstitch machine uses a looper thread in place of a bobbin thread. But sergers typically have two loopers that loop thread around the top and bottom of fabric edges.

A coverstitch machine only loops thread on one side of the fabric. Therefore it only needs one looper.

No Cutting Blade

A coverstitch machine doesn’t trim the fabric edges as it sews. It has no cutting blade.

Differential Feed

Like a serger, a coverstitch machine has two sets of feed dogs. Also like a serger, a coverstitch machine has a differential feed mechanism so that you can adjust the speed of each set relative to the other.

High Speed Sewing

A coverstitch machine is a high-speed sewing machine with an average sewing speed of 1,300-1,500 stitches per minute.

Extended Workspace

Another place where sergers and coverstitch machines differ is in the size of the workspace. 

A serger sews only on the fabric edges, and it trims these edges as it sews. The cutting blade sits immediately to the right of the right needle, and there isn’t room for anything else. You don’t need it.

Many coverstitch machines, on the other hand, are built more like a regular sewing machine. They have no blades, and they don’t trim the fabric edges. 

Also, because a coverstitch machine isn’t limited to sewing fabric edges, you might need extra room to the right of the needles to accommodate fabric. A coverstitch machine provides this.

Drawbacks of Using a Coverstitch Machine

For hemming and topstitching, there’s nothing like a coverstitch machine. But it’s not the ideal tool for every task.

A coverstitch machine won’t serge off your seam edges for you. Neither can you use it to create decorative edgings, rolled hems, or lace, like you can a serger.

You can use the chain stitch decoratively. However, a coverstitch machine doesn’t do decorative embroidery stitches like many regular sewing machines. 

Also, although threading a coverstitch machine is easier than threading a serger, the single looper still has a learning curve.

Finally, coverstitch machines tend to be pricey. If you’re thinking of buying one, you’d do well to make sure that you really need it and will actually use it.

Do You Need a Coverstitch Machine?

Honestly? Probably not. 

Much of what you can do with a coverstitch machine, for example topstitching and blind hems, you’re probably already doing with your regular sewing machine.

However, you might want to invest in a coverstitch machine if:

  • You have a small business making garments and/or housewares
  • Much of your work involves hemming and finishing
  • You work primarily with knit or stretchy fabrics

For professional garment finishes, there’s nothing like a coverstitch machine. And if you’re sewing a lot of clothing for your family or amateur drama group, for example, it could be a good investment.

How to Choose the Best Coverstitch Machine For Your Needs

Many of the same features by which you’d judge a serger apply to a coverstitch machine. There are, however, a few other things to consider, as well:

Stitch Selection

That handy chain stitch is what makes a coverstitch machine what it is. Other than that, though, you’ll need to think about other types of stitches you may want. Some common coverstitch machine stitches include:

  • Narrow three-thread coverstitch
  • Wide three-thread coverstitch
  • Four-thread coverstitch

Throat Space

Another major difference between a coverstitch machine and an overlocker is the throat space. How much space do you need to the right of the needle? 

A regular sewing machine generally has between seven and nine inches of space to the right of a needle. A serger has almost none.

For a coverstitch machine, five inches is around the max. 

Convenience Features

Again, many of a serger’s convenience features make coverstitch sewing a bit easier, too. But here are a few coverstitch-specific things to look for.

Auto tension release

A common user complaint is that it’s difficult to remove work from a coverstitch machine once you’ve finished your row. This comes down to thread tension.

An auto tension release means that when you raise the presser foot, the thread tension slackens, so it’s easier to remove your work.

Adjustable presser foot pressure

You’ll find this feature on many regular sewing machines, as well as some sergers and coverstitchers.

The presser foot holds fabric against the feed dogs, which feed the fabric through your machine. Most presser feet hold fabric with a standard pressure, but being able to adjust that pressure means more control over fabrics of different weights and thicknesses.

Accessories

Some accessories that will make sewing with your coverstitch machine more fun and efficient include the following:

Extension table

Because you can use a coverstitch machine for some regular sewing tasks, some people use it for quilting and decorative stitching. A removable extension table supports larger work and makes it easier to see your stitching in the context of a larger section of it.

Knee lifter

A knee lifter is a boon for quilters, and some higher end sewing and coverstitch machines may include one.

A knee lifter is a metal lever that slots into a special port. Some machines have this port, but most do not. The knee lifter allows you to raise and lower the presser foot with your knee while keeping both hands on your work.

Presser feet

Some presser feet that may come in handy for coverstitch sewing include:

  • Beading foot
  • Blind hem foot
  • Cording foot
  • Cover chain stitch foot
  • Elastic foot

Price

Coverstitch machines are specialized pieces of equipment, and that doesn’t come cheap. As with a serger, consider your needs before considering price, as features vary from model to model. One of the only things worse than paying more than you planned is buying a cheaper machine that doesn’t do what you need it to do.

Some of Our Favourite Models

Ready to buy? Here are a few of our favorite coverstitch machine models.

Brother 2340CV

brother coverstitch 2340cv

If you’re looking for a first coverstitch machine, and don’t want to drop a month’s pay, the Brother 2340CV could be one to check out.

This is a three-needle 2-3-4 coverstitch serger. It has color coded threading and adjustable presser foot pressure, which can help when sewing fabrics of different weights and thicknesses.

Brother excels at making budget-friendly, well-made equipment. So for a budget option, the 2340CV could be a good choice.

Baby Lock Cover Stitch

On the other end of the price spectrum, you’ll find the Baby Lock Cover Stitch. This premium coverstitch machine features:

  • 2-3-4 thread stitching
  • Self-threading looper
  • Thread cutter
  • Knob tensioning
  • Auto tension release

If you want a machine that will do all of the tedious adjustments for you, leaving you free to create, this could be your model.

So What is a Coverlock Machine, Anyway?

Regular sewing machine, overlocker, coverstitch machine…that’s a lot of sewing machines!

As much fun as it is to buy new equipment, few of us have infinite space in which to store it all. Even fewer people have bottomless funds.

For this reason, a coverlock machine might provide a happy medium.

A coverlock machine is basically a hybrid, combining some of the features of a serger with some of the features of a coverstitch machine. 

Though no machine truly does it all, a coverlock machine can be a good compromise. More importantly, it can save you money and space.

Other Names For Coverlock Machines Include…

Coverlock machines have many different monikers, including: “Coverlock serger”, “Coverlocker”, “Coverstich/Serger Combination”, “Hybrid”, and “Combo”. Be warned, though, Hybrid and Combo are terms also used to describe sewing machines that have embroidery functions built in, too.

How Does a Coverlock Machine Work?

A coverlock machine can do many of the things that a serger can do. It can also perform some coverstitch tasks. The exact combination of features can vary from model to model. However, most coverlock machines can:

  • Do a chain stitch
  • Sew overlock stitches
  • Topstitch seams
  • Serge off edges
  • Hem garments
  • Create decorative edging including rolled edge
  • Do special effects like ruffles and pleats

Although no machine can do everything, a coverlocker sure comes close.

How People Use It

A coverlock machine can be a terrific solution for anyone who wants maximum functionality in a single machine. Here are a few things people do with their coverlockers.

Chainstitching

The chain stitch is one of the most useful and distinctive features of a coverstitch machine. And every coverlocker does one.

You can use your chainstitch like a regular sewing machine’s straight stitch, to baste or sew seams, or to add a decorative touch to your project.

Construction

Because a coverlocker has an overlock mode, you can use it to create strong, stretchy, overlocked seams. Putting together clothing and housewares is a snap. 

Hemming

A coverlocker can hem garments in two ways: like a serger and like a coverstitch machine.

If you want a sealed or decorative hem, like a lettuce edge or a rolled hem, a coverlocker in serger mode can do that.

On the other hand, you can use a coverlocker in coverstitch mode to create professional, topstitched hems.

Topstitching

A coverstitch serger is a topstitching machine, and a coverlocker carries on this function, too. Whether you’re topstitching a collar, a hem, or a pair of cuffs, a coverlocker can get the job done.

Decoration and Special Effects

Do you want to do serger special effects like ruffles, pintucks, and making your own lace trim? A coverlocker can do that.

Perhaps you’d prefer some decorative chainstitching or three-needle decorative stitching instead? A coverlocker will have you covered.

This is perhaps the best part of an overlocker/serger combo: you get all of the fun parts of both.

Distinguishing Features of a Coverlock Machine

As you might expect, a coverlocker has features of both a coverstitch machine and a serger. Here are some of the things you might find on a combo machine:

Two Modes

Overlocking and coverstitching are two separate, mutually exclusive functions. They use different parts of the machine and use the workspace differently. Therefore, most coverstitch/serger hybrids have a way of adjusting your machine to work either as a coverstitch machine or as a serger.

Three Needles

Like a coverstitch machine, most coverlockers have three needles.

Multiple Threads

Most (but not all) hybrid serger/coverstitch machines can sew with two, three, four, or five threads.

Two Loopers

Like a serger, a coverlocker has two loopers that loop thread around seam edges.

Differential Feed

Both sergers and coverstitch machines have a differential feed mechanism. Therefore, you’ll find one on every coverlocker combo.

Cutting Blade

A hybrid overlocker/coverstitch machine has a blade for trimming seam edges while in serger mode. 

Extended Workspace

Like a coverstitch machine, a hybrid will have a larger workspace to accommodate fabric on the right side of the needle.

High Speed Sewing

Like both sergers and coverstitch machines, a coverlocker is a high-speed instrument that can reach an average speed of 1,300 stitches per minute.

Drawbacks to Using a Coverlock Machine

Wow. I know what I want for my next birthday. But, as with everything, there are some drawbacks to owning a coverlock machine:

Complexity

More functions mean a more complex apparatus. And this means a serious learning curve. 

A coverlocker has two loopers, and we’ve already talked about what that means. In addition, users must master the functions of two distinct pieces of equipment.

Is it worth it for the additional functionality? Many people think so. But this is not a piece of equipment for the frustration-prone.

Price

Although you can find some hybrid machines at the budget level, a coverlocker with the full complement of serger and coverstitch functions is going to cost you. 

How much? Well, a budget model with a few crossover functions may run you as much as a mid-level regular sewing machine. And a premium model? Well, that could run you as much as a used car.

What’s more, the available features can vary from machine to machine.

So if you’re serious about buying a coverlocker, make a list of your must-haves and check product specifications carefully before pressing “buy.”

Do you Need a Coverlock Machine?

Seriously, who doesn’t need a coverlock machine? Well, that may be overstating the case a little, but if any of the following sound like you, then there might be a coverlock machine on your horizon:

  • You need both a serger and a coverstitch machine
  • You’re primarily working with knits and stretch fabrics
  • Your equipment budget is limited
  • You want to minimize your number of separate machines

Is this you? Then let’s do it right.

How to Buy the Best Coverlock Machine For Your Needs

There are a lot of advantages to a coverstitch/serger combo: versatility, value for money, space savings.

There is one main disadvantage, though. 

The available features for coverlock machines vary from model to model. And they can vary by a lot.

So before you start shopping, it pays to have a list of your dealbreaker features, and to double-check the specs of any model that you might be considering.

Many of the features that make a great serger or coverstitch machine will improve your experience with a coverlocker. Here are a few additional things to watch for:

Stitch Selection

You can count on your coverlocker coming with a selection of cover stitches, a chain stitch and, most likely, three and four-thread overlock stitches built in. However, beyond that, it will behoove you to check the specs.

Other stitches you might want include:

  • Flatlock
  • Rolled hem
  • Two and more-than-four stitch overlock

And that’s just for starters.

Number of Threads

As with sergers and coverstitch machines, consider how many threads you’ll want to work with. Three and four threads come standard on most coverlockers. But you might also want two threads for lightweight work, and five or even more threads for heavier work.

Speed Control

A coverlocker is a multi-purpose machine. Some models can have quite a bit of overlap with a regular sewing machine.

Although few sergers have a slider for controlling stitching speed, some coverstitch and coverlock models do have it. It can certainly come in handy for trickier bits of stitching.

Some of Our Favourite Models

Now for the fun part. Let’s check out some of the best coverlockers on the market:

Juki MO-735

juki MO-735 coverlocker

Juki made some of the first home overlock machines, and they’re a well respected name in both domestic and industrial sewing equipment.

The Juki MO-735 is a combination overlock and coverstitch machine with the following features:

  • 2-3-4-5 thread stitching
  • Two and three needle coverstitch
  • Chain stitch
  • 5-thread safety stitch
  • Simplified chain looper threading
  • Retractable upper knife
  • Built-in rolled hem

There’s quite a range of prices for coverlock machines, and this model comes in around the middle of the spectrum. If this is the combination of features you’re looking for, then this model could be a decent, cost-effective option.

Baby Lock Ovation

Baby Lock machines are often the “when money is no object” option. The Baby Lock Ovation is a top-of-the-line serger/coverstitch combo that does almost everything short of washing and folding your clothes. You will definitely pay for your thrills, but what thrills they are. Check it out:

  • Self-threading
  • Auto tension
  • 2-3-4-5-6-7-8 thread stitching
  • Two proprietary decorative stitches
  • Five inches of throat space
  • Knee lifter
  • Speed control 

If you want a machine that can very nearly do it all, and you’re ready to pay for it, the Baby Lock Ovation could be your sewing room’s new best friend.

Serger, Coverstitch, Coverlock Machines…What’s The Difference? Now You Know!

The field of sewing machines is a crowded one, even when you’re looking at more specialized equipment. Labeling and marketing conventions don’t always make the distinctions clear. The last thing you want is to pay a lot of money for a machine that won’t do what you need it to do.

So remember:

  • A serger is for edging, internal seams, and certain types of decoration
  • Coverstitch machines’ main job is hemming
  • Coverlock machines have features of both, but those features vary from model to model

Do you have a favorite machine? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

what is the difference between serger coverlocker coverstitch machines

REFERENCES

  1. Clever Betty | Scrap Catcher Tutorial | https://cleverbetty.blogspot.com/2013/02/scrap-catcher-tutorial.html

Serger Stitches: Overlock Stitch, Flatlock, Rolled Hems & More

serger stitches

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

A serger, or overlocker, is a specialized sewing machine that uses multiple threads to create strong, flexible, overcast seams and decorative edges. Like all sewing machines, a serger is built to make certain stitch designs, and these stitches can vary from machine to machine.

What are the most common types of serger stitches? How do you create them, and what are they used for? We’ll lay it all out for you here in today’s post.

Serger Stitches: An Overview

If you’ve used a regular sewing machine, you’ll know that each machine comes with built-in stitches. Some machines, like a straight-stitch quilter, have only one built-in stitch design. Others, like the Quantum Stylist 9960, may have hundreds.

In addition to the built-ins, there are ways of expanding your machine’s catalog of stitches by adjusting parameters like stitch length, stitch width, and so on. You may, for example, recognize that a zigzag stitch with zero width can be used the same way as a satin stitch. 

Some manufacturers call this second type of stitch a “stitch option,” “stitch function,” “stitch configuration,” and suchlike.

The stitch catalog of a serger is very similar. Each machine comes with a complement of built-in stitches. By making adjustments to these, you can create additional stitches.

Like the stitches of a standard sewing machine, the different serger stitches have different uses.

Serger Stitch Parameters

With very few exceptions, sergers are mechanical. That is, you make adjustments with knobs, levers, switches, and sliders. There is rarely an onboard computer. Some adjustments are made in the same way on a serger as on an ordinary sewing machine. Others are made differently.

On a serger, these are the parameters you’ll need to adjust.

Number of Threads

We mentioned that sergers sew with multiple threads. But exactly how many?

Most home sergers can make stitches using two, three, and four threads. Some budget models sew with three or four threads only. A very few sew with two or three threads, and you can find premium models that sew with up to eight.

SINGER | Professional 14T968DC
The Singer Professional 14T968DC is a fine example of a 2-3-4-5 serger suitable for a home sewing room

In general, the heavier your fabric, the more threads you’ll want to use. So delicate edgings on ultralight fabrics most often consist of two-thread stitches. Stress-bearing garment seams, on the other hand, will do better with three, four, or more threads.

Number of Needles

janome mod 8933 needle plate presser foot
The two needles of Janome’s MOD-8933 serger in action

Most sergers have two needles and two loopers. Needles sew straight rows, while loopers cast thread around seam edges to seal them off. 

Some serger stitches use both needles and both loopers. Other stitches may use only one needle and either one or both loopers.

Choosing the right or left needle is one way of adjusting the width of a serger stitch. There are others, though, and we’ll discuss those in a bit.

Stitch Length

Stitch length adjustments are very similar on sergers and manual sewing machines. Most will have a stitch length adjustment knob or dial.

Stitch Width

baby lock celebrate adjustable stitch width
The stitch width dial on the excellent Baby Lock Celebrate serger

Stitch width adjustments, on the other hand, can be very different. A few sergers have a stitch width adjustment knob. However, on most sergers, you’ll have to use one of these other methods.

For single-needle stitches, using the right needle makes a narrow version of the stitch, for instance, a narrow rolled hem. Using the left needle makes a wider version of the same stitch.

You can also adjust the cutting width, that is, the amount that the cutting knife trims off the edge. 

Some models will require you to adjust the stitch finger. You might have to move the stitch finger, switch it out for a different one, or remove it altogether.

Thread Tension

brother 1034d tension dials
The colorful tension dials of the Brother 1034D

On a regular sewing machine, you generally adjust the tension of the top thread. Occasionally, you might address the bobbin thread tension. But on a serger, every thread has its own tension dial. And adjusting the thread tensions relative to one another is another way to create different stitches.

Differential Feed

Janome 634D MyLock differential feed
The differential feed ratio indicator window (A) and the differential feed dial (B) on a Janome 634D

A regular sewing machine has one set of feed dogs that feed your fabric through the machine. A serger has two. The differential feed adjusts the speed of the two sets of feed dogs relative to one another. This, in turn, increases (or decreases) the amount of stretch or compression of the fabric during sewing.

Adjusting the differential feed makes it easier to sew knits and stretch fabrics. But it’s also how you create special types of decorative effects like lettuce edges, ruffles and pintucks.

Serger Stitches and How to Use Them

So, what are the most commonly used serger stitches? And if they’re not already built into your machine, how do you create them from the stitches that are?

It’s time to find out!

Overlock Stitches 

The overlock stitch is the fundamental serger stitch. Almost every serger will come with three- and four-thread overlock stitches built in. A 2-3-4 serger, like the SINGER 14HD854 for example, may also have a built-in two-thread overlock. 

You can adjust your stitch parameters to create narrow and wide versions of all of these. You can also adjust the tensions of different threads in order to create variations on the overlock stitches.

Two-Thread Overlock

A two-thread overlock stitch provides a sealed seam that’s ideal for lightweight fabrics. It’s also a good one to use if you want to minimize bulk in your seam. 

Two-thread overlock stitches are made using oneneedle thread and one looper thread.

Use your right needle to create a narrow two-thread overlock stitch. Use your left needle to create a wide two-thread overlock stitch.

Three-Thread Overlock

3 thread overlock stitch

A three-thread overlock stitch is one of the go-to stitches for garment construction. This stitch creates a strong, stretchy seam that’s great for use with a variety of fabrics.

Three-thread overlock stitches are created with one needle thread and both looper threads.

As above, use your right needle if you want a narrow three-thread overlock stitch, and your left needle if you want a wide three-thread overlock.

Four-Thread Overlock

4 thread overlock

A four-thread overlock stitch creates a sturdy seam that’s fit for use with a variety of thick and heavy fabrics. If you’re making bluejeans, for example, this is your stitch.

To create a four-thread overlock, you’ll be using both needles and both loopers.

Overlock Variations

You can adjust your machine’s parameters to create a few variations on the different overlock stitches. You may have to experiment a bit to get the stitches exactly how you want them. Your serger manual should have suggestions for exact settings.

Try these.

To create a two-thread overlock wrap stitch, use your right needle. Increase the tension on the needle thread and decrease the tension on the lower looper thread. Again, choose the right needle to create a narrow stitch, and the left needle to create a wider stitch.

To create a three-thread stretch overlock stitch, use your right needle. Increase the needle thread tension and the tension for the lower looper, while decreasing the tension for the upper looper.

3 thread stretch

Flatlock Stitches

3 thread flatlock -1

The flatlock stitch, as the name implies, creates an attractive, flat seam. The looper threads completely enclose the fabric edges, and the entire seam lies flat. It’s an excellent choice when you need a strong, enclosed seam but want to minimize bulk.

The original purpose of the flatlock stitch was to imitate a cover stitch. Today, you often see a flatlock stitch on seams for athletic wear. Flatlock stitches can also be used decoratively, as they create an attractive “ladder” effect on the reverse side.

3 thread flatlock -2

You might also know this stitch as a safety stitch or a ladder stitch.

Sergers can create flatlock stitches with two, three, or four threads. As with overlock stitches, you can make narrow and wide versions of one-needle flatlock stitches by choosing either the right or left needle.

You can create a flatlock stitch by threading your serger for an overlock stitch. Then:

  • Increase the needle thread tension, and
  • Turn the upper looper thread tension to zero, and
  • Increase the lower looper thread tension to the near-maximum setting

Tension control settings can vary from machine to machine. Your serger manual should be able to give you specific information about creating this stitch with your machine.

Rolled Hems

A rolled hem is an attractive way to secure the edges of a single layer of ravel-prone fabric. You often see a two-thread rolled hem on delicate scarves, for instance. The rolled hem is also the basis of a decorative lettuce edge.

3 thread rolled hem

Some sergers have a built-in rolled hem setting, which makes the necessary adjustments for you. However, if your serger doesn’t have a built-in rolled hem, it’s not difficult to make the adjustments yourself.

Rolled hems come in two-thread and three-thread varieties.

First, disable or remove the cutting blade. A rolled hem rolls the edges out of the way, rather than trimming them. Many sergers have a retractable blade, but even if yours doesn’t, it should be easy to remove it.

Next, choose a needle. Whether you’re sewing a two-thread rolled hem or a three-thread rolled hem, this is a one-needle stitch. The same rule applies as in the stitches above; use the right needle for a narrow rolled hem or the left needle for a wider rolled hem.

If you’re making a two-thread rolled hem, you’ll also want to use the upper looper converter that came with your serger.

serger upper looper converter

Mock Safety Stitches

The mock safety stitch comes in three-thread and four-thread varieties. This is a strong, flexible stitch used for stress-bearing garment seams. The mock safety stitch is meant to emulate a five-thread safety stitch. It’s not quite as strong, but it does very well for itself.

The mock safety stitch uses both looper threads and either one or two needle threads

The mock safety stitch is a built-in type stitch, which comes with some, but not all overlock sergers.

Decorative Stitch Examples

Sergers are made primarily for construction, and generally do not come with decorative stitches, however, there are always exceptions. Though you won’t find a serger with a large selection of decorative designs like the best computerized sewing machines, you may come across a serger with one

Here are a few examples.

Picot Stitch

3 thread picot

The picot stitch is a delicate scalloped shape that can give a lovely finish to cuffs, collars, scarf edges, and so on. It comes as a built-in stitch on a few serger models. 

You can also create a picot edge on a regular serger.

First, set your machine to do a rolled hem. For this example, I’m doing a three-thread picot stitch.

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

Now increase your lower looper tension so that it pulls the upper looper thread around to the other side. I’ve set my lower looper tension to my machine’s maximum setting.

And don’t forget to retract your cutting blade!

Wave Stitch

The Wave Stitch is a proprietary stitch that comes built into some Baby Lock machines, like the Baby Lock Imagine Wave BLE3ATW. You can see what it looks like here.

The wave stitch can be used on its own, but you can also use it as the basis for other stitches, such as a wave flatlock stitch. 

Two Blanket Stitches

3 thread blanket

The blanket stitch is a popular edging on, unsurprisingly, blankets and appliqué pieces. This is a wide two or three-thread stitch, and it’s easy to make on any serger.

First, remove the right needle.

Next, set your machine for a rolled hem. That includes retracting your cutting blade.

Now, set the needle tension to a standard, or middle setting. Set the upper looper thread to its maximum, and the lower looper thread to zero. This will pull the lower looper thread to the top side of the seam to give your blanket stitch its characteristic look.

You may have to experiment to get it where you want it to be on your machine.

Chain Stitch and Cover Stitch

The chain stitch and cover stitch are the two fundamental stitches you’ll find on a coverstitch machine. In general, a serger will not make either of these. This is because sergers are typically used to make seams, while a coverstitch machine’s main job is hemming. (Confused? Check out our post on the differences between sergers, overlockers, and coverstitch machines)

However, there are hybrid sergers that do both overlock sewing and coverstitch sewing. So it’s worth understanding what these stitches are and what they’re used for.

Chain Stitch

If you do embroidery or crochet, you’re already familiar with a chain stitch. A machine chain stitch is very similar. It can be used on its own or to connect two rows of straight stitching on the reverse side of the fabric. You can also use a chain stitch decoratively on the right side of the fabric.

Watch how it’s done here.

Coverstitch

A coverstitch is a compound stitch consisting of two parallel lines of straight stitching on the right side of the fabric connected by a chain stitch on the reverse side. This creates a professional sealed hem that is both strong and flexible.

Serger Stitches: Which Overlock Stitch Do you Love The Most?

Every serger comes with a catalog of built-in stitches. These built-in stitches vary from machine to machine but, with few exceptions, every serger will make a three-thread and four-thread overlock stitch. 

By altering parameters like stitch length, stitch width, and the relative tensions of each of the threads, you can create additional stitch designs and extend your repertoire.

What are your favorite serger stitches? Do you have any advice for our readers? Tell us all about it in the comments!

overlocker stitches

Decorative Serger Stitches: 5 Easy Overlocker Special Effects

decorative serger stitches

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

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

What Is A Serger Sewing Machine Used For? An Overlocker Overview

what is a serger

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

What is a serger? A serger, also called an overlocker or an overlock machine, is a specialized sewing machine that uses an overcasting stitch to simultaneously sew a seam and seal the raw seam edges.

This makes it a powerful tool, one that allows you to create strong, professional-quality seams and edges.

At the same time, a serger is quite different from a regular sewing machine and there are some tasks it cannot do. An overlocker, therefore, should augment, rather than replace, your regular sewing machine. 

TL;DR – What Is A Serger?

A serger (or overlocker, overlock machine) is a sewing machine that uses multiple threads to overcast a seam or fabric edge. Serging is very common in garment construction and finishing. Home sewists can likewise use a serger to create strong, professional-looking seams and unique decorative edges.


How is a Serger Different from a Sewing Machine?

The first difference you’ll notice is appearance, but sergers also have features, such as loopers and differential feed mechanisms, that regular sewing machines do not have.

A overlocker accomplishes different functions from a standard sewing machine as well, and we’ll get to those shortly.

Anatomy of a Serger

You’ll know an overlock machine by its shape and size. Sergers are generally smaller than regular sewing machines and many also have a squarish shape to their outer casing.

serger anatomy - brother 1034d parts
Image, and subsequent descriptive text list, courtesy of Brother USA [1]
  1. Thread tree
  2. Handle
  3. Presser foot pressure adjustment screw
  4. Spool pin
  5. Spool support
  6. Thread take-up cover
  7. Needles
  8. Upper knife
  9. Presser foot
  10. Material plate cover
  11. Spool stand (thread tree support)
  12. Left needle thread tension dial
  13. Right needle thread tension dial
  14. Presser foot lifting lever
  15. Hand wheel
  1. Upperlooper thread tension dial
  2. Lowerlooper thread tension dial
  3. Front cover
  4. Material side plate (for overlock stitch)
  5. Main power switch and light switch
  6. Stitch length adjustment dial
  7. Differential feed ratio adjustment lever
  8. Lowerlooper threading lever
  9. Stitch finger
  10. Stitch width lever
  11. Upperlooper
  12. Lowerlooper
  13. Free-arm cover
  14. Bed extension
  15. Knife lever

Sergers have multiple thread spools for, you guessed it, multiple threads. You can find overlockers with two, three, four, five, or even more threads. Often, overlockers use cone thread, rather than thread on spools.

An overlock machine also uses multiple needles. Generally speaking, one needle sews a straight row, while the other interacts with the looper (or loopers) to wrap thread around the seam edges. These two actions happen simultaneously and a serger has no bobbin thread.

Regular sewing machines have one set of feed dogs, while overlockers have two. You can use a serger’s differential feed mechanism to adjust both sets of feed dogs, so that they move their portion of fabric at the same speed or at a different pace to one another. [2]

This can come in useful for:

  • Preventing puckering while sewing lightweight fabrics
  • Intentionally gathering your fabric while sewing

A serger also has a knife or blade (sometimes it has both!) for trimming seam edges while you sew.

Here’s a look at a simple Singer serger.

What are sergers used for?

As we’ve already touched upon above, an overlocker is used differently to a regular sewing machine. 

You might use a regular sewing machine for:

  • Sewing
  • Buttonholes
  • Topstitching
  • Decorative stitching
  • Quilting
  • Monogramming and embroidery 

A serger cannot do any of these things. Instead, an overlocker does overcasting, and you can use this for various sorts of tasks, including:

  • Overcast seams
  • Rolled hems
  • Sewing stretch fabrics and knits
  • Creating pleats, gathers, and pintucks
  • Making “lettuce” edges

Why Do Sergers Have Multiple Threads?

overlocker thread cones

Sergers use anywhere between two and eight threads. The most common arrangement is three or four threads. 

One thread sews a straight stitch, which creates the seam. The remaining threads zigzag and loop around the seam edges. This seals the edges and keeps them from fraying. It’s particularly useful when working with knit fabrics.

A regular sewing machine uses a top thread and a bobbin thread. A serger machine, on the other hand, uses one or more looper threads instead of a bobbin thread.

How many threads do you need?

serger thread

That depends on the task you wish to accomplish. A three and four thread serger can accomplish most jobs. But there are times when you might want a two-thread overlocker, or one that uses more than four threads. [3]

Here are some common uses of different serger types:

Two threads

  • True safety stitch
  • Decorative edging
  • Finishing edges of light fabrics
  • Mock flatlock stitch
  • Blind hem
  • Two-thread overlock

Three threads

  • Stretch fabrics
  • Strong, wide serged seams
  • Pintucks
  • Rolled hem
  • Mock safety stitch
  • Three thread overlock

Four threads

  • Simultaneous chain stitch while overcasting seams
  • Simultaneous safety stitch while overcasting seams
  • Four thread overlock

More than four threads

  • Chain stitch
  • Simultaneous strong seam and heavy-duty seam finish

In general, you should use no less than four threads to serge items that will be subject to heavy stress.

Why Do Sergers Have Knives?

Many overlockers have a knife that trims the seam edges while you sew. Some models have two blades, which work like scissors to accomplish this task.

Some overlock machines allow you to choose between using the knife or not, depending on your task. For example, with some kinds of decorative sewing, you may not want to use it.

Are serger knives safe?

A serger’s knife is absolutely safe, provided you follow the manufacturer’s safety instructions.

What Do Sergers Do Well?

woman using overlocker

People use sergers for two primary reasons: creating strong, sealed seams, and preventing fraying of fabric edges. Overlockers are also excellent if you’re working with knits and stretchy fabrics.

However, an overlocker is also good for different types of decorative edging and you can also use it to create rolled hems. An overlocker’s differential feed mechanism also makes it easy to do pintucks and gathers.

Check out our article on creating decorative edges for more special effects info.

What Can You Not Do With a Serger?

Although an overlocker is a powerful tool for certain jobs, there are other tasks for which you’ll still need your regular sewing machine. These include:

  • Decorative embroidery stitches
  • Straight stitching
  • Buttonholes
  • Topstitching

In addition, there are certain projects, like quilts, where the reinforced seams created by a serger are too bulky, or otherwise undesirable. In these cases, a regular sewing machine is still the best choice.

Should Every Sewing Room Have a Serger?

woman using serger

An overlock machine, as you can see, is a specialized piece of equipment made to do a specific set of tasks.

Does every sewing room need one? Probably not. If your main craft is quilting or machine embroidery, then you probably won’t use a serger very often.

On the other hand, if you sew mainly clothing and housewares, an overlocker can make your life a lot easier, and your projects a lot more polished.

So, should every sewing room have a serger? It’s fair to say that owning an overlocker isn’t necessarily vital for everyone who enjoys sewing.

A more salient question is to ask whether your sewing room needs one. And only you can answer that!

What Is A Serger? Final Thoughts

overlocker side view

A serger is a specialized sewing machine for making strong, sealed seams and decorative edges. It can make your garments and housewares more robust and give them a professional finish. And once you get the hang of using an overlock machine, it can be a lot of fun.

At the same time, a serger can’t do everything. It’s not a replacement for your regular sewing machine. Rather, it’s another tool for your crafting arsenal.

Do you enjoy using an overlocker? What are some things our readers should know about working with them? Please tell us in the comments below!

what is an overlocker

REFERENCES

  1. Brother USA | 1034D Product Catalog | https://www.brother-usa.com/-/media/brother/product-catalog-media/documents/2020/02/21/18/00/884-345_om07_enes.pdf
  2. FPO | Differential Feed Mechanism for a Sewing Machine | https://www.freepatentsonline.com/3611817.html
  3. Insook Ahn | Selecting an Overlock Sewing Machine | https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_c/C218/welcome.html

How To Sew A Seam, Either By Hand Or With A Sewing Machine

how to sew a seam

A seam is a line of stitching that joins two pieces of material. Sounds simple, right? But there are many different types of seams, and each has its own procedure, appearance, and usage. You can sew a seam by hand or by machine. Either way, it’s not hard if you have the tools and know the techniques.

Different Types of Seams

decorative seams

So you need to join your pattern pieces. Of course you want to do it in a way that’s both effective and attractive. That means it’s time to choose the type of seam that you’re going to use.

Decorative Seams

Decorative seams, as you probably guessed, are there to enhance the appearance of your project. This type of seam may join pattern pieces, but in addition, they may:

  • Add shape to a garment
  • Enhance the structure of part of a garment or other item
  • Add color, texture, or other visual interest

Decorative seams are made to be seen, so technique and attention to detail are important. Some types of decorative seams include:

  • Princess seam
  • Channel seam
  • Linen seam
  • Pleated seam
  • Abutted seam

Want to seam what we’re talking about? Here’s a princess seam before, during, and after construction.

Functional Seams

Functional seams hold your item together. They’re meant to bear weight, stress, and strain. They should be strong, but they can also be decorative. Some examples of functional seams include:

  • Straight seam
  • Lapped seam
  • French seam
  • Flat felled seam

Here’s how to sew an attractive and functional French seam.

Single Seams

A single seam is a single row of stitching that joins two pieces of material. The seam edges may or may not be finished, but they will always end up on the inside (or reverse side) of your item. Depending on your fabric, you may want to finish your seam edges by pinking or serging them off, or by using a finishing technique like the Hong Kong finish, shown in the video below.

Double Seams

You’ll know double seams by their two parallel rows of stitching. The double rows make the seam very strong. They can also add a decorative touch. You can use a double row to seal off seam edges, too. This can be especially helpful if your fabric is prone to fraying. 

The flat felled seam, shown below, is a common double seam used in bluejeans.

Open Seams

Open seams leave the seam edges exposed. This is fine if the edges will end up on the inside (wrong side) of your project. It’s also acceptable if you’re working with a fray-resistant fabric.

On the other hand, if your fabric is subject to fraying, or if you simply want a tidier finish, you might want to use a closed seam.

Closed Seams

Closed seams enclose the seam edges within the seam. Some examples of closed seams include:

  • French seam
  • Lapped seam
  • Flat felled seam

Have you chosen your seam? Great! It’s time to get sewing!

How to Sew a Seam by Hand

If you don’t have access to a sewing machine, or don’t have the time to learn how to use a sewing machine right now, don’t worry! You can sew a seam by hand. 

What You’ll Need

  • The appropriate needle for your fabric
  • Your thread (remember to match synthetics with synthetic thread and natural fabrics with cotton thread)
  • Scissors or snips
  • Pins
  • Tailor’s chalk or a fabric marker (optional)
  • Ruler (optional)
  • Beeswax (optional)
  • Needle threader (optional)
  • Pinking shears (optional)
  • Iron (optional)

Step 1: Prepare Your Fabric

Mary Poppins once said, “well begun is half done.” When it comes to sewing, it’s absolutely true. By setting up your fabric and your tools, you’re setting yourself up for success.

First, if you’re working with fabric that’s prone to wrinkles, iron it to make sure it lays flat. This will ensure that your pattern pieces fit together the way they’re meant to.

Next, line up your fabric edges. Don’t be sloppy, or your finished product will be sloppy as well.

Pin your pieces together. This will keep them from slipping and sliding around while you sew.

Finally, mark your seam line with a washable fabric pen or tailor’s chalk. Use a ruler for extra precision. It’s a lot easier to sew along a line than to try to eyeball your seam while sewing. 

If you take the time to be organized and precise, your project will have a greater chance of turning out the way you want it to.

Step 2: Prepare Your Needle and Thread

Step 2 is optional, but many people find it helpful.

First, start with the right needle. For fine fabrics, use a thin, sharp needle. This will minimize damage to the fabric. For thicker fabrics, you can use a thicker needle.

Snip your thread end at an angle. This will decrease the fuzz at the end, which can make it hard to thread the needle.

Dabbing beeswax onto your thread end can make the thread stiffer, which also makes it easier to poke it through the needle’s eye.

You can also use a needle threader. This is especially helpful if you’re working with a very small, very thin needle.

Now, thread your needle. You can choose to sew with a single thread, or, for a stronger stitch, pull the thread halfway through your needle, so that your needle is sitting halfway between your thread ends. Now, knot the thread ends together.

Step 3: Choose Your Stitch

There are a number of stitches you can choose from, but often the most straightforward stitches are the best. They’ll get you where you need to go quickly and with a minimum of fuss.

The straight stitch is the most basic sewing stitch. Some people also call this stitch a running stitch. It’s easy. Up and down in a straight line, from beginning to end. Here’s how it’s done.

A backstitch is another simple stitch. You might use this one if you want a stronger row of stitches.

Step 4: Sew Your Seam

Fabric prepared? Stitch chosen? Needle threaded? Now you’re ready to sew!

Before you begin, secure your thread end. If you’ve already knotted the ends together, this will suffice. You can also use one of these techniques.

Now, using your chosen stitch, sew along the line you marked earlier.

Step 5: Tie off Your Stitch

When you’ve completed your seam, it’s time to tie off your stitch. There are a number of ways to do this, including:

  • Tying a knot
  • Using a finishing stitch
  • Making a French knot
  • Using a backstitch

For a detailed photo tutorial of these and other methods, check out our article, How to Tie Off a Stitch.

Step 6: Finish Your Edges (Optional)

If you’re working with a fray-resistant fabric, or if you’ve chosen a seam that encloses the seam allowance, then you don’t have to finish your edges. 

But if your fabric is likely to unravel, or if you simply want a tidy finish, then you might want to finish your edges. 

If you’re sewing by hand, the easiest way to do this is to trim the seam allowance with pinking shears. 

Advanced finishing techniques like a Hong Kong Finish are easier with a sewing machine. But if you have the time and patience, you can also adapt the technique to hand sewing.

Step 7: Iron Your Seam (Optional)

Ironing your seam on the right side of the fabric will help it to lie flat. This, in turn, will make your item look more professional and attractive.

How to Sew a Seam With a Sewing Machine

If you have a sewing machine, it’s easy to make a fast, strong, and precise seam.

What You’ll Need

  • Your sewing machine
  • The appropriate sewing machine needle for your fabric
  • Suitable thread for your fabric
  • Scissors
  • Pins
  • Beeswax (optional)
  • Pinking shears (optional)
  • Fabric stabilizer (optional)
  • Sewing machine needle threader (optional)
  • Iron (optional)

Step 1: Prepare Your Fabric

Preparing your fabric for machine sewing is similar to preparing it for hand sewing. You’ll need to:

  • Iron the fabric, unless it’s wrinkle-resistant
  • Line up your fabric edges
  • Pin your seam together

You might want to mark your seam line at this point. You could also use the guide on your sewing machine’s feed cover plate to eyeball your seam line.

Also, if your fabric is slippery, lightweight, or doesn’t hold its shape well, you might want to stabilize it. If your fabric is machine washable, you can use a wash-out spray stabilizer. If it’s not, you can stabilize your fabric by pinning tissue paper, tracing paper, or a commercial tear-away stabilizer to the back.

Step 2: Prepare Your Needle and Thread

Always use a new needle for every project.

In addition, there are a bewildering number of needles on the market. It’s important to choose the right sewing machine needle for your fabric.

  • Universal needles work well for many, but not all fabrics.
  • For woven fabrics, use a ballpoint needle to minimize fabric damage.
  • Use a stretch needle (jersey needle) for stretch fabrics.
  • Thick materials like denim or leather need a sharp needle rated for that material.
  • Lighter fabrics need a smaller, thinner, lighter needle.
  • Match your needle size with your thread weight.
  • Also match metallic thread with a metallic thread needle.

Regarding thread, match your thread to your fabric. Choose synthetic thread for working with synthetic fabrics, and cotton thread for natural fiber fabrics.

Also, polyester thread has a natural stretch, so use this, rather than cotton thread, if you’re working with a stretchy fabric.

Just like when threading a hand sewing needle, using beeswax on your thread end can make threading a sewing machine needle easier.

You can thread your needle using your sewing machine’s automatic needle threader. If your sewing machine doesn’t have one, however, you can use a sewing machine needle threader.

Step 3: Choose Your Stitch

A straight stitch is most people’s stitch of choice. However, if you’re working with stretchy fabrics, then choose one of your sewing machine’s stretch stitches

If your sewing machine has an overlock or serging stitch, you can also use this to simultaneously sew your seam and finish your edges.

Here are some other types of stitches and their uses.

Step 4: Sew Your Seam

Line up your fabric with the appropriate markings on your feed cover plate. Alternately, if you’ve marked your seam line, line that up with your needle and sew your seam.

To secure your row, sew a locking stitch at the beginning of the row and at the end. Here’s how.

Step 5: Finish Your Edges (Optional)

As with hand sewing, you can finish your raw edges to keep them from fraying, or to give your item a more professionally finished work.

Here are a few different ways to finish your edges.

Step 6: Iron Your Seam (Optional)

Again, ironing your seam on the wrong side will help it to lay flat, and give your project a more finished look.

It’s Easier Than it “Seams”

It might look like a lot of steps for a straightforward task. But if you use the right tools and take the time to do it right, it’s easy to make a strong, attractive seam.

What’s your favorite seam? Do you have a technique that can make it easier for our readers? Tell us all about it in the comments!

How To Sew A Seam By Hand Or Sewing Machine

How To Tie Off A Stitch: End & Finish Your Sewing Like A Pro

how to tie off a stitch

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

TL;DR

To end a stitch when you’re sewing by hand, stop with several inches of thread left. Bring the needle under your last stitch and make a loop large enough to insert your finger. Now, bring the needle through the loop and pull it tight to form a knot. Finishing stitches on a sewing machine is just as easy. You can lock the stitch or tie it off. We’ll explain how.

It sounds so simple: finish your row of stitches and tie it off. You might even think about skipping that step. Don’t! The truth is, though, there are many ways to secure your stitches, whether you’re sewing by hand or by machine. Some work better than others. Confused? No worries. We’ll show you several different ways to secure your stitches.

What You’ll Need to Complete This Tutorial

If you’re sewing by hand, both the tools and the technique will be different than for machine sewing. 

Tools for Ending a Row of Hand Stitching

Tools for Ending a Row of Machine Stitching

  • Sewing machine
  • Thread
  • Scissors or snips (optional if your machine has a thread cutter)
  • Your project

6 Ways to Tie off a Stitch By Hand

The simplest way to tie off a row of hand stitching is to make a knot at the end. There are several ways to do this.

Tying off a Double Thread, Method 1

My mother taught me to always use a double thread for hand sewing. It makes the stitches stronger, and it’s easier to tie off when you’re finished. There are actually a few ways of tying off a double thread. Here’s the first.

Step 1

Make the final stitch in your row. Make sure to leave a few inches of thread at the end. You’ll need this to make your knot.

Step 2

Now, separate the two threads. Bring one of the threads over the other then under. Pull just enough to bring the threads to the edge of the fabric. Don’t pull too tightly, or it will pucker the stitches. This is the first part of your first knot.

Step 3

Repeat Step 3, pulling the knot tight.

Step 4 (optional)

I like to make at least one more knot after this. Some people even make two more.

Step 5

Snip off your thread end.

Tying Off a Double Thread, Method 2 (Finishing Stitch)

Here’s a third method to tie off your double thread sewing and keep your stitches secure.

Step 1

Finish your row of stitches, leaving a few inches of thread at the end.

Step 2

Bring your needle down through the fabric near the end of your final stitch. Don’t pull it tight. Rather, leave a loop.

Step 3

Now bring your needle back up, very close to where you brought it down. 

Step 4

Insert your needle through the loop and gently pull it down to the fabric. Don’t pull too tightly! Leave a smaller loop.

Step 5

Now bring your needle through the loop again and give it a final pull.

Step 6

Snip off your thread end.

Watch this method in action below.

Tying Off a Double Thread, Method 3 (Back Stitch)

With this method, you’ll be using the previous stitch to secure your finishing stitch.

Step 1

Sew the final stitch in your row, making sure to leave a few inches of extra thread at the end.

Step 2

Bring your needle back under the last stitch, forming a loop.

Step 3

Now, pass your needle through the loop. Pull gently until the knot settles onto the fabric.

Step 4

To secure the row, repeat steps 2 and 3 to make a second knot.

Step 5

Now, snip your thread ends.

Confused? This is how it’s done.

Tying Off a Double Thread, Method 4 (End-Off Backstitch)

An end-off backstitch, or back tack, is an easy and secure way of tying off a row of hand stitching. 

Step 1

Finish your stitching, leaving several inches of extra thread at the end.

Step 2

Now, bring your needle around, inserting it back into the fabric just after the end of your last completed stitch.

Step 3

Bring the needle back up through the fabric, very close to where you brought it up at the end of your row of stitches. Now you have a loop. Pull the thread gently until it sits against your fabric.

Step 4

Repeat steps 2 and 3 twice more. But do not pull your last loop tight.

Step 5

Finally, bring your needle through the final loop. Now pull it tight.

Step 6

Snip your thread ends.

This is how it’s done.

Tying Off a Double Thread, Method 5

This is a quick and dirty way of tying off your thread. It may take a bit of practice to get the knot to sit perfectly on your fabric, though.

Step 1

Stitch until the end of your row, leaving a few inches of thread at the end.

Step 2

Bring the needle around to form a loop large enough to insert your finger.

Step 3

Now, holding the loop to your fabric with your finger, double back with the needle. Bring the needle through the loop and pull gently. Use your finger to keep the knot snug against your fabric.

Step 4

Repeat the knot if you like. This part is optional.

Step 5

Snip off your thread end.

Tying off a Single Thread

There are occasions when you’ll want to use a single thread instead of a double thread. You can tie off your single thread stitching using the finishing stitch, backstitch or end-off backstitch methods above. You can also try this.

Step 1

End your row of stitches, leaving several inches of thread at the end with which to make your knot.

Step 2

Bring your needle back over the last stitch, like you would for a backstitch or end-off backstitch. 

Step 3

Insert your needle behind your last stitch and gently pull to form a loop.

Step 4

Run your needle through the loop. Now do it again.

Step 5

Pull your knot tight and snip your thread ends.

Watch how it’s done here.

How to End a Row of Machine Stitches

If you’re using a sewing machine, there are a few ways to secure your stitches. 

Method 1: Making a Lockstitch

A lockstitch is an easy way to secure a row of stitches using a sewing machine.

Step 1

Sew three to five stitches forward. Stop.

Step 2

Reverse over those three to five stitches. Stop.

Step 3

Sew back over the stitches one more time. 

Step 4

Now you can snip your threads with confidence.

Want to see how it’s done? Check this out.

Method 2: Using the Auto-Finish Function

Some sewing machines have a lockstitch button. This button makes a lockstitch for you, automatically, so that you don’t have to manually sew, reverse, and sew again. Some even fancier machines, like in the video below, will allow you to program lockstitches into sequences of stitches.

Method 3: Tying Off by Hand

Can you tie off a row of machine stitches by hand? Absolutely! We would use Method 5, above.

Specialty Tie-Off Techniques

Sometimes a regular tie-off isn’t exactly the right thing. Here are a few specialized tie-off techniques for tricky situations.

Hiding Your Knot Between Layers

With a lot of hand sewing projects, it’s fine to leave the starting and finishing knots on the wrong side of your project. But some projects, for example quilts, don’t have a wrong side. Hand quilting takes a lot of effort, and you don’t want to ruin that effort by leaving unsightly knots on either surface.

Here’s how you hide a finishing knot between fabric layers.

Step 1

As always, leave four to six inches of thread after the final stitch in your row.

Step 2

Loop your needle around to the end of the previous stitch, as if you were making a backstitch.

Step 3

Now, bring your needle through the loop and pull it snug but not tight.

Step 4

Now, loop your needle again, going the opposite direction, that is, from the end of the stitch you just made to the beginning.

Step 5

Bring your needle through the loop and pull snug.

Step 6

Now, insert your needle through the middle of the stitch and bring it under the top layer of fabric only. Gently pull.

Step 7

Finally, snip off your thread end and smooth your fabric so that the attached thread end is hidden underneath the top fabric layer.

Watch the process here.

Another Way to Hide a Knot

Here’s another way to hide an end knot. You don’t have to have multiple layers of fabric, but it helps.

This method uses a quilter’s knot to secure the row of stitches. Quilters use this knot at the beginning of a row of hand quilted stitches. You can also use it at the end.

Step 1

Finish your row of stitches, leaving several inches of extra thread.

Step 2

Wrap the thread three times around the needle.

Step 3

Now, while holding the knot, reinsert the needle back into the fabric close to where it came out, and pull it tight. It may take a bit of practice to make the knot, but keep working at it.

Pull it until the knot disappears back beneath the top fabric layer. 

Step 4

Now snip your thread end and gently pull the fabric until the thread end disappears.

Here’s how it’s done.

Hiding Your Finish in a Seam

If your row of stitching finishes in a seam, you can use any of the above finishing methods then hide the knot and thread ends inside the seam.

Final Thoughts

If a job is worth doing, it’s doing right. And there are a lot of right ways to finish off a row of stitching! Whether you’re sewing by hand or sewing by machine, the right technique can keep your stitches secure and attractive.

Did you enjoy our tutorial? Do you have a favorite technique that might help our readers? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

how to end a stitch

What Is A Seam? Different Types & How To Use Them Correctly

what is a seam

What is a seam? The answer might “seam” simple at first. It’s a row of stitching that joins two pieces of fabric or material. But there’s a lot more to it than that. There are different seams for different purposes. There are also a variety of techniques for joining fabric in different ways. Knowing which seam to use and how to form it can help you to make the most of your project.

What is a Seam, Exactly?

The simplest definition is this: a seam is a row of stitching that joins two pieces of fabric or material. But after that, things get a bit more complicated.

There are functional seams, which make up the construction of a garment. There are also decorative seams, which shape and decorate that garment.

Flat seams sit, well, flat, while ridge seams form a ridge or bump. Inconspicuous seams hide on the inside of the garment, while conspicuous seams are meant for the world to see.

And on top of that, each of these categories contains a number of different seams, each with their own purpose and technique. 

How are Seams Used in Garments?

The first division is functional and decorative seams. It’s a bit of a misnomer, as decorative seams, too, serve a function. Let’s have a look.

Garment Construction

Most clothing consists of fabric pieces joined together with seams. 

Side seams go up the side of a garment, attaching front and back pieces. Back seams (and sometimes front seams) join left and right pieces. A shoulder seam holds a top together at the shoulders. An inseam runs along the insides of trouser legs, joining the pieces there.

Decoration

“Decoration” sounds frivolous, but it’s not. Decorative seams don’t just add visual appeal to a garment. They also give the garment shape and help to shape it to the body.

One type of decorative seam that does a lot of heavy lifting is the Princess seam. Princess seams are most often seen in women’s wear. They shape the bodice of a garment to a curved bust and waistline, eliminating the need for darts.

The linen seam joins two pieces of material at the edges using a decorative or embroidery stitch. It’s not particularly strong, but it is pretty.

A channel seam forms an open channel over a contrasting piece of material, so that when the wearer moves, the seam opens to reveal a flash of color or pattern.

These are but a few examples.

Pleats

Pleats are folds sewn into a garment, for example a skirt. They add fullness to the garment, as well as shape and movement. It’s a clever way to add space to a garment without increasing its width.

pleated hem

Pleats can be vertical or horizontal. They may be crucial to the structure, or they may be primarily decorative. Either way, though, a seam is crucial for securing the pleated piece and attaching to the garment.

Seam Guide: Different Types of Seams

We’ve examined seams by function, and seen some of their applications as far as garment making. Let’s have a look at specific seam designs.

Single Seams

Single seams involve, you guessed it: a single row of stitches. Here are some common ones.

Plain Seam

A plain seam is exactly what it sounds like: the simplest possible joining of two pieces of fabric or material. 

Plain seams typically use a straight stitch or tight zigzag stitch, and leave a seam allowance of one-quarter, three-eighths, or half an inch. 

To make a plain seam, place your fabric pieces together with the right sides facing.

flat seam

Line up your fabric edges with the seam guard markings on your needle plate. Stitch, and then press your seam flat.

Clipping your seam allowance after stitching will reduce the seam’s bulk. If you’re sewing on a curve, clip wedge-shaped pieces from the seam allowance along the curve.

seam flat

Lapped Seam

A lapped seam is both decorative and functional. On the surface, it looks similar to a flat felled seam. However, it’s a single seam rather than a double one. Also, a lapped seam doesn’t enclose the seam edges. Rather, you serge off the seam edges on the wrong side of the fabric once you’re finished.

Lapped seams are excellent for:

  • Non-fraying fabrics and materials, such as vinyl
  • Reducing bulk (unlike a French or felled seam)
  • Adding a decorative touch

Here’s how to make a lapped seam.

  1. Lay your first piece of material flat, right side up.
lapped seam 1
  1. Decide on your seam allowance.
  2. Lay the second piece of fabric on top of the first, wrong side up, lining up the edges. Right sides should be together.
lapped seam 2
  1. Fold the top fabric back along the seam allowance so that the right side of the top fabric is showing. 
lapped seam 3
  1. Press if you desire.
  2. Stitch along the folded edge.
lapped seam 4
  1. Turn your work over and serge or overlock the seam edges.
lapped seam 5

Confused? Don’t be. This video will make it clear.

Double Seams

Double seams use two rows of stitches. They tend to be very strong. Many also hide raw seam edges.

Welt Seam

To make a welt seam, first make a plain seam, as above. Then on the back of the fabric, press the seam allowance to one side, and secure it to the fabric with a second row of stitches.

French Seam

A French seam is a double seam that encloses the rough edges of both pieces of fabric. It’s a great seam to use when:

  • The fabric edges fray easily
  • You don’t want the fabric edges or your seam to show

French seams protect the edges, keep them out of sight, and provide a double-strong seam. 

They’re not difficult to make, either, though the setup is a bit different from a plain seam. You may also have to adjust your pattern’s seam allowance.

Here’s how to sew a French seam.

  1. Start with the wrong sides of your fabric pieces together (rather than the right sides).
  2. Stitch the first seam. The video below recommends a half-inch seam allowance, though you might prefer a different allowance.
French seam 1
  1. Trim the seam allowance to around one-quarter inch.
  2. Press the seam flat.
  3. Fold the fabric over so that the right sides are now facing.
French seam 2
  1. Press flat again.
French seam 3
French seam 4
  1. Sew the second seam to encase the raw edges.
French seam 5
  1. Press the new seam to one side.
French seam 6
French seam 7

Watch the entire process below.

Flat Felled Seam

A flat felled seam is a double seam that encloses the raw fabric edges. It’s very strong and durable. For this reason, it’s a favorite on garments meant for heavy wear, such as denim trousers and jackets.

A flat felled seam is similar to a French seam, however there are a few extra steps. The topstitching at the end gives the flat felled seam its very recognizable appearance.

Felled seam 1

Here’s how to make a flat felled seam.

  1. Start with the wrong sides, rather than the right sides, of your fabric pieces together. You will be working on the right side of the fabric.
  2. Stitch the first seam using the seam allowance of your choice.
Felled seam 2
  1. Decide which way your seam will lie. The seam allowance that will be on top is the top. The part of the seam allowance that will lie against the garment unseen is the bottom.
  2. Trim the bottom seam allowance by half.
Felled seam 3
  1. Fold the top  seam allowance over the bottom one to enclose the edges.
  2. Press again to form a sharp crease.
Felled seam 4
Felled seam 5
  1. Now press the entire enclosed seam against the face of the garment.
Felled seam 6
  1. Finally, topstitch the seam down, as close to the folded edge as you can.
Felled seam 7

Want to see the process from start to finish? Check this out.

Slot (Channel) Seam

The slot, or channel seam is a way of adding a pop of color to your project. Structurally, it’s like a double lap stitch, with the laps facing one another.

channel slot seam

The slot seam is both decorative and functional. Here’s how to make it.

  1. Place your two fabric pieces together, right sides touching.
  2. Baste along the seam allowance. You’ll be removing this row of stitches later.
channel slot seam 1
  1. Turn your fabric over and press your seam open.
channel slot seam 2
  1. Now, pin your contrasting strip over the open seam edges.
channel slot seam 3
  1. Turn your work over, and sew two rows of stitches, one on each side of the basted row. How far apart you sew them is your choice, but they should be equidistant from the center.
slot channel seam 4
  1. Take your seam ripper and remove the basted center row.
channel slot seam 5

Here’s another video showing you how it’s done:

Shaping Seams

These are a few types of seams that you can use to add shape to your garment.

Princess Seam

A Princess seam is a way of shaping a top, bodice, dress, or coat to complement a curved bustline and waist. The seam begins at the shoulder, curves slightly inward over the bust, coming back out again at the waist. 

The Princess seam is both structural and decorative. It connects the front panels of a garment, and also adds shape.

Viennese Seam

A Viennese seam is similar to a Princess seam. It’s a curved seam that connects the front panels of a garment, and accentuates a curved waist and bustline. 

Unlike the Princess seam, however, the Viennese seam begins at the armhole, rather than at the shoulder.

Decorative Seams/Seam Finishes

Decorative seams add visual appeal to a garment or project. They may be structural, also. However, many of them are not very strong.

Abutted (Butt) Seam

An abbutted seam joins two pieces of fabric together without overlapping them. There is no seam allowance. Instead, you sew a zigzag stitch over the fabric edges, joining them this way.

abutted seam

It’s not a very strong stitch. However, it’s a good stitch for when you want to reduce bulk, such as when sewing lingerie.

Sheet Seam or Linen Seam

A Sheet Seam, or Linen Seam is a type of abutted seam. Instead of a zigzag stitch, however, you join the pieces together with a decorative stitch.

linen seam

Hong Kong Seam

A Hong Kong seam isn’t so much a seam as the way to finish one. It’s often called a Hong Kong finish.

To add a Hong Kong finish to your seams, you either serge off the seam edges or bind them with seam tape. Using a seam tape of a contrasting pattern or color can add a luxurious touch to the inside of your garment.

This technique is most often used in unlined jackets and garments.

Here’s how to do it:

Knowing What Type of Seam to Use

So now that you have an idea of some of the many seam types out there, how do you know which one you should be using? A good way to tell is to think about what you’re trying to accomplish.

Shaping Your Garment

If you want to shape your garments for a curved body type, think about these.

  • Princess seam
  • Viennese seam

When You Want to Hide the Edges

If you want to hide your raw seam edges, try these.

  • French seam
  • Flat felled seam
  • Hong Kong finish

Securing Fabrics that Fray

If you’re working with a fabric that’s prone to fraying, and you want to secure the edges, these are the seams to think about.

  • French seam
  • Flat felled seam
  • Welt seam 
  • Hong Kong finish

Heavy Duty Seams

For seams that will take a beating and stay strong, you want one of these.

  • Flat felled seam
  • French seam

Decorative Seams

To add some flair to your project, check these out.

  • Channel seam
  • Linen seam
  • Abutted seam
  • Lapped seam
  • Hong Kong finish

Seam Finishes

The “finish” of a seam refers to how you deal with the raw edges of the seam allowance. When using non-fray materials such as vinyl, you can leave the edges raw. However, if you have a fabric that frays easily, you will definitely want to finish those edges. Finishing your seam edges can also add a professional touch to your project.

Pinked Edges

Pinking shears cut the edges of your fabric in a zigzag pattern.

pinking shears in use

You can pink your seam edges for a neat finish, if:

  • The fabric is not overly prone to fraying
  • Your garment will not be worn a lot
  • You won’t be washing the garment often

Zigzag Finish

You can finish most seam edges with a zigzag stitch, as long as the fabric is relatively strong and stable.

Serging Off

If you have a serger or an overlock stitch, you can also serge off your seam edges. You can even do this before sewing your seam.

Clean Finish

If you have a generous seam allowance, you can use this technique to give your seams a professional touch.

On the wrong side of your garment, press your seam flat. Now fold each side of the seam allowance in half, so that the raw edge is on the underside. Press and secure with a straight stitch. Then finish the other side. You can also finish your edges before you sew the seam.

What is Seam Allowance?

When you look at many patterns, you’ll notice that the pattern pieces are larger than you might expect from the measurements of the finished garment. This comes down to seam allowance. Seam allowance is extra width which will accommodate your stitching.

After you’ve stitched your seam, the seam allowance will not figure into the measurement of the garment. You might finish off your seam allowance using one of the finishes we discussed above. You might also trim it.

Seam allowances vary from pattern to pattern. Here are some different standards and when you might use them.

  • A ⅜ inch or half-inch seam allowance is a good general standard.
  • A ¼ inch seam allowance is good for curves, as it doesn’t add a lot of bulk.
  • If you’re serging or overlocking your seams, many experts recommend a ⅜ inch or ½ inch seam allowance.
  • If you’ll be adjusting the fit of your garment, a ⅝ inch seam allowance will give you room to do that.
  • Use a ⅝ inch seam allowance for French or Flat felled seams also.

Seam Sewing Tips

So, now that you know how to choose your seam, and the basics of how to produce it, how can you get the best possible results?

Choose Wisely

Choose the right seam type for your purpose. Do you:

  • Want to hide your edges?
  • Need a strong seam?
  • Plan to sew structure into your garment?
  • Want to add a decorative touch?

If so, there’s a seam for that. So find it.

Stabilize

If you’re working with a fabric that doesn’t like to hold its shape — think chiffon or similar — consider using a stabilizer, such as:

  • A spray-on, wash-out stabilizer
  • Iron-on interfacing
  • Tissue paper pinned to the back of the fabric and removed later

Make Friends with Your Guide Lines

sewing machine seam guide lines

The guide lines are those measurements marked on the needle plate of your sewing machine. Line your fabric edge up with the appropriate line and keep it there while you sew. This will ensure that your seam is straight, and that the measurements of the garment will match the pattern measurement when you’re done.

Take Your Time

It’s just a straight line, right? Wrong! Don’t hurry through your seams, especially if you’re using a complicated or decorative design. Slow down and take the time to do it right.

  • Dial down your sewing machine speed to ensure consistent, high-quality stitching.
  • Remember the old saying, “measure twice, cut once” — or, in this case, stitch once.
  • Check and double check your guide lines.
  • Press your seams and creases.

Clip Your Allowance

If you want to reduce bulk once you’ve sewn your seam, you can clip your seam allowance closer to your line of stitches. If your seam is curved, you’ll want to cut notches along the seam allowance in order to facilitate the curve.

Finish Your Seams

In a lot of cases, you can leave your seam edges raw. After all, they’re on the inside of the garment. No one’s going to see them. 

On the other hand, why not take that extra step and give those edges a nice finish? It doesn’t take that long. It can help your garment to last a bit longer, and to look more professional, too.

For more advice about specific techniques, don’t miss our upcoming article, How to Sew a Seam.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably learned more about seams than you thought there was to know. And this article only scratches the surface!

Seams play a variety of different roles in project construction. From assembling the pieces of a garment, to giving it shape, to adding strength or decorative flair, seams are at the heart of any project. 

What’s your favorite seam to use? Do you have any tips or tricks for people who might want to learn it? We’d love to hear about it in the comments. And if you enjoyed this article, please share it!

different types of sewing seams

Sewing Machine Tension Tips: How To Set Yours Perfectly Every Time

how to set sewing machine tension

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

It’s probably happened to you: skipped stitches, breaking thread, puckering fabric around your sewing line, or even thread nests on the back of your fabric. As diverse as these problems might seem, they all come down to thread tension. Do you know how to adjust tension on a sewing machine? It’s easy, and it can save you a lot of aggravation.

Why Sewing Machine Tension is Important

Your sewing machine has two threads: a top thread and a bottom, or bobbin thread. When you sew, your machine interlocks these two threads to form a chain.

Machine Case GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Your sewing machine holds each of these threads taut as it pulls them through the machine. This helps them to work together to form tight, even, consistent stitches. But if the tension of either thread is off, it can cause problems with your stitching.

When it comes to tension problems, the top thread is usually, though not always, to blame. But many sewing machines allow you to adjust the tension of both threads. We’ll show you how to do that in a little while.

Some sewing machines have an automatic thread tension feature. This feature sets the tension for the type of sewing you’re doing at any given time. However, there will be times when you want to do that fine tuning yourself. Specifically, certain fabrics and thread types may require a bit of manual adjustment to get your stitches just right.

Fabric Type and Thread Tension

The thickness, texture, and fibre composition of a fabric give that fabric its specific qualities. They determine how a fabric feels to the touch, how it drapes, whether it stretches, and how it moves through the sewing machine. They also determine how a given fabric will interact with the thread. Different fabrics, therefore, will work best with different thread tensions.

In general, lightweight fabrics will require finer threads and tighter tension. Conversely, you’ll need to sew heavier fabrics with thicker thread, using looser tension.

Thread Type and Thread Tension

Many kinds of thread are made to work at a variety of tensions. The important thing, however, is matching.

Always match your top thread and bottom thread in terms of weight and fibre composition. Use polyester thread with polyester thread, cotton with cotton, lightweight with lightweight, and so forth.

Likewise, match your thread to your fabric. Lightweight fabric needs lightweight thread; heavier fabric needs heavier thread. Also, sew synthetic fabrics with synthetic thread and match natural to natural.

Also, please note that poor quality thread can damage your sewing machine’s tension disks in a number of ways. It can leave dust and debris on your disks. It can also knot in the tension mechanism and cause wear and tear on your disks.

A Few Words About Needles

The wrong needle can cause problems with your sewing machine tension. 

How?

Well, the needle pokes a hole in the fabric then guides the thread through. If the needle is too large, the hole it creates will be too large to hold the thread optimally. This, in turn, can affect the top thread tension. It may cause puckering or other problems related to unbalanced stitches.

To Sum Up

  • Use only high quality thread
  • Use the same thread for top and bottom
  • Match your thread to your fabric type
  • Use the right needle
  • Lighter fabrics require tighter tension; heavier fabrics need looser tension

What Number Should the Tension Be on a Sewing Machine? 

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. First, different types of sewing require different tension settings. Also, not every sewing machine manufacturer follows the same labeling convention for its tension adjustment mechanisms.

However, there are a few guidelines that may help.

Most sewing machine tension dials will be numbered 0 to 9 or 1 to 10. As you might guess, lower numbers mean lower tension. Likewise, a number in the middle, like 5, means a medium tension, which is a good, general-purpose tension setting. 

sewing machine tension dial

If your tension dial has an “A,”, that’s the automatic setting. This can mean a few different things. 

Higher end sewing machines have sensors that measure your fabric thickness and other variables so that your machine can select the correct tension. 

Other machines may adjust the thread tension to fit the stitch type. These adjustments don’t take into account fabric type or thickness, however, so you may still need to make manual adjustments.

Mechanical and lower-end computerized machines may have one universal or “automatic” tension that works well for a variety of different kinds of sewing. But again, you may still have to adjust for fabric type and thickness.

When in doubt, do a series of test stitches. If your fabric puckers, the tension is too high. If the stitches are loose, the tension is too low.

Incorrect tension can cause other problems, too, and we’ll discuss them in detail in our troubleshooting guide. Because knowing how to fix sewing machine tension can eliminate a whole range of problems.

How to Adjust Upper Thread Tension

If you’re having problems with thread tension, most of the time, the problem will be with the top thread. Fortunately, most sewing machines make adjusting the top thread tension easy.

First, check to see that your tension mechanism is working correctly. Lower your presser foot and give the upper thread a gentle tug. If the thread is tight, the mechanism is doing its job. If not, then it may be time to consult a sewing machine repair professional.

Next, determine whether your problem is stemming from too much tension or too little. 

Now, use your sewing machine’s dial or knob to adjust the tension. Remember: the larger the number, the higher the tension.

Sew a few test stitches after each adjustment to gauge whether further adjustments are needed.

Your stitches should be even, with no looping or nesting on either side. There should be no puckering around your line of stitches. The bottom thread should not show through on top, nor vice versa.

How to Adjust Bobbin Tension 

As we said before, the majority of tension problems will come from the upper thread. Even when the problem appears to be with the lower thread, such as loops on the fabric surface or the bottom thread showing through on top, the problem may not be the bobbin thread, but the relative tightness of the threads to one another.

The top thread is easier to adjust, so start there. Also make sure that:

  • Your bobbin is wound correctly
  • You have threaded your sewing machine the right way
  • The tension mechanism is clean and free of debris
  • You’re using the right needle for your thread and fabric
  • The thread matches both the fabric and the bobbin thread

If you’ve determined that the lower thread really does need to be adjusted, here’s how to adjust tension on a sewing machine bobbin.

How to Adjust Tension on a Side-Loading Bobbin

Remove the bobbin case. You will find a small screw on the side. With the bobbin still in the case, tighten or loosen the screw very gradually. Start with a quarter-turn at a time.

How to Adjust Tension on a Drop-In Bobbin

The bobbin case on a drop-in bobbin sewing machine looks a bit different from the metal bobbin case of a side-loading bobbin. However, this is also the place where you’ll be making the adjustment.

Take the bobbin case out of your sewing machine. With the bobbin removed from the case, find the screw. It will be in the front, near the spring that holds the thread. Adjust slowly and gradually, between one quarter-turn and one half-turn at a time. 

Are Tension Adjustments the Same for Every Make and Model?

Unfortunately, no. Different sewing machine makes and models will often have slight differences when it comes to thread tension regulation. However, the general principles are the same. And if you understand these general principles, then you’ll be able to understand how to adjust thread tension for your sewing machine.

Thread Guides

The top thread of everysewing machine travels along a path of obstacles from spool to needle. The path is different for different sewing machines. However, the purpose is always the same: to keep your upper thread from tangling, and to regulate that thread’s tension.

Most sewing machines mark the path between thread guides with arrows and numbers. If you’re having tension-related issues, double check your thread diagram to make sure you’ve followed the thread guides properly.

Tension Assembly

Your sewing machine’s tension assembly consists of tension disks and a tension regulator. 

Tension disks are small metal disks through which the thread passes before coming to the needle. The disks squeeze the thread to create tension. The tension regulator controls the amount of pressure that the disks exert on the thread. You can adjust this pressure using your sewing machine’s tension knob or dial.

The principle is the same for all sewing machines, though some machines may have a knob for adjustments, while others have a dial. Also, the numbering may differ on the knob or dial. And some sewing machines may also have an automatic or universal setting that others lack.

If you’re experiencing tension problems, first make sure that your regulator is set to the correct number for the type of sewing you’re doing. Also, check your disks, and, if necessary clean out any dust or debris.

Sewing Machine Tension Troubleshooting

Now that you understand a bit about thread tension and how your sewing machine regulates it, it’s time to consider specific tension-related problems.

First, Make Sure That Tension Really Is the Problem

Before you reach for the tension dial, it’s worth considering whether the problem really lies with thread tension regulation. Thread and stitches can go wrong for a number of other reasons. So consider a few of these first.

Sewing Machine Needle

You should always start every new project with a new needle of the appropriate size and type. Make sure that your needle is not bent or damaged in any way, and that you have installed it correctly. Several problems can stem from a bent, damaged, inappropriate, or wrongly-installed needle, including:

  • Broken threads
  • Loose stitches
  • Uneven stitches
  • Fabric damage
  • Skipped stitches
  • Thread shredding

Check Your Thread

Are you using the appropriate weight thread for your project? Are you matching synthetic thread with synthetic fabric, and natural thread with natural fabric? Do the upper and bobbin threads match? And, importantly, are you using a high quality thread? If not, then you might experience problems like these:

  • Broken threads
  • Fabric puckering
  • Fabric damage

Double Check Your Threading Diagram

Have you threaded your machine correctly? Are you sure? Go back and check. We’ll wait. If you’ve missed out one of your thread guides, not threaded the tension disks correctly, or mixed up the threading steps (it happens!) you might see the following problems:

  • Breaking threads
  • Thread bunching
  • Machine jamming
  • Loose stitches

What About Your Bobbin Thread?

If your bobbin thread isn’t drawing, it’s possible that the bobbin is sitting incorrectly in the case. Have a look and re-insert your bobbin if necessary.

An incorrectly wound bobbin can also cause problems, such as fabric puckering.

Check the Spool Cap

The spool cap holds your thread on the spool pin. If it’s too tight, it may cause your thread to jam or break. If it’s too loose, that can cause problems, too.

sewing machine tension

Is Your Presser Foot Down?

We all forget to lower the presser foot from time to time. The presser foot activates the tension disks, so you can imagine what will happen if you try to sew with it up. That’s right: no upper thread tension. This is what it looks like.

incorrect sewing machine tension

Is Your Machine Clean?

Over time lint, dust, and grease can gather in parts of your machine, including the tension disks and tension regulator. This can impede the flow of thread through your tension assembly. If the thread isn’t feeding correctly, give your tension assembly a good cleaning. Here’s how.

If you’ve gone through these steps and nothing has helped, now it’s worth looking at the thread tension.

Diagnosing Tension Related Problems

So, you’re certain that tension is causing your difficulties. It’s time to narrow that diagnosis down.

Is it the Top Thread or the Bobbin Thread?

Once you’ve figured out that your problem is tension-related, it’s time to decide if the problem lies with the upper thread or the lower one.

Generally speaking, the problem will appear on the opposite side of the fabric from the problem thread. So if the symptom appears on the fabric surface, the bottom thread may be to blame. Likewise, if you see an issue on the underside of the fabric, the cause probably lies with the top thread.

Again, most of the time the top thread will be the culprit. Even when it looks like the lower thread is to blame, it’s worth checking to see if you can remedy the situation by adjusting the tension of the upper thread relative to that of the lower.

Too Tight or Too Loose?

Thread tension requires a Goldilocks solution: not too tight and not too loose. Here’s how to tell which adjustment to make.

Signs that one or both threads are too tight:

  • Bottom thread coming through to the surface (top thread too tight)
  • Top thread pulling through to the underside (bottom thread too tight)
  • Fabric bunching
  • Fabric puckering
  • Broken thread
  • Stitches breaking when stretched
  • Machine jamming

If your top thread is too tight, for example, your bottom stitches may look like this:

sewing machine tension too tight

Signs that one or both threads are too loose:

  • Loops
  • Nests
  • Gaps in the seam
  • Skipped stitches
  • Uneven stitches

If your top thread is too loose, for example, your stitches may turn out this way.

sewing machine tension too loose

10 Sewing Machine Problems and What They Might Mean

A quick guide to common symptoms and what might be causing them.

Fabric Puckering 

Top or bottom thread tension too tight, thread mismatched to fabric, incorrectly wound bobbin

Broken Threads or Stitches

Damaged, incorrect, or incorrectly installed needle, top or bottom thread too tight, machine not threaded correctly, dirty tension assembly, poor quality thread, spool cap too tight

Skipped Stitches

Top or bottom thread too loose, spool cap too loose, machine not threaded correctly, presser foot up; wrong, damaged, or incorrectly installed sewing machine needle

Uneven Stitches

Top or bottom thread too loose; wrong, incorrectly installed, or damaged sewing machine needle, sewing machine not threaded correctly

Gaps in the Seam

Top or bottom thread too loose, spool cap too loose

Loops and Nests

Top or bottom thread too loose, spool cap too loose, sewing machine not threaded correctly, presser foot up

Bottom Thread Showing on the Surface

Top thread tension too tight, or too tight relative to bottom thread

Top Thread Showing on the Bottom

Bottom thread tension too tight, or too tight relative to top thread

Top Thread Not Feeding

Incorrectly threaded sewing machine, dirty tension assembly, spool cap too tight; wrong, incorrectly installed, or damaged sewing machine needle, top thread tension too tight

Lower Thread Not Feeding

Bobbin thread tension too tight, bobbin incorrectly wound, bobbin sitting incorrectly in bobbin case

Does Your Thread Tension Need Attention?

Thread tension problems can be the bane of any project. And once you understand how thread tension works, it can be easy to fix, or even prevent them.

At the same time, lots of things can cause issues that look like tension problems but aren’t. And many tension problems aren’t caused by — or cured by — the tension regulator.

Before reaching for that dial, consider other factors that may affect tension: 

  • Are you using a new, undamaged sewing machine needle that’s gauged for your project? 
  • Have you matched your top and bottom threads to the fabric and to each other? 
  • Is your machine threaded correctly? 
  • And is your tension assembly clean and free of debris?

Most true tension problems come down to the upper thread. However, sometimes the bobbin thread is to blame. Fortunately, neither one is complicated to adjust.

Do you have a tension tip or trick you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

sewing machine tension guide

How To Thread A Needle: Pass Machine & Hand Sewing Needles Easily

how to thread a needle tips

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

Do you know how to thread a needle? I don’t mean conceptually. That’s easy. Have you ever struggled with pushing a fuzzy thread-end through a teeny, tiny hole? Have you ever thought, there has to be an easier way? You’re right. In fact, there are several. We’ll show you seven. Yes, seven.

What You’ll Need to Complete This Tutorial

There are several different types of needles, and each has its own tips and tricks for threading. Unsurprisingly, each technique requires slightly different tools.

What sort of needle are you trying to thread? And how are you hoping to accomplish it? Let’s have a look.

Threading a Regular Hand Sewing Needle

Threading a Self-Threading Hand Sewing Needle

Threading a Sewing Machine Needle by Hand

  • Thread
  • Your sewing machine needle
  • Scissors or thread snips
  • Sewing machine needle threader (optional)
  • Beeswax (optional)

Threading a Self-Threading Sewing Machine Needle

Threading a Sewing Machine Needle With an Automatic Threader

  • Thread
  • Your sewing machine needle
  • Your sewing machine’s attached needle threader

How to Thread a Needle for Hand Sewing: 3 Different Ways

Do you have your tools? Right. Let’s do this. 

Method 1: Threading a Regular Hand-Sewing Needle

A hand-sewing needle is, of course, what you might carry in your emergency kit in case of a lost button. It’s a simple tool: a thin rod of metal with a point on one end and an eye on the other. The trick is to get the thread through the eye. You probably already know that it can be harder than it sounds. 

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

You will need your needle:

needle wallet

your thread:

orange thread

a pair of scissors or snips:

scissors

your beeswax (optional):

beeswax for sewing

and your handy needle-threader (also optional). 

needle threader

A needle threader isn’t necessary, but it does make things a lot easier. This is especially true if your needle has a small, difficult-to-see eye.

Step 2: Prepare Your Thread

You could just try to jam your thread through the eye of the needle. But if you take the time to prepare the thread, it’s a lot easier.

First, snip the end of the thread at an angle. This will do two things. First, it will remove any fuzz or fraying. These are two of the things that make threading a needle difficult. Also, snipping at an angle will make a little point that will guide the rest of the thread through the eye.

snip thread

If you like, you can also smooth a bit of beeswax onto the end of the thread. This will make your thread end stiffer and straighter. And that will help it to go through the eye of the needle easier as well.

Step 3: Your Needle Threader

Needle threaders are cool little tools. They’re cheap, easy to come by, and they work a treat. 

How do you use it? It’s easy! The thin wire “eye” of the threader collapses so it can fit through even the smallest needle eye. So first, poke the wire through the eye.

thread needle threader

See how it expands once it’s through? See how nice and big the opening is? Put your thread through that.

threading a needle with threader

Now, pull the threader back out. The thread will follow. You’re done! Wasn’t that easy?

a threaded needle

Method 2: Threading a Hand Sewing Needle Without a Threader

A needle threader is a wonderful thing, but you don’t have to have one. If you’ve snipped your thread end to a point and applied your beeswax, the thread should go through the eye of your needle pretty easily on its own.

needle with orange thread

Method 3: Threading a Self-Threading Hand Sewing Needle

Self-threading needles, whether for hand sewing or for a sewing machine have a very small gap on one side of the eye. With a self-threading needle, you load the thread from the side. This means no cutting, waxing, or poking.

A self-threading needle doesn’t mean there’s no work to do. But the unique design of that needle’s eye means that the work is a bit easier. Here’s how you thread a self-threading needle.

Simply loop the thread around the body of the needle.

needle threading orange thread

Now slide it up to the eye and pull it down. The thread will slot easily into the eye from the side. Watch the entire process from beginning to end in the video below:

How to Thread a Needle on a Sewing Machine: 4 Ways

Just like with hand sewing needles, there are a surprising number of ways to thread a sewing machine needle. But first, you’ll need to prepare your machine.

Preparing Your Sewing Machine

Threading a sewing machine is a multi-step process that ends with the thread traveling through the eye of the needle. But before you get to that step, you’ll have to thread the top thread and the bobbin thread. Here’s how.

Step 1: Follow Your Sewing Machine’s Top Thread Threading Diagram

Every sewing machine model threads the top thread a bit differently. However, if you look at your machine closely, you’ll find a diagram that shows you the exact path your top thread should follow. The different steps keep the thread flowing smoothly through the machine, help to keep it from tangling, and regulate the thread tension.

Here’s the top thread threading diagram for my sewing machine.

thread sewing machine needle diagram

This video shows how to follow the threading diagram for a Brother mechanical sewing machine:

Step 2: The Bobbin Thread

The bobbin thread is the bottom thread. Every sewing machine will have either a top-loading bobbin or a front-loading bobbin.

For a top-loading drop-in bobbin, remove the bobbin cover. 

Now, slip the bobbin into place. Pay particular attention to the diagram on your bobbin cover. Some machines require the thread to come off the bobbin from the left side, while others require it to come off the right.

thread sewing machine needle

Now, pull the thread through the slot in the bobbin well. Pull it up and to the left.

You can watch the process here:

For a front-loading (or side-loading) bobbin, the process is a bit different.

First, remove the bobbin case. Then insert your bobbin into the bobbin case. Direction matters, just like with a top-loading bobbin. So be sure to follow your manufacturer’s directions.

Guide the thread into the slot, and pull it through the metal band. Now replace the bobbin case and shut the door to the bottom compartment.

This video shows you how it’s done:

Now you’re ready to bring the top thread through the needle.

Method 1: Threading a Sewing Machine Needle with an Automatic Needle Threader

Many modern sewing machines come with an automatic needle threader. The design may be different on different machines, but the function is the same. An automatic needle threader takes the fiddly part out of threading your sewing machine needle. 

You won’t have to worry about trying to poke a tiny thread end through a tiny hole. Likewise, you won’t have to bother with cutting or waxing.

An automatic needle threader looks like this:

automatic needle threader

So, how do you use an automatic needle threader? Again, different sewing machines have different designs, but the steps are more or less the same.

Step 1: Double-Check Your Top Thread

Have you guided your top thread through the threading diagram correctly? Yes? Good. 

Step 2: Open the Needle Threader

Many automatic needle threaders are spring loaded. To open the needle threader, find the button or lever and press it.

Step 3: Load the Thread

Most automatic needle threaders use a hook to either push or pull the thread through the eye of your sewing machine needle. In this model, I’m guiding the thread into the right position in the threader.

using an automatic needle threader

Step 4: Release the Threader

Now release the threader. It will guide the thread through the needle then return, automatically, to its place. It’s easy!

Check out this video of a Singer needle threader in action:

Method 2: Threading Your Sewing Machine With a Hand Held Needle Threader

Some sewing machines don’t come with an automatic needle threader. That can be a pain in the neck, but it’s not the end of the world. 

You can purchase a hand-held needle threader for sewing machine needles. Like threaders for hand sewing needles, these are cheap and easy to find. They work in a similar way to an automatic needle threader. Check this out.

Step 1: Position Your Threader

Hold your threader in your right hand, with the pointy bits facing to the left. The top hook should face up. The needle threader has a plunger, like a syringe. This should be facing to the right, with your thumb on top of it.

using a Machine Needle Inserter & Threader
Image is a screenshot from the featured video

Step 2: Insert the Thread

Place the thread horizontally through the Y-groove. Now, place the loaded needle threader against the top of the needle, above the eye.

Machine Needle Inserter & Threader in use
Image is a screenshot from the featured video

Step 3: Bring the Threader Down

Slide the loaded threader down the needle toward the eye, until the inner wire catches the needle’s eye.

Step 4: Push the Plunger

Once the hook has contacted the eye, press the plunger. This should push the thread through the eye of your sewing machine needle. 

Machine Needle Inserter and Threader being used
Image is a screenshot from the featured video

Step 5: Finish the Job

You were probably wondering what the little plastic hook on the end was for. It’s for pulling the thread the rest of the way through! Simply slip the hook through the loop and gently pull. You’re done!

You can see the entire process from start to finish here:

Method 3: Threading a Self-Threading Sewing Machine Needle

A self-threading sewing machine needle works on the same principle as a self-threading hand sewing needle. There’s a gap in the eye that allows you to pull the thread through without having to squint and poke.

Simply loop the thread around the body of your sewing machine needle. Then pull it gently down toward the eye. Now tug it sideways into the eye. Done!

You can see the process in action below.

Method 4: No Threader, No Problem

The last method is the most straightforward, but, let’s face it: it can be a pain. Nonetheless, there are ways to make it less painful.

Step 1: Prepare Your Thread

A fuzzy, frayed thread end can be a hindrance for threading a sewing machine needle, just as it can with a hand sewing needle. So prepare your thread. Cut the edge at an angle, and, if you like, add a dab of beeswax to the tip.

Step 2: Guide it Through

Now guide the thread through the eye. Many sewing machines require the thread to go in from front to back. Some, however, may require the thread to enter from the side.

Many Ways to Thread a Needle

Who knew there were so many ways to thread a needle? And who knew there were so many tips, tricks, and devices to make it easier? It all comes down to having the right tools and giving your thread a little bit of tender loving care.

Do you have a special trick for threading a needle? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

how to thread a needle

How To Sew A Zipper: Easy Step-By-Step Guide For Beginners

how to sew a zipper beginners guide

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

It’s happened to all of us. You’re heading out the door, putting on your favorite jacket, and the zipper bites the dust. Time to throw out that jacket? It doesn’t have to be. If you know how to sew a zipper, your favorite jacket, backpack, trousers, or other item can be ready to use again in no time.

What You’ll Need

Fixing your zipper isn’t hard, but you need the right tools for the job. Here’s what you’ll need to follow our tutorial.

A Replacement Zipper

sewing leather jacket zipper

Consider your replacement zipper carefully. You may want to choose something similar to your old zip. Or you might want to choose something better. Either way, think about the following.

Length

Measure different types of zippers differently. Your measurements should include the zipper but not the zipper tape (the part that you will be sewing).

Measure closed-bottom zippers from the bottom stop to the top stop.

Measure separating-bottom zippers from the box (that metal square at the bottom) to the stop pin (that larger bit that keeps the puller from running off at the top).

The resulting measurement will give you the length, in inches or centimetres, of your new zipper. 

Gauge

Gauge refers to the thickness of the zipper. Heavier items use heavier gauge zippers. The higher the gauge number, the larger the teeth of your zipper. [1]

The gauge number roughly corresponds to the size of the teeth. To measure the teeth, start at the left side and measure all the way across. The millimeter measurement will give you a rough idea of the gauge. If the teeth part of your zipper measures 3.1 to 3.5 millimeters across, for example, the gauge is #3.

Style and Material

sewing a zipper on a bag
A nylon coil zipper

There are a lot of different kinds of zippers out there. Here are some of the most common ones.

The conventional zipper design has individual metal teeth lined up at intervals along the zipper tape.

Coil zippers are made from coils of nylon or polyester sewn into the zipper tape. They’re popular in luggage and camping gear. Their design makes it easy to fix an out-of-alignment zip. They are also very strong.

Invisible zippers disappear into the seam of an item. You might find these in dresses and skirts. Any type of zipper can be an invisible zipper. “Invisible” refers to the way it’s sewn into an item, rather than to a specific zipper design.

Open-bottom zippers (or separating-bottom zippers) open all the way. Jacket zippers are an example. Conversely, closed-bottom zippers stop at the bottom. Trouser and dress zippers are generally closed-bottom zips.

Two-way separating zippers can zip open and shut in both directions. These are common in tents and luggage.

The Correct Presser Foot

You can use an ordinary presser foot to sew a zipper, but it might prove more difficult in tight places. 

A zipper foot is made for this task. It’s smaller than a standard presser foot and you can adjust some of them to either side as needed. Zipper feet also come in a range of sizes.

adjustable vertical needle zipper foot
An adjustable vertical needle zipper foot

The great news is, a zipper foot comes standard with many sewing machines. And if one didn’t come with yours, they’re inexpensive and easy to find.

There are many different kinds of zipper feet, including:

  • Zipper foot/piping foot: the standard, narrower zipper foot
  • Invisible zipper foot for sewing invisible zippers
  • Adjustable zipper foot: can be used on either side of the needle

Check out this zipper foot in action.

You will also need:

Optional:

  • Scissors for shortening plastic or coil zippers
  • Metal snippers and jewelry pliers for shortening metal zippers (I like this set from WorkPro)

Do you have everything you need? Great. Let’s go.

How to Sew a Zipper Step by Step

How you sew in your new zipper will depend on the type of zipper. Are you replacing an invisible zip? Or will your new zipper show? Either way, the first step is taking out the old one.

Removing the Old Zipper

No matter what kind of new zipper you’re installing, the first step is to take out the old one. For this, you’ll need your seam ripper.

seam ripper
A seam ripper

First, locate the rows of stitches that hold the zipper in place. Now use the point of your seam ripper to gently lift a stitch. Slide the stitch along the curved cutting edge until it breaks. Now remove the rest of the stitches until your zipper comes free.

Prepare Your New Zipper

It’s easiest to buy a zipper that’s exactly the same size as the old one. But what if you can’t find one? Or what if you have another zipper that would look great but is slightly too long? Never fear. You can use that one too.

First, measure your old zipper. Next, use your fabric pen to mark the new length on the zipper tape of the new zipper. Then hand-sew a succession of whip stitches around the teeth where you want the new bottom to be. You can machine sew a bar tack for this part, provided you’re very, very precise about your stitch length. [2]

Finally, trim your new zipper. If you have a plastic, nylon, or polyester zipper, you can use ordinary scissors. If your zipper is metal, you’ll need to use metal snips.

Watch how it’s done below.

How to Sew an Exposed Zipper

Sewing an exposed zipper is a bit easier than sewing in an invisible one. Still, since everyone will be seeing your new zip, it pays to do it right.

Step 1: Mark

You’ll use your fabric marking pen to make two marks on the wrong side of your fabric. First, make a mark three-quarters of an inch from the top of the seam. Then lay your zipper along the seam so that the top of the teeth meet that mark.

sewing a zipper mark

Now, make a second mark right below the box (the metal bottom) of your zipper.

marking fabric for zipper sewing

Set the zipper aside.

Step 2: Stabilize (Optional but recommended)

Stabilize your seam edges by ironing a strip of stabilizing tape or a one-inch wide strip of fusible interfacing onto the seam edges. Do this on both edges, on the wrong side of the fabric.

stabilizing seam for zipper sewing

Step 3: Stay-Stitch

Next, stay-stitch the fabric three-quarters of an inch (1.9 centimeters) from the edge of each seam. [3]

Step 3: Close the Seam

Now, using a ⅝-inch (1.6 cm) seam allowance, sew the edges of the seam together starting ever-so-slightly below where the box (bottom) of the zipper will sit, and ending at the end of your work.

closing seam with allowance

Step 4: Clip and Press

Clip from the edge of the seam to the seam allowance at the base of the zipper opening. Press the seam allowance open.

sewing a zipper guide

Now press open the seam above the cut. Press it open to the seam allowance.

guide to sewing a zipper

Step 5: Pin and Baste

Pin your zipper along the seam, so that the right side of the zipper is facing up through the right side of the fabric. If you want to baste the zipper to the fabric, do so now.

pin and baste zipper seam

Step 6: Trim 

Double-check the wrong side of the fabric. If necessary, trim the seam allowances.

trimming seam allowances

Step 7: Stitch

This step is easier if you begin with the zipper unzipped.

Starting at the top pin, stitch along the right side of the fabric, between one eighth of an inch (3 millimeters) and one quarter-inch (6 millimeters) from the zipper teeth. 

stitching a zipper

When you get to the bottom, stitch around the box of your zipper, rotate your work, and continue up the other side to the other top pin.

zipper seam allowance trim

When you’re finished, remove any basting stitches.

How to Sew an Invisible Zipper

An invisible zipper hides in the seam of a garment. You won’t see any machine stitching on the right side of the fabric. This is a popular type of zipper for different types of garments where a zipper would ruin the line of the garment or the pattern of the fabric.

Sew your invisible zipper in while the pieces of your pattern are flat and unattached. An invisible zipper foot is designed to sew invisible zippers, though you can use a regular zipper foot, or even a regular presser foot.

An invisible zipper foot
An invisible zipper foot

Step 1: Prepare the Seam Edges

If you want to serge your seam edges, now is the time. Alternately, you can secure your edges with stabilizing tape or fusible interfacing.

Step 2: Mark 

As with a visible zip, use your fabric marker to make a mark ¾ of an inch from the top of the fabric, on the right side of both pieces.

Also mark a ⅝-inch seam allowance on the right side of both pieces. You will place the zipper along these marks.

mark for invisible zipper sewing

Step 3: Pin the First Side of Your Zip

Lay the coil (or teeth) of your zipper right on the seam allowance marking. Lay it face down and pin it into place. Pay close attention to the directionality of your zip, because it’s easy to get this part wrong. The teeth should face away from the edge of the fabric.

pinning invisible zipper for sewing

If you want to baste the zipper into place, you can do that now.

Step 4: Sew the First Side

Again, sewing your zipper is easier if the zipper is open.

Place the zipper coil (or teeth) under the groove on your invisible zipper foot. Start at the top edge of the fabric and stitch down until you are parallel with the box. Make a bar tack and cut your thread.

sewing invisible zipper tips

Step 5: Pin the Second Side

Now pin the second side to the other piece of fabric and baste if desired. Again, the teeth should face away from the fabric’s edge. Your zipper will look twisted, and that’s okay. You’ll be untwisting it soon enough.

Step 6: Sew the Second Side

Following the same procedure as in Step 4, sew the second side of the zipper to the fabric. Make sure that the ¾-inch marks at the top of both pieces line up before you start sewing.

Step 7: Take a Peek

Oh dear, it looks rather twisted now, doesn’t it? Never fear. Simply zip the zipper and turn your work over to get a sneak peek at your invisible zipper.

an invisible zipper partly sewn

 Better? Good. Now, on to the next part.

Step 7: Finish the Seam Below the Zip

Return to the wrong side of your work. Moving the tail of your zipper out of the way, bring the fabric edges together at the seam allowance, and stitch the seam together.

seam finish for invisible zipper

Now turn your work over and finish the top.

That wasn’t so bad, was it?

All Zipped Up

Replacing a zipper isn’t difficult if you know how. Better yet, doing so can save you money, and save your favorite bag or garment.

Build your zipper replacement tool kit before you need it. Remember, you’ll need to be able to remove your old zipper, mark your fabric, pin a new zipper into place, and sew the new zipper in. You can often use a regular presser foot, but a special zipper foot can make your work easier, especially if you anticipate any tight stitching. 

You might also find it helpful to have a few spare zippers of different lengths and gauges to hand.

Are you ready to fix your zipper? Let’s go!

how to sew a zipper

REFERENCES

  1. SBSZipper | How To Measure The Zipper Gauge Correctly | https://www.sbs-zipper.com/blog/how-to-measure-the-zipper-gauge-correctly/
  2. wikiHow Staff | How to Whipstitch | https://www.wikihow.com/Whipstitch
  3. Collins | Stay Stitching | https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/stay-stitching

How To Sew A Button: 2-Hole, 4-Hole, & Shank Buttons Explained

how to sew a button

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

It seems so simple, yet you’d be surprised how many people don’t know how to sew a button. If you’re one of those people, don’t worry. It’s easy to replace a button by hand or using a sewing machine. We’ll show you how.

What You’ll Need to Complete This Tutorial

Most of us have at least some of these things at home already. And if you don’t? They’re cheap and often as close as your local craft store.

Replacement Button

This is the fun part. Think about the button you lost. Do you want to replace it exactly? That might take some doing. If it’s a common sort of button, you might easily find a match at your fabric or craft store, or even in the household section of your grocery. If it’s a specialized button, however, you might have to contact the maker of your garment.

On the other hand, this could be your chance to revitalize your garment with a completely different set of buttons. Different colors, materials, or designs can give an item a whole new character. Take a look at this blouse. How would each of these buttons change its look?

different types of button

Regardless of color, shape, or material, there are three basic types of button: two-hole, four-hole and shank. Two-hole and four-hole buttons are self-explanatory. A shank button, like the wooden button above, has a circular bit on one side. Instead of sewing through the button to attach a shank button, you sew through the shank.

Needle

There are a lot of types of needles for hand-sewing. Fortunately, you can use just about any of them to attach a button. However, you should pay attention to the needle’s sharpness and size.

needles for button sewing

A dull needle, like a darning needle, may be able to get the job done. However, a sharp needle will go through cloth easily and with minimal damage. Likewise the needle you choose should not only fit through the holes or shank of your replacement button, but should also be small enough to not damage the fabric of your garment.

Thread

Again, there are many types of thread. And again, you can use most of them to sew on a button. If you want to minimize the chances of losing your new button, though, you might consider using button thread. Button thread is a thick, tough thread that’s also used for sewing carpets and upholstery. 

button sewing thread

Scissors

Using scissors to cut off your thread ends will keep things tidy.

Fabric Marking Pen

A fabric marking pen can help you to remember exactly where you want your buttons to go. It can help you to line up your new buttons nice and straight, and to make sure they line up with the buttonholes. They can also mark your place. This can be a lifesaver if you have to set your work down, or if you drop a button while sewing.

Fabric marking pens come in different colors. Some have washable ink. Others have ink that disappears when exposed to heat. Alternatively, you can use tailor’s chalk, which simply brushes off.

Pin or Toothpick

It might be tempting to sew your new button on as tightly as possible so that it won’t fall off. But you should always leave a little bit of space between the button and the fabric. First, a too-tight button can pucker the fabric, and the garment won’t look right. Also, if your button is too tight, it could actually break off more easily, as the thread is under more pressure. And if the thread is really tight, it might also take some of the fabric with it.

Using a toothpick or a pin can give your new button just enough breathing room. You can also use a paperclip or anything else of similar size. We’ll show you how to do this in a bit.

Beeswax (Optional)

No matter what kind of thread you’re using, coating it with beeswax can make it straighter, tougher and stronger. It will also help the thread to glide more easily through the fabric. This is an old bookbinder’s trick, but it works for sewing fabric, too. Here’s how you do it.

Thimble (Optional)

If you’re pushing thread through thick cloth or multiple layers, using a thimble can protect your thumb and allow you to press harder on the end of the needle.

How to Sew a Button Step by Step

There are two ways to sew a button: by hand and by machine. The process is a little bit different for each kind of button.

How to Sew a Button With Two Holes by Hand

2-hole button
A two-hole flat button

Let’s start with the easiest job: sewing a two-hole button by hand.

Step 1: Prepare Your Materials

First, make sure you have everything you need. Thread your needle. A double thickness of thread, as shown in the photo, will make your repair stronger. Tie a knot at the end of your thread, and coat the thread in beeswax.

needle and thread

Step 2: Make Your Mark

Now lay out your item. Smooth the buttonhole down so that it’s right over where the old button sat. Use your fabric marking pen to mark where the new button will go. If you’re sewing on more than one replacement button, repeat this process for all of the buttons.

fabric marker pen

Now open the garment and lay your button down over the mark. Flat buttons often have a ridged side and a smooth side. The smooth side is the back and should sit against the fabric.

Step 3: The First Hole

Holding the button in place with one hand, use your other hand to bring the needle up from the bottom and through the first hole. Some people pull the thread all the way through, so that the knot is snug against the back of the fabric. I prefer to leave an inch or so of thread so that I can tie off my thread at the end.

Step 4: The Second Hole

Now, bring the needle down through the other hole.

sewing a button

Step 5: Toothpick Time

If you’re planning to use your toothpick, now is the time. Slide it gently between your button and the fabric. Alternatively, you could slip the toothpick on top of the button, between your initial stitch and the button itself.

toothpick button sewing

Step 6: Sew!

Now sew the button on. Make a continuous loop, going up through the first hole, down through the second, then back up through the first one again. Do this eight to ten times.

Step 7: Tie Off and Snip

Once your button is firmly attached, knot your thread several times underneath the fabric. You can also “sew off” the thread end by knotting it several times around the bottom of your circle of stitches and securing the knot with a few stitches. Remove the toothpick and snip off the edges. You’re done!

How to Sew a Button With Four Holes by Hand

4-hole button
A four-hole flat button

Step 1: Prepare Your Materials

As before, thread your needle, pulling the ends of the thread together so that the needle sits at the midpoint. Now knot the ends and treat the entire thread with beeswax.

Step 2: On Your Mark

Use your fabric markers to mark where you want your button to sit. You can make the location very precise by laying the edges of your garment over one another, as if buttoning the garment, then poking the tip of your fabric through the buttonhole to mark the button’s final place.

Step 3: Holes 1 and 2

Set the button on top of your mark. Remember: ridge side up!

Now, bring your thread up from beneath the fabric, through the first hole. It doesn’t matter which hole you choose. Then bring it down through the hole that sits diagonally to your first hole.

Step 4: Make Some Room

Will you use a toothpick with a four-hole button? You bet you will. Slip it gently beneath the diagonal of thread you just made, or between the button and your fabric.

how to sew a 4-hole button

Step 5: Holes 3 and 4

Your needle should now be underneath the fabric. Bring it back up again through one of the holes that you’ve not yet stitched. Now bring it back down through the hole that sits diagonally to it. You should now have a nice “X” shape.

Step 6: Criss Cross

You will be sewing this “X” over and over again by sewing diagonals. You could sew the diagonal from hole 1 to hole 2 several times, then switch to one between holes 3 and 4. You could also alternate. This video shows you the first way.

Step 7: Finish the Job

Once you have between six and eight complete “X” shapes, knot off your thread or sew it off. Now remove your toothpick, snip your edges, and admire your work!

How to Sew a Shank Button by Hand

shank button sewing
A shank button

A shank button is a bit easier than a flat button. You don’t have to use a toothpick, although I do recommend keeping the thread relaxed.

Step 1: Prepare Your Materials

As always, thread your needle, making sure that you have a double length of thread. Knot the thread ends and treat your thread with beeswax. 

Step 2: X Marks the Spot

Use your fabric pen to mark where you want your button to go. Now set the shank of your button down on your mark.

Step 3: Stitch it Up

Hold the shank of the button against the fabric with one hand. Now, use the other to draw the thread up from below the fabric, through the shank, and back down through the fabric. Make six to ten complete loops.

sewing shank button

Step 4: Tie it Off and Snip

When you’re finished, knot the thread and snip off the ends.

How to Sew a Button Using a Sewing Machine

Some people prefer sewing buttons by hand. It’s quick and easy, and you’re not risking either your button or your machine needle. But if you want to sew your button by machine, that, too, can be quick and easy. And if you’re careful, you can do it safely, as well.

You’ll need two extra pieces of kit for this: some sticky tape and a button foot (optional).

button foot
A button sewing foot

Step 1: Secure Your Button

Put your button where you want it and secure it to the fabric with sticky tape.

Step 2: Prepare Your Sewing Machine

You’ll want to do several things.

First, choose your stitch. You’ll want a zigzag stitch.

Next, set your stitch length to zero. You’ll not want your button moving forward through the machine. 

Now lower your feed dogs. Your feed dogs move the work forward through the machine. If your stitch length is zero, it should not be moving anyway. However, lowering the feed dogs will be an added measure of protection.

Set your stitching speed to slow. Better safe than sorry!

Finally, put on your button foot if you have one. A button foot holds your button in place while you sew. This is optional, but it makes things easier.

Step 3: Insert Your Work

Place your fabric and button on top of the feed dogs. Lower the presser foot onto it. 

Step 4: Sew a Test Stitch…Slowly

Use the hand wheel to slowly lower the needle into the first buttonhole. Continuing to use the hand wheel, lift up the needle and continue to turn it until the needle approaches the second hole.

button sewing machine

Does it go directly in? Is the stitch too wide or too narrow? Adjust the stitch width if you need to, then set it.

Sew Your Button

Now, carefully, stitch your button.

Tie and Snip the Edges

When you’re finished, take your work out of the sewing machine. Turn it over and tie off the edges.

Having trouble visualizing the process? Check out this instructional.

It’s Sew Easy!

Replacing a button isn’t difficult, but it’s important to use the right tools and the right procedure. 

What did you think of our tutorial? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

learn to sew buttons

How To Identify Sewing Machine Needles: Needle Sizes, Types, & Tips

how to identify sewing machine needles

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

A needle is a needle is a needle, right? Wrong! Sewing machine needles come in a variety of sizes, sharpnesses, and materials, and choosing the wrong one could cost you your project.

In short, knowing how to identify sewing machine needles is an essential skill every sewist must have.

Our sewing machine needle guide will give you the scoop on the types of sewing needles and sewing machine needle sizes. We’ll tell you which needles work best for which fabrics and which types of sewing, and help you to determine what sewing needle to use for your next project.

The Anatomy of a Sewing Machine Needle

sewing machine needle anatomy

Sewing needle design hasn’t changed much over time. In fact, archaeologists recently unearthed a 50,000-year-old sewing needle in Novosibirsk, Russia, that you or I could still use for hand-stitching today. [1]

Sewing machine needles, too, have maintained the same basic design. However, over time, variations on that design have evolved to better fit different types of sewing.

So, once you know the fundamentals, working out how to identify sewing machine needles is a breeze. The basic parts of a sewing machine needle include:

Butt

This is the “top” of the needle. It may be rounded or flat. This is the part that you insert into the needle bar.

Shank

Extending down from the butt is the shank. A needle shank comes in different shapes, which correspond to the type of sewing machine you have. Industrial sewing machine needles may have round, threaded, or grooved shanks. Home sewing machines use a needle where the shank is rounded on one side and flat on the other.

Shoulder

The sloping space between the shank and the shaft is called the shoulder. The shoulders of some sewing machine needles are color-coded to show the usage of the needle.

Shaft

The shaft (also called the blade) is the main body of the needle. Needle size is determined by the thickness of the shaft.

Groove

Sewing machine needles have a groove along the front of the shaft. The length and width of this groove can vary from needle to needle. In all cases, however, the groove helps to make stitches smoother by cradling the thread and guiding it to the eye.

Scarf

Between the groove and the eye is an indentation called the scarf. This indentation helps the bobbin hook to grab the thread. The size of this indentation is different in different types of needles.

Eye

The eye is the hole near the tip of the needle, where you insert the thread. The size and shape of the eye can vary, depending on your needle type.

Point

The point, or tip, of the needle makes first contact with your fabric. The sharpness can vary, depending on which fabric the needle is designed to sew. Heavier materials require a sharper needle. Needles meant for stretch fabrics are comparatively blunt. Universal needles, that is, needles made to sew a variety of fabric types, are somewhere between the two.

Which Needle Do You Need?

Although sewing machine needles may look similar, there are subtle differences in design that can affect your fabric, thread, and stitching.

So, how do you choose?

You need to consider three parameters: the purpose for which the needle is designed, the size of the needle, and the weight of the thread you’re planning to use. 

What’s Your Project?

A universal needle will work for a variety of different kinds of sewing. However, when it comes to special tasks like embroidery or leather work, you should choose a needle purpose-made for your craft. Craft-specific needles will have different features that make them more effective for certain kinds of sewing.

What Kind of Fabric are you Using?

Different kinds of needles have features that allow them to work efficiently with different types of fabric. 

Sewing machine needles for denim look a lot different from the needles you might use for silk, for example. Denim needles are both heavier and sharper. Machine embroidery needles are different from both of these. They have a longer eye and a specially shaped scarf. And the list goes on. [2]

Choose a heavier gauge needle for heavier work and a thinner, lighter needle for light fabrics.

What About Thread Weight?

You’ll also need to consider the weight of the thread you’ll be using. Pair smaller sized needles with lighter weight thread, and larger sized needles with heavier thread. 

The numbering conventions for thread weights can be confusing, especially because they look so similar to needle gauges. We’ll tackle this more in depth in a bit.

What Types of Sewing Machine Needles Are There?

different types sewing machine needle

You might be surprised by just how many types of sewing machine needles there are. Each is a little bit different. Let’s have a look.

Universal Needles

A universal sewing machine needle is made to work with most types of fabric and thread. The shaft is of medium diameter, and the tip is pointed but not as sharp as needles made for heavier fabrics.

Self-Threading Needles

Self-threading sewing machine needles have a gap on one side of the scarf, so that you can slot the thread into the gap sideways, rather than poking it through the eye.

Needles for Heavy Materials

Needles for heavier fabrics have a thicker shaft and a sharper point than universal needles. Here are a few you might encounter.

Leather Needle

Leather needles have a chisel point, so that they can cut and penetrate at the same time. Leather needles come in five different sizes (diameters), which correspond to different thicknesses of leather.

Denim (Jeans) Needle

Denim or jeans needles are also very thick and sharp. You can use them with other thick fabrics, too, such as canvas duck cloth.

Needles for Lighter Materials

Needles designed for use with lighter threads and materials have a small diameter and are often very sharp. This helps the needle to pass through the fabric without damaging it.

Ball Point Needle

A ball point needle, like a ball point pen, has a rounded tip. Most commonly, people use a ball point needle to sew knit or loosely woven fabrics. The ball tip prevents the needle from damaging the fibers of the fabric while passing through. This, in turn, keeps the needle’s action from causing knit fabrics to run. [3]

Jersey Needle and Stretch Needle

Jersey needles and stretch needles are both types of ball point needles. Their special design features improve the quality of stitching with these sometimes difficult-to-sew fabrics.

Both stretch and jersey needles have a medium ballpoint. Stretch needles also have a shorter, narrower eye, a deeper scarf, and a special coating that helps to keep them free of different materials they can pick up from sewing elasticated fabrics. These features help to prevent skipped stitches, which can be a problem with knits and stretchy fabrics.

Metallic Needle

If you’ve ever tried to sew with delicate metallic thread, you know how difficult it is. Metallic needles are designed to make it a bit easier. Metallic needles have a large eye and a larger groove, which helps to protect metallic thread from shredding.

Task-Specific Needles

Some needles are designed to assist with a specific task, rather than to sew a certain kind of fabric. Here are a few.

Twin Needle

Have you ever seen those identical, perfectly parallel rows of decorative stitching on garments? Those were made with a twin needle. Twin needle stitching can also reinforce seams. A twin, or double needle has two needles descending from a single shaft. 

Triple Needle

A triple needle has three needles descending from a single shaft. If you want to take your decorative stitching to the next level, try one of these.

Embroidery Needle

Needles for machine embroidery come in a variety of sizes and weights. There are both sharp and ball-point varieties. All of them, however, have a longer eye than universal needles, and a specially shaped scarf. These features make it easier to work with delicate embroidery thread without fraying or breaking it.

Topstitch Needle

Topstitch needles are a favorite of quilters and sail makers. A topstitch needle has a larger eye than a universal needle. It also has a deeper groove. Many topstitch needles also have a titanium coat. All of these features mean that the topstitch needle can stand up to heavy work and even doubling of thread.

Quilting Needles

You can use a universal or topstitch needle for quilting. However, there are sewing machine needles made specifically for quilting. Quilting needles have a thin, tapered shaft that allows them to pass smoothly through multiple layers.

Wing (or Winged) Needle

A winged needle is a specialty needle for sewing loosely-woven fabrics like linen. This type of needle has flanges on the side that open a wide hole in the fabric. 

Why might you want this? Well, certain kinds of heirloom stitching uses wide holes as decoration. Also, it can facilitate sewing with embroidery thread. Finally, the flanges can help you to seal off raw, easily-frayed hem edges by pushing the edges back through the fabric, forming a seal. Have a look. 

What About the Colors?

Some sewing machine needle manufacturers put a colored stripe across the shoulder of each needle. The color corresponds to that needle’s intended use.

  • A yellow band means the needle is for stretch fabrics.
  • Blue indicates the needle is for denim.
  • A needle meant for use with microfiber cloth may have a purple band.
  • A red band means the needle is meant for machine embroidery.
  • Green bands are often seen on quilting needles.

What do the Numbers on Sewing Machine Needles Mean?

As we’ve already seen, the size of a sewing machine needle can play a big role in the ease and quality of sewing. Size affects the way the needle interacts with your materials, and also affects stitching quality. Also, different sized needles are suited to different types of work.

Needle size refers to the diameter of the needle. You might also hear it described as gauge. If you’re wondering what gauge is a sewing needle, it’s important to understand the numbering convention.

To make it even more difficult, the United States and Europe have different conventions.

American Sewing Machine Needle Numbering

American sewing machine needle sizes range from eight to 19. The larger the number, the larger the diameter of the blade.

European Sewing Machine Needle Numbering

European sewing machine needles come in sizes ranging from 60 to 120. Again, the larger the number, the larger the diameter of the blade. A size 60 needle, for example, has a 0.6 millimeter blade.

What About the Numbers on the Package? 

Since many needle manufacturers sell their wares around the world, packages will often list both American and European sizes, separated by a front slash. The European number comes first. Therefore:

  • 60/8 is for very fine lightweight fabrics like thin silk
  • 65/9, 70/10 and 75/11 work best for lightweight fabric such as taffeta and lining fabric
  • 80/12 and 90/14 work best for medium weight fabrics, linen, and flannel
  • 90/14 and 100/16 are for heavier weight fabrics such as denim, fleece, tweed, and wool
  • 100/16, 110/18, and larger are for heavyweight materials such as leather, vinyl, and canvas ducking

Thread Weight And Needle Size

sewing machine needle with thread

If your thread keeps breaking, shredding, or skipping stitches, it’s possible you’re not using the right size needle for that thread. So, which size needle goes with which size thread?

Confusingly, the thread weight measuring conventions look similar to the measuring conventions for needle gauge: two numbers separated by a slash. But the numbers don’t have the same meaning at all.

Thread Weight Explained

There are several different conventions for describing thread size. The weight standard is one of the most common conventions, so this is the one we’ll be looking at here. [4]

With needle gauges, the smaller the number, the smaller the needle. With thread weight, it’s the opposite: the smaller the number, the heavier the weight of the thread.

Also, unlike needle gauge, which measures needle diameter, thread weight measures weight. Specifically, how many kilometers of thread it takes to make one kilogram. So, if you have a 30-weight thread, that means 30 kilometers of that thread weighs one kilogram.

A 50-weight thread, on the other hand, is lighter, as it would take 50 kilometers of that thread, rather than 30, to make one kilogram.

But what if your thread is “30/2”? What does that second number mean? The second number is the number of plies, or strands, in that thread. 

Here are some examples.

50 and 60 weight thread is good for general purpose sewing.

A lot of quilters like to use 30 or 40 weight thread when they want their stitches to stand out visually. 30 weight thread is also often used for decorative stitching in upholstery.

20 weight thread is for ultra-heavy weight materials.

12 to 18 weight thread is often used for hand embroidery.

Note: another standard, called the Number Standard, labels threads as #100, #50, and so on. Although in this system, like in the weight system, higher numbers describe thinner threads, #50 thread is not the same weight as 50-weight thread.

How to Match Thread Weight to Needle Size

Here’s the rule: the larger the number on your needle, the smaller the number should be on your thread.

The higher the needle gauge, the larger the shaft of that needle will be. Possibly the eye will be larger as well. This type of needle is built for a heavier thread. By contrast, smaller, thinner needles require a finer thread–that is, a thread with a greater thread weight measurement.

Confused yet? Here’s a chart. Please note that this is a rough guide. There are heavier and lighter threads and needles not represented here:

UsageNeedle GaugeThread Weight
Ultra-light fabric, fine silk60/8100 weight
Lightweight fabric70/10100 weight
Medium-light fabric80/1250-60 weight 
Medium fabric90/1440 weight
Upholstery100/1630 weight
Leather and other heavyweight materials100/1620 weight

Tips for Using the Right Sewing Machine Needle Every Time

sewing machine needle and bobbin

Every time? Well, no system is perfect. But these tips can help.

Consider Your Task

What kind of sewing will you be doing? No matter what your task, it’s likely there’s a specific needle for it. A universal needle is fine for most general sewing tasks, however you may want a task-specific needle for:

  • Embroidery
  • Quilting
  • Leather
  • Knits
  • Stretch fabrics
  • Heirloom sewing

Think About Your Fabric

Once you’ve chosen the right type of needle, it’s important to match the gauge of that needle to the weight of your fabric. Lightweight fabrics require a thinner, lighter needle, while heavier materials need a very thick, very sharp needle. Remember that a larger needle will leave a larger hole, so figure this into your calculations.

What Kind of Thread Are You Using?

Now it’s time to match your needle to your thread. This can go hand in hand with your fabric, but it doesn’t always. Lighter, finer threads require a smaller needle. Metallic thread is very fragile, so you should use a needle made for metallic threads. And thick, heavy thread requires a thick needle with a larger eye, of course.

Remember: the smaller your thread-weight number, the larger the needle gauge you will need.

Try to Thread Your Needle

When you’re preparing to sew, pay attention to how easy it is to thread your needle. The thread should pass easily through the needle’s eye. It’s easy to tell if the thread is too thick for the needle. But if the needle is too big, that can cause problems, too.

Your thread should snuggle nicely into the groove of the needle. If it fits well in the groove and passes easily through the eye, you have a better chance of producing even, high-quality stitches.

Make a Few Test Stitches

Before you start sewing, make a few test stitches. Are they tight and evenly spaced? Are they the same size? If not, it could be an indication that you’re using the wrong size needle. (It could also mean that you’re not using the correct thread tension.)

How Often Should You Change the Needle On Your Sewing Machine?

sewing machine needles

A dull sewing machine needle can harm your fabric, cause skipped stitches, snag or even break your thread, and throw your thread tension off. On top of that, it can damage your sewing machine motor. So, how often should you change it?

The amount of time is about the same, but people have different ways of measuring that time. Some suggestions include:

  • After 6 to 10 sewing hours
  • After going through three full bobbins that you wound yourself
  • After two full pre-wound bobbins
  • After completing a single project

Different factors can influence these times, including working with heavier or layered materials and sewing through coated materials.

Sewing machine needles experience a variety of pressures in addition to punching through fabric. These pressures can cause different types of damage. Always check your needle for dullness, chips, abrasion, and other damage before using it.

Sewing it All Up

Your sewing machine won’t speak up when it’s time to change the needle. And it can’t tell you if you’ve chosen the wrong one for your project. Unfortunately, your first sign of trouble may be damage to your project or even to your sewing machine.

Choose your needle carefully. Consider your fabric type, thread weight, and what sort of sewing you’ll be doing. Inspect your needle regularly for damage, and change it often.

What’s your favorite kind of sewing? And what’s your favorite needle to use? 

identifying sewing machine needles

REFERENCES: 

  1. Archaeology Magazine | Denisova Cave Yields a 50,000-Year-Old Needle | https://www.archaeology.org/news/4784-160823-denisova-cave-needle
  2. Bernadett Csaszar | Choosing the Right Needles for Your Machine Embroidery Projects | https://blog.hatchembroidery.com/choosing-the-right-needles-for-your-machine-embroidery-projects/
  3. Wisegeek Writer | What are Uses for a Ballpoint Needle? | https://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-uses-for-a-ballpoint-needle.htm
  4. Superior Threads | THREAD WEIGHTS AND MEASUREMENTS | https://www.superiorthreads.com/education-thread-measurements

Sewing Machine History: Who Invented It, Why, When, and Where?

sewing machine history

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

Who invented the sewing machine? The answer is more complicated than you might think. Like a lot of great ideas, the evolution of the sewing machine is a series of inventions, innovations, improvements and hacks. And one can’t simply ask what year was the sewing machine invented, because it took place over a long period of time.

In fact, the evolution continues to this day.

Why Was the Sewing Machine Invented?

sewing pre-industrial revolution

People have been sewing by hand for a very long time. The oldest sewing needle on record is 50,000 years old. The needle is made out of bird bone, and wasn’t crafted by Homo Sapiens, but by the Denisovans, one of two other humanoid species alive at the time. [1]

The sewing machine, by contrast, is a fairly recent development. Although many people were involved in its evolution, and that evolution is still continuing today, we can trace the first sewing machines to the end of the 18th century.

The Industrial Revolution

The 18th and 19th centuries in Europe were a time of rapid and widespread scientific and technological development. The Industrial Revolution saw the mechanization of many handicrafts, as well as a shift from rural to urban life. Nowhere was this revolution more noticeable than in the textile industry. [2]

The invention of new technologies like the flying shuttle (1733), the spinning jenny (1770), and the power loom (1785) made fabric production faster and more efficient. It’s only natural that the market would demand faster and more efficient sewing technology as well. [3, 4, 5]

The Calico Acts

During the 17th century, British factories in India produced around one quarter of the world’s textiles, primarily cotton. Eventually these factories began to produce finished cotton products as well. These imports were less expensive than the wool and linen clothing produced in Britain. This proved to be a grave threat to Britain’s domestic textile and garment industries.

The Calico Acts of 1700 and 1721 banned the import and sale of finished cotton products, though it was still legal to import raw cotton. Eventually a new, cotton-based textile industry developed in Britain. [6]

By the time the Calico Acts were repealed in 1774, Britain had its own thriving cotton goods industry. This new industry fueled the development of new spinning, weaving, and later sewing technologies.

New Markets

In addition to technological and political developments, shifting market forces were at work. The influx of workers to cities meant increased demand for cheaper, ready-made clothing. The rise of a new, urban consumer class also added to this demand. The less expensive fabric was there; people just needed a faster way to turn it into clothing and household items.

Who Invented the Sewing Machine?

Who was the inventor of the sewing machine? It’s difficult to point to a single person, as so many people, from a surprising number of disciplines and backgrounds, contributed to the technologies that led to it. 

Like so many inventions, the development of the sewing machine is a story of good ideas that, more often than not, took many years and many different attempts to catch on. The story of the sewing machine illustrates the sad truth that a good idea doesn’t necessarily translate into immediate market success.

Rather, success is the harmonious convergence of ideas, personalities, and luck. And sometimes a bit of strategic patent infringement.

Let’s have a look.

Charles Frederick Wiesenthal

Charles Frederick Wiesenthal was a German inventor in the 18th century. While living in Britain, he invented the first known mechanical sewing device, though it wasn’t a sewing machine as we know it.

In 1755, he also invented a double pointed machine sewing needle with an eye at one end, for which he received a British patent.

Thomas Saint 

Newton Wilson's copy Saints sewing machine
Newton Wilson’s copy of Saint’s sewing machine (1874).
Image by Panjigalli, CC SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

In 1790, English cabinet maker Thomas Saint designed and patented a hand-cranked device for sewing leather with a chain stitch. His design had the arm that we’re so familiar with, a feed mechanism, a needle bar, and a looping mechanism. Many believe that Saint built a prototype, however, he never built his machine for sale.

Thomas_Saint's_chain_stitch
Thomas Saints chain stitch used on the first ever complete sewing machine design for leather work. An awl preceded the eye pointed needle to make a hole in preparation for the thread.
Image by Panjigally and shared via CreativeCommons Licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

In 1874, English engineer William Newton Wilson found Saint’s patent drawings and built a working sewing machine.

James Henderson, Thomas Stone, and John Duncan

1804 was a big year for sewing machine innovation. British engineers James Henderson and Thomas Stone built their version of a sewing machine. It didn’t work very well, unfortunately, and was quickly abandoned.

Also in this year, Scotsman John Duncan received a patent for a multi-needle embroidery machine. It, likewise, failed to catch on.

Balthasar Krems 

In 1810, Balthasar Krems invented a machine for sewing caps. It didn’t work very well, and he never patented it. 

Josef Madersperger 

Josef Madersperger was an Austrian tailor. In 1814, he invented a machine that he called “the Sewing Hand.” This was one of several designs, none of which, unfortunately, caught on.

In 1839, Madersperger tried another design, which used chain stitching to imitate the process of weaving.

 „Nähhand“, Josef Madersperger, um 1830
Image by Reinraum, license CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

Rev. John Adams Dodge and John Knowles

The Reverend John Adams Dodge was an American pastor and inventor. He invented numerous items related to the production of horse collars. And, in 1818, along with John Knowles, he invented a sewing machine.

Dodge never pursued production, sale, or even a patent for his machine, as his duties as a pastor kept him too busy.

Barthélemy Thimonnier 

A_copy_Thimonnier's_Machine

In 1830, French tailor Barthelemy Thimonnier received a patent for his sewing machine. The machine used a barbed needle to puncture the fabric and pull the bottom thread back up to the surface. 

Thimonnier started a factory, and intended to use his machine to make military uniforms. However, workers burned the factory down after he received the patent, as they were afraid the machine would put them out of work.

A copy of Barthélemy Thimonnier’s sewing machine from about 1830 can be seen on the left. Image courtesy of Panjigally via CreativeCommons: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

Walter Hunt 

Patent_11,161 walter hunt sewing machine
Sewing Machine, patent 11,161 | U.S. Patent Office – inventor Walter Hunt | http://www.google.com/patents/about?id=lyVNAAAAEBAJ&dq=sewing+machine+Walter+Hunt

American Walter Hunt was a mechanic by trade, but he was also a prolific inventor. In addition to a lockstitch sewing machine (1833), he invented the safety pin (1849), a nail-making machine, a knife sharpener, a streetcar bell, and many other useful things. [7]

Hunt didn’t initially patent his sewing machine, fearing the machine’s production would put seamstresses out of work. Instead, he sold the rights to a businessman who abandoned the design, also without seeking a patent. When Elias Howe patented a sewing machine that contained elements of Hunt’s design in 1846, Howe initiated court proceedings against previous sewing machine designers, including Hunt. 

The case ultimately recognized Hunt as the inventor, but because he never patented his machine, awarded intellectual property rights to Howe. In 1858, Isaac Singer, whose designs owed a lot to Hunt’s original design, agreed to pay Hunt $50,000.

Unfortunately, Hunt died before the first payment arrived.

Newton & Archibold

In 1841, British business partners Newton and Archibold introduced the eye-pointed needle, as well as the new technology of employing two pressing surfaces to hold pieces of fabric in position during sewing. 

John Greenough

In 1842, John Greenough patented the first American sewing machine.

John Fisher 

Englishman John Fisher managed to combine all of the successful elements of previous sewing machine models into a device that resembled today’s sewing machines. He filed his patent in 1844. Unfortunately, the patent office lost his paperwork, which meant that Isaac Merrit Singer was able to patent a very similar machine in 1851, and go on to fame and fortune.

Elias Howe

Elias_Howe_Sewing_Machine_1846

American Elias Howe created the first American lockstitch machine, which he patented in 1846. But that’s only the beginning of his story.

While in England, drumming up interest in his machine, Isaac Merritt Singer and others were putting forth their own designs, some of which infringed on Howe’s patent in different ways. The resulting court case drew in numerous parties, including Singer and Walter Hunt. Howe won his case, and Singer was forced to pay Howe for a license under Howe’s patent.

Allen B. Wilson 

Meanwhile, American Allen B. Wilson didn’t invent a sewing machine, but he did invent two technologies that improved existing designs. In 1850, Wilson invented the vibrating shuttle. In 1851, he invented the rotating shuttle. 

Later in 1851, Wilson entered a partnership with Nathaniel Wheeler. Together they invented a rotary hook, which would replace the shuttle altogether. Wilson also invented a four-motion feed mechanism that is still part of many modern sewing machines.

Wheeler and Wilson then went into business producing sewing machines. Their enterprise was highly successful.

Charles Miller

Also in the mid-19th century, American Charles Miller invented a buttonhole-stitching machine.

Isaac Merritt Singer

American entrepreneur Isaac Merritt Singer created an improved version of the sewing machines that existed at that time. He was granted a patent for it in 1851.

Ellen Curtis Demorest

Ellen Curtis Demorest is responsible for the invention and development of the paper pattern. She published a pattern catalog in 1860, Madame Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions. The catalog was so successful that by 1865, Demorest had built an all-female sales and distribution force 200 women strong. 

She also used a lot of the profits from her company to support women’s rights and the abolition of slavery. 

Helen Blanchard

In 1873, American Helen Blanchard patented the first zig zag sewing machine. Blanchard would go on to found the Blanchard Overseam Company in 1881. She ultimately registered 28 patents, with 22 of them having to do with sewing machines. [8]

James Allen Edward Gibbs and James Willcox

American James Edward Allen Gibbs, a farmer, patented the first single-thread chain stitch sewing machine in 1867. He partnered with James Willcox to form the Willcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine Company. The Willcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine company closed in 1973, but their commercial sewing machines are still in use today.

But Who Invented the Sewing Machine First?

That’s a vague question with a lot of answers. Perhaps it’s time to sharpen the question.

You might ask, who was the original inventor of the sewing machine. Or who made the first working sewing machine? Or who patented the first sewing machine? What about the first sewing machine that went to market? Or the first that was mass produced? 

Each of these questions has a different answer, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of this complex and contentious history. 

Let’s have a look.

What Year Was the Sewing Machine Invented?

The very first mechanical device for sewing was invented in Britain in the mid-1700s. There’s no record that the inventor, Charles Frederick Wiesenthal, ever built a prototype. However, Wiesenthal did patent a sewing machine needle in 1755.

In 1790, Thomas Saint designed and patented a hand-cranked lockstitch sewing machine. He may or may not have built a prototype, but nearly 100 years later, another inventor built a working model based on Saint’s design.

In 1830 Barthelemy Thimonnier patented a sewing machine design and built a factory, but his workers, fearful for their jobs, burnt it down.

In 1846 Elias Howe patented a sewing machine that incorporated elements from previous designs, including one that Walter Hunt had failed to patent. However, while Howe was in England trying to generate interest in his machine, Isaac Merritt Singer beat him to the punch with production.

In 1851, Singer patented his own design, which eventually went into production.

Who Patented the First Sewing Machine?

Ah, now that’s a bit easier to answer. The first sewing machine patent went to Englishman Thomas Saint in 1790.

But that’s not the end of the patent story. Numerous patents were filed in the years after that. A flurry of development in the mid-19th century resulted in a flurry of litigation that had an unprecedented ending.

The Sewing Machine War

In the mid 19th century, sewing machine manufacturers were springing up across the United States and England, and many times their claims to the intellectual property rights of various technologies overlapped. In the United States, the resulting patent thicket turned into a series of lengthy and expensive court battles.

In 1856, several of the major players, Singer, Howe, Wheeler, Wilson, and a company called Grover & Baker, formed a consortium called The Sewing Machine Combination to pool their patents. Other manufacturers had to license technologies covered by these patents from the consortium.

The Sewing Machine Combination, also called the Sewing Machine Trust, was the first patent pool in United States history. It lasted until 1877, when the last patent in the pool expired. The three most important patents in the pool were for the lockstitch, the four-motion feed, and the combination of a vertical needle used with a horizontal sewing surface.

What Role did Isaac Singer Play in the Invention of the Sewing Machine? 

As we’ve seen, it’s not enough to merely have a good idea. And it’s not enough to patent your idea, or even to build a prototype. Success also means being in the right place at the right time, seeing opportunity, and acting on it.

Isaac Merritt Singer didn’t invent the first sewing machine. He didn’t patent the first sewing machine, either. His designs drew heavily upon the many, many sewing machines that had come before — sometimes to the point of patent infringement.

What Singer did do was to design a working sewing machine, patent it, mass produce it and sell it.

Singer’s advantage wasn’t being the first. Rather, he made his machine the most marketable. Singer’s design adapted easily to home use, which opened up a new market of home sewists. He also expanded his sales overseas. I.M. Singer became one of the first multinational corporations, with a factory near Glasgow and offices in Paris and Rio de Janeiro.

With regard to manufacturing, Singer made use of the new ideas of mass production and interchangeable parts for his machines. This cut production costs in half, which allowed him to both lower the cost of his sewing machines and significantly increase his profit margins.

Singer also pioneered the idea of purchase plans, which allowed customers to pay for their sewing machines in installments. The 1944 Education Act, which mandated dressmaking for young women in public schools, further increased Singer’s market reach.

Although Singer did patent a sewing machine in 1851, his innovations in manufacturing and business practices really made Singer a household name in sewing.

Where Was the First Sewing Machine Made?

The first working sewing machine prototype was made in Britain. But it’s arguable whose prototype came first.

  • Charles Frederick Wiesenthal designed a sewing device in the mid-1700s, but there is no evidence that he built it.
  • Thomas Saint designed and patented a hand-cranked leather-sewing chain stitch machine in 1790. A prototype has never been found, but in 1874, an engineer constructed a working model based on Saint’s designs.
  • In 1804, James Henderson and Thomas Stone built a working sewing machine. Scotsman John Duncan built an embroidery machine that year, too. However, neither machine worked well enough to pursue production.

The first sewing machine that was produced for sale was made in the United States by Isaac Merritt Singer.

Sewing Machine History Timeline

  • Mid-1700s Charles Frederick Wiesenthal invents a mechanical sewing device
  • 1790 Thomas Saint designs and patents a hand-cranked leather-sewing chain stitch machine
  • 1804 James Henderson and Thomas Stone build a working sewing machine.
  • 1804 Scotsman John Duncan builds an embroidery machine
  • 1810 Balthasar Krems invents a machine for sewing caps
  • 1818 The Reverend John Adams Dodge and John Knowles invent a sewing machine
  • 1830 Barthelemy Thimonnier patents a sewing machine with a barbed needle, which pulls up the bottom thread.
  • 1833 Walter Hunt invents a lockstitch sewing machine
  • 1839 Josef Madersperger invents “The Sewing Hand” and a chain stitch machine
  • 1841 Newton & Archibold introduce the eye-pointed needle and a technology for holding pieces of fabric during sewing.
  • 1842 John Greenough receives the first American patent for a sewing machine.
  • 1844 John Fisher files a British patent for a sewing machine design, but the patent office loses his paperwork.
  • 1846 Elias Howe patents the first American lockstitch machine. 
  • 1850 Allen B. Wilson invents the vibrating shuttle.
  • 1851 Allen B. Wilson invents the rotating shuttle.
  • 1851 Allen B. Wilson patents the rotating hook, which replaces the shuttle.
  • 1851 Isaac Merritt Singer patents his sewing machine.
  • 1852 Allen B. Wilson patents the four-motion feed.
  • 1852 Charles Miller patents the design for a buttonhole stitching machine.
  • 1851-1856 The Sewing Machine War
  • 1856 The formation of the Sewing Machine Trust
  • 1856 Isaac Merritt Singer founded I.M. Singer & Co.
  • 1858 Singer introduces the first lightweight domestic sewing machine, the “Grasshopper.”
  • 1860 Englishmen William Jones and Thomas Chadwick found the first English sewing machine manufacturing company.
  • 1860 Ellen Curtis Demorest invents the paper pattern and publishes a wildly popular pattern catalog.
  • 1867 Ebenezer Butterick patents paper patterns for men’s and women’s clothing.
  • 1867 James Allen Edward Gibbs patents the first single-thread chain stitch machine.
  • 1873 Helen Blanchard patents the first zig zag sewing machine.
  • 1877 Joseph M. Merrow invents the first crochet machine.
  • 1885 Singer patents the vibrating shuttle sewing machine.
  • 1889 Singer introduces the first electric sewing machine to the market.
  • 1893 The Bernina Sewing Machine Company is founded in Switzerland.
  • 1908 Kanekichi Yasui founds Yasui & Co Sewing Machine Company (later Brother Industries)
  • 1921 The Pine Sewing Machine Company (later Janome) is founded.
  • 1935 Janome invents the round bobbin.
  • 1938 The Juki Sewing Machine company is founded.
  • 1971 Janome releases the first sewing machine with programmable functions.
  • 1975 Singer brings out the Athena 2000, the world’s first electronic sewing machine.
  • 1978 Singer introduces the first computer-controlled sewing machine, the Touchtronic 2001.
  • 1990 Janome releases the first professional-quality embroidery machine for home use.
  • 2003 Janome brings out the first professional-quality longarm quilting machine for home use.

Why Sewing Machine History Matters

The history of sewing and sewing machines is important in a number of ways. First, it helps us to understand how invention is rarely the work of one person at one time. Every invention builds upon earlier successes and failures. Innovations and improvements move design forward. And sometimes the secret to success isn’t in design at all, but in business.

Studying sewing machine history also gives us a glimpse into the personalities, politics, and the lives of everyday people, and how these change over time. Inventors may work alone, but it takes cooperation and new kinds of networks and organizations to build an effective industry. 

And a person may invent the best product, but if they don’t patent, market, and produce it, it remains simply an interesting idea.

The invention of the industrial sewing machine made clothing and fabric goods cheaper and more accessible to more people. The invention of the mass-produced home sewing machine empowered millions to craft their own clothing and unleash their creative potential. And these are just a few examples.

Final Thoughts

It’s a long, winding path from that first 18th-century design to the modern machine sitting on your sewing table. That path is filled with false starts, mistakes, unexpected twists of fate, and outright theft. It’s also filled with flashes of technical genius, small modifications that made a huge difference, and the entrepreneurial skill to build a worldwide industry that continues today.

Who invented the sewing machine? A lot of people did. But invention is just part of the story.

who invented sewing machine

REFERENCES:

  1. Eric Grundhauser | Found: The World’s Oldest Sewing Needle | https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/found-the-worlds-oldest-sewing-needle
  2. History.com Editors | Industrial Revolution | https://www.history.com/topics/industrial-revolution/industrial-revolution
  3. Kevin Beck | Description of a Flying Shuttle | https://sciencing.com/description-of-a-flying-shuttle-12556508.html
  4. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica | Spinning jenny | https://www.britannica.com/technology/spinning-jenny
  5. History Crunch Writers | Power Loom Invention in the Industrial Revolution | https://www.historycrunch.com/power-loom-invention-in-the-industrial-revolution.html#/
  6. Richard A. Webster | Western colonialism | https://www.britannica.com/topic/Western-colonialism/The-English#ref277894
  7. The Irish Times | Inspiring innovators: Walter Hunt | https://www.irishtimes.com/business/2.790/inspiring-innovators-walter-hunt-1.585062
  8. National Inventors Hall of Fame | Helen Blanchard | https://www.invent.org/inductees/helen-blanchard