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Did you see this week's Great British Sewing Bee? Here Rebecca Lutchman gives her tips on choosing an overlocker and presents this week's practical project for you to try.

Thinking of buying an overlocker?

Whether you’re a beginner or more experienced, whatever your sewing interests are, having an overlocker will be a most welcome and wanted part of your sewing equipment. Using an overlocker gives you a professional finish; it is much quicker than using a sewing machine. You will feel satisfaction as it cuts, seams and neatens all in one easy stride. I myself find it very hard to stop once I get started.
Here are some things to consider:

  • There is a good variety of Bernina overlockers on the market and they range from a basic machine ideal for just seaming and neatening to something that can easily do chain and cover stitch too.
  • Think first about what you would like your over locker to do, think about your budget and why not make a wish list of must haves features which you can constantly refer to, e.g. an easy threading system or needle threaders, wide cutting width etc.
  • Consider available work/storage space – most people buy an overlocker as an additional to the sewing machine so think about the space you will need for both.
  • Consider whether you would like to do cover stitch as well as overlock, if so, you can buy a machine that can be converted from overlock to cover stitch or you could think about 2 separate machines.
  • Some overlockers have built in needle threaders, speed control dials, needle down position, automatic tensions and much more. Features you will definitely find useful.

    Try before you buy!

  • It would be unwise to buy the chosen overlocker without first seeing it in action. Take a selection of some fabrics with you to see how it performs, see how it is threaded and even ask if you could try to thread it yourself.
  • Enquire from the dealer about the availability of any after sales help. This is important if you are to still remain in love with your machine when you get stuck, and there are times when you will. Why not take advantage of the free course offered to new Bernina owners which I give at our London Tuition Centre.

Getting Started
Tips for the first time user:

  • When threading your overlocker it is important that you thread in a particular order - start with the upper then the lower lopper and finally the needles.
  • See the instruction book for more details.
  • To change the thread colours, rather than rethreading from scratch you can cut and remove the existing threads at the mast. Tie the new threads on with a small knot and, chain through or pull through. The knots might not go through the needles so they will have to be cut and threaded through manually. (See picture above).
  • If having difficulty with threading/tensions, thread each one using different colours, this will make it easier to locate the problem.
  • Remember to put threads through the tensions with   the foot lever up, this will allow the tension discs to remain open.
  • Once the machine is threaded, remember to test off on some scrap fabric before going on to your main fabric. What may be the ideal settings for one type of fabric will probably be different for another.
  • If for any reason you need to pull on your threads but find it hard because they are chained together, you can release the chained threads or separate them by turning the hand wheel AWAY from you.
  • Keep the foot of the overlocker down as much as possible, this will discourage the threads from coming out of the discs and loosening the tension. For fabrics that are difficult to feed through, use your thumb to raise the toe (front) of the foot and place the fabric under the foot and up to the blade then lower the toe and sew. (See picture below).
  • Never use pins whilst overlocking, if the cutting knife should hit the pin, there is a risk that you will damage your blade, it is much better to tack first. Not only will this save the blade from damage but it means that you would be able to try on the item to ensure a good fit before any fabric is cut away. It will also save any unnecessary unpicking (I often skip pinning and tacking as I just want to get going and eager to see the finished product. Sometimes I pay a heavy price for this unwise action as the resulting size of the garment is not the best fit.)
  • Always use your overlocker with the cutting knife in use. If you don’t want to cut any fabric away just place the fabric up to the inside of the blade. NOTE by folding the blade away (out of use) there is a risk the fabric will get caught up in the loopers.
  • Instead of using scissors to cut your thread ends (chain stitch) keep chaining off whilst pulling the fabric to the left then towards you and then to the front and under the blade (keep foot pressed down on foot control until the chain is cut).

Making a pair of leggings - an easy project to get you started.


Fabrics to use: Fabrics that contain Lycra or Jersey.

By using an overlocker in place of a sewing machine, if any stress is placed on the seam, the stitches will not crack and the threads will not break. Also, the excess seam allowance is trimmed away.

If you are making leggings for the first time, I recommend that you buy a pattern that has EASY written on the pack and check that the pattern has allowed for the seam allowance. If it hasn’t, you will need to remember to take this into account.

I have chosen a pattern by BURDA called: Burda Young 7382 and I am going to make leggings for my 11 year old daughter.

I have measured her hips, waist and length from waist to where she would like the leg to end. From these same measurements I have purchased 1 metre of the Jersey fabric of her choice that is 45 inches wide. This is more than enough and there will be some left over for testing off. I can also cut the correct pattern piece size.

  • Normally when you are putting your pattern pieces onto the fabric, the fabric would be right sides together, wrong sides out. This would make it easier to transfer any important markings or lines from the pieces to the fabric ( I normally use pins or chalk pens to do this)
  • Make sure the straight grain line on the pattern is lined up with the straight grain of the fabric. As stretchy fabrics are formed by looping ( knitted) rather than being woven, (like cotton fabrics) you will need to measure from the top of the straight grain line on the paper pattern to the selvedge edge of your fabric and again at the bottom of the line, making sure you have same measurement from the edge. This will help the leggings to lie/ fit better once finished. Pin and Cut the fabric pieces along the edges of the paper pieces.


Getting your overlocker ready
I will be using all four threads (both needles and loopers)
You will need to do a fabric test to decide on the settings for your machine. After doing a small fabric test I decided on the following settings:

  • Stitch length 3
  • Differential N
  • Cutting width 1.5
  • Thread tensions all on 4 (normal for my over locker)

The needles that I am using are standard, size 80. Jersey/stretch needles are available.
Threads are polyester size 50 Overlocker thread

Making the Leggings

  • Fold each leg so that right sides are together, it may be a good idea to tack together first so it can be tried for size. Stitch both inner leg seams making sure that the LEFT needle is lined with the seam allowance on the fabric. The width of the sewn seam is normally ¼ inch wide on the overlocker, the blade will trim away any access fabric. (1/8" inch)
  • Turn one finished leg right side out, and place it inside the finished leg with wrong side out.
  • Stitch centre seams together starting from the back seam heading  towards the front, check that  the inner leg seams line up.
  • Pull the inner leg back out so that the right side of both legs are out. Your leggings are nearly finished, all that needs to be done is the hem and waist band.

Finish the leggings with twin needles.

All that needs to be done now is the hem and waist band.

The final stages are stitched on your regular sewing machine.


To hem the leggings I have chosen a 2mm wide twin needle, which once I have folded the desired width of hem I will sew on the right side, I will do the waist band in the same way making sure the width is wide enough to insert the chosen elastic.

The final procedure could have been stitched on an overlocker if it had a cover stitch function. This would give you the same result which can be seen on the hemline of a shop bought T-Shirt. However these overlockers do require changing the settings and rethreading each time as you change from normal overlocking to cover hem stitch and then back again. This is something to concisder before you making your purchase.  

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