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Tips to using your serger (Part 2)

Updated: Feb 16, 2020

This is a continuation of Part 1 of tips to using your serger, where we covered differential feeds, hiding thread tails and unpicking serged seams. Today, we will look at tension, stitch length, width, pressing your serged seams and cleaning the serger.


  • To attain the tension for the desired stitch, you must be able to identify each thread’s origin, and the easiest way to do so is to thread the machine with a different colour thread for each thread path. This will make it easier to identify each thread.

  • When checking the tension, move only one dial at a time in small increments.

  •  Generally, the higher the number, the tighter the tension.

  • In a perfectly balanced  4-thread overlock stitch, the upper and lower looper threads meet at the edge of the fabric, lying flat and looping around the needle thread. The needle threads lay in straight lines of stitching on the top of the fabric, with little-to-no needle threads showing on the back. (It’s the same for 3-thread stitch, just that there will only be one straight line of stitching.)

  • When it comes to adjusting serger tension, patience and practice is key!

  • You can check out the following sites on more detailed instruction to getting the right tension: Bernina – Stop Tension Headaches

  • Make it Handmade – Perfect Serger Tension

  • Serger Pepper – Best Serger Tension

Stitch Width

  • Stitch width is the distance from the cut edge of the fabric to the needle (or left needle for a 4-thread serger).

  • The width range on my serger (brother 1334d)  goes from R (4.5mm) to 7mm. The normal stitch width setting for regular overlock stitch is 5mm.

Stitch width

The piece at the back is serged with sitch width 7mm and the one in front 5mm.

  • Use wider stitch on heavier fabrics or loosely woven fabrics. Use narrower width on finer fabrics.

  • More looper thread is needed for wider stitches. You may need to loosen the looper tensions to avoid whisker-like fabric threads protruding from the stitching.

  • Less looper thread is needed for narrower stitching. You may need to tighten the looper tension to correct.

  • If fabric’s edge curls while sewing, you need to make it smaller; if you see loops hanging off the edge, make it wider!

Stitch Length

  • Stitch length refers to how close the stitches are to one another along the stitching line.

  • The length range on my serger goes from 2 to 4mm. The normal stitch length setting is 2.5mm to 3 mm.

  • Generally, the finer the fabric, the shorter the stitch length.

  • A longer stitch length requires more looper thread; thus, the looper tension(s) may need to be loosened to avoid a tight-looping stitch.

  • A shorter stitch length requires less looper thread; thus, the looper tension(s) may need to be tightened to avoid a loose-looking stitch.

Stitch Length

I didn’t change the tension setting for both stitch length. As you can see, when change to a smaller stitch length (front to back), the tension for the smaller stitch length is too loose and you can see loops floating in the air

Pressing Serged Seams

  1. Pressing is the key to beautiful project construction. Whether you are sewing or serging, you can never press too much. (For someone who detested, and still detest, ironing, I never thought I would use the iron and the board so much in my life till I started sewing :P)

  2. For a craft project, press the seams in the direction that will create the least amount of bulk.

  3. When making a garment, we generally press the seams towards the back of the garment.

  4. A serger seam tends to fold naturally to the lower looper side – the fabric that is on the bottom or next to the throat plate will be on the lower looper side. Knowing this will allow you to plan ahead as you serge (as much as possible).

Cleaning your serger

After each use of the serger, remember to clean your serger to get rid of the lint stuck in the machine. The orthodox method would be to use canned air product designed to clean sewing machines and sergers, but if you don’t have one, you can consider using a small vacuum cleaner to suck out the lint or a hair dryer (set low, on cold/warm) to blow the lint out. Using q-tips and brushes helps too. .

Cleaning Serger

From left to right: (1) Full of lint! (2) A bit better after some vacuuming and blowing. (3) Not perfect, but a lot cleaner with the help of some q-tips 🙂

Also, remember to oil your machine as specified in the manual. Normally it would mean putting a drop or two of sewing machine oil on all accessible moving parts. To help determine which parts to oil, turn the handwheel toward you. Apply oil to any part that moves.

That’s all for today. We hope you find this useful. Let us know if there’re other things you would like us to cover. We are more than happy to explore the world of serging together! 😀


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