Five Techniques for Sewing Clothes on Your Overlocker
Now the winter chill is setting in we are reaching for our cosy knit and jersey fabrics. Although you can create knit garments on a sewing machine, you can also make them using an overlocker. However, I've often heard people say they only use their overlocker for finishing seams. In this article we'll share some tips and techniques to help you gain confidence in this area and get the most out of your machine. Even if you are confident on your overlocker there are some handy little tips you may find useful.
Always start a project with a new needle and test your overlocker stitch out on scraps of fabric first. You will normally need to adjust the differential feed up a notch or two to work with knit fabrics. This prevents the fabric from stretching as it feeds through the machine.
Sewing seams on an overlocker can seem quite intimidating because any excess seam allowance will be trimmed off. However, it is a very easy technique to master and gives a lovely neat finish.
As always test on a scrap of fabric first. Remember to test on two layers of the fabric since this is what you will be working with on your garment.
To the right of the needle bar you should be able to see some markings. Measure from the left needle to the markings to identify which seam allowance they represent.
Line the raw edge of your scrap fabric up with the relevant marking and stitch.
To check you have the correct seam allowance lie the trimmed off excess fabric next to the overlocked edge of the fabric. Measure from the edge of the excess to the far edge of the stitches. This measurement is the seam allowance you have created (which is 5/8" in the image below).
Adding a Self Drafted Neckband
Some knit patterns will suggest finishing the neckline with a twin needle or zig zag stitch. Adding a neckband is another alternative and looks lovely and neat.
To create a band 1/2" wide cut a 1 3/4" wide strip of fabric 80-90% shorter than the total circumference of the neckline. This width allows for a 3/8" seam allowance either side. It is crucial to cut the neckband shorter than the neckline so you can stretch it to fit as you sew. This will prevent the neckband from appearing loose or baggy.
Different fabrics behave differently so you can test the length of your neckband by following the tips in this video. The video also demonstrates how to 'quarter' the neckline and the neckband before pinning in place. This ensures the neckband is evenly distributed around the neckline.
This next tip will help you prevent bulky overlapping when overlocking the neckband in place.
Once the neckband is pinned in place trim the neckband and neckline fabric to the width where you want your blade to start cutting and about 1.5cm long.
Position the fabric so the blade will continue cutting in line with where you have manually cut the fabric and the needles will start stitching on the fabric next to the gap.
Overlock the neckband in place stretching as you stitch. As you approach the end guide the fabric to make the stitching lines meet. The excess fabric will be trimmed off in line with your manual trimming and there will be no need to overlap at the end reducing bulk and giving a nice, neat finish.
It is crucial to stabilise the shoulder seams of knit garments to prevent them from stretching out of shape. There are a number of ways to do this, but my favourite is to use a strip of 6mm ribbon and my overlocker. It looks very professional and is nice and easy to do.
You will be stitching through two layers of fabric and the ribbon so it is important to test on a scrap of fabric first. The ribbon plus the fabric may behave differently to the fabric alone. Adjust your differential feed until you are happy with the results and the stitches lie nice and flat.
Cut a length of ribbon slightly longer than the shoulder seam. Take the foot off your overlocker and thread the ribbon through it.
Put the foot back on the machine and run a few stitches along the ribbon minus the fabric first.
Next position the fabric (right sides together) under the foot so the raw edge is level with the correct marking for the seam allowance you require.
Trim any excess ribbon off and your shoulder seams are neat and stable!
There are some really lovely options for hemming a garment on an overlocker. We wrote an entire article, including videos, on this very subject here. The article covers blind hemming, a three thread overlock narrow hem, a thread thread rolled hem and my personal favourite: the lettuce edge rolled hem.
Some overlockers also come with a cover stitch option, which is a super easy and professional way to hem knits. It creates a twin needle effect on the right side of the fabric and a neat overlocking stitch on the wrong side.
If your overlocker doesn't have a cover stitch option there are a range of cover stitch machines to choose from. Here is a brief explanation of how to use a coverstitch machine if you haven't experienced the joy of using one!
Press your hem up to the desired length and pin in place. It is easiest to pin from the right side with the pinheads nearest the pressed edge.
Place the fabric, right side up, under the coverstitch foot lining it up with the relevant seam allowance marking.
Use the handy markings on the coverstitch foot to make sure the stitching lines meet, overlapping slightly before stopping.
Remove the garment from the machine pulling the threads towards you. Leave a good length of thread then snip to release the garment. Tie the loose threads on the wrong side of the garment to secure.
Gathering on an Overlocker
It is possible to create gathering stitches on an overlocker. The effects will be more dramatic on woven fabrics, but this technique also works on knit fabrics.
Simply knock the differential feed up two levels and use the longest stitch length possible. If the fabric isn't gathered enough pull the middle thread to exaggerate the effect.
Have fun sewing!
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