Overlockers are a great addition to any sewing room but can they replace the sewing machine altogether? Buying and maintaining two machines can be both expensive in both money and time so can you use an overlocker as a sewing machine?
An overlocker can be used as a sewing machine however overlockers cannot perform tasks such as buttonholes or decorative stitches. Overlockers are also not appropriate for all types of fabric which may require you to own both a sewing machine and an overlocker.
In this article I am going to break down the features of a overlocker to really determine whether they are worth having as a main sewing machine or what you might need to know if you an overlocker as your main sewing machine.
How Does a Sewing Machine Work?
A sewing machine works by using thread to sew fabric together. There are several different stitches available in the most basic sewing machine, and the fanciest machines have hundreds of functions.
So, let’s take a closer look at what a sewing machine does.
A sewing machine uses two spools of thread, one located above and one below the fabric, to fix together multiple pieces of material. The top spool of thread runs through tension gears and the needle. The bottom spool goes in a compartment below the fabric.
You then use a foot pedal to control the speed at which the needle moves up and down. When the needle goes through the fabric, its thread is caught in the bobbin case. This process spreads the thread and puts the lower thread through it, creating a loop that secures the pieces together.
A sewing machine is an incredibly versatile machine. Most devices will come with a few basic stitches, including a standard straight stitch, zig-zag stitch, basting stitch, and a backstitch to finish off the end.
You can use double needles to achieve perfectly straight lines.
The piece surrounding the needle that holds the fabric against the machine’s base is called a presser foot. Sewing machines often have interchangeable feet, which allow them to achieve more specialized stitches, and most sewing machines come with several different feet to get you started.
Sewing machines can make buttonholes, attach zippers, and gather the fabric to make ruffles with specialized feet. Darning feet allow sewing in the middle of a piece of cloth. There are even overlocking feet for sewing machines that can create overlock stitches.
The fancier a sewing machine, the more capabilities it will offer. For example, many computerized sewing machines these days can do embroidery with a hoop attachment.
How Does an Overlocker Work?
An overlocker, sometimes called a serger, works by knitting fabric together while finishing the raw edges. This locked-in finish makes the edges stronger and prevents fraying.
Although the machine is smaller than a sewing machine, an overlocker can use anywhere from 2 to 8 spools of thread, although you will most commonly see four. This machine will have two needles above, and two loopers below that knit the fabric together. Overlockers also feature a knife that will cut the fabric just before the machine stitches it together.
The clothes you are wearing right now were likely made with an overlocker. Overlockers are fast and create a neat, durable seam on almost any type of fabric.
An overlocker creates a stronger stitch than a sewing machine by using more thread and tighter stitches. Because an overlocker cuts the fabric as it runs through the device, you can be sure that the overlock stitch will be straight and that the edge of the material is tidy. The straightness and fray protection that overlockers offer is invaluable if your seams will be visible in your final product.
Like a sewing machine, overlockers also have interchangeable feet that allow for more specialized jobs, such as working with elastic, taping, piping, and gathering.
An overlocker can also handle a wide variety of fabrics and is particularly useful for stretchy or heavy materials, such as jerseys and denim. They are also crucial when working with materials that often fray since the surge stitch will protect the ends from coming loose.
Can an Overlocker Be Used as a Sewing Machine?
You can use an overlocker as a sewing machine in some cases. Overlockers can perform some of a sewing machine’s most basic tasks. However, they lack some of the special features of a sewing machine, such as easy buttonholing and multiple stitches.
An overlocker’s primary job is to create strong seams, which it can do just as well as, if not better than, a sewing machine.
You can use overlockers for gathering, quilting, piping, and taping. The flatlock stitch on the overlocker allows the flat seam that you can get with a sewing machine, although more of the thread will show.
There are several limitations to overlockers. They will not be able to make buttonholes, attach zippers, and make zig-zags and other decorative stitches. While a sewing machine can access a fabric’s center, overlockers are limited to the edges.
Do I Need a Separate Overlocker and Sewing Machine?
Whether you need both an overlocker and a sewing machine depends on what type of sewing you frequently do.
You don’t need an overlocker and a sewing machine if you are a casual sewer or a beginner and only need a machine for basic tasks. However, if you do a lot of sewing and require neatly finished seams, an overlocker would be a valuable addition to your collection.
Think of an overlocker as a specialist. It is used commercially by many manufacturers because it can sew three times faster than a sewing machine and can handle a lot of fabrics that a sewing machine struggles with. For these reasons, overlockers are an excellent long-term investment.
Still, a sewing machine has many features that an overlocker does not. Aside from working on pieces aside from the seams, sewing machines can make buttonholes, zig-zag stitches, attach zippers, and embroider.
Although the sewing machine has the capability of making a basic overlocking stitch, an overlocking machine is preferable. An overlocker has a much neater and nicer-looking stitch, which is vital if your seams will be visible on your final product.
What To Know Before Using An Overlocker As A Sewing Machine
Threading an Overlocker Is More Complex Than Threading a Sewing Machine
Even if you are familiar with using a sewing machine, you will need to learn to thread an overlocker, which is much more complex than threading a sewing machine.
Unlike a sewing machine, the order in which you thread an overlocker is crucial. Instructions in your manual and the device are generally colour-coded to help you out. Take your time and learn how to do it correctly – it will pay off!
Test the Tension First
To get even tight stitches on an overlocker, you will have to adjust the tension of the individual threads. Each thread has a separate, colour-coded tension dial that feeds one of two needles and two loopers.
To set the tension:
- Make sure every thread is a different colour, preferably matching the colour of the knob.
- Put all the knobs to a neutral number, such as three or four, and choose one thread to adjust at a time.
- Run a piece of fabric through the machine as you slowly change the tension of the single thread.
- Take a look at your test fabric and find the tension that looks the best – it should not leave a loose loop but should not be so tight that the material begins to pucker.
When you have found the ideal tension, leave that knob in place and run this same test on each remaining thread. Take note of the proper tension settings to reference whenever you rethread the machine.