Overlockers are a great tool to have in your sewing room, especially if you are making costumes or wearable garments as they often need more care and can stop fabrics from fraying over time. They however can be quite expensive to buy.
Overlockers are often more expensive to buy even though they are limited in what they do is due to many reasons. The main reason is because they use twin needles, have a cutting mechanism and combine 3-4 threads into one stitch.
In this article, I am going to talk about what makes overlockers expensive, what to look for and how to save money when buying an overlocker.
What Elements Make Overlockers So Expensive?
It’s no great secret that overlockers are expensive. They truly can be! They vary in price massively, from as little as £150 when bought in the random aisle of a budget supermarket, but they can get to prices as high as a thousand pounds.
Although, it must be said that those more expensive overlockers can be commercial ones, which you are almost certainly not looking for.
If you’re reading this article and considering buying an overlocker, then you’re probably in the market for a domestic one. That’s great! Domestic overlockers are typically much less expensive than commercial ones, but just as hardwearing. The difference, really, is size and speed.
Commercial overlockers can typically finish a number of garments much more quickly, leading to increased profit margins down the line – this is why even the basic commercial models are so expensive.
There are three big reasons why overlockers are so expensive. These are complex internal mechanisms, increased part turnover, and the number of basic components.
Complex Internal Mechanisms
The complex internal mechanism of an overlocker is what really makes them quite so expensive. To understand this, though, let’s quickly take a step back to sewing machines.
Every sewing machine in the world works off the same basic principle: a needle and a bobbin working in tandem to create a complex knot that will not come undone even in high-stress wear and tear situations. An overlocker is essentially the same thing, just much more complex.
A sewing machine combines two threads together, while an overlocker combines four threads into one cohesive stitch. This additional complexity needs a lot of tiny, fiddly components to get right. No matter which way you cut it, those tiny, fiddly components will never come cheap.
A side effect of all the tiny fiddly parts is that sometimes they get broken. We’ve all been three – halfway through a sewing project, your needle catches a component of your machine that’s not quite perfectly aligned, and then it snaps in two and you have to replace it. It’s a pain, and it can be downright infuriating at the best of times.
Well, overlockers simply have an even more complex mechanism than sewing machines, which means an awful lot of parts are meshing and entangling with each cycle of the motors. After a while, just down to random chance, two or more components are sure to collide and lead to some kind of breakage – that’s just the way of things.
This means that you can count on needing to track down an obscure needle or cog at some point, or take it to someone and have it repaired. Neither of those options comes cheap, sadly.
Increased Part Turnover
Another thing that’s worth considering is how much, in material terms, overlockers costs to run.
Overlockers make use of four different spools of thread all at once, which means that you’re literally using twice as much thread as when you’re using your sewing machine. While this cost is quite a small one in the great scheme of things, it can add up – it’s worth considering.
While we’re on the topic of thread usage, it’s worth briefly mentioning that overlockers actually use different thread from sewing machines. Overlocker thread can actually be quite cheap, though.
In the same supermarkets where you might be able to pick up an overlocker once in a while, you can often pick up a cone of overlocker thread for a pound or less – which is great value indeed.
Finally, we come to the biggest reason why even the most basic overlockers are quite expensive – the sheer number of basic components. This is the really impressive factor of an overlocker, they’re typically just jam-packed full of stuff.
None of them are the kind of appliance that you could open to find great swathes of empty space, instead, the machinery is varied and complex.
We’re used to picking up a speaker, radio, or similar appliance, and not considering that there’s a lot of actual stuff within the appliance. However, overlockers are truly dense. This increases the cost on the most basic level – by increasing the amount of steel and plastic actually needed to make one.
What To Look For In An Overlocker
There are lots of different features to consider in an overlocker since they’re such complex machines, even at a basic level. Therefore, let’s break things down so that we can start to actually consider what you need to ensure you get.
Number Of Threads
First things first, you’ll need to consider the number of threads. Four thread is definitely ideal, though we have seen some machines where only three threads have been used, and they work fine. Realistically, though, you need four threads.
Adjustable Stitch Length
You’ll also need a machine with adjustable stitch length. The length of a stitch governs a few things, but what it principally takes care of is the amount of tension in the fabric.
The longer the stitch, the more tension in the fabric. Therefore, fabrics with low tensile strength (such as very thin ones) will need short stitches to ensure they don’t get misshapen.
Adjustable Pressure Foot
You might also want to consider picking up a machine with an adjustable pressure foot for different thicknesses of fabric. This is relevant when it comes to using thicker fabrics – a machine with a foot that can press down with a lot of force will ensure even tension and stitching in thick fabric.
Another great idea to look for when buying an overlocker is a differential feed. These are similar to walking feet in that they help to feed the relevant material through the machine evenly. However, differential feeds work to evenly feed thread, rather than fabric.
Finally – it’s always worth looking for small extra features that might help you to save some time and/or money down the line. Two great extra features to look for are a retractable knife and a sewing light.
A number of overlockers have a small blade within the machine which you can use to sever threads easily and quickly. Finding a machine with one of these that’s retractable is important, as a constantly exposed blade can cause problems for both your fingers and the fabric that you’re working with.
A sewing light is also handy, especially for such fiddly work as overlockers do. As overlockers work to close seams neatly and efficiently, you want to make sure that you’re actually sewing directly onto the seam. Therefore, having a sewing light can help to make sure you can see and position everything according to plan.
How To Save Money On An Overlocker
Well, overlockers are all mechanically extremely similar. This means that there really isn’t that much of a difference between the cheapest one that you can track down and the most expensive – the difference will likely be in build quality, rather than what the machine can actually do.
Therefore, you can feel free to track down a cheaper overlocker safe in the knowledge that even the cheapest machines will do the same job as the more expensive ones. What you’re paying for with expensive overlockers is longevity.
A great place to try and pick up bargains on overlockers is the central aisle of budget supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl. These supermarkets often have obscure machinery and appliances which they’re trying to sell in the central aisle.
These machines can be priced as low as £150, which is certainly a steal for something like an overlocker, which can get expensive quickly. Therefore, consider checking out your supermarket before going online!
If you do decide that going online is the best choice for you, you could try to track down an old overlocker that is in need of spare parts or otherwise needs a bit of love.
Sometimes, people sell older equipment without fully knowing the value of it or misunderstanding precisely how broken it is. In a lot of cases, you can pick up a cheap machine and get it fixed for less than the price of simply buying a new one. Of course, the choice is yours.