My Journey to an Overlocker

In all the years I have been sewing, I have managed to sew a wide range of things with relatively simple machines. The first machine I ever used was my mum’s Singer treddle – I really don’t know how old it was then, in the late 60s, (it is still in my brother’s house!), but it may have belonged to my grandmother, I’m not sure.

Needless to say, there were no gimmicks – no reverse stitch, no zigzag, no speed control (apart from the feet) – so my early sewing was all straight stitch. I made quite a lot of things at that time, very successfully. Then my mum decided to upgrade. She was what was then called a “Domestic Science” teacher, and she taught the full range of home economics, food technology and textiles technology, so she had a good knowledge of sewing and the development of sewing machines.

She eventually upgraded to a Singer “Touch and Sew”. This had the wonderful innovation of bobbin threading through the needle – no need to unthread and rethread. Wonderful! It also had lots of swing needle features including zigzag and embroidery, as well as backstitching and buttonhole. This machine opened up a whole new world to me, but the main stitches I used were still straight and zigzag.

My aunt was a member of our family sewing club (she lived with us), and she went a step further and bought a Singer “Futura”. One of the first computerised machines. I used that quite a lot, and she eventually gave it to me when she stopped sewing. To be honest, I still really only used the straight and the zigzag. Not very adventurous. But I loved the one step buttonhole function.

When I left home I acquired a second hand electric, but very basic machine, which I took with me to college. It was a real boon through those years.

So I sewed on through my teens and into my twenties – teenage to student to young mum, mainly sewing with woven, and very occasionally trying knits, with limited success. Still, looking back, I did actually make quite a lot for myself and my daughters (somehow boys stuff didn’t get made much). The machine I had by then was a Singer Starlet. Still quite basic, but with zigzag.

Then around the age of 50, came a hiatus when work and family pressures took over, and not much sewing was done. I gave the Starlet to my daughter, because by then I had the Futura. We then moved house and had to live in a small apartment for a while. I tried some sewing but the Futura broke for a second time, and was then beyond respair. No machine. At that time too, my daughter, who had rejected the idea totally as a teenager, suddenly (it really was quite sudden – a Damascus moment) found a liking for making her own clothes, so I bought her a new machine one Christmas – and her sewing took off.

In 2012 I eventually managed to buy myself a similar machine, and was full of excitement at getting back to sewing. My makes at this point,however, were not very successful – my shape had changed, clothing sizes had changed, patterns weren’t as reliable, and I was a bit disheartened for a while.

When I was visiting my daughter one weekend she was wearing a sweatshirt she had made. I was sooo impressed. She had used techniques for jerseys I hadn’t heard of – she had used a twin needle! Oh my goodness, where had this knowledge come from?? Well the answer was the internet. Youtube. Instagram. Blog posts. I hadn’t thought about the possibilities of social media as a learning platform before then

I took on board all of this, and my daughter – who I once taught – became my teacher. She is now so far ahead of me in terms of skills and output. Check her out on Instagram and on her blog. @makingwithneedles. Through her I learned a lot about indie patterns, sizing, fitting, styles….. ooh all sorts! I persevered, and now make almost everything I wear.

I am also now very confident at sewing jerseys, as is she. We have both since upgraded to better machines, and we both have agreed in the past that we really don’t need any more than our nice, newish, Janome machines. We have looked at all of the information about overlockers, but that’s not for us! We’re fine!

Then……… a friend of mine who is moving house was decluttering. She offered me an overlocker she didn’t use any more!!!! Argh!

My first reaction was a degree of hesitation mixed with excitement. After all, my sewing room (Yes I am lucky to have a sewing room!) didn’t really have enough room for another machine. Where would I put it? Will I manage to use it? But it was an opportunity too good to pass up. So, I went and brought the beast home.

Just to note, that the machine is not the one pictured on the box.

The first few sessions were a bit stressful – one of the threads had come out, and it happened to be the one which was the most difficult to thread. I followed the complicated diagram, and tried repeatedly to rethread. Several times. Unsuccessfully. What was I doing wrong? I watched videos, and looked at social media. It was so fiddly. Then, I just happened to bring one thread through a different way, and bingo! I had a chain stitch. Phew!

That wasn’t the end of my worries, however. When I used it on fabric, it was loose, it pulled away from the fabric, it didn’t seem right.

The reclaimed fabric from one of my old tee shirts was very thin.

More fiddling with tension, and stitch length, and fabric type, and I eventually had a satisfactory stitch. The first fabric I used was not really suitable – it was a deconstructed old tee which I remade into a tee for my granddaughter, and it was so thin that the overlocking stiches just made holes in it, and the stitches came away from the fabric. I thought I was doing something wrong, but then I tried again and when I used heavier, more stable jersey it worked really well.

So, the overlocker is making a place for itself on the sewing table. I have now made four items – a jersey dress, tee and shorts for Little Miss S, and a pair of jeans for myself.

What I am learning is that there are some seams which are better not just overlocked – they have needed the strength of the narrow zigzag so that the seam doesn’t come apart. This is mainly across other seam joins, such as on neckbands and underarms. Oher seams are fine just to be sewn once with the overlocker. I also like the finish of the overlocked edge – this particularly on the jeans (corduroy!).

So, it’s taken me a while to get here, but I am now a fan. I am very grateful that my friend has given me the chance to explore the possibilities, when I was not sure enough to justify the espense.

The next thing will be to let my daughter have a go. Will I ever get it back????

5 thoughts on “My Journey to an Overlocker

  1. Great to hear your sewing history. It’s funny how we deny ourselves items for our hobby. When we’ve worked hard for 30 – 40 yrs, brought up a family, bought cars, houses, holidays etc I don’t think we should deny ourselves some sewing equipment. I struggled to justify the expense for my first few metres of fabric thinking it would be such a waste as I really didn’t know what I was doing. I worry now about the cost of some fabric and a couple of Indie patterns that I fancy but my Hubbie has put his foot down and told me not to be so daft and for once I’ve listened. We’ve both suddenly and unexpectedly experienced poor health in our first few years of retirement and our lives have really changed. Sewing is a real joy for me ( I’m definitely not gifted with sewing ability) and I’m happy now to spend the money I’ve got on things that might increase my abilities and enjoyment of a hobby I discovered later in life. I still don’t go mad and buy everything I want but I’ve stopped angsting about it all. Hope you have many happy retirement years enjoying your hobby and allowing yourself some things that you might get even more fun out of 💕🧵

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know exactly what you mean. When I started, making my own was far cheaper than ready to wear, and that was true for a long time because fabric wasn’t expensive and was available in a lot of places. It’s an expensive hobby now. But I love doing it, and I like the freedom to make things the way I want them with the fit I want too. I went back to making my own because I couldn’t always find what I wanted in the shops. However, I do feel that I can’t always find the fabrics I would like, so there are still limitations.
      I’m sorry to hear about your poor health, and I hope that you too continue to enjoy everything you do. 🤗🤗

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So agree, you can buy machinery and all sorts but the fabrics can be elusive, you know what you want but getting hold of it is a different story. Wish I had your success with fitting but that’s probably where experience and skills align 💕🧵

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You won’t get the overlocker back from your daughter until she buys one,ha! I loved reading your sewing (and life) journey. I am a new convert too. I was ambivalent at first because I was used to doing things one way, and would have to change and learn something new. But it’s good to have more options, for sewing or finishing both knits and wovens, and once you have one you don’t want to go back.

    Liked by 1 person

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