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The Overlocker Diaries #1

The Overlocker Diaries #1

If you have read my previous features you will know that I have worked entirely with a standard sewing machine and hand sewing. The overlocker was a beast viewed with some trepidation, not least since it might evolve into a white elephant if I could not tame it.

Well, dear reader, I took a deep breath and bought one. I looked at my requirements, and my aspirations. I have bought lots of wonderful Fabworks woollen fabrics, many of which I would be blanket stitching up and down every seam to be certain that in time they would not fray and seams could not split. I also want to have a crack at knit fabrics. Knits, just to clear up any confusion are jersey fabrics, by definition. If it is knitted, it is jersey. Knits are not impossible with only a standard sewing machine, but an overlocker is an advantage. It is not a cheap bit of kit, but if you look at the hours you will save (if you use it rather than hide from it) and the professional result you can achieve quite easily, it is not such a daft idea. That, at least, was my reasoning.I bought one. 

My overlocker is not a computerised wonder (I wanted something simple) but one that had a good write up and was on offer. It is an Elna 664, no longer Swiss made, but at least Swiss designed, and its only disadvantage was the only full video I could find about it on Youtube was in Czech or Hungarian. However, I found the booklet sensible, not some odd translation, and if you look at a common start up video for Janome you will get the idea of what does what and how, etc... I spent time watching lots of videos on how to do things like curves, finishing off, and tension issues, ready for the day when, as the Law of Murphy will decree, I want to do something under time pressure, and it all goes wahoonie shaped and my edges look like a cat’s cradle.

I unpacked my very square ‘toy’ and opened it so I could see how everything went together.

The machine opened out. (Note the mug - tea eases pre-overlocking nerves!)

The first thing I was pleased about was that the base has rubber so it does not slip and slide about on a table. I was then very female and read the instruction book from cover to cover. (How often have you seen men wave away the instruction book and then yell for it when they have both hands full, and are ranting that the thing does not work because they have gone beyond the blindingly obvious that they knew anyway and have reached the tricksy bit? Too often.)

I then cautiously tied on my threads as recommended, and pulled one after the other of the pre-threaded colours to watch how each one tracked to the ‘fighting end’. I also took pictures on my phone before I began, just in case of disaster!  

 Elna coloured threading

My aim was to be able to neaten off the seams of a woven fabric first before advancing to knits and joining two pieces of fabric with the overlocker. My first project has been a pair of culottes using the Ash - Linen & Cotton, which I mentioned in a previous feature. The fabric is easy to work and the culottes pattern uncomplicated. I followed best practice and had a go on several scraps of the fabric (pre-washed, of course) first to make sure the tension was correct, and thankfully did not have to adjust anything. Since I was overlocking the edges I put my tailor’s tacks a little further in from the edge than marked so they would not be tangled in the four threads of overlocking, or at least not to a degree they would be lost. I began slowly, taking the merest fraction off the edge. The first seam worked but was not as close to the fabric as a professional would demand, so while the tension was fine, the edge loops were edging rather than fully enclosing the fabric. However, this was no disaster and I made sure the second effort improved, by keeping the fabric from dragging in any way to the side and letting the overlocker take all it needed. I also worked round the piece of fabric all the way, to limit the amount of tying off and running in of ends, and to test my curves and cornering skills. What I achieved was a respectable neatened edge to all the pieces I was then going to stitch on my sewing machine.

Curves on Ash - Linen & Cotton

The thing I noted especially was that it is easy to catch a little bit of the fabric if you turn a sharp corner a stitch or two early, and that folds it a fraction. However, since this only happened where I was turning to run along what would be the bottom hem, this could be accommodated in the turn up.

Overall I was delighted with the results, and not only does the overlocking prevent future fraying, it assists in the making up of the garment and gives a professional finish. When I stitched the pieces together, the overlocking gripped top fabric to bottom a little and eliminated creep. There was also that advantage that the cutting knife had made the edges very straight, no  minor ‘diversions’, and keeping the seam allowance perfect was a doddle. In addition there was a feeling that the fabric pieces  just needed joining together and it would only take a jiffy. It felt as if the major part of making the culottes was done before one piece joined a second, which was not true but felt good! Where it did speed things up enormously was with hemming. I know the overlocker can do this but I was not going that far. When I wanted to hem the culottes, the hem was of course less bulky, not having to be turned over  inside, and measuring to keep it level felt easier as well. The finished result looked professional to the degree where my husband commented upon the inside as ‘like bought off a shop rail’. You will have to wait for a picture, as I am finishing a top in the  Cappuccino Gingham - Organic Cotton to make the complete outfit for narrow-boating.

In the next ‘exciting episode’ of the Overlocker Diaries, I will move on to wool worsted, and my first knit, which will be the chunky woolly Stormy Seas (now sold out *sad face*) roll-neck jumper for my daughter. At some point I am bound to encounter ‘the Overlocker Strikes Back’, but so far, so good.

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