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The Overlocker Technique Manual by Julia Hincks – Review

August 10, 2014

This is the third of the books that Search Press sent to me for review purposes.  I chose to review it because although more and more home sewists are investing in overlockers (or ‘sergers’), it seems to me that they are often perceived as ‘scary’ machines – so I thought this book might appeal!

The Overlocker Technique Manual

The Overlocker Technique Manual

I bought my overlocker in 2011 and it probably wasn’t until last year that I actually nailed how to rethread the thing quickly.  To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t the threading that was an issue: although a bit fiddly, I can do that bit in a couple of minutes.  No, it was getting the tension of all the threads right that took hours.  It became like a jackpot – sometimes I would rethread and it would be fine straight away, and other times I would fiddle about for hours.  One day last year, out of pure frustration, whilst feeding my test scraps of fabric through and trying to get the right tension, I manually pulled each of the four threads in turn as they were feeding through, making the tension incredibly tight for a short time and then letting go and letting it feed through normally.  For some unknown reason, it worked a treat, and this is what I do each time now if it isn’t working properly.

So, it took me two years to be able to confidently rethread my machine.  I knew my machine had uses other than finishing raw edges and sewing knits, but until a few weeks ago when I sat down in front of the overlocker with this book at hand, I hadn’t experimented at all.  Why?  I suppose time was a factor.  Who wants to spend hours on end faffing around with an overlocker?  I could make a dress in that time!  But this book review was the incentive I needed to get down to business – how could I review a book properly without putting it to the test?

Readers – I gave this book a thorough test.  I worked my way through this book in maybe 5 or 6 hours, starting right at the beginning and working through in order.  As I began to work through the book, my main question for the purposes of this review was: how is this book different to my instruction manual?  After all, there is no value in buying a book that is the same as the overlocker’s manual (unless, of course, you don’t have the manual for your machine).

The book is divided into three chapters: ‘Overlocking Basics’, ‘Techniques’ and ‘Quick Constructions’.  Working in conjunction with this book and my overlocker instruction manual, I familiarised myself with what each bit of the overlocker is called and what it is/can be used for.  Some of this I already knew, but I did learn some new things and as a result of the exercise I now have quite a thorough understanding of the machine.

In the three years of owning my overlocker, only once have I changed the differential feed – I did this to help gather up the hem of a circle skirt.  The book taught me that when the differential feed is a higher number than ‘N’ (normal), the front teeth of the feed dog move more quickly than the back teeth, and this creates gathering.  When the differential feed is lower than ‘N’, the front teeth move more slowly than the back teeth, to create a stretch effect (depending upon the fabric type, of course).

One thing that I had always found confusing in my overlocker manual was something it referred to as ‘size of bight’, and elsewhere in the manual ‘width of bite’.  This ‘bight’/’bite’: I had no idea what it was – only that I could widen it if I wanted.  But the book taught me that it’s the cutting width – perhaps this ‘bight’/’bite’ is a translation error in my manual or something?  Either way, I’m glad to have finally got that information straight!

Under the guidance of this book, I learnt how to retract the upper knife, how to adjust the stitch width, and how to remove the stitch finger.  This enabled me to stitch a teeny tiny rolled hem!  I’m so pleased I learnt how to do this, I can definitely see me using this function a lot.

Overlocker rolled hem!

Overlocker rolled hem!

I also learnt how to make pin-tucks on the overlocker, French seams, welt seams and fell seams.  I would never have considered using my overlocker before for any of these seam finishes.  It isn’t exactly rocket science, but it was good to learn some alternative methods.

How to sew a French seam on your overlocker

How to sew a French seam on your overlocker

The book tells you how to use a variety of different attachments, such as elastic and beading attachments and piping, blind-hemming, gathering, bias binding, taping and cording feet.  My machine only has one foot, but this foot doubles up as a cording foot due to the small hole in the top of the foot through which one can feed cord.  With the help of the book I learnt how to overlock over a piece of cord or yarn (for decorative purposes), and how to overlock over stabilising tape, which will be useful when constructing seams of knit garments that need extra stabilisation, such as shoulder seams and waist seams.  I didn’t have any clear elastic to practise with, but I imagine that would work on the same principle as the seam tape.

Applying (white) stabilising tape to a seam with the overlocker.

Applying stabilising tape to a seam with the overlocker.

So far so good.  The techniques section of this book really did enable me to get to grips with my machine.  I learnt new techniques that I will definitely use again, and these techniques were explained in a much clearer way than in my manual, and with clear photographs too.

The ‘Quick Constructions’ section is comprised of a series of simple projects in which you can test out your newly acquired overlocking skills.  The projects are basic, and nothing to write home about.  The chapter does finish with a ‘Guide to Fabrics’ section though – giving guidance on different fabrics and what size needles they would be best paired with, what differential feed to use, what stitch length is best, suggested tension settings and tips on hemming techniques.  These four pages are very, very useful.

The biggest disappointment of this book was that there was no mention of the care and maintenance of your overlocker – for instance how (and where) to oil it, how to remove the needle plate and clean the feed dogs, how to change the bulb, the blades etc.  After all the time I spent learning about how to use the machine, I felt so invested in it that I was willing to spend another hour giving it a mini home-service, but the book doesn’t touch on this at all, which I think is a great shame.  I may have learnt a lot about the functionality of the machine, but I’m still a bit nervous about taking it to pieces to clean it properly!  Boo!

One other, small, gripe: it suggests overlocking with different types of thread to achieve different effects, for example using thread that changes colour, metallic thread, woolly nylon, embroidery thread, even yarn…which is all very well and good if these are wound onto a bobbin, but when I attempted to use some metallic pearl cotton from a skein, I was left wondering how on earth to wind it suitably and place it securely onto the bobbin holder??

Overall, this is a good book to have.  I’ve learnt a lot from it and, although it is not tailored specifically to my exact model of machine, it has been a lot more useful than the manual itself has ever been.  I would recommend the book to people who have overlockers with no manual, or to people who want to get more from their machines and try new techniques.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Simona permalink
    August 10, 2014 11:37 am

    I have this book as well, got it after I had my serger for 4 years! And find it more useful than the manual, as well as learning how much more the machine can do! I mainly used it to finish seams.

    • tabathatweedie permalink*
      August 11, 2014 8:14 am

      It’s definitely a book worth having.

  2. August 10, 2014 1:55 pm

    This is very timely for me… I wasn’t scared of my overlocker when I got (christmas 2013) but recently have been avoiding it after both needles broke one after another pinging themselves past my cheek !

    This morning I took it out and rethreaded it but have just spent the last 2 hours trying to get the tension right, the manual isn’t being particularly helpful and neither is Chris James’ The Complete Serger…sounds as if I may need to buy this book and treat it as a “mastering your overlocker course”.

    in the meantime I may try pulling on the threads…is nothing else it will help me work out which looper is which (foolishly I made both of them the same colour earlier, before I’d
    gone for a bi-colour effect because I wanted to see which thread was doing what)

    Thank you for this thorough and well thought out review

    • tabathatweedie permalink*
      August 11, 2014 8:16 am

      Eek, the breaking needles thing sounds a bit scary! Maybe you need safety goggles! I’m glad you found the review useful. Hopefully you can get to grips with your overlocker soon.

  3. stitchedupsam permalink
    August 10, 2014 6:49 pm

    I was actually reading this book this morning. There is some really useful information in it.

    • tabathatweedie permalink*
      August 11, 2014 8:16 am

      That’s a coincidence! It is a useful book.

  4. August 10, 2014 8:51 pm

    Nice rolled hem! I recently went on an overlocker course at the Yorkshire school of sewing, and it was fab. I’m going to try and practice some of what I have learned over the next year. I never realised you could do French seams, fell seams and welt seams though. Interesting! I definitely recommend setting aside a few hours just to sit and practice overlocker techniques. It’s more rewarding than you think. 🙂

    • tabathatweedie permalink*
      August 11, 2014 8:18 am

      It really is. I’m so glad I did it! And it was much cheaper than going on a course! 😉

  5. jhincks permalink
    August 11, 2014 6:04 pm

    Thank you for your review! – I’m really pleased you got so much from the book! – I agree with you that guidance on maintenance would be really useful and although this was originally on the plan for the book we ended up swapping this with other information which might not be covered in an overlocker manual. Maybe a later edition might squeeze this in! If you want to try out different coloured threads I usually use the bobbin winder on my sewing machine to transfer skeins of thread onto a bobbin which then fits onto the thread holders on my overlocker. Hope this helps!

    • tabathatweedie permalink*
      August 11, 2014 8:11 pm

      Thank you for your comment, Julia. It’s interesting to know that overlocker maintenance was originally a topic you were going to cover: what a shame it didn’t make it into the final publication! Thank you for the tip on winding different types of thread onto bobbins: I hadn’t thought of that.

  6. August 21, 2014 2:11 pm

    Interesting! Shame it doesn’t cover any care/maintenance aspects… that’s something I’m keen to learn more about too. (I want to rely less upon pricey servicing + more on my own skillset :-)!

    • tabathatweedie permalink*
      August 21, 2014 2:28 pm

      I couldn’t agree more, Claire!

  7. Vicky permalink
    December 30, 2014 7:21 pm

    Can you tell me how to reach Julia Hincks. I am looking for a serger educator for an upcoming event. Vicky 309-343-5019

    • tabathatweedie permalink*
      December 30, 2014 7:36 pm

      I have no idea, sorry

  8. December 30, 2014 9:13 pm

    Hi – I can be contacted via juliahincks@hotmail.com
    Thanks!
    Julia

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