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Book Review: Lorna Knight’s ‘Overlockers and Overlocking: A Practical Guide’

June 15, 2021

In January 2021 I was sent a recently published book by Crowood Press in exchange for a review on my blog. I have had an overlocker for many years, but I’ll admit that I mainly use it for two things:

  1. to finish seam allowances of woven fabric
  2. to sew knit fabric seams

These are the two functions that are the most useful and important to me as a dressmaker. It is not an essential tool as I could finish my seams in different ways, and sew knit fabrics with a zig zag stitch on a basic sewing machine, but I like the neat finish and the speed. I have dresses I made using an overlocker ten years ago that have been washed and worn over and over again, so I know it creates a sturdy finish.

Lorna Knight’s book ‘Overlockers and Overlocking: A Practical Guide’ (2020) is a comprehensive guide to overlockers and I think it would definitely appeal to sewers who are new to this machine. However, the book serves as a useful guide to others who may already be familiar with an overlocker’s basic functions. The tone of the book is never patronising or simplistic. Knight’s friendly introduction is interesting, informative and encouraging:

In this book, using photographs and simple explanations, I hope to demystify an often maligned machine and demonstrate how it can take your creativity to a new level. By understanding how your overlocker works it will become a more useful tool and you will learn how to get the most from it. Above all, I want to share my enthusiasm and encourage everyone to have a go.

(Knight: 7)

The book is well organised. Knight begins by explaining what the overlocker is, what the different parts are, and things to consider when buying an overlocker. She also mentions related machines such as a coverstitch machine and a blind hemming machine, which I found very interesting as I have never used either but I am intrigued by both. Knight then goes over the accessories that often come with an overlocker, and what they are for, and other handy tools that may help you, from things you might have already in the house (such as using masking tape or washi tape to mark the seam allowance, or using a glass or cup to hold thread that will not sit on the spool holders), to more specialist attachments. I had not realised that you can get so many different types of presser foot attachments for the overlocker, for example you can get a ‘beading foot’ for sewing on a strip of beading: how clever is that?!

Knight moves on to the subject of threading, which overlockers are notoriously hard to do, with the heading ‘Threading up – Don’t Be Put Off!’ which is encouraging for those whose minds melt at the thought of having to thread four threads through a series of dials, clips and holders in a very specific order without getting them tangled up!

The rest of the book goes through the different stitches as you would expect, some construction techniques and hem finishes, and gives examples of different threads being used to achieve different effects. The final chapter on troubleshooting answers twenty FAQs that users might have regarding the operation of the machine and guides the reader in identifying problems and solving them.

The last 30 pages of the book are the icing on the cake: Appendix 1 focuses on how different fabrics can be handled successfully by the overlocker by adjusting settings such as the differential feed, the tension, the stitch length, needle type and thread type. Appendix 2 is an at-a-glance reference chart to help identify different stitch types and adjust the settings for each one. Following the appendices is some information regarding overlocker manufacturers and suppliers, a glossary and an index. Quite simply, Knight has thought of everything.

My only criticism of the book is that the photographs are quite small. Obviously there are limitations due to the physical size of the book (24cm x 17cm, if you’re interested!), but there are some photographs and diagrams which would merit being enlarged, especially when multiple things are being depicted. For example, on page 22 and 23, we are given an artful full page close up of a tool with a soft focus background. It doesn’t indicate what the tool is. There is then a second flat lay image of eight different tools and gadgets, numbered and accompanied by a list to identify each tool, but this image is so small that it is hard to see the tools clearly. Shame!

Overall, I think the book lives up to its title: it is indeed a practical guide that I would buy for myself or anyone with an interest in getting more use out of their overlockers. Well done Lorna Knigh, and thank you to The Crowood Press for asking me to review this book.

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