I think there is a declining breed among sewers/sewists in this twenty-first century. This is that rarefied group of sewists/sewers who eschew anything that smacks of fast-fashion-ready-to-wear techniques. For years, every time someone said a certain tool or technique would make the garments I sewed myself resemble ready-to-wear, all I could picture was crumbling sweatshops in third-world countries where workers toiled in outrageous conditions so that first-world consumers could have their choice of millions of pieces of clothing of questionable quality. No, I said. That’s not for me. And it always seemed that there was a serger involved in those discussions.
I fancied myself a couture sewist/sewer. Can you feel me rolling my eyes at that conceit? Oh, yes, I did learn to make a Little French Jacket (or three), hand-inserting silk linings, and I taught myself traditional tailoring, spending hours hand-pad-stitching the undercollars. So, I effected a kind of snobbery about that sort of sewing where a serger was involved in seam finishing or worse, *gasp* making a garment from start to finish. Then, a few years ago, I got one. And this past Christmas, I found a combination serger-coverstitch machine under the tree. What in the world?? I’ve evolved.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I am still in the couture sewing category when it comes to most of the kinds of clothing I love to wear and make, but I’ve added a few tools and techniques to my repertoire. And over the past month, that repertoire has expanded to include coverstitching. Let me tell you about my adventures over the past few weeks.
For years, I sewed with only a sewing machine. Then I added the aforementioned serger, using it to finish seams of leisure wear and the odd seam in a shirt or hem edge in a jacket or dress. I always kept it to three threads since I had no intention of ever making a garment from start to finish on my serger. Finally, it occurred to me that being able to do a coverstitched hem or edge (or even use it in reverse for an interesting detail) might be a nice addition to my sewing arsenal. So, what exactly is a coverstitch, you might well ask (as I did).
According to the lovely Linda Lee’s terrific book Sewing Knits from Fit to Finish:
“…the most popular coverstitch is produced with two needles and three threads. There are two rows of straight stitches on the top and a series of looping stitches on the bottom…there is often an option to use three needles for three parallel rows of straight stitches…”
And, of course, there is no knife for cutting off the edge of your fabric like on a serger because it’s mainly for hemming. You might think that the double-needle stitching capability of your sewing machine is the same, but it really isn’t quite the same. Anyway, I thought I’d like to give it a whirl, so I began searching for the right machine.
Now, I’m a kind of neatness nerd, and I live with an even more dedicated neatness nerd. So, the idea of adding an extra machine to my downtown-sized sewing atelier (*cough*) seemed a bit excessive. That’s what sent me looking for a machine that could do both serging and coverstitching. I found the big sister of my current Singer serger and put it on my Christmas list. There it was on Christmas morning. Then, I had to learn how to use that sucker.
I decided to cut some pieces of knit fabric and practice the coverstitch—for which the machine was set up and threaded out of the box—and figure out how to most easily convert it to a serger. Let me just say there was a very steep learning curve. And this is despite the machine resembling its little sister in many ways, but in so many more ways, it simply does not. There was much to learn.
Once I figured out a few things—tears and frustration notwithstanding—I realized that I learned so much more by making threading mistakes. Or at least, that’s my story. I did manage to find a reasonably good video on YouTube that helped me immensely, but as I searched YouTube, it occurred to me that most of the sewing videos were too long. I thought I might start a YouTube channel with sewing videos no longer than five minutes, but that’s for another day (or maybe even lifetime!). After many goofs and threading mistakes, I decided to pull out some leftover fabric and make a new top, all on the new machine—no sewing machine needed. This approach is so contrary to my former point of view that it isn’t even in the same ballpark. But what is life if you can’t evolve, hmm?
I decided to make Butterick 6418 as my test garment. I liked view D with its contrast sleeve and bodice insert, and I had enough fabric left from two previous projects to get it done. So, I began.
I used what my (very detailed) machine manual calls a “three-thread ultra-stretch mock safety stitch.” The three threads are left needle, right needle and cover looper. The safety part refers to the fact that it is designed for seaming, and I can report that it is a very stretchy stitch.
That was great for my project. Then I would use the three-thread coverstitch for the hems and the neckline. I was a bit leery of the coverstitched neckline—for good reason. The pattern design calls for the neckline to be turned and stitched. I think the next time I do this, I’ll make a narrow neck binding for a better finish.
I motored along the seams, seaming and finishing all in one fell swoop. I have to admit I was a bit tickled by the process. I didn’t do anything fancy on this project, but I can see a few interesting approaches in the future. I can see decorative finishes using the coverstitch reversed or even trying to make a bathing suit, although that may be a bridge too far!
Lessons I Learned
- A combination machine requires patience since it has to be rethreaded and rejigged from serger to coverstitch machine every time you change modes.
- You can minimize the changing by thinking through a project before you begin.
- I am still not a fan of the imprecision of doing seaming and serging all at once. I’m a stickler for fit, so I prefer to have an exact measurement. This doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem, though, in stretchy enough knits.
- I need to never lose sight of the usual things I am aware of—like when my needle thread runs out. When it did, I thought there was something wrong with the machine. No, it just ran out of thread.
The coverstitch book I also received for Christmas:
6 thoughts on “Overcoming Sewing Snobbery or How I Learned to Love my Serger (and new coverstitch machine)!”
I appreciate your sentiments about sergers and coverstitch machines, and I too am coming to terms with the fact that they have their uses. I used to be that person who said a serger doesn’t make your garment look more professional; it makes it look mass-produced. But during the lockdown, I used the excess down-time to make myself make friends with my serger. I now have access to a coverstitch machine as well, and both machines do have their advantages, I admit. Maybe I should check out that book. Your ‘test garment’ looks nice!
I love the mention of Linda Lee. I used to actually live down the street from her shop; literally a walk or bike ride, not a drive. But I was early in my career and had no time to create, so my proximity to her shop and classes largely went to waste. I still fret about what I missed out on. I did get in there occasionally, and got some really nice fabrics there.
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I’m glad to hear I wasn’t alone in my resistance to serging. I was introduced to Linda Lee online through a few of her Craftsy courses. She’s a marvellous teacher and I had to have her book which I she’d a lot when I first started sewing with knits. I suppose it’s those knits that I added to me sewing repertoire that really got me thinking about the advantages of a serger. Happy sewing!
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How exciting! I hope you have fun testing all the features, and I can imagine it being amazing for a decorative finish on activewear. I’m seeing two paths developing among millennials in the sewing community: those who want their garments to look as much like RTW as possible (big on overlockers/sergers), and those who want everything to look beautiful on the inside (this often translates to french seams on virtually everything). Neither of which I subscribe to, but the second group produce beautiful Instagram grids that I like to pore over!
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That’s an interesting impression of millennial sewers. I’m like you – I’m no longer taking an all-or-nothing approach. BTW who are your favourites on Instagram?
Tough Q! I dip in and out a lot, but two accounts I always look out for are @sewmanju for her skills in fitting at speed and @sewalison for couture tips and handling tricky fabrics.
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I also follow @sewalison and will have to check out @sewmanju
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