Welcome to the next-to-last night of the Tiramisu Circus! Up to this point, we’ve covered some details behind Cake Patterns, Bodice Sizing for great fit, the design inspiration behind Tiramisu, the Red Stripe Tiramisu and Giveaway, Quick Start Knit Sewing for Beginners, Knit Stabilizers, and Stitches/Threads/Feet used for sewing knits. Whew!
I haven’t spent much time on overlockers/sergers up to this point. They’re not strictly necessary for sewing knits, but I consider mine indispensable. Several people have written to ask me about whether they need an overlocker to sew with knits. I thought I’d take this approach in talking about these machines rather than a regular “how-to.” I’m afraid I can’t write about coverhem machines at the moment because I don’t have access to one. Soon, perhaps!
If you’ve been reading for a while, you know I used to work in an independent sewing shop. They ship all over Australia, and if you’re in Brisbane and need a machine I can heartily recommend them for machine sales. I only mention it because they’re a local independent dealer and they take customer service seriously, I’m not being paid to advertise.
Among other duties, I sold sewing machines and taught classes. I’m out of practice with my overlocker knowledge, so the other day I sat down with my very good friend Janet- a very skilled, ethical and well trained machinist- and picked her brain for you.
Do I need a serger/overlocker to sew knits?
The short answer is no. You do not, strictly speaking. However, an overlocker speeds up the sewing process and creates a light, professional finish on garments made in the home.
An overlocker is not a replacement for a regular sewing machine; it is a complement. In the garment industry, machines perform one or two functions as a general rule. In “domestic” sewing, our machines are multi-purpose- after all, the home sewist doesn’t usually have space or money to set up a garment making factory. An overlocker is more like an industrial machine in that it has limited functions, but it does them well and quickly.
I think about the price of an overlocker as a “cost per use” situation- I use mine heavily, so it is worth it to me. If I stitched only one or two garments every blue moon, I might stick to only using my own sewing machine.
It’s also a question of the desired qualities of the finished garment. It’s nearly impossible to tell from the outside how a garment is finished, but once I started using an overlocker to finish my seams I was excited! My clothes looked like “real” clothes on the inside!
The time issue is important, too. I like to sew quickly- not because I don’t love sewing, but because it’s efficient and means I can get on to more sewing.
These are all very individual preferences!
Time Trials- Best use of the sewing time
While Janet and I were discussing the relative virtues of various machine features, she pulled out an interesting statistic I’d not heard- apparently overlockers can save 40% of your sewing time. My instinct said this is correct, but you know I like a good sewing experiment so I tried it myself.
I used three 10″ (25.4cm) pieces of badly-behaved linen jersey to carry out my time trials. I kept my stopwatch app open and timed each seam finish- a triple stitch zig-zag, a sewing machine “overlocking” stitch, and the overlocker itself. Each seam was finished with the pedal flat on the floor.
Experience tells me not to be so surprised at the time differences, but I am! Aside from the rippling issues, an overlocker is more than 4 times as quick a seam finish as a triple-stitch zig-zag and more than 8 times faster than an overlocking stitch on a domestic machine.
I timed a regular “construction” stitch on the same length of fabric. The lightning bolt stitch takes 29.2 seconds to cover 10″ of material.
The Tiramisu dress has four 24″ long skirt seams. That’s 96″ total. The construction seaming would take a base sewing time of 4.67 minutes. An overlocker would zip the seams together in about 70 seconds. A triple-stitch zig zag would take 4.78 minutes, and the domestic overlocking stitch 9.84 minutes to cover the same seam.
Total Seam Time (construction + finish):
Domestic Sewing Machine Only : 9.45 minutes
Sewing Machine + Overlocker: 5.77 minutes
5.77 / 9.45 = .61 X 100 = 61%
A seam + finish using an overlocker takes 61% as long as sewing a seam solely on a regular sewing machine. This means that according to my sewing times, the overlocker shaves about 39% off my sewing time. That’s not bad!
An Abrupt Conclusion!
After my chat with Janet the other day, I sat down and wrote the outlines for four more posts focusing on sergers/overlockers, coverhem machines, and a buyer’s guide. It’s too much to fit in The Circus!
This post is by no means comprehensive, more like a foot-wetting exercise. I’m quite happy to write more in depth about these machines as a part of a regular weekly series once The Circus leaves town. If you’d like that, do let me know in the comments. Don’t be shy about questions, if I don’t know the answer I’ll go find out.
And finally- a note on needles for overlockers. Janet tells me that while most overlockers work best with ballpoints, it is not mandatory for all makes and models. It’s best to check your manual. However, using ballpoints doesn’t hurt, while sharps in a “ballpoints only” machine will absolutely result in skipped stitches and a general mess.
We’ve broken 316 sales for the Tiramisu Pre-Sale on Etsy. I’m so- just- THANK YOU! I’m sure you’ll love your Tiras, and will have a great sewing experience. There’s so much I *haven’t* shown you about the pattern, I can’t wait for you all to have them in your hot little hands.
Be sure, be sure, be sure to sign up for the Tiramisu Red Stripe And Red Dot Fabric Giveaway! I’ll be sending out a few rolls of Steam a Seam and some twin needles to randomly chosen commenters, as well as the fabric! I always wish everyone could win.
What do you think of the speed trials? Do you own an overlocker/serger? Are you looking for one? Do you have questions about using the overlocker to sew knits?
Tomorrow: Last day of The Circus, the great big hemming finale! Stephen and I are working hard on it, I hope you’re amused.