Beginning Serger

I love teaching beginning serging, but I feel for all those who do not have a local teacher to help.  I learned on my own, and I know how hard that is.  Having someone by your side makes all the difference in the world, yet so often we don't have that.

For all of you in that boat:  Keep trying.  You don't need to be afraid of your tension dials.  You may eat up a lot of fabric and thread with just testing out your stitches, but if you're willing to change those dials, you'll learn more quickly how your serger works.  Don't give up.  You may not quite get to projects right away, but you'll never get there if you don't dive in.

  1. Get out some scrap fabric because when you use a serger you will test your stitches EVERY time you change ANYTHING.  Even after you know what you're doing.  :-)
  2. Be sure when you thread that you always thread the upper looper, and then the lower looper, and lastly the needles.  If you have a looper thread break, you need to unthread the needles, at least take the thread out of the needle eyes, before rethreading the looper.  If the upper looper needs rethreading, you must also unthread the lower looper eye before rethreading the upper looper.  In this case order matters a lot.
  3. When you start, it really helps to use 4 different colored threads.  And, if you have color-coded threading instructions, it helps even more if your colors match the colors for your machine.
  4. Set all your tensions to the middle of the road to start, probably at a 4.
  5. Serge slowly, if you can, and see what it looks like.
  6. Now change one of your tensions a notch up or down.  Serge again.  See what changed.
  7. Keep changing one thing at a time and see what changes. What changes when you modify tensions a little?  What about when you modify one of them a lot?
  8. There are several ways to deal with thread ends. The easiest is to run about 8" of serger chain off whenever you finish a seam, and cut it in the middle, leaving 4" on the fabric and 4" on the serger.  Use a blunt needle to run the chain under the last 1-2" of serger loops on the seam. You'll increase your repertoire of ending skills as you go.

Play around with your serger.  If you play a lot before trying a project, you'll be less frustrated when the time comes.

Then, what about a first project?  I recommend a simple pillowcase.  Cut one fabric 22-26" x width of fabric.  Cut a second fabric 10" x WOF.  Fold the 10" piece in half lengthwise (hotdog fold), and press.  Lay the long edges along the cut edge of the right side of the large piece of fabric and serge with a 4 thread overlock stitch.

Press this doubled fabric away from the large piece.

Fold the whole thing in half lengthwise (hotdog fold) again, selvages together.  Serge the selvage seam, cutting the selvages off with the serger. Isn't that convenient?

And finally, serge the bottom seam.

You have finished your first project.  Congratulations!

From this basic pillowcase you can change things up - put on a gathered ruffle, use decorative stitches, add piping, use French seams - lots of possibilities to develop and increase your skills.

Another very easy project that will help you use a rolled hem is the Fat Quarter Gift Bag, which can be found at Bernina USA.  You can also find other serger projects here, which can help you develop your serger skills even further.  I don't own a Bernina, but I love their project pages.

I am always glad to answer questions, as well.  You can reach me at, or on my Cherished Needle Creations Facebook page.   I would be glad to help you out, or direct you to other resources that may help, since there are actually quite a few resources for sergers available on the Web.  I also have resources on this website, and you can subscribe to my free monthly techniques and projects newsletter  as well.

So, dive in!  The water's fine!  Serging does take practice, so even if you've been sewing for years, if you are new to a serger, have patience with yourself.  It is a different animal than a sewing machine, and it will take time to get used to it.  As your skills develop, so many new options will become available to you, so persevere!

This article is reposted from my blog at