Learning basic serger maintenance and tension tips may increase the life of your serger, and keep your projects looking their best. Read today’s post for important tips and tricks for keeping your machine running in tip-top shape.
As with any piece of mechanical equipment, the life of a serger and the quality of its performance are greatly enhanced by regular care, maintenance, and some basic troubleshooting knowledge.
Basic Serger Maintenance
The good news is that sergers are relatively simple to care for. It only takes a few minutes to keep them running well. Follow these steps for cleaning and oiling your serger to make sure it’s ready for the next sewing project.
Clean the serger on a regular basis. Some fabrics create a great deal of lint and fuzz; these require more frequent server cleanings. Others are relatively lint-free, meaning the serger can go longer between cleanings. It’s also a good idea to have it professionally cleaned and checked by a trained technician every one to two years.
Gather a few tools to help the process go quickly and smoothly. Some of these tools may be included with the serger while others are common household items: lint brush, oil, tweezers, pipe cleaners, soft cloth, owner’s manual, needle holder if applicable, small screwdriver, and vacuum (optional).
For deep cleaning, unthread the machine and remove the presser foot and needles. Some models may also allow the removal of the throat plate. Open both doors of the serger for full access to the loopers.
Using a soft brush, Such as a paintbrush, lint brush, or make-up brush, clean the lower area of the serger. Remove all lint from the loopers and the feed dog area. A brush that has stiff bristles is also useful in certain areas to push lint out of the machine. Pull long threads from the machine using tweezers if needed.
Use a pipe cleaner for hard-to-reach areas. The stiffness of the cleaner paired with its flexibility allows it to snake into areas too small for hands. The texture of the pipe cleaner acts as a dust catcher to remove lint.
Use a small vacuum or vacuum attachment to remove lint quickly. Canned pressed air isn’t usually recommended, as it blows lint into the machine rather than out of it. This can potentially build up inside the serger, causing difficulty for the moving parts.
After cleaning the looper area, oil the needed areas using the type of oil recommended by the serger manufacturer. Generally, oil is applied where metal moves against metal. Only small amounts are needed, usually one or two drops at each point.
Floss the tension dials using a length of embroidery floss or Perle cotton. This clears the area of lint and cleans out any bits of thread caught in the tension dials. Build-up here is especially troublesome because it can affect the accuracy of the tension setting and interfere with stitch formation.
Replace the knife if needed. It’s easy to tell when the knife needs replacing because the fabric has a chewed look rather than a clean edge after passing under the knife. Some sergers have one knife and others have two, featuring an upper and a lower blade. The knife can be changed with a simple process; However, a trained serger technician should replace the knife because of the precise positioning it needs to operate correctly.
Replace the presser foot and the stitch plate, if it was removed. Always insert a new needle after each cleaning session. Lastly, wipe off the outside of the serger to remove any smudges or fingerprints.
Tension Troubleshooting 101
It’s possible that cleaning your serger well and regularly will help you resolve and avoid common issues. However, if you’re still experiencing skipped stitches, tension troubles, and loose, loopy stitches, try the steps outlined below.
Make sure the needles are securely inserted and properly positioned. The needles should be inserted as far into their sockets as possible and their positions should be slightly offset.
Change the needles every time you begin a new project. An old needle may have burrs or other imperfections that aren’t visible to the naked eye.
Check the looper tensions to determine if they’re correctly set for the selected stitch.
Reposition the thread. Switch the thread from the loopers to the needles and vice versa.
Make small repairs to a seam that has skipped stitches using a hand sewing needle and clear monofilament thread.
The stitch samples were created using yellow thread in the left needle, blue thread in the right needle, red thread in the upper looper, and green thread in the lower looper.
Tension is another potential trouble spot when serging. When the stitch is balanced, the fabric edge lays completely flat (2). If the serged stitch is causing the edge to curl or fold, adjust the lopper tension settings.
If the fabric curls toward the right side, the upper looper tension may be too tight (3). Loosen the upper looper tension slightly and then test-serge on a fabric scrap. The lower looper tension may need to be tightened to compensate and produce a balanced stitch.
If the fabric curls toward the wrong side, the lower looper tension may be too tight (4). Loosen the lower looper tension slightly and then test-serge on a fabric scrap. the upper looper tension may need to be tightened to compensate and produce a balanced stitch.
If the serger produces a loose stitch with pronounced thread loops, the thread may not be securely placed through the tension disks. When this happens, the needle causes small thread loops to appear on the fabric wrong side (5). This also makes the serged seam weak and prone to stretching. To alleviate this problem, make sure that the needle threads are snuggly seated within the tension disks. Also, check the threading diagram in your serger manual to ensure that you’ve followed the thread paths as directed.
Become the Boss of Your Serger
We think the best way to learn all of the ins and outs of your serger, plus so much more, is to take Katrina Walker’s workshop, Serger Master Class. This course will change everything about your approach to serging, from threading confidence to fabulous finishes, it’s all here.
Check out one student’s experience in the course — she’s no longer afraid of her serger. We have a class starting soon, so register now!
Originally Posted on February 4, 2019; updated on July 6, 2022.