Serge Ahead

I’ve heard rave reviews of sewing teacher Mac Berg and the three-part class she teaches at Vogue Fabric Store in Evanston that she calls “As the Serger Turns”, so I decided to check it out for myself. I’m glad I did.

I was away from sewing when sergers were introduced to the home sewing market. When I started reading about the capabilities of these odd-looking machines with all the cones of thread lined up in back of them, I was pretty sure I couldn’t live without one. I’d missed the whole Stretch & Sew phenomenon for the simple reason that I gave up trying to sew with knits on a sewing machine. The thought of being able to knock out a tee-shirt or pajama pants in an hour or less was intriguing. Then there was the idea of trimming and finishing my seams in one quick step and mastering rolled hems for sheers. Yup, I definitely needed to look into this whole serger thing more closely.

Many home sewers have a love/hate relationship with their sergers and some just plain don’t get along with them. That’s how I was with my first serger, an entry-level machine. I love what I can do with my current serger, but I knew that it is capable of much more. It’s sort of like using a computer as nothing more than a typewriter. Mac’s class cured that.

Mac has an engaging teaching style and a passion for her work that makes learning from her an absolute delight. She uses storytelling to teach about how sergers work, giving each of the threads a name and describing the role each one plays in forming a stitch. The first class focused on achieving a balanced stitch and diagnosing what needs to be changed when the stitch is out of balance. She also explained differential feed and how to use it.

Before I took this class, I had no idea why anyone would need a 5-thread serger. It turns out that the 5-thread overlock stitch is the one you need when constructing garments out of woven fabrics; the 4-thread overlock, which is ideal for knits, isn’t strong enough for high-stress seams on woven garments. Good to know.

The second class was devoted to skill-building and working with different types of decorative threads in the upper looper (the one that shows), such as woolly nylon, pearl crown rayon and machine embroidery thread. We serged inside and outside corners and curved edges, applied elastic, learned different uses for the flatlock stitch and got the hang of making a lettuce edge. We learned that, when stitching in the round, it’s important to avoid cutting the initial stitches as you approach them. To allow for overlap before serging off, it helps to move the knife away from the fabric by widening the stitch width (at least that’s how you do it on my serger).

Variegated thread will come out in stripes or bands, but blending two of them together will eliminate that effect. Also, blending different colors of threads together in the upper looper can help pull together a print piece with a solid companion piece, or simply make the edge of a patterned piece look less jarring.

The key to serging inside corners is to “feed the knife” so that you don’t end up with a chain that is disconnected from the fabric (which was what my inside corners always looked like). Mac also teaches her students to be realistic and accept “pretty good” rather than “perfect” (something years of therapy haven’t gotten me to do :-)). You cannot achieve a perfect point in an inside corner on a serger, so don’t even try. To get a pointed inside corner, you need to go over your work with a sewing machine.

The third class was play time with different presser feet and whatever fancy things we were interested in learning. Applying pre-strung beads is surprisingly easy, as is making piped seams and ruffles. I need more practice to master attaching wire or monofilament line to fabric edges, which I want to use on the shiny organza I have to embellish my Curvy Girl Prom Dress.

Mac will give the lecture version of her class at Sew Chicago’s November meeting. I’m looking forward to once again hearing the story of the people who live in our sergers and some of the fun, creative things they can help us do.

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