Thursday, March 24, 2011

Your Sewing Machine's Overlock Stitch

Did you know that most regular sewing machines have a special overlock stitch that mimics a serger's stitch? It's true! My Bernina has one, and so have the Pfaff and Brother machines I've sewn on.

Most people without a serger use pinking or zigzagging to finish their edges, sometimes without even knowing they have an overlock stitch on their sewing machines. What makes this stitch different from a zigzag is that it has a special foot with a little pin that helps the stitch wrap around the raw edge of the fabric. It uses more thread and can be pretty slow-going, but it's very secure.

Here's the top view of the stitch on my Bernina 1008, in pink thread. The bobbin thread is yellow.

And here's the back. See how the thread wraps around the raw edge?

This is what the stitch icon looks like on my machine.

Your machine will have a special foot for the overlock function. On a Bernina it looks like this:

The red arrow points to the pin, which you align with the raw edge of your fabric. The pin keeps the fabric flat and allows the thread to wrap around it.

Since my serger needs to go to the shop, I used my overlock stitch to finish the raw edges of some fabric before pre-shrinking it in the dryer. The overlocked edge held up just as beautifully as a serged edge does!

Do you use an overlock stitch?


98 comments:

  1. Wow. I had no idea. This changes everything!

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  3. Great information, thanks for sharing.

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  4. Mine has one and I knew about it. For some reason when I do use it, it eats the fabric and it's slow. I did not know there was a special foot for it. There are a few unidentified feet in my box. Maybe I'll do some research...


    Peace

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  5. Yes, I do. I have Brother and it's number 8 stitch on my machine, very handy. I also use number 7 stitch, which is similar but more dense.

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  6. I will be now. I know I've got that symbol on my machine & I'm pretty sure I've got that weird foot in my stash. I thought it was some type of strange zipper foot thing I didn't understand. Guess it's an over locking thing I didn't understand.

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  7. I just started using the overlock stitch on my Elna. I like using it even though I have a serger because I know I wont accidentally trim some fabric as I go.

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  8. Wow, I had no idea. I've been using a zig zag stitch to finish seams. I looked and I do indeed have that stitch! Amazing! Thanks so much for shedding the light!

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  9. I also have a Bernina and sadly didn't realize that you can also buy feet that include the cutting action, along with the serging action of a serger! This after purchasing my new serger (which I do love, but just wished I had explored my machine more). It is pretty amazing the machines they have out these days. I do so love my Bernina!

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  10. I know my pfaff has a couple of different edge finishing stitches, but I've never seemed to have much luck with them. My edges always end up a little chewed up/bunched up looking... did you drop the tension way down to get your stitches to lie so nice and flat?

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  11. I use my overlock stitch all the time, in part because I don't have a serger. My (Huskystar) overlock foot looks a little different from yours. It has little bristles that keep the fabric from rolling.

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  12. I use the overlock stitch on my Kenmore all the time....you must use the special foot or the fabric bunches up. It doesn't trim the fabric, or course, but I sometimes consider that an advantage...whenever I have to rip out a seam that I finished with the overlock before checiing it!

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  13. Another foot. There are so many feet available today that sewist can do practically anything. Now that I think about it, it may be a good idea to call your dealer ahead of time and ask if they have a foot that will help you accomplish a task you want to begin.

    My favorite foot? I can make beautiful hong kong seams by using the binding foot.

    ~Sewjourner

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  14. I do use it for sewing knits as it's a stretch stitch that mimics a straight stitch. Notice the gap it leaves when it zigs to the edge, this reduces popped stitches. To finish the edge of a woven I prefer a regular zigzag or the three-step zigzag (darning stitch), that looks like an undulating wave. The nice thing about that stitch is it doesn't squeeze fabric like a zigzag can. The foot with a pin can help with zigzagging over edge. I have an older Bernina, too, and before that foot was available, the manual suggested holding an extra thread taught against the raw edge. Serving the same purpose as the pin, but boy that sounds hard to me, I've never tried it.

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  15. Aha! I use the overlocking stitch but have never changed over my foot to a special foot. This could make a difference!

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  16. Thank you so much! I didn't know either and I can't currently afford a serger. This will be great.

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  17. I've been trying to get the foot for my machine for years, but every time I think to buy one it's out of stock!
    I should just sit on it and stop waiting til I need it to buy one.

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  18. i use my overlock stitch on every single garment i sew. I actually dont even think i need a serger, because it has held up beautifully in the wash. I have two brother machines and I set up the second machine as a full time overlock stitch machine so i dont even have to change feet when finishing raw edges as i construct!

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  19. Before I owned a serger, I used my overcasting foot, but not with the overlock stitch. I found it too slow, heavy, and bulky, especially when using standard sewing-machine thread.

    On my machines, the overcasting foot (which looks different from yours) also works with the zigzag stitch. It helps the stitch wrap around the fabric while keeping it flat. It's also quick and results in a flatter finish. Granted, it's not identical to an RTW finish; but I like it better than the overlock stitch on a sewing machine.

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  20. I've just received an overlock foot for my sewing machine and I can't wait to use it! I also have a serger, but I'm not very confident on it, so I think the overlock stich might be what I need right now!

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  21. Did you know there is a foot that trims to really mimic an overlocker? I haven't tried it, but I saw them on ebay once.

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  22. Oh, I know I have this stitch, I thought it was some kind of odd, backwards blind hem...
    And I've just got a serger...
    Damn.
    Thanks for the information though!

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  23. I use mine to sew knits! It gives a smoother seam on the outside than a zigzag :)

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  24. It is a backwards blind stitch. I've seen older machines where one cam was replaced with an extra inverted blind stitch cam to achieve this stitch.

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  25. I use the overlock stitch all the time on my Bernina! I have an old 830 and now a brand new 730 and can't imagine sewing a garment without that stitch! So great that someone else recognizes how great it is!

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  26. Great post! Yes I do use the overlock stitch as I don't have a serger! I just like the idea of that fancy surger that also trims the fabric, oh my!!! xoxo Beth

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  27. This is AWESOME! I don't have a serger, and hate the fact that a lot of the edges on the inside of my garments are raw (if they are unlined, which a lot of them are). To quote Seersucker Sally below, "This changes everything!" haha. I'm so excited now. :)

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  28. Yes, I use the the overlock stitch on my machine to finish the raw edges of my garments. In fact, my machine has several to choose from (knits to wovens and everything in between). Since I don't own a serger (and quite possibly never will) I use the overlock stitches. Prior to overlock stitiches being introduced on sewing machines, we - who have been sewing a long time- just zig/zag'd the edges and before that, we either used our pinking hsears or we 'overlocked' the edges by hand. My machine even has a sashiko stitch which I have been experimenting with - too bad, my machine can't make my morning coffee . . . then all would be well.

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  29. Another vote for exploring the capabilities of my main sewing machine! I really appreciate your helpful hints! I bought a serger before trying the overlock on my machine, but I'm glad I did. It is so fun to be able to whip out a quick neck scarf to match an outfit, right before walking out the door. I constantly pick up cheap silky material with a fun polka dot, or boomerang print and store it for a last minute splash of color around my neck, or tied on a purse handle.

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  30. I have been wanting to see if my machine did and overlock, but as I don't have the foot for it and I can't find feet for my poor hand me down machine, I guess it won't matter....

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  31. I DO use one of the overlock stitches on my machine, in spite of the fact that my serger is nearby. Just a quick change of stitch and foot will do a couple of short seams; much easier than rethreading the serger if it's just a small project.

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  32. I have a Husqvarna Viking and use the overlock stitch all the time! :-)

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  33. My machine has the stitch, but not the foot! It must have been lost by the previous owner, and the stitch doesn't work right without one.

    I have a serger too though, it's made things so much easier since I got it.

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  34. So that's what what foot and stitch are for! I always assumed the stitch was just a variation on the blind hem stitch and never used it. Thank you for letting us all know differently!

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  35. Thanks for the tips on the overlock stitch. I've used the stitch before but I didn't realize there was special foot to go with the stitch. Cool

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  36. I just got a new Janome that I've been playing around with so I am definitely going to give it a try when I get home!

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  37. I have a pretty low-end machine but I'm going to check when I get home. That looks very secure! Thanks for the tip!

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  38. yup!

    the bernina i have (the aurora 430) has several different variations on the overlock stitches. i have a serger, but sometimes when i'm feeling lazy and/or don't want to have to rethread the serger (perhaps i'm in the middle of a project with a different color, for example), i use the overlock foot and stitch(es).

    i'd suggest grabbing an extra spool of thread if you're going to use the overlock stitch on your machine, just so you have enough to sew the garment and do any overlocking...

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  39. YES! The overlock stitch is my new best friend. I used to pink or zigzag or use seam binding, but my new machine (a Brother PC-420) has a couple overlock stitches I use to sew knits and finish seams. I recommend getting familiar with this function!

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  40. I had no idea! Can't wait to try it. Thank you.

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  41. That is awesome. My cheapo Singer has that stitch. I always wondered what it was for.

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  42. I am using, but unsuccessfully with knit fabric!
    I have Janome 423S machine....I think it made ​​a mistake buying it:(
    Or I just need a real overlock mashine

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  43. Totally! I bought my Janome with just that stitch in mind. Use it all the time.

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  44. I DO use this stitch all the time. I practiced all the stitches in my manual when I first got my machine and was just beginning to sew. I used it before I even knew what a serger was.

    My question to you gals is: what am I missing by not having the serger (besides the knife function). Everyone in the blogosphere always talks about how great a serger is, but isn't it just for overlocking material? Am I missing something here? The overlocking stitch on my Brother is beautiful. I have a really hard time justifying getting a serger when my machine will overlock.

    Thoughts?

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  45. Before I became a serger fan I had this stitch on my Viking 990. (circa 1980!) worked like a charm I might add. Many machines do have this function and their owners are not aware. Check those manuals that came with your machine, the line drawings can show just how many stitches you could use as an overlock stitch.

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  46. That is so helpful. Thanks, Gertie.

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  47. Since I don't use a serger, I use this or a similar stitch to sew knits. I use it as the seam, I can make it 1/4" (6mm) wide, which is just right. I have a Viking 350, circa 1995. With one of those feet with the steel pin (foot J, FYI).

    I just use a regular zigzag to manage the cut ends of fabric before I wash or otherwise prep it for sewing.

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  48. My old Kenmore has an overlock stitch...in fact, there's two, one for 'each direction'. However, the books says nothing about using a special foot! I have been able to use that stitch sometimes, but many times not. Often, even a zig zag bunches up and creates a ridge within the zig zag. I'd love to get the proper foot.

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  49. I KNEW my Brother had an overlock stitch that somehow involved a different foot, but had no idea how to make it do my bidding. Thanks!!

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  50. That's really interesting. Now all I need to do is identify my mystery feet! I have a brother and I do have a very similar icon and would love to be able to use this feature.

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  51. Yes I use the overlock stitch on my Bernina sometimes (though my model says to just use the standard foot). Most of the time though I use the zig-zag stitch to finish an edge because a) it looks more home-sewn that way, something I like and b) the overlock stitch uses lots and lots of thread!

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  52. You have no idea how happy you just made me. Now I have to figure out whether I have that presser foot.

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  53. I use my overlock stitch all the time, as I don't have a serger - it is quick and makes a neat finish that looks sorta ready-to-wear, in a good way. (I have a Babylock Decorator Pro, which I love!)

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  54. This is great-and kind of funny actually because I was just looking at an overlock foot for my brother and I was wondering if I needed it! Now I know I do! Maybe now I can avoid threading my serger for awhile longer =). Thanks for the great information.

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  55. Yes, oh yes! The overlocker stitch / foot was one of the 'selling' features for me when I got my Janome 6260C last November. Works like a charm but, as others have mentioned, it uses up a LOT of thread and can be a tad tedious but for what I am doing, its fine! I don't know that I really need a serger...yet

    I'm still working on correct tension/placement for overlocking finer fabrics, eg lining. Currently I often have to 'stretch out' an overlocked section by pulling the fabric in opposite directions. Once pressed, it flattens out.

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  56. My Babylock Ellageo has a couple of stitches that can be used as an overlock stitch. Recently, making silk shells, I have been trimming the seam allowance and using my favorite overlock stitch (with special foot) to finish the seams. Serging would be too bulky but a lot of silks ravel when looked at and I needed a nice finish. I also loosen the upper tension to keep the fabric from being pulled under too much.

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  57. God bless you and your blog!! I was just pondering this very question.
    Thank you so much!

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  58. OMG I had no idea! I've been thinking about buying a serger (or overlocker in the UK) for a while but I'm broke, however I have seen this stitch on my sewing machine, now I have to check to see if I have an appropriate foot, thank you!

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  59. Thank you, thank you, thank you Gertie! I bought an overlocking foot but have been using it with a zig zag stitch (duh). This makes ALL the difference, thanks again for this super valuable tip. x

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  60. That is so cool! Thanks for sharing. Oh, by the way, I adore your blog!

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  61. I love my overlock stitch! I don't have a serger, so overlock works great as a seam finisher. It's not quite as clean as a serged edge, but it still looks great.

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  62. I do have this stitch! just not the foot. have to look into that.

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  63. I use my regular machine's overlock stitch ALL THE TIME. I don't own a serger, although I would like to. My Pfaff is wounded and needs to be fixed before I can buy a serger.

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  64. I have a kenmore - which I know has this stitch as an option, but I don't have the corresponding foot. Buying kenmore parts is a hassle! If I ever buy a new machine I'm going to buy a Bernina, since actual dealers exist.

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  65. Thank you somuch for this post!!!
    I have been lusting after a serger (well overlocker here in the uk) for a while now and as the cheapest I can find one for is £199 it is out of my price range at the moment.
    So to find out that my dear little Janome has had this capability all along has made me so happy! I just thought it was a weird little zigzag stitch...silly me!

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  66. I use this stitch all the time on my old Bernina (circa 1983 or so). However, the foot was not standard on the machine. After I figured that out, of course I went out and bought the foot immediately. Seriously, I don't think I will ever need a serger unless I get tired of pretrimming seams.

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  67. Also almost equally useful as the overlock foot/stitch, when you don't own a serger – twin needles. Great for hemming knits.

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  68. OMG. I've been using that stitch on my vary basic no-name-brand-which-is-actually-a-Toyota and having the same problems regarding bunching ... BUT have now bitten the bullet and bought the correct foot and the side cutter from the Toyota Accessories online store.

    Here's to not needing a serger! Woohoo! :)

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  69. I've used another foot for my overlock stitch AND i increase the number of stitches (takes a little longer, but makes it more secure). love it and my fabric very very rarely bunches up!

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  70. That's awesome! I have the stitch and never new what it was for. Thanks for the great info!

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  71. I knew about the overlock stitch on my machine (a Brother) as I tried out all the stitches when I first got it! However, I never used it, as I couldn't get it to look nice and neat - the edge of the fabric would just get eaten and rolled, no matter what I did. It looks like I need a proper foot!

    I shall be investigating getting one - I have a serger, but as others have mentioned, it would be handy to have this for doing a small amount of finishing in a particular colour, without having to rethread the serger

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  72. I know I'm a bit late to the party, but I found this thread while googling to see whether I could use my sewing machine's overlock function to finish a knit. (There's this knit fabric I've got my eye on, y'see.) Looks like the answer is yes! Hooray. Thanks everybody!

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  73. wow.. i just realize this. thanks for the sharing. It's really inspired me...

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  74. Thank You! I have a serger, but it is just too fast for things with lots of curves and turns into a train wreck. I purchashed the overlock foot but had no idea what stitch on my machine (icon) produced the overlock stitch...thank you so much for the information. : ) Suzanne

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  75. Thank you! This info isn't on the Bernina site, nothing even close. I have been wondering what the foot is and googled it. Wow, you gave me more than the answer -thank you! I didn't have a clue about the overlock and took the mastery class with my new machine.

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  76. Yes, I knew, but for some reason my machine's needle always hits the foot! It's frustrating!
    I tried changing the tension and the width of the stitch even!

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  77. Yay, thank you! I knew my machine was capable of this and read the whole maual trying to figure out what the symbol for the stitch looked like. Finally! Found the right foot and settings can't wait to give it a try. Thanks :)

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  78. Thank you so much!
    I wish I cound print this and put into the manual. I never understood the explanation there. Together with the information here, it's so easy and clear.

    I got my Bernina from my mother who never used it for about 30 years. I always wonder how much this really old machine can do.

    The seam looks funny but it works.

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  79. Hi I have just found your blog and boy am I glad I have I'm trying to teach myself dress making and I'm looking to get my first sewing machine I'm looking at the brother LR417 but I want to be able to sew streach fabric for my daughter dance and skating costumes do you think this would be ok for that it says you need a zig zag or over locker machine I'm now about the read your whole blog good bye Thursday afternoon xxxx

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  80. Thank you so much for this information. I have a Singer Mademoiselle and the foot from your foto, but I never knew I could use it like that. The manual is terrible.
    Greetings from Romania :)

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  81. Thanks for this! I have a singer professional and it has the stitch but did not come with the special foot. I'll look for it online and see. Here I was going to ask if you have had an overlock machine skip stitches?

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  82. This seems nice and informative too! Keep it up :-)

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  83. Serger is so expensiveeee :-( nice blog btw!

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  84. Open all areas that you can and clean the lint out of the machine. Use the brush that came with your sewing machine to remove lint in cracks and crevices and from under the bobbin case.

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  85. My heart sank when I realized I might need a serger (and they are expensive!) for my latest outfits, but this gave me hope. Can't wait to check my machine when I get home! here's hopin'.

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  86. Late to the party! I have that stitch on my machine, and I also thought it was a backwards blind hem stitch! Reading this, I got totally excited and ordered the foot I needed to try it out. The generic overcasting foot I got came with really good instructions, which specified that even a regular zigzag stitch would work with the foot. Lo and behold, it did! I have to use the widest stitch in order to clear the bar in the foot, and a short stitch length. It works beautifully, even better than the overlocking stitch on the machine. Thanks for drawing my attention to this wonderful feature of my very very basic machine!

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  87. Great post. Thank you for sharing the information you have.Hope to see more details from this blog.
    I;m interested to follow this blog and to know more.

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  88. I'm thrilled that I won't need to buyer a serger just yet {it's still on the wish list though}. :) I'm almost embarrassed to say this...I've had an overlock foot in my sewing box forever and didn't know it. I've been using my machine mostly as straight stitch machine with an occasional zig zag. I have an old Bernina Sport. The foot came with it. For anyone with an older Bernina, it's foot #470!!

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  89. That's a great tip Gertie, I didn't know that! I sold my overlocker a while back,this will help a lot :-)

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  90. I didn't even know what overlooking was or what this stitch did. I have been trying a hundred different methods to finish garments to no avail. Now I know. Thank you soooo much for explaining this! I thought I had to buy a much more expensive sewing machine, but I actually think I can make do with what I have. Thank you!

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  91. I know this post is very old, but it has just been a great help to me! Thanks for the info!

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  92. ok i'm rather late to the party but just had to say what a fabulous tip this is. thanks!

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Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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