The year was 1984. The buzz in the sewing community was all about how to use a new sewing machine called a serger. Doing what I do for a living, I knew that I had to purchase a serger sewing machine, but in Beaver Dam, WI a serger wasn’t to be found. To save travel time, I simply ordered one via mail.
Wayward Threads—My First Mistake
When the package arrived, I obviously opened the box and lifted off the molded styrofoam cover to reveal this magical machine. Hmm, interesting—there were three threads still partially threaded through the tensions. Without thinking, I pulled out the threads. Later I read the instructions.
For those of you who owned a serger in the 1980s, you know what happened next. It took me the better part of an hour to rethread the serger, while practically standing on my head to thread the lower looper and just about losing my religion in the process. I later read in the instructions that the only sane way to change threads is to clip the thread at the base of the cone thread and then tie on the new color, pulling the new color through the tension dials. First lesson learned.
After learning a few more tricks of the trade, I presented my first serger program on Sewing With Nancy in 1985. My 3-thread serger could stitch a 3-thread overlock, rolled edge, and flatlock stitches. That machine changed the way I sewed, including never pulling out the thread tails from the serger tension guides!
Fast-forward several decades. A serger still amazes me. Gone are the days of tying on threads in order to rethread the machine—ExtraordinAir Threading System™ is just as its name implies.
Expanded are the stitch offerings, including the traditional stitches plus the chain stitch, and cover stitch. Then, there’s differential feed, giving us the ability to control the pace at which the fabric is fed through the machine—fascinating!
Serger Success—learning one stitch at a time!
My suggestion for learning a serger is to take it one step at a time. That’s also the philosophy my Sewing With Nancy guest, Pam Mahshie, Baby Lock’s Educational Ambassador and serger expert.
Pam was my guest for a 3-part series titled Serger Workshop. Pam is a serger workshop expert. You can watch the third part of the three-part series online or on your local Public TV channel.
Get to Know Pam
I thought it might be interesting to know more about Pam on a personal level. I asked her a few questions. Here are those questions and her answers.
When did you first use a serger? Were there any interesting anecdotes?
The first time I was exposed to a serger was in the spring of 1981, as my mom and I toured the school I was going to attend that fall. I remember seeing an unusual looking green machine and asked the instructor what it was—I had only sewn on a Singer flat-bed sewing machine. The teacher explained it was a Baby Lock serger. Not to sound too ignorant, I said, Oh wonderful. Will we be using these in class? She, of course, said yes with a big smile on her face. All along I was thinking, How am I ever going to learn how to use a machine that has so many threads? A comment I know all of you have said to yourself—and at times out loud!
Tell us about your first serger project?
Initially in college, we used the serger to finish all of our seams. Sound familiar? The machines stitched a 2-thread chain stitch and a 2-thread overlock stitch, but not a rolled hem. The following year our school was given two other 3-thread Baby Lock sergers; they could stitch rolled hems by changing a plate. The rolled hem was the first outside stitching I did on a ruffled collar. Remember this was the early 80s—ruffles were a fashion statement and the narrow hems made it so easy!
What’s the biggest mistake most beginner serger students make?
The biggest mistake new serger owners make is not taking the lessons on how to use their machine. When you overcome the fear of taking the machine out of the box and then learning how to use it, you’ll LOVE your serger. I hear this all the time… How did I ever sew without my serger? This Serger Workshop 3-part Sewing With Nancy series is perfect for getting to know your serger; remember you need to crawl before you can walk.
As Baby Lock’s Education Ambassador, you can make a serger sing! This expertise didn’t come overnight. How many years have you been teaching serger classes?
I started working for Tacony Corporation (the company that distributes Baby Lock machines) in ’83, and haven’t stopped. Sergers have revolutionized how we sew garments, home dec, and even pieced quilt tops. I am always working on new ways to use my serger to make the most of my sewing time.
What was the craziest or most interesting incident in a serger class?
A customer was having trouble attaching ribbing to the neckline of a T-shirt. I encouraged her to bring her serger to the store to see if there were any issues with her machine. Upon arriving she set up her machine and started to sew, not the normal way but with the foot control on the tabletop and using her hand to depress the control. Why am I having such a hard time? They told me this would be so much easier with a serger. After I looked around to see if there was a lurking camera crew, I picked up the controller, set it on the floor, and used both hands to sew. She looked at me and started to laugh saying, Any dummy should have known to do that. I just thought it had to be operated this way. I looked around the store. The dealer had raised counter tops—standing level. The foot controls didn’t reach the floor. He placed the foot controller on the counter and operated it with his hand. It taught me an important lesson—demonstrate the way the machine is actually used.
What is a frequent “aha” moment for beginner serger students?
Most of us watch the needle as we sew, but with a serger it’s different. When a new serger owner realizes the blade cuts the fabric prior to it being stitched, it’s an aha moment. My suggestion is to watch the blade and not the needle.
Do you have some tips for prospective serger buyers?
Make sure you test-drive every machine before you buy it. It’s just like buying a car; you have to feel comfortable with it. Here are a few questions to ask yourself :
- How does it thread?
- Is threading easy? Or, when I ask the person demonstrating the machines do they just avoid the question?
- When do you change to different settings like the rolled hem or cover stitching?
- Can I use decorative thread?
- What lessons and clubs are available after the purchase?
If you could choose another occupation, what would it be?
I always wanted to be a medical pathologist! Then, I found the Clothing and Textiles program and I have never looked back.
You can watch Pam perform her serger magic on my TV series, Serger Workshop, part 3 . Cover stitch and chain stitch are the featured stitches in this third of three TV programs. Stitch along with us, using the Serger Workshop Workbook.
Watch Sewing With Nancy online.
Bye for now,