What Is An Overlocker?

If you’re a sewing enthusiast, it’s possible that every once in a while,  you’ve come across adverts which aim to market an expensive overlocker you mayn’t need, or worse, guilt trip you for not owning it yet. As such, you’ve gone out of your way to pinch pennies to buy a machine you barely understand its functions. Well, it’s crucial to note that until you’re confident that you genuinely need an overlocker (and that’s after you’ve read this article), you should never let advertisers with their sugar-coated words lure you into getting one prematurely.

In brief, this article will address the following:

  • What An Overlocker Is
  • What You Can Use An Overlocker For
  • Types Of Overlockers
  • What An Overlocker Can Do Which Your Sewing Machine Can’t
  • What An Overlocker Can’t Do
  • How An Overlocker Is Similar To Your Sewing Machine
  • Important Features To Consider In An Overlocker
  • Do You Need An Overlocker?

What An Overlocker Is 

An overlocker is a threaded machine which a sewer can use to finish off the raw edges of fabrics sewn together, and for the construction of knit garments. The whole idea behind using an overlocker is for your garments or furnishing projects to possess a neat, professional finish. Also, the stitches delivered by an overlocker secure seams so that they wouldn’t fray after a period of wear and washing. 

As a rule, a sewing machine and an overlocker function hand in hand. It’s even safer to own a sewing machine only. But the same can’t be said for an overlocker. Interestingly, some modern sewing machines feature an overlock stitch in addition to a zigzag stitch which does a related job with an overlocker. 

What You Can Use An Overlocker For

With an overlocker, you can comfortably secure the edges of your fabrics or construct your knit garments effortlessly and have the excesses trimmed off all in one step. A similar result can be achieved with your sewing machine (apart from the trimming which you’ll have to do with your scissors). But with an overlocker, the operation is faster, neater, and more professional. Additionally, you would get more stretch on your seams and fewer incidents of stitching bursting through your seams.

Types Of An Overlocker

There are the 2/3/4-thread overlockers, 3/4-thread overlockers, and 2/3/4/5, 3/4/5-thread overlockers.

You need the 2/3/4-thread overlocker if you’re always working on stretchy and smooth fabrics like chiffon, satin, Lycra, lace or charmeuse. Since these materials are lightweight, their edges require just two-thread stitching. In this case, only two threads are utilised.

3/4 thread-overlockers are useful if most of the fabrics you work on are woven and knit materials. With the 3-thread feature, woven fabrics are tightly kept from fraying or tearing. And with the 4-thread feature, you can professionally design and secure your knit garments.

The 2/3/4/5 and 3/4/5-thread overlockers are advanced-level machines which typically do the jobs of two or three machines combined. With the 5-thread feature, you’ll be able to interlock your fabrics, a function of the cover stitch machine.

Basically, the more stitching delivered on your fabric’s edges, the more firm the seams.

What An Overlocker Can Do Which Your Sewing Machine Can’t

First off, an overlocker is easier to use than a sewing machine. You won’t know this until you’ve mastered the workings of a sewing machine. 

To buttress the above-stated fact, you can conveniently sew corners and curves of your fabrics at a stretch with an  overlocker, without  the hassles of lifting your presser foot and needle in order to angle the fabric. That tedious lifting is synonymous with your sewing machine. 

Besides that, an overlocker uses half the time spent on a sewing machine, and gives a more professional quality on your fabrics akin to the kind you admire in boutiques.

What An Overlocker Can’t Do 

Whilst there are a lot of functions which a 5-thread overlocker can do, our attention in this article is on the most used overlockers by domestic sewers, which is the 2/3/4 or 3/4-thread basic overlocking machine:

  • A basic overlocker doesn’t have the decorative stitch feature. So, if you want to flatlock or get the two-lined stitching to beautify your sewn fabric, rely on your sewing machine or a cover stitch machine for that.
  • It has no provision for the backstitching of your fabrics. 

How An Overlocker Is Similar To Your Sewing Machine

In both an overlocker and the sewing machine,

  • Different presser feet are used to make varying kinds of stitching.
  • Needles are replaced for working on assorted types of fabrics.
  • Adjustable thread tension dial is turned to modify the tautness of your thread.
  • Adjustable stitch tension dial is manipulated to adjust the length and width of stitches depending on your sewing project.

Important Features To Consider In An Overlocker

Before investing in an overlocker, be mindful that there are hundreds out there to choose from. That notwithstanding, consider a few of the essential features of a good overlocker:

  • Free Arm Convertible, to enable you to flexibly sew or hem round necks, sleeves, trouser legs, cuffs, and tubular pieces. You’ll get the free arm space if your overlocker features a removable work table. 
  • Differential Feed, because it’s possible you’ll work on different types of fabrics, ranging from light to heavyweight. Obviously, you wouldn’t want your light fabric to pucker after sewing when it should lie flat. Invariably, the differential feed prevents that puckering or wrinkling on fabrics. However, if that happens with your sewing machine, you can use the differential feed to correct it. Also, the differential feed can creatively make gathers or scalloped edges on your fabrics.
  • Retractable Blade/Knife, which you can push down when you don’t want any trimming of your fabrics while overcasting your seams.

Furthermore, we recommend that you shop for an overlocker made by trusted global brands, in the event your machine’s parts need to be replaced. Besides, those brands have a reputation for manufacturing standard quality overlockers which stand the test of time. They include Janome, Brother, Pfaff, Singer, Babylock, Juki, Bernina, Toyota,  and Elna.

Do You Need An Overlocker Now?

If after reading this article, you’re still unconvinced of the usefulness of an overlocker, please, don’t buy it. 

Secondly, if you’ve perceived the importance of an overlocker after reading this article, but aren’t yet proficient in using a sewing machine, don’t purchase an overlocker too. 

But if you’re an expert sewer who works frequently on knit fabrics or would want to engage in a sewing business for paying clients, by all means, buy an overlocker now.

For information on choosing an overlocker check out our best overlocker buying guide.

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