Getting to know my overlocker at the Yorkshire School of Sewing

Hello friends,

I’m actually writing this via a real pen and paper! So far all of my blog posts have been written direct on to wordpress, I suppose it just makes sense to write it digitally, edit drafts, and have Google at my fingertips and images to hand.

Now, there is a reason for this change to my normal process, and it’s not a romantic nod to the art of letter writing. It’s bad news. My computer is broken! :( I have a whole orchestra of tiny violins playing right now. Dramatic I know, but it’s my iMac, and I am very attached to its sleek silvery loveliness and depend on it for everything. Family aside, it’s the first thing I’d save in a fire. For sure.

The good news is, I think it’s fixable, and it’s now having its chips resoldered at the aptly named computer repair shop, Return of the Mac. They had me at the name alone. Here is a little flashback for you. Mark Morrison’s Return of the Mack was number 1 in the UK charts in 1996, but only reached number 2 in Americas Billboard chart being held off by Hanson’s, MMMbop. I never quite worked out where Mr Morrison was actually returning from?

So with this technical setback, I’ve had to delay my pattern release, and it’s been difficult to blog, but strangely enough it’s been a nice break. Kind of like a holiday from work when you get time to relax and catch up on all those odd jobs you wanted to do. I’ve read more books, completed more sewing projects and seen more friends. Like when a partner goes away, I’m enjoying the space, but I’m sure when it returns in a Mark Morrison style I’ll have a new deeper understanding of what it means to me and I won’t take it for granted. I’ll definitely be backing up my data more often and powering down more. So for now, you are all my penpals, and who knows? I may get used to writing more often on paper. How many of you blog on paper first? Or perhaps you have other methods of getting your thoughts down? I would love to hear about your creative process.

So, moving on to the main event. I do actually have something to say apart from weeping over broken hardware. I want to tell you all about a recent course I went on at the Yorkshire School of Sewing, run by the lovely Gillian Hargreaves.

Day at the Yorkshire School of Sewing

I attended a course called ‘know your overlocking machine‘. I’ve only owned my overlocker since December. It’s a Toyota SL 4 thread overlocker and I picked it up second hand but hardly used for £80. I’d already used it on a few projects, and painstakingly worked out how to thread it through trial and error. I’ve only really used it for finishing seams though, and on cotton, so I felt this course would have a lot to offer me and help build my confidence with my new machine. It does look a lot scarier than a sewing machine that’s for sure! Here is what we covered:

Getting to know your overlocker

Me and my overlocker are now good pals

Me and my overlocker are now good pals

We looked at all the switches/dials/levers/knobs and mechanics of the machine and identified stitch width, stitch length, differential feed, the upper and lower loopers, tension dials, the knives and rolled hem setting. There were three of us in the group. Myself with my Toyota and 2 other ladies who had a Jenome. It was interesting to see the different set ups of the different branded machines, and Gillian made sure we each understood our own overlocker. My machine was easier to thread than the Jenomes because it opened up at both sides to give easier access to the mechanics, however my machine didn’t have a differential feed setting or a rolled hem function (I’ll come back to this later). We got pretty hands on with our machines, and just as well because Gillian had us removing knives, feet, changing needles and replacing needle plates. Gillian encouraged us to mark our machine with post it notes to help jog our memory.
I marked each dial and noted down my standard settings which really helps to save time

I marked each dial and noted down my standard settings which really help to save time

Threading your overlocker

I was the only one in the class who had threaded their overlocker before. (Yay, brownie points for me!) but I must admit I do find it a pain in the proverbial from time to time and despite my best efforts sometimes we just don’t get on. So it was relieving when Gillian explained that overlockers have a reputation for being disobedient and naughty. Oh I’m sure we all have our stubborn moments. Gillian gave us a few tips on how to stay sane when threading your overlocker:

  1. Patience is key, sometimes they just don’t want to play ball. You’ll get there in the end. Have a break and come back to it if you need to.
  2. Use good quality thread or you’ll find it’s more likely to snap and you’ll need to re-thread more often. To tell if a thread is good quality you can squeeze it. If it feels firm and does not give way the thread is usually good. Another note on thread is that it deteriorates over time. So don’t be tempted to use that vintage thread your granny gave you. Unless you want a whole world of pain.
  3. It’s usually the lower looper where people get in to trouble with overlocker threading. There is one particular stage in the threading process that is tricky to get to, so consult your manual, master it and you’ll have it down. There is also the most tension on this thread, which makes it more susceptible to snapping.
  4. Am I the only one who feels like I am carrying out a medical procedure when threading my overlocker? Tweezers!

    Understanding tension, stitch length and stitch width

    Gillian had prepared samples of cotton, knits, double knits, Lycra, taffeta and georgette for us to practice on fabrics of different weight and characteristics. She gave us guidance with our tension settings but encouraged us to problem solve ourselves and understand which dial(s) to change. When we were happy with our settings we kept a swatch of fabric and pinned it to a piece of paper with the tension settings written on it. These act as a most helpful reference and time saver if you come to work on a similar fabric in the future. She also asked us to experiment with different stitch width and stitch lengths on a swatch, to find out which suited our fabric type. This is a useful exercise to do when working on any new fabric to make sure you get the best stitch possible.

    Tips on getting a good stitch

    • Keep a note of different dial settings for each fabric you use. This can act as a reference for future projects
    • Take a piece of fabric and spilt it in to 4 equal parts with a marker. On one side test the stitch length, and on the other test the width. Choose which ever setting you find most pleasing
    • Adjust the tension dials delicately. Just a small adjustment can make a huge difference. Try in 1/4 turns

    I had quite a lot of problems with getting my tension right. I managed to get a good stitch on the medium and bulky fabrics, but I just couldn’t get it right for the knits. Gillian was very patient and even though I wasn’t satisfied with my efforts in class, Gillian encouraged me to persevere and practice. She assured me I’d get there in the end. I came away thinking that I need to set aside a couple of hours just to fiddle and play with my overlocker, without the time pressure of sewing a garment. Did all you overlocker whizzes struggle with this at first also? Does anyone else have any tips to share?

    See Gillian, I did get there in the end! After practicing at home I got a good stitch on some thin jersey

    See Gillian, I did get there in the end! After practicing at home I got a good stitch on some thin jersey

    I also managed to get a good stitch on some T-shirt jersey too. Getting the hang of this now!

    I also managed to get a good stitch on some T-shirt jersey too. Getting the hang of this now!

    Different stitches and finishes

    Rolled Hem

    Ahh, the finest and most dainty of all hem types and it can be done on an overlocker. I was mildly jealous of the Jenomes rolled hem setting that adjusted the overlocker at the push of a button. For my Toyota I needed to remove the standard needle plate and insert a special, rolled hem plate, which almost looks identical but features a pointy needle like protrusion that provides a surface for the fabric to curl over and be stitched. It works great on light weight fabrics and if you stretch the fabric as you sew you will be rewarded with a flouncy, ruffled edge. Gillian showed us her decorative thread collection to inspire us to be imaginative with our thread choice when doing decorative edges.

    This is a sample of the rolled him we did in class

    This is a sample of the rolled him we did in class

    and the rolled hem from the other side

    and the rolled hem from the other side

    Flatlocked seams

    Flatlocked seams weren’t something I had come across until Gillian demonstrated them, but I realised I had seen the effect on many RTW garments and wondered how it was done. Flatlocking is a technique that produces very flat seams, and 2 different looks on each side. You can choose which one you like best. Flatlocking works by having a very high tension on the lower looper and a very loose tension on the needle. I couldn’t actually get this effect to work in class, but did manage it practicing at home. Gillian showed us an effective technique of weaving some ribbon in-between the stitches to make a decorative trim. Doesn’t it look fab? Flatlocking works best on fabrics which are unlikely to fray.

    Flatlocked seams from one side

    Flatlocked seams from one side

    and the other

    and the other

    Here is the neat trick with Ribbon Gillian showed us. You pull ribbon through the stitches with a loop turner to get this effect

    Here is the neat trick with Ribbon Gillian showed us. You pull ribbon through the stitches with a loop turner to get this effect

    Overlocking complex shapes and necklines

    Gillian showed us methods to secure our ends, sew in a circle and a neat little trick to serge a neckline which gives a lovely flat finish.

    A quick and easy jacket made entirely on the overlocker

    Here is the jacket I made in class. It's still waiting for a fastening, but apart from that complete

    Here is the jacket I made in class. It’s still waiting for a fastening, but apart from that complete

    So the piece de resistance and the part of the class I was looking forward to the most were to sew a casual woollen jacket, entirely on the overlocker, in under an hour! Phew, the sun was beaming hard through the panes of Gillian’s conservatory and it really felt like we had a literal sweat shop going on for the last hour. Making woollen jackets in 24.C heat in July did feel a bit odd, which would really be my only criticism of the course. It would have been nice to have made something more seasonal, that we could take home and wear.
    We used one of Gillian’s self drafted patterns, which comprised of a back piece, 2 front pieces, a collar and some sleeves. She asked us to bring a boucle style fabric, but I chose a woollen blend I’d cooed over at Leeds Market but never really knew what to do with. We used 1.5 metres for the project which cost me £6.


    Now to be honest, the jacket isn’t really my style, so I’m not sure how much I’ll actually wear this, but I’m over the moon with it for demo purposes, and that I can say I made it entirely on my overlocker. After having a shaky start to the course and having trouble with my tension settings, I felt like I sailed through the last hour and constructing the jacket was childsplay. I really got a feel for how quickly garments can be put together and how overlockers can speed up your work. It came together in minutes, and has given me the confidence to go ahead and make more entirely overlocked garments. I’d like to try leggings next.

    Not sure what I'm doing in this photo. Trying to cast a spell or something? Perhaps to the fashion gods to ask for advice on what to wear this jacket with. The skirt does it no favours ;)

    Not sure what I’m doing in this photo. Trying to cast a spell or something? Perhaps to the fashion gods to ask for advice on what to wear this jacket with. The skirt is not the best combo ;)

    Further overlocking tips from the day

    • Always read the manual that comes with your machine, it really is worth the time it takes and will help you understand your individual machine
    • Get creative with threads. If using a more expensive thread you can usually get away with using it just on the upper and lower looper, and a matching, regular thread for the needles
    • Twin needles can also be used to give a double line of stitching
    • Experiment with serging with and without the knife engaged. Sometimes you’ll get a better stitch when the knife is not on
    • Clean your overlocker regularly to keep it in good working order. If you have a blow setting on your vacuum cleaner this is a good way of cleaning your overlocker
    • If your overlocker has dials, these can be cleaned with a cloth dipped in gin to remove the lint build up. Just wipe it through the sides of the dials
    • Always keep your fabric pulled taut when overlocking, which will help to get a better stitch. Unless stitching a stretchy fabric like jersey

    Summary and course details

    Looking back, the day was a whirlwind of information, failed attempts, intense heat, good company and a completed handmade overlocked jacket! I didn’t realise how much useful information I had actually retained until I wrote this post and reflected on it all. A good sign is that I also took another look at my overlocker book ‘Sewing with sergers‘ and it all made so much more sense than it had before attending the course. I am definitely a practical learner and having it all demonstrated and explained in person seems to engage my brain much more effectively. The book is still great though, and will now be a fantastic companion to my new knowledge.

    So, many thanks to the marvellous Gillian at The Yorkshire school of Sewing. If you are in the Yorkshire area and want to brush up on your sewing skills she offers 14 different courses to suit most sewing styles and abilities, in both Leeds and Harrogate. Her one day courses are £75 a day, and some of her more specialised courses like the ‘Classic Chanel Style Jacket Class’ are £150 for 2 days. Gillian is a real gem of a lady. Her passion and love of sewing, combined with her vast teaching experience make her a fantastic tutor. I whole heartedly recommend a visit, and whilst you are at it, come and say him to me.

    Have any of you visited the Yorkshire School of Sewing? Or taken any other sewing related classes? As someone who is almost entirely self taught, I feel classes are a great way to accelerate my normal learning speed and give my knowledge a boost. Which will hopefully result in better garments?

    Oh and I almost forgot! I promised you all birthday cake photos! I was up until 1am making my sons 3rd birthday cake, and what I deducted is that people who decorate and make cakes are amazing, and sewing is so much easier.
    It was really fiddly and I was on far too much of a sugar high to keep a steady hand. Still the kiddos were happy and that’s what matters.
    Mr Men Cake

    Happy 3rd Birthday my little munchkin!

    Happy 3rd Birthday my little munchkin!

    Happy stitches everyone :)

7 thoughts on “Getting to know my overlocker at the Yorkshire School of Sewing

  1. Gemma

    I’ve looked into the Yorkshire School of Sewing, so good to read a review. Just discovered your blog – it’s great to know there are so many sewing bloggers near me who I can steal ideas from ;)
    are there ever local meetups? I’ve seen one for Birmingham happening soon, but it’s a little far.
    Gemma x

    1. admin Post author

      Hi Gemma, good to hear from you. Yes, there is one happening at the end of August on the last Saturday of the month. Email me and I’ll send you some more details x

      1. Gemma

        Hi – I just found out about the meetup today and have managed to find some details via Sew Sensational. I’m hoping I can make it, it sounds fun :)

        1. admin Post author

          Excellent! Hopefully see you there :) I’ll just have come back from holiday, so will need to save some pennies for fabric shopping

  2. Jen

    Hi Amy,

    I’ve just discovered your blog via Laura’s Sew Sensational blog and wow – now I feel like I hardly know my overlocker at all! I felt really cool (and yes, medical) when I set it up to begin with but after that I’ve just done basic overlocking over and over. I tweaked the knobs to get the tension back to normal after my toddler did some fiddling but that’s it really. Clearly I’m missing a trick or two… That flatlocked seam looks amazing. Thanks for such an inspiring write up!

    P.S. Beautiful cake-I’m very impressed. I’ve started to stay into the realms of cake decorating for Little R and it is fiddly!


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