How To Choose Your First Overlocker

To the uninitiated Overlockers are baffling and choosing one even more so. Until this year I really didn’t need one, however, 2020 saw my sewing advance more than it has since I was 17 and now I’m looking for greater challenges as well as the ability to finish my seams with ease. In particular I want to tackle activewear and swimwear for which an overlocked is essential. After a lot of thought and a long phone conversation with my mum as we trawled through websites, we finally chose my first overlocker and its on it’s way to me now! Once I mentioned this on instagram I had loads of messages asking how I had chosen it, what specifications I looked for and if I had any advice on choosing an overlocker. I am by no means an expert however with the guidance of my mum, who is a bit of a sewing expert, and A LOT of web searching choosing my first overlocker was pretty painless. Now I’ve got a few tips and tricks that should help you to find your first overlocker easily.

Why Do You Want An Overlocker?

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This is crucial. It can be easy on social media to convince yourself that you need a new piece of equipment just because other people are using it and using it to great success! (ahem…cricut machines) So when you start your overlocker purchasing journey its important to take a moment before you begin browsing, sit down with a piece of paper and answer these three questions:

  • What do want your overlocker to do?
  • What are you going to use it for?
  • What do you want your overlocker to do that your current machine can’t?

It is vital to understand what you wish to accomplish with your Overlocker that you can’t do with your current machine. Further more consider your sewing space, can you store your Overlocker easily? Once you have answered these questions then it will be easier to direct your search when it comes to individual models and specifications. After all you may want a more lightweight model if you’re just sewing Lycra whereas if you want to finish any fabrics then you may need a heavier weight machine. My choice rested on certain factors. I want to be able to finish off any garments regardless or weight or bulk as I’m awful for finishing seams. I want to sew with lycra and stretch to make my own activewear and yoga leggings which my current machine cannot do. So these were my criteria when I started to look at overlocker models.

What To Look For In An Overlocker

When it comes to specifications you do get what you pay for which is why one of my first pieces of advice is that if you are looking to go upmarket, wait for sales and offers as any reduction will help! However, as with sewing machines, you don’t always need all the spec’s on the fanciest of machines so if you are on a budget it’s a good idea to whittle it down to the base set of specific requirements you have and then anything you find above those but within budget is great. Also its a good idea to purchase from a well-known brand if you need to get parts, attachments or get maintenance done.

What Specifications Should You Look For?

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Overlocker specifications can initially feel baffling. Even for some who is very comfortable with seeing terminology, overlocker have a whole new layer of assumed knowledge so before we discuss machine specifics, I’m will attempt to demystify the specification categories.

  • Adjustable Stitch Length – Its important to make sure that you can alter stitch lengths and tension for different fabrics. Most machines can do this but if you are looking for a cheaper machine do make sure that you have this functionality.
  • Number Of Thread Lines – e.g. 2, 3 or 4. It’s a good idea to make sure your machine can do three and four thread overlocking again to give you options and the greatest functionality when you sew.
  • Differential Feed – The differential feed is the way the machine feeds the fabric through, similar to a walking foot. It’s a good idea if this is adjustable as it means you can adjust for different fabrics to make sure you’re not stretching or gathering fabrics, or that you can do so purposefully.
  • Presser Foot & Knife Options – an extra high presser foot lift and a larger knife is useful when working with bulky fabrics.

Beginner Machine Options

Just for transparency, I have no affiliate agreement with any of these brands. These are just some of the machines I looked and held in my shortlist before choosing my overlocker.

Good Beginner Options

  • Janome 9300DX – this model is very compact and provides good value for money. Sews up to 1500 stitches a minute, with 3 or 4 thread overlocking, adjustable cutting and seam width. Whatsmore this machine, unlike others, uses standard sewing machine needles so very easy to care for and replace needles. Janome also has great access for maintenance and spare parts as John Lewis stock their whole range.
  • Singer Overlock 14SH754 – This model was my initial choice as its very user friendly and a wonderful entry-level option with colour coded thread lay-in lines, with 2-3-4 threading and a range of hem and stitch options. The only thing to be aware of with this model is that it is quite lightweight so may not be suitable for heavy fabrics that being said, if you’re happy finishing woven seams on your sewing machine and just want this for lightweight stretch projects then it would be great!
  • Brother M343D – When I first mentioned on instagram that I had chosen an overlocker I got lots of messages wishing me luck and asking what model I had got. I would say about 90% of the people I spoke with had bought this model and love it! It’s a fantastic entry level machine, well priced and able to handle the majority of projects and fabrics with 3 and 4 stitch options as well as a handy tension release disc and colour coded lay-in lines. The only note on this machine is that it can be a little noisy so make sure you are overlocking in a space where noise is okay!

These were my shortlist and honestly it would have been one of these three except for the fact that Singer had a sale on so I went a little more upmarket! My new model is the Singer 14HD854 Heavy Duty overlocker, as used in the costume department for Dancing on Ice, so you know its good for lycra and stretch. Its got coloured coded lay-in lines, an extra high presser foot, it does 1,300 stitches per minute and it has a much larger knife and a heavier motor to get through any fabric you care to throw at it. I’m so excited for you to see my beautiful new overlocker when it arrives and rest assured there will be a full introduction blog and vlog!

I hope this post has been a helpful guide for purchasing your first overlocker and has illuminated one small corner of the overlocking world for you! Let me know in the comments below if you found this post helpful and I’ll see you guys next time.

5 Top Tips For Using PDF Patterns

Happy Thursday everybody! Today is the last day of my annual leave so I’m sat on the sofa doing some life admin and watching the Bourne Supremacy and I’m about to assemble my Helen’s Closet Luna Tank pattern. If anything that last few days have made me realise that I really need some proper annual leave to just do nothing! However it has given me the chance to start on a very big project as well as film a few YouTube bits and reflect on a part of sewing I had never engaged with prior to this year which is PDF patterns.

Initially I thought that PDF patterns were irritating because you have to print and assemble them at home however as I’ve started sewing more often and more complex garments I’ve realised that if there is one thing I hate more than assembling PDF patterns its tracing from pattern sheets. Now tracing from pattern sheets with multiple patterns is fine, its one of those necessary evils but tracing from a tissue paper pattern is a step too far and honestly I’m starting to prefer if not outright love PDFs. I know there are lots of people out there who have never used a PDF pattern so today I’ve going to take five minutes to explain why they are awesome and give you five quick tips on using them to make your PDF pattern life simple.

1. Cut Off The Corners

This is a trick I picked up on instagram and I honestly cannot remember for the life of me where I saw it first but whoever first thought of it, you are a stone cold genius. One of the most frustrating aspects of PDF pattern assembly is cutting off the margin edges of each page and trying to line them up perfectly. However 99% of the time there is a rectangle around the pattern itself to indicate what is pattern and what is just page. So if you just neatly clip the corners of each page you can then overlap the pages and line up the external rectangle et voila! One pattern constructed in half the time and its a lot easier to tape because you aren’t trying to tape two raw edges together. Haven’t tried it before? Try it now and thank me later.

2. Use Pattern Weights

There are few things more frustrating in the world that carefully lining up you pattern pieces, extending your seletope only to find one of the pieces has somehow moved out of line. Now apologies if this sounds obvious but I genuinely didn’t think about it until the other day, use pattern weights to the fixe the pages in place then tape and move on. It makes everything so much simpler and while its more effort to get your pattern weights out it cuts down the frustration that seems to be so synonymous with PDF patterns.

3. Have A Printing Day

If like me you don’t have a dedicated sewing room or office space with all your equipment laid out then chances are you are getting out your printer just to print your PDF patterns. In this case it can be hard to work up the motivation when just buying the pattern means you have it physically. My top tip in this case is to have a printing day, if you can save up a few PDF patterns then put on a movie, get your printer out and print them all in one go. If you want to you can even assemble them at the same time but if you’re anything like me one of the biggest hurdles is just getting them printed out.

4. Check If There Are Layers

These days pattern designers are putting more and more effort into their PDF versions and many patterns now have a layers function. This means that you can isolate down just your size and print that, making cutting out a pattern with over ten sizes on the sheet a lot easier from the get go. Just a note, if you are a MAC user then you will need to use Adobe as preview doesn’t work.

5. Get It Printed Professionally!

Sometimes you may not feel like assembling a PDF pattern when its over 50 pages which is completely fair. This is why there are wonderful people out there who will do it all for you! If it’s a big or complex pattern I just pay for it to be copy shop printed. I use Natasha from Pattern Printing Girl who can be found on instagram and facebook who is cheap and speedy! There are also businesses such as The Foldline or NetPrinter who will print and send to you just be aware that some printers may have a minimum order of A0 sheets.

Three A0 Pages for my TATB Eden Coat!

One of the fantastic aspects of PDF patterns to me is that you always have the original meaning you can print it and cut it out as many times as you want without ruining the original. Plus you can grade between sizes so easily, you can even draw all over it if you need to, it gives you the freedom to make as many mistakes, edits or adjustments as you need. While there absolutely is a place for paper patterns and I do love the pattern envelopes sometimes its nice to have the pure freedom of cutting into a pattern and not having to worry.

Do you have other tips for working with PDF patterns? Let me know in the comments below!

Sewing Essentials For Beginners

Sewing can be a mystifying world, the language, the equipment and even the space required can feel like a barrier. Today I want to talk you through my essential sewing equipment and talk about starting.

Sewing is an interesting hobby as while most of us start with the same basic ingredients it is possible to create wildly different garments or create the same effect using entirely different techniques. The world of sewing is awash with hacks, tricks and tips for all levels of sewers. On top of that everyone’s sewing space looks different. Some people have a room to themselves some people make do with the Kitchen table. Even the language of sewing can be mystifying to a beginner so below I have unnumerated my basic essentials and what I work with on a daily basis. What is important is there is no one single formula for sewing.

If you are still look at me going, “yes but where do I start?”, I have listed what I consider to be my sewing box essentials that I can’t do anything without. Over the years I have built up my own equipment store purely based on things I actually like using and make me better rather than panic buying fancy equipment that I wont ever feel confident using.

  • Sewing Machine (Obviously)

This is my little red sewing machine, a John Lewis JL110SE, bought in 2015. Until then I used my mum’s Janome machine. I am currently saving up for a new one next year as this one won’t really do denim or thick fabrics such as wool. However this machine is an ideal starting place as it will do about 90% of the things you need it to do as an experienced sewer and 100% of the things you need to do as a beginner. Honestly I wouldn’t be thinking about getting a new machine but I used one of the Pfaff Quilting Machines on a sewing course and I fell in love and would now like a machine with some of the automatic features.

  • Quick Unpick

The dressmaker’s best friend! Apart from a needle and a sewing machine the quick unpick allows you to fix all of your mistake and re-do a technique again and again until you get it right. A quick unpick costs almost nothing but I don’t think I have gone a single day without using one since I started sewing, which may be an indictment of my sewing more than anything. Its one of the more wonderful things about sewing that you can fix your mistakes pretty easily in most cases.

  • Dressmaking Pins & Pin Cushion

Here is my gorgeous little pin cushion that my mum got me when i first started sewing. One of my favourite things about it is that has a band underneath so I can wear it on my wrist while I’m pinning. Especially good when working on something big or on mannequins. In terms of pins everyone is different. Some people use pins when cutting out patterns, some pattern people just use pattern weights but pins are nearly always used for seams, hems and fabric to fabric work. The only time I’ve not used pins was when making a bra because the fabrics are so fine, fiddly and sheer that you don’t want to make any holes.

  • Tailors Chalk / Pencils

Everyone transfers marks from patterns differently. Personally I favour dressmaking pencils, can you tell which one I use more? I transfer marks through with these on the wrong side of the fabric and then they wash off afterwards which is great. For fabrics that you don’t want to draw on you can use a pattern wheel which is a little spikey wheel, that looks a bit like a cowboy’s book spur, but allows you to imprint lines such as darts on to the fabric without drawing or marking it in any other way. The usefulness of this will depend on the fabric you are using but I found it helpful on lighter fabrics. The pencils have been with me for a lot longer and are definitely my favourite method.

  • Fabric Scissors

In the context of sewing, I really don’t think its possible to have too many pairs of scissors. I have a weird love for sewing scissors because they are just so sharp and effective and there are so many different types. Below is my current collection of scissors including pinking shears, fabric scissors, regular scissors and embroidery scissors and a small Stanley knife for button holes and very fiddly cutting out.

  • Steam Iron

I wont insult you with a picture of an iron because hopefully you all know what a steam iron looks like. I hate that this has to be on the list as I’m an extremely lazy ironer but ironing is absolutely central to sewing. Ironing at every single stage of the process is vital so you have to make sure you have a good iron to hand. My iron is slightly terrible so I will be purchasing a new one as soon as I can! (Any recommendations please put in the comments below)

These are the most basic but essential items that are central to sewing if you’re looking for a beginners list of equipment. What’s in your sewing essentials toolkit?