Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Threading Your Serger or Overlocker

I'm so excited for our first Serger Series post!

The first session is the hardest in any relationship counseling. This week, we are getting into the nitty gritty of threading your serger or overlocker. It may not be glamorous, but knowing how to thread your serger correctly is the basis for a long and happy life together.

Along the way I'll share a few frustration saving tips and tricks. 

Click the link below to get started! You can see more serger tutorials here or at the tutorials tab at the top of the page.
 Relationship Rescue Week 1: Threading Your Serger

If you are already a pro at threading your serger, skip ahead to our Week 2: Perfecting Serger Tension post. 

Ok, let's jump in! These instructions assume you are using a 3 or 4 thread serger that is not 'air threaded'. The serger I"m using here is the Brother 1034D

One caveat-- I'm trying to be as detailed as possible, especially when it comes to threading those pesky loopers. That being said, I haven't seen your particular machine. If you are having issues, I encourage you to read through your manual-- and you can always email me or comment here for help!

Thread & Tension Guides

Threading your serger starts with your thread! Since sergers feed thread through the machine faster than a regular sewing machine; using spool caps and thread cone inserts are a must.

Pull your thread through the fully extended thread tree and the thread guides above the tension disks.

Pull your threads through tension disks making sure they are well seated between the disks. I find it faster to do this for all 4 threads at once, since I'm short and I have to stand up to reach the thread tree.

I've labeled the looper and needle threads in the picture above. Order matters in serger threading-- always thread in this order:

1) Upper looper
2) Lower looper
3) Right needle
4) Left needle

Threading out of order will cause thread jams.

Upper Looper

Always start with the upper looper thread. Pull the thread through the thread guides. (Yours should be similar-- check your manual to be sure).

Turn your handwheel toward you until the upper looper is accessible.

Then, using your tweezers pull the thread through the eye in the upper looper .

Okay, the upper looper's done!

If you have had problems with your serger, the lower looper is probably the one that makes you cringe. If that's you, take a deep breath because that's what we're doing next.

We are going to cover two lower looper threading systems- regular and 'lay in'.

Lower Looper-- Regular (non- lay-in) version

(I switched to my old machine for these photos)
Pull the thread through the lower looper thread guides.
Turn your hand wheel until you have access to the thread guides that are attached the lower looper and pull your thread through the guides.
Now turn your handwheel until you see the  left edge of the lower looper peeking out.

Use your tweezers to grab the thread and thread the eye or thread guide on the left side of the lower looper.

Now, using your tweezers again, bring your thread back to the right side of the lower looper. 

Here is the tricky part. Because we have to keep turning the handweel to thread the lower looper, it's easy to get the lower looper thread under the upper looper arm. This will cause the thread to jam every.single.time.

We need to make sure the upper and lower looper threads do not cross.

The best way to do this is to turn the handwheel (always toward you) until the lower looper is above the upper looper. Then thread the lower looper.   

Here's a close up:

See how the upper and lower looper threads are free of each other? That's exactly what we want.

Lower Looper -- Lay In Version (I'm using a Brother 1034D )

This style is slightly easier to thread since the 'threading lever' threads the left edge of the lower looper for us.

Pull the thread through the lower looper thread guides.

For this style, pull out the small 'threading lever'. Position the thread so it's just resting against the lever as shown.

Push the lever back into place while holding the end of the thread.
Thread the eye of the lower looper, making sure not to cross threads with the upper looper. In other words, make sure that the lower looper thread is over the upper looper thread.

Needle Threads

Yay! Your loopers are done. Happy dance! Threading the needles are the easy part. Thread the right needle first then the left needle second.

Make sure your thread is well seated in the tension disks, then run it through the thread guides.

Then pull the thread through the thread guide in front of the needle bar and then the needle.

And you're done!

Thread Chain
Just like with a sewing machine, I find it's easier to start serging with a small piece of fabric under the presser foot-- it helps keep the thread from being pulled back into the machine. After that, you should easily be able to make a thread chain.


If your looper threads are jamming or breaking:
  • Verify your looper threads aren't crossed
  • Make sure the needles were threaded after the looper threads
  • Check that your needles are installed properly. Remove them, and push them all the way back in. Your left needle should be higher than your right needle.
If your stitch quality is poor or inconsistent
  • Check that your thread is in the tension disks properly
  • Make sure that the thread caps and cone inserts are on properly
  • Consider changing your needle and/ or cutting blade
General Hints:

  • I use a bit of thread wax (or even candle wax) to stiffen the ends of my thread to make it easier to thread the needles and loopers.
  • It is possible to rethread your loopers by 'tying on' a new thread.  Snip the upper looper and lower looper threads between the thread tree and tension disks. Replace the spools, tie the new thread to the old with a small overhand knot and pull through the loopers.  
  • If you are running short on thread cones, you use thread spools in your needles. You can even wind your own threads spools from your serger cones
Phew! I know this was a detailed post, but I wanted to make this 'guide' as complete as possible. I hope this was helpful to you and we'll see you back next week. We are going to tackle tension! (Edit: The Week 2 post is up: Perfecting Serger Tension)

If you have any tips of your own you'd like to share-- or have questions about troubleshooting your serger, email me or leave a comment here!


  1. I always wondered what the difference was for a 'lay in style' serger, now I finally know! The one step that always gets me in trouble is the lower looper thread not going over my upper looper, this typically happens for me after breaking the chain and trying to 'salvage' my threading.

    1. Yes I agree...this was a great post and answered a LOT of questions. Thank you so much !

  2. Kirstin, I'm so glad this helped. I just recently got the lay in style serger-- and I admit it does make things easier. I'm thinking of doing a quick post on how to ahem... cheat on threading your loopers next week. I took the pictures, but was just too much to fit into this post!

    1. I just bought the 1034D because of the fantastic reviews. The CD they sent with it had a viewing screen so small I couldn't really see how they threaded it & that started to snowball my emotions to 'what have I done?" Thanks to your website, I feel more empowered AND I'm going to do the 'tie off' so I can bypass the rethreading more often. If you can post a picture of that, I would be very grateful! :)

  3. Thank you very much for detailed review on threading a serger.

  4. Irisha, you are welcome! I hope it's helpful to you.

  5. Thank you for the serger instruction series. I found this via Sew Mama Sew. I will be sure to check each posting. I feel like I may be able to try using my serger again after a long hiatus.

    1. I hope you give your serger another chance! If you run into any problems you can always comment or email here.

  6. Hello Palak. I found you through google search after deciding to resurrect my serger since moving house 6 years ago. Sadly I've lost my manual and am having trouble tracking down a replacement. However, just threaded up with 4 colours to have a look at what I've got and realized, I don't know what a balanced overlock looks like any more. That's where you came in. It looks like you have all the information I need to become a happy serger once more. I've recently purchases some Lacey knitwear fabric and can't wait to start creating after a bit of practice. I will be following you closely. Many thanks for creating this site. Laraine ( France)

    1. Laraine, I'm so glad that this was helpful! This is what I was hoping for when I started this series-- happy serger owners!

  7. After swearing at my serger for a few hours, I found this website. Thank you for all the helpful info. My serger is up and running and NO more swearing!

  8. Thank you so much!!! It has been 15 years since I used my serger. I was just about to give up when I saw your very important detail of threading the left side of the lower looper. I wouldn't have even looked for it.

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  10. Are you using a Brother 1043D? If so, how did you get the left side off? Love your demo.

  11. My 14u34B keeps wrapping the thread around the plate. I watched the instructions, did as told, put in new needle, still no luck. Help!!!

  12. Thank you SOOOOO much for your easy to read, easy to follow instructions! I did it myself!!!! Can't wait to see what else you have in store for me!

  13. Hello! Love your information. i have the same serger you do and I've never had to actually thread the thing until today. I've always used the tie the new thread to the old method. Today I broke the upper and lower looper threads so I searched and found your blog. Thanks so much. My question is this: I'm serging on a knit fabric for the first time and changed the left needle to a Singer Yellow Band Ball Point. Will this work on the 1034D or should i got to a regular needle?

  14. Thank you so much for this sight. I have a Janome, so I have to do the lower looper first, but it was your tips that made me realize what I was doing wrong. Yes, I have the manual, but couldn't figure it out until you sais MAKE SURE your threads are not crossed and are separate. Between my husband, you and I finally after hours of trying, I found this sight. Even U Tube couldn't help me with this one.

    1. I am so pleased to see your reply! Janome....definitely lower looper first!

  15. Hi, Thank you for putting up this site. I have just been given a serger machine. A friend purchased an old trunk at an auction. She was only purchasing the trunk and was not told that there was anything in it. When she got it home, she found the serger in it. She knows I sew a lot and gave me the machine. It was really dusty and I'm working on getting it up and running. It is a Singer 14 U44B/244B 3.4 Thread Overlock Machine. I was able to download a manual for it and I am working on figuring out how to thread it. My one question for the moment is when using the serger, how many roles of thread do I have to thread and use at the same time. And if I could only use two or three threads, which threading guides have to be used vs. the threading guides that are optional. (If that is even an option) You see, I make a lot of quilted purses and don't really need the variety of color threads to bind my edges from fraying. Any help you can assist me on, would be so very much appreciated.


  16. I found this site most helpful as I had a spot of bother with the Brother. first time lucky with the threading a week okay then when the thread broke I was lost, thanks to your site after fiddling for hours, learning all the time, I was able to quickly rectify things, and the little tip about clearing the needle threads with a toothpick was a pearler, no more trouble for me. Cant seem to figure out how to oil the machine apart from a spray where I think it may be useful.
    thanks again

  17. Hi, I have been having trouble with my serger. I've been threading and rethreading it, in the correct order and my lowerlooper thread always breaks when I put it through the small "threading lever". I have checked the upper and lowerlooper threads and they're not crossed. Any ideas? Does that part have to be changed eventually? It seems to be cutting the thread. Thank-you

    1. Wendy, I"m so sorry you are having trouble. It could be one of two thing-- take a close look at that little thread guide and make sure you are putting the thread in the correct place(I'm sure you are) The other thing is that there really could be a burr or some other part that is catching your thread and breaking it. I really don't know what to do in that case :(

  18. You've prevented me from completely giving up on my hateful, angry serger. THANK YOU FOREVER!

  19. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!!!!! You saved my serger's life today. We had a major fight and it norrowly got away with it's life. LOL

  20. Great explanation and pictures! I wish I saw this earlier today when I suddenly found the lower looper thread was no longer threaded right. Finally got it fixed but wasn't sure what I did right. Now I know I kept crossing the threads! You've made my day!

  21. I love all your info and I find the pictures so valuable. I have been looking all over the Internet for any serger threading and sewing instructions and I finally found your site. It is the best and so thorough. Thank you so much! I do hope that this info will stay up so we can refer to it when needed. There is a lot to learn and I like to take it all in slowly but surely..

  22. Thank you so much Palak. I bought a very cheap and old Elna lock overlocker - serger on ebay without instructions. Having never used a serger but having sewn for years, I thought, how hard can it be. Let me tell you, after hours of threading and rethreading and searching on the internet I was ready to throw it out. I could see that the loopers were jamming and then I found your blog. Your info re not letting the threads cross was invaluable. Most importantly however it was the statement that the thread needs to flow freely that saved the day. My thread still snapped after the threading was correct. It is hard to believe how stupid an otherwise intelligent person like me can be. I wondered why the threads weren't running freely and of course... have you guessed it... I hadn't lifted the spool arm to raise the threads! Ten minutes with your blog saved this otherwise good machine and my sanity. So thank you again. I agree with the last comment. Your info is definitely the best available. Pieta

  23. Wish I found you two weeks ago. I was so frustrated. I have the exact same serger. My lovely daughter simply walked in and said I'll do it mom. Now she never sewed a stitch in her life but in 10 minutes had the serger threaded and it was right. She said it's easy, just look at the directions on the front. Very grateful to her. But how come I couldn't do that??? Now I know how and have done it several times but not always correctly and I try try again. I truly do love the serger. I've been using the rolled hem and have finished about 18 napkins so far. This is far and away the best blog and directions I've seen. Thank you so much.

  24. Thank you for this tutorial! I set up my new serger last night. After scanning the user manual, I skipped right to your explanation for threading. Not only was I successful, but it was super easy!

  25. Brillian tutorial. Excellent pictures. Thank you.

  26. Dear Palak,

    You are my hero. I have been struggling to understand my serger for the last 5 year and thank to your tutorial I finally did. Thank you thank you.

  27. Thank you for the tutorial. That lower looper can drive one to tears. I spent 2 hours yesterday trying and eventually got it, but I will keep your notes for next time. I am only using white cotton now so I don't have to change it again! if white doesn't go with the material - too bad! :-) Maureen from Durban, South Africa

  28. Yes this was a great post and answered a lot of questions. Thank you so much!

  29. You're a life saver! Your instructions filled in a lot of gaps and answered questions that I had after trying to thread it by simply using the instructions that came with my new machine. Thank you so much for this tutorial!!

  30. Hello, I need some help. I need to change the thread of my machine, but I dont want to use the big cone thread, I was to use normal size thread, and I know I need a kind of adapter for it. But I dont know how is called? Someone knows?

  31. Hi. My threads are getting jumbled up in the stitch finger area (i guess that is what they are - the two little things that look like needles that lay flat under the foot). Do you have any ideas what I am doing wrong? You are very nice to instruct and help people! Also, silly question, can I use thread that says "quilting" thread? : ( As you can tell, I have never used a sewing machine or anything, I am diving head first into a serger. Maybe......maybe not! Thanks for your help in advance.

  32. Just an FYI- I have a Janome 204D and my serger instructions specifically say to thread the lower looper first, so not all sergers need the upper looper threaded first! Love your series, you're definitely helping me understand my serger better!

  33. The point about making sure that the " lower looper is above the upper looper " when threading the overlocker is so TRUE!! As a result of following your threading instructions and adjusting the thread tention on the loopers, on my EMPISAL 606D, i have overlocker success. Thank you!

  34. Hello, I was reading your serger series, which I must say has been very helpful already! But then, I noticed that your old machine appears to be the same machine I have! I just have to say, I *HATE* it! It may be because I still don't fully know how to use it, but it really just doesn't seem to work very well. Threads always breaking and stuff, even after threading it correctly (which I know I didn't used to do) and playing with tension. Did you have any problems with it? Any tips?


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