Saturday, 28 July 2018

Overlocker Unlocked - Thread

The threads in an overlocker are, in my opinion, by far the most daunting aspect. So daunting in fact that I decided to cover them in two seperate blog posts. Today, I'm going to be talking about how to set up the threads at the start, which thread to use, how often to change the thread etc, but keep an eye out for lots more overlocking thread goodness very soon!

An Overview

So, first of all, what are all the threads for and what do they do? Most overlockers have three or four threads (although two and five thread overlockers do also exist). Four thread overlockers are best for sewing with heavier, more durable fabrics, as they produce a stronger seam. Three thread overlocking isn't as strong as overlocking with four threads but it's less bulky so is good for sewing with lighter-weight and more delicate fabrics. You can easily convert a four thread overlocker into a three thread one, simply by leaving one of the needles unthreaded. For a wider seam, leave the right needle unthreaded and for a narrower seam leave the left one unthreaded.

How to thread the machine

I'm not going to cover threading the machine from scratch as a) we'd be here all day and b) there are lots of good sources already avaliable. Luckily, overlockers don't actually need to be threaded from scratch very often. Personally, I found this video quite helpful for and if you have a copy of Stretch! there is a great section all about threading your overlocker.
Fortunately most overlockers have a colour-coded diagram printed on them (like the one above) which is really helpful to help get your head around all the different threads.

What equiptment do you need?

You don't really need any equipment to help you thread an overlocker (except for thread of course) but you can purchase fine pointed tweezers to help pull the threads through. I don't actually own a pair of these but they would have certainly made my life a lot easier!
The main thing you need - and this is essential - is patience. To begin with, it took me an absolute age to thread my overlocker. I promise it gets easier though, and you will find that with time it also becomes much faster. The main thing is to not give up and not throw your overlocker out of the window, something that crossed my mind several times during the painfully long and failing attemps.

How to change the thread

I'm going to cover a quick and easy way to change the overlocker thread in another post, so look out for that.

How many colours do you need?

One of the great things about overlocking is that you can't see it: it's hidden away inside the garment. Because of this, the colour thread you use doesn't have to match the fabric you're sewing with exactly. Due to the fact that you need four threads, it will get used up fairly quickly too so it's much cheaper to have a few spools of the colours that you sew with most often rather than buying new colours to match every project. I'd recommend having black and white, but navy, grey and cream are also common colours that you might find helpful to have. Of course, if you're sewing with a sheer farbic then you may want to buy thread to match that colour exactly but as a general rule I'd say that 2-4 different colours are the way to go.

How often should you change the thread?

As aforementioned you absolutely don't have to change the thread with every project. I only actaully black and white thread and while I don't mind which one I use so much on woven fabrics, I like to use the closest match (in my case either light or dark) when sewing with knit fabrics. I'd say that it's most important to change colour thread if you are working with sheer fabric or on a garment where you particularly care about what the inside looks like.

Where and how to buy thread

There are two key rules to buying thread: quality and quantity. Quantity because overlocking thread gets used up very quickly and quality because there is nothing more anoying than thread that snaps continuously. It's best to buy your thread in cones and in bulk. I actually bought 4x5000 yards times two as I bought two different colours. That's 40,000 yards (36,576 metres) something that I still can't quite believe but at least I know that it will last me a long time!
I bought this thread from Jaycotts, and I find that not only is it great quality but the colour is good too.

Phew! That was quite a lot! I hope you found this helpful. You can find the other posts in the series here.


  1. Thanks for this post. Threading my overlocker is my least favourite sewing experience, apart from cutting out. Finishing off the insides with an overlocker really does make all the difference. Xx

  2. I took a small risk and bought a mixed bag of slightly used serger threads on eBay. It turned out to be a pretty good deal, good quality and some range in colors. Tricky if you can’t see the brand name, but it worked out well in my case.

  3. I thread my overlocker this way, so much easier than all the fiddling