Serger tension: troubleshooting by a beginner

Have you ever had a problem that was so easy to solve once you knew the solution? Yeah, so have I, many times. This time, it was the case of the overhanging loops on a brand new serger, and how a simple setting fixed it!

After quite some time of indecision, I ended up buying my first serger. This baby was a big investment for me, both in money and in the learning I would need to take full advantage of it. After my usual research-intensive agonizing period between realizing I could get and actually make use of one and then deciding to go ahead and buy it, I got a BabyLock Evolution; for me, it was the sweet spot between optimizing for cost, long-term use, ease-of-use, and functionality.

However, this is where I started running into trouble: this was the first major tool for any of my crafts or pursuits that I couldn’t just “pick up” from pre-existing experience: I had ZERO experience using sergers before now. OK, I’m good at researching, learning, absorbing, practicing, just let me at it with some instruction and I’ll be fine! Now, one of the features of this serger/overlocker/cover hem combo dream of a machine is that it automatically handles the tension for you via a set of 4 internal disc configurations: no fiddly knobs to understand and mess with (and mess up!), which was awesome for a self-taught beginner. The one thing I did not have much of though, was guidance from someone who is experienced with my machine and with serging in general. You see, I was getting quite the frustrating and confusing conundrum: why were my loops hanging off the edge so far, on what was supposed to be a brand-new machine!?

Following all the advice I could find online, I re-threaded until I could do it in my sleep, checked every setting meticulously, and re-threaded a few more times for good measure. Still, it was not changing! Even searching for my specific model yielded few results specific to my problem. According to the manual, quick start/threading guide, forums, blogs, and FAQs on the internet, it should be working. My intuition told me that it shouldn’t look like that, and it was only happening on some fabrics, usually stretchy. In this case, the most common recommendations are:

  1. Re-thread completely and properly (pulling from the back, releasing tension, all that good stuff), checking the settings
  2. Adjust the width of cutting
  3. Adjust the length of the stitch
  4. Adjust the looper tension – but on the BabyLock Evolution, this one dial adjusts for both top and bottom loopers
  5. Adjust the differential feed

It was a long, frustrating, yet enlightening day when I tried all combinations of the above techniques that all yielded similar results. Because of my limited experience, I did not want to try anything else like creative threading or changing the settings.

Finally, I took an in-person “learn to use your serger” class at my local sewing machine shop where I’d taken classes before. The instructor checked out my machine, did all the recommended steps above, and was also getting the same result: loops hanging way too far over. Do you know what she did? Changed the tension disc setting from “A” to “B” (no, really, that’s the setting names).

That’s it: changing the thread disc tension from the recommended setting to a different one. I would not have thought of that for my novice level of serging, but now that I’ve seen its magic I am much more confident in experimenting, especially after even more research on techniques and operation of sergers in general.

In the comments below, share a funny or amazingly simple fix you’ve encountered in your craft!

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