Sewing Facts

Cotton can last for 100 years – or longer – if you look after it. Cotton fabric has been found at many archaeological sites.

Women’s buttons are sewn onto the left side of their garments. The reason for this is that buttons were very expensive and only wealthy women with domestic help could afford them. So to make it easier for the help to button up they were on the ‘wrong’ side of garments.

Having buttons on sleeves was apparently Napoleon Bonaparte’s idea. First seen during the time he ruled, buttons on sleeves are now taken for granted. Rumour has it that Napoleon did not want his soldiers to wipe their noses on their sleeves so he told his uniform makers to sew buttons on the ends.

The Zip was invented in 1893. Initially they were only used on shoes and boots to make putting them on faster, but slowly they gained favour and made their way onto garments as well.

The first cotton prints in America were called Calicoes and were made around 1780. They were named Calico, after the city of Calcutta, India, where these hand-woven printed fabrics were made.

Calico Cat

Sewing was one of the first skills Homo Sapiens learned. People used to sew together fur, hide, skin and bark for clothing as long as 25 000 years ago. Early sewing thread was made of thin strips of animal hide.

Sewing needles found at a lot of ancient archaeological sites were made of bone and ivory. Metal needles only came into existence much later in human history.

The sewing machine was invented in 1790 by Thomas Saint, but the first mechanical sewing machine was patented in 1830 by the tailor Barthélemy Thimonnier, whose machine used a hooked or barbed needle to produce a chain stitch.

The phrase “The whole nine yards” came from the length of fabric that was needed to make the fanciest coat for a man of fashion.

What Is An Overlocker?

Overlockers (or sergers), originally used only in industrial sewing, can be a valuable asset to home sewers.

Not that long ago, overlockers were only available for commercial use. The machines were huge, heavy and impractical for home use. Fortunately though, the market has changed and there are many industrial-quality overlockers (but much smaller), designed specifically for home use.

An overlocker works with loopers and needle threads that form an overlocking stitch. This is different from a conventional sewing machine that forms a stitch with a bobbin and top thread.

As the number of threads and loopers increase, so does the price of the machine. So, choose the configuration that best fits your needs.

An overlocker (also known as a serger) is a special-purpose machine that produces professionally finished seams, like those found on ready-to-wear garments. It uses between two and nearly a dozen threads to encase the raw edge of the fabric with an overcast stitch, while trimming away the seam allowance – all at speeds of up to 1600 stitches per minute. Instead of a bobbin and single needle, the overlocker has a cutting blade, “loopers” and multiple needles.

Overlockers are used to clean-finish the seam allowances although today’s models can do far more than that, and they have become increasingly easy to operate, and are more economical than ever.

An overlocker does not replace a sewing machine. Its primary function is to clean finish a raw edge, giving the project a professional appearance. Many overlocking stitches have built-in stretch, making them the perfect tool for seaming knit fabrics. Also, the eyes of the loopers are larger than the eyes of sewing needles and can therefore accommodate thicker decorative threads.

As the number of needles and loopers increases, so does the diversity of the stitches; and as the stitch diversity increases, so does the price. Once you understand the stitches, you can ask an overlocker dealer which machine best suits your needs.

Everyone has different overlocking needs, but most agree that the following key features are worth looking at.

Threading Ease:

Nothing is more frustrating than a machine that is too difficult to use. Thread and rethread any machine you are considering buying. Be sure you know how to thread the lower looper, as it’s usually the most challenging thread path. Most overlockers have colour-coded thread paths and lay-in threading.

Differential Feed:

This adjusts the movement of the feed dogs, and therefore how the fabric feeds, to eliminate puckers, stretching and ripples in seams. It can also be adjusted to gather the fabric.

Instructional Classes:

If you are starting out, take classes to learn all the functions of the machine. Hands-on experience will help you get the most mileage from your purchase.

Conversion Ease:

Be sure to ask how the machine converts from a standard overlocker stitch to a rolled hem or chainstitch. Sometimes it’s a button or dial – and sometimes it involves disengaging a thread path or adding a conversion plate.

So do you need an overlocker? Probably not. Do you want an overlocker? Most certainly yes. Once you’ve used one you won’t want to go back to finishing your edges with a domestic sewing machine.

Both beginner and experienced sewers benefit from tools that simplify sewing and make professional results easier to get. A lot of sewing machines have an overlock or overcast stitch in their library of stitches, so why do you need an overlocker?

Well, maybe you don’t really need one, but they’re a nice extra to have. And while a sewing machine can certainly perform an overcast stitch, it can’t cut the fabric as it stitches, and it can’t use the thicker, decorative threads that are so popular. And most sewing machines don’t sew anywhere near as fast as overlockers.

What is the difference between a sewing machine and an overlock machine?

Some functions performed by overlock machines can also be done by sewing machines, and a sewing machine can also do some things that an overlock machine cannot do.

An overlock machine works by joining cloth edges using an overlock stitch to produce professional edges. An overlock machine can take up to 8 cones of threads all at once to prevent fraying by looping the thread around the edge. Unlike overlock machines, sewing machines can only take up to 2 cones of thread at once which therefore means they are slower than overlock machines.

Overlock machines have loopers. These loopers loop the thread on the edge of the fabric which then prevents fraying. Overlock machines also have a blade. This blade works by trimming as the overlock machine stitches. For a nice rolled hem, it is advisable to use an overlock machine over a sewing machine.

Because an overlock can take multiple cones of thread all at the same time, they make a durable and more professional seam than sewing machines.

Overlock machines are faster than sewing machines when encasing raw edges and trimming seam allowance. Their standard speed is normally 1600 stitches per minute.

While an overlock machine specialises in seaming and edging, some sewing machines come with a sewing and an overlock function to make them work like sergers.

An overlock machine can do more in one step than an ordinary sewing machine because the latter cannot trim, overcast and sew all in one process. Sewing machines can create buttonholes, sew zips and more.

The neck of a sewing machine is typically shorter than the neck of an overlock machine.

An overlock machine only allows one side serging (left side) while a sewing machine allows sewing your cloth from any side.

A project that entails hemming a pair of pants would require using an overlock machine instead of a sewing machine. If you were to use a sewing machine, you’ll have to use scissors to cut the bottom of the pants first. After this, you’ll have to zigzag it to prevent fraying then fold the seam and iron it. If you were to do the same project using an overlock machine, all you’ll do is to serge the bottom of the pants, fold once and then topstitch it and you’re done.

Some sewing machines come with an attachment that enables them to do similar functions to an overlock machine. However, one thing to note is that the quality of stitching by a sewing machine cannot match that of an overlock machine.