Saturday, May 14, 2011

A self taught lesson - Sergers 101

I was so excited to get my next fabric shipment in and get started on my next round of cloth diapers.  This time I will be sewing microfiber inserts.  After I got all my new fabric washed and cut to size, I sat down in front of the serger ready for the next few hours of work.  Little did I know, this was about to turn into a project that would last for days! 

A little background on me & my serger - I recently (withing the last few weeks) purchased my serger from a lady on Craigslist.  I told her I would mostly be making cloth diaper inserts, so I needed a heavy duty, built to last machine.  That was one reason why I was interested in the serger she was selling.  It was a Pfaff Hobbylock 794.  Yes, it's an older serger, but that wasn't a concern of mine.  These sergers had great reviews and were made during a time when things were actually built to be used, abused and last a long time.  Now everything is light weight, breakable and need to be replaced every few years.  I was confident in my purchased and it had just been serviced and was in amazing condition.  The best part - it was already threaded!  I had been reading about how sergers were so hard to thread.  No lie, it made me a little scared and intimidated.  I was on a mission to find a serger that was already threaded and just waiting for me to put some fabric in it.  Before I left her house, she showed me how to used it, wished me luck with the rest of my pregnancy and made sure all of my questions were answered.  I got home and couldn't wait to get started.  I did a test run & my first insert actually impressed me.  I did it!  I looked great and took less than a minute to sew.  This was a dream come true for me.  I thought to myself about how much money I am about to save by making my own inserts and hopefully I will get good enough to make them for other people to buy.  I finished the rest of my inserts and put the serger away since I was still waiting for more fabric to be sent.

Present day - I started sewing my first insert and as I was on the last edge, the serger jammed.  I tried to coax the material out, but soon realized it wasn't budging.  I tried to cut loose the fabric with my scissors, but they were too big.  I ended up getting the box cutter out and slicing the fabric off of the right looper.  The good news - the fabric was free and the serger worked again.  The bad news - by doing this I cut the thread too.  My worst fear had just unfolded before my very eyes, I was going to have to thread the serger.  The positive side was I didn't have to completely rethread it, just the holes that were inside the machine.  You know, the holes that were kind of hard to get to.  To my shock and disbelief, I was able to rethread with no problem.  A pair of tweezers became my new best friend and together we made things happen.  Now, looking back I shouldn't have thought this, but I was so proud of myself.  I thought (yes, out loud - I put it out into the universe) that all the people who complained about rethreading sergers were sissies and it was easy.  Mistake #1 - I got cocky.  Don't worry, I immediately got my payback.  I started to finish my insert and didn't pay attention to the fact I didn't put the foot down after I put my fabric in.  Seconds after my foot touched the pedal, my right needle broke.  Lesson learned - be proud of your accomplishment, don't criticize others and call them names.  Luckily the lady I bought the serger from had also given me extra needles.  I followed the directions and took out the broken needle, but to make it easier, I had to take off the left one to get better access to the right needle.  Lesson #1 - pay attention to what the needle looks like BEFORE you take off the good one.  The directions said to make sure the groove in the needle was facing me.  Everything looked good, so I put my fabric in to finish my insert.  Awesome - I obviously did something wrong because the threads were loose and they used to be perfect.  I made sure not to even touch the thread tension dials.  I put a few test pieces of flannel through and the stitches were very loose and getting worse.  Maybe it was because my flannel was too thin?  So I put the microfiber insert back in, but it still didn't work.  It couldn't have been the microfiber, people sew microfiber everyday.  I went back to the flannel test pieces.  Soon, my left needle was only poking a hole in the fabric and wasn't catching the thread loop on the front side.  My panic finally began to set in when all of the 4 threads weren't interlocking anymore and just came out of the machine individually.  I took a break to rest my eyes and calm down.  A few hours later I came back only to become more frustrated when I still couldn't get it to work.  I started looking for sewing shops in the area that repaired Pfaff sergers.  I wanted to be prepared for the worst, even though I was not ready to give up.  The next day I came back, sat down and attempted to finally figure this out.  Frustration eventually got the best of me and I decided to completely remove all 4 spools of thread and rethread the whole thing and I even reset the thread tensions back to the "N" setting.  I was starting from the beginning, from scratch and I was determined to figure this out.  After rethreading I realized I had put the thread for the right looper (the one I cut when I jammed the serger) in one of the holes the wrong way.  I was hoping this would be the issue and now everything was solved.  I put the test fabric in - same thing was happening.  I couldn't get the left needle to catch.  When I took the fabric out and manually turned the wheel, I couldn't get the thread to interlock.  Maybe it was my thread tension?  I set the tension back to what it was before the issues.  Still not working.  Aaaaarrrrrggggghhhh! I was never going to figure this out!  I opened the bottom of the serger so I could watch the thread interlock.  I studied it's every move and then noticed that the left looper was only sometimes catching the thread coming off of the two needles and most of the time it was only grabbing the right needle's thread.  I saw the groove on the needles and wondered why would the groove need to face the front, when it looked like it needed to face the back of the serger to make it easier for the left looper to hook.  I took both of the needles off and took a closer look at the groove.  There are two grooves.  A very long groove that goes almost the entire length of the needle and a smaller groove on the opposite side.  The smaller groove is the only one I notice originally and it was the groove I had facing the front of the serger - it was the wrong groove.  Thank you directions for being so specific!  I turned both needles around, tightened them, threaded them once more and was ready to see if this was my issue.  Without any fabric, I manually turned the wheel and watched the left looper catch BOTH needle's thread EVERY TIME it came through.  This had to be my problem.  Time to put some fabric in and test my theory.  I had to hold back the tears of joy that were bursting to come out.  The threads were perfect and the serger was back to working 100%!!!  I couldn't have been more excited!  One, because I wasn't going to have to take it in to a repair shop to have it fix.  Two, because I was going to finally be able to finish these inserts (I'm due in about two weeks and the clock is ticking).  Most importantly, reason number three.  I figured it out all by myself and this was a huge accomplishment for me.  I'm too stubborn to give up, but I will make myself crazy trying to figure something out.  I needed to know how my serger worked, but didn't think I was ready for a crash course in Sergers 101.  I am very happy and proud of myself.  I learned how to completely rethread my serger, correctly replace the needles, to understand the exact operation and how it interlocks the thread and how to solve my own problems with it instead of relying on a repair shop to just fix it for me.  Things can only get better from here and soon I will be a pro with my serger!

---->Update 7.12.11 -  I'm no expert, but if you have questions about this serger please feel free to contact me.  I feel confident I know the machine well enough now to offer some help.

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