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This episode of Sewing Out Loud is brought to you by the Made to Measure Leggings Class. This online class brings Zede right into your sewing room to show you how to measure, draft and construct a pair of leggings based on your personal measurements. Go to SewHere.com/Leggings to find out more and get access to all the videos and course materials immediately!
Coming at you from the Serger Sanctum, let’s talk about how and why to keep them clean!
Why Keep Your Serger Clean?
Sergers are super dirty- all they do is make lint. If you’re new to serging, be prepared. The machine cuts as it sews, so you have scraps and fabric lint. Sergers use 3-4 cones of thread, and no matter how high quality your thread, it will produce some lint. You also produce “serger tails” as you make things on your serger.
Black serger tails can look dangerously like insects or arachnids and they’ll follow you around your house- beware.
Cleaning your serger is important for your machine’s longevity, but also for the cleanliness of your sewing environment as a whole. The lint from a serger can get on your furniture surfaces, your other machines, or up inside your nasal cavities. Fabrics like velvet make an extra amount of lint that will come out when you blow your nose.
A note about computer screens on sergers. Sergers with “computer screens” aren’t really computerized, it’s simply a display of the settings. So, when you’re cleaning, be aware of that component of your serger if you have it, but it’s a different animal than a computerized sewing or embroidery machine.
Unthread your serger and turn it off. Check your owner’s manual for instructions on this, but normally, the best thing to do is to clip your threads close to where they enter the serger, and then sew them out or release the tensions and pull in the direction the threads are traveling while sewing. Don’t pull them out “backwards” if possible. Then turn off your machine.
You may want to move your serger to a second location in order to clean it, so that you can clean around and under it as well. Your serger furniture and surrounding area will have a lot of lint on it as well, and you don’t want to put your machine back on a dirty surface. If the machine is super dirty, lay out fabric or paper underneath it, to catch the lint that you clean.
The first thing to do is brush and vacuum the lint off of and away from the machine. Use a large, soft brush and a shop vac or a mini vacuum attachment kit to clean lint from the outer housing before moving to the inside. The outer housing can be home to pre-tensioners and thread cutters that can be obstructed by thread trash, so it’s just as important to clean the outside as the inside.
Most sergers “open up” quite a bit. So, after you’ve done the outside of the machine, open the machine up as much as you can, in order to brush lint away. Be gentle on any mechanisms, and simply try to get out loose lint.
Zede says with caution that sometimes she turns her serger upside down and shakes it a bit to release lint and debris.
Do not use canned air. It can push lint back into the machine which draws grease and oil from where it’s needed. Canned air can also have moisture in it, which causes rusting of metal parts.
Take it Apart
What can you take apart on your serger?
Take out your needle, take off your presser foot, and take off your throat plate, if you’re comfortable doing so. Clean your presser foot with a cloth that’s been sprayed with glass cleaner or with an alcohol pad- it gets linty too!
Sometimes it’s hard to remove and replace the throat plate. Often, you can clean this area well enough with a small stiff brush and vacuum after you remove the needle and presser foot.
After the Lint is Gone
Spray a soft cloth or paper towel with glass cleaner and wipe down the machine to clean off finer particles. If your machine has suction cups on the bottom, clean those regularly in the same fashion. This can help keep the machine from bouncing around while you’re serging super fast.
Spool pins and thread holders need to be cleaned thoroughly as well. Take stickers off of threads, if possible and clean any residue off of your spool pins to avoid damaging threads that might come into contact with the residue.
Sergers Last a Long Time- Take Good Care of them
We love the latest and greatest technology out there, but sergers are actually pretty straightforward mechanical machines. This means they have pretty high longevity, so you should feel confident investing in a good serger. Self-threading, self-tensioning Baby Locks are on the higher end of the expense spectrum, but you could have the machines for decades (like we have).
Check Out Amazon.com/ZedesSewingStudio to see our Serger Cleaning Recommendations.
Mini-Vacuum Attachment Kit: This attachment kit uses the full power of your vacuum to suck lint out of your machine with fine tips and brushes.
Make Up Brush/Paint Brush: Buy a make up brush or paintbrush to use for cleaning your machines. They’re larger and more effective than the small ones when you’re handling a large area and a lot of lint.
Screw Drivers: Your machine probably came with screwdrivers- make sure you have a place to store them in your sewing area, so that they stay close to your machines!
If You’re Feeling Adventurous (and careful and cautious)
Zede and Mallory are super knowledgeable about sergers and sewing machines, and have been trained several times on servicing them. Please proceed with caution regarding this tip, and always get your machine serviced at least once a year!
If you can see screws on your machine’s housing, you can try to take it apart. On many sergers, the bottom can come off and a ton of lint can be released. When removing the bottom of your serger, you’ll need to “lean it back” and it’s important to be careful not to break the thread stand, spool pins, or thread guides- they’re quite fragile. You can roll up a towel to place underneath the back of your serger to support it.
If you expose the innards of the serger, do not do anything except gently brush and vacuum the area.
The bottom tray might have oil or grease at the bottom. If oil has pooled in that bottom tray, you can remove it with a light solvent like rubbing alcohol, but do not wipe grease off of the mechanisms within the machine- don’t mess with those!
Maintenance Should Be a Habit, Not An Event
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Keeping the lint off your machine as you work will help prevent lint build up. Lint will draw oil and grease away from the mechanisms where they need it. So, each time you use your serger, dust it lightly and do a big home-cleaning about once a month or so.
The worst serger issues we’ve witnessed have been when people do not use their machine at all. A customer once brought a machine to one of our guide class after the machine had been sitting in a closet for years. The machine would not move, and when we took it apart, hundreds of ladybugs fell out, and we could see that the grease has all pooled to the bottom. It’s sort of like a car that has been sitting in a garage for a while, the fuel lines are dry and the tires are square. Using the machine keeps the lubrication moving throughout the mechanisms and keeps the machine happy and working!
So, if you are buying a used machine and the seller says that it hasn’t been used in years- that might not be the best selling point. Make sure to get it looked at by a repair shop.
Are Baby Lock Self Threading Mechanisms “Finnicky”
No. Zede calls B.S. when someone claims that the threading ports on the Baby Lock are finicky or prone to issues. Zede has sewn on Baby Lock sergers for 25 years, and the only time she’s ever experienced an issue is if someone (or she herself) has allowed a bunch of lint to build up around the area.
If you have an issue with your threading system feeding thread through, the Baby Lock machines come with a threading wire that you can use to ream out the looper area. Zede has had to do that once in her serging life, and Mallory once fixed a customer’s machine on the bench by running the wire through the threading path.
Cover Your Machines
Cover your machine when not in use, if you can. The housing of your machine can degrade when exposed to sunlight, so an opaque cover is a better option than a clear one.
Protecting your machines with a cover also helps protect them from stray lint and threads that you generate while using other machines or equipment. This is especially important on machines with very exposed tension discs.
Zede says she could live with one sewing machine if she had 42 sergers. Sometimes we go through seasons where we use some machines more than others.
Sergers don’t have “decorative stitches” per se (the Wave stitch might be the only exception), but you can use decorative threads to create attractive accents.
Mallory and Zede remotely psychoanalyze Pat Sajak and Vana White. I’ll just leave it at that. Vana also has her own line of yarn.