Solving Serger Dilemmas


Solving Serger Dilemmas

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The serger is an invaluable tool when sewing knit garments. It has so many uses besides knits, though. Change the tension settings on your serger to create different stitches and finishes. The serger is a wonderful tool. But what happens when the tension is out of whack? It can be quite frustrating. Follow these tips to troubleshoot and adjust the tensions for carefree serging.
More information can be found in my book, Ultimate Serger Techniques, available at Nancy’s Notions. Watch Sewing With Nancy’s episode Ultimate Serger Techniques to see some of the various applications for a serged finish.


Tension Troubleshooting

Adjusting the tensions is probably the most important technique to learn about your serger. You may need to adjust the tensions with just about every change in stitch, fabric, and thread type. New stitch variations are actually created by specific tension adjustments. This section will help you recognize balanced serger stitches and show you how to adjust them if they aren’t quite right. The illustrations in this section should help you in the process.
Note from Nancy: Familiarize yourself with serger tension by using a different color thread for each needle and looper. This will help you more accurately identify the threads in a stitch.

Tension Basics

  • Check your instruction manual for tension adjustments on stitches available on your serger.
  • If you have serger knobs, remember “righty tighty; lefty loosey.” If you have lay-in discs or dials, turn them up to tighten and down to loosen.
  • Make one adjustment at a time and then serge to see if the stitch quality has improved. Making too many adjustments at one time can be confusing!
  • If a thread loops, too much thread is coming from the spool; tighten that tension. If threads pucker or draw in, too little thread is coming from the spool; loosen the tension.

Effects of Thread, Stitches, and Fabric

  • Loosen tensions for heavier fabrics, which need more thread for coverage.
  • Tighten tensions for lighter-weight fabrics, which need less thread for coverage.
  • Loosen tensions when using heavier threads, as they take up more space in the tension controls.
  • Loosen tensions when using stretchy thread such as Woolly Nylon, as it stretches when it passes through the tension controls and threading guides.
  • Adjusting the looper tension controls how much thread is released from the spool for various stitches. Loosen looper tensions for a longer or wider stitch; tighten looper tensions for a shorter or narrower stitch.
Problem: Fabric Puckers
Solution: Loosen the needle tension.
FabricPuckers Nancy Zieman 2a
Problem: Loops or V’s form on the underside and seam may pull apart.
Solution: Tighten the needle tension.
LoopsOrVs Nancy Zieman 3aProblem: Lower looper threads are pulled to the right side of the fabric.
Solution: Loosen the upper looper tensions, or tighten the lower looper tension.
LooperPulled to Top Nancy Zieman 4aProblem: Upper looper threads are pulled to the underside of the fabric.
Solution: Tighten the upper looper tension, or loosen the lower looper tension.
LooperPulled to wrong side Nancy Zieman 5a
Keep this link handy the next time your serger needs a tension adjustment.
Tips to solver serger tension dilemmas by Nancy Zieman | Sewing With Nancy

Watch Ultimate Serger Techniques (Part 1 and Part 2) on Sewing With Nancy online.

Nancy Zieman's Giveaway Winner
The random winner of a copy of Sew Simple with Rectangles & Squares is Patti. Her comment was: I’m planning for Christmas gifts already, and will make four sets of napkins for the seasons. I have some lovely fall leaves, a fun red and green stripe, an all over floral, and a cheerful red, white, and blue print. These will make a terrific gift for my in-laws.
Sew Simple with Rectangles & Squares Sewing With Nancy Zieman
Bye for now,
Nancy Zieman The Blog

Content in this feed is © copyright 2016 by Nancy Zieman and may not be republished without written permission. You’re welcome to forward the email to a friend or colleague but it’s not okay to add the RSS feed automatically as content on a blog or other website.
Make sure you are subscribed to my enews mailing list so you won’t miss a thing. Sign up here. Join us on Facebook, plus a host of other social media channels. Connect With Nancy today!
Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  • Kim H
    July 13, 2016

    I love my Baby Lock Ovation, in part because I never have to worry about tension issues. Most of the Baby Lock sergers are tension free!!!

  • Melissa Bates
    July 13, 2016

    The serger is a wonderful machine and useful tool, so many things that you can do with, Babylock sergers are the best. Air threading and automatic tension make it a breeze.

  • Gail Beam
    July 13, 2016

    Ooooh, I would love to have the Ultimate Serger Techniques. I have a Pfaff 4872 and I really need to learn how to use this serger to its full potential. Right now I just use it for basic serging .

  • Bonnye
    July 13, 2016

    Solving the tension on my.Babylock serger has always been a challenge for me. Thanks for the help.

  • Janel R
    July 13, 2016

    I am ready to replace my old serger and would love to hear more on evaluation of some of the latest models and what purposes each is best suited for!!!

  • Peggy Carlson
    July 14, 2016

    Just got my Evolution,used 6 mo. old used 1 time I love it!

  • Judy Reames
    July 14, 2016

    I have had and used a serger since they came out years ago. I have a White 734D that I use all the time… I have a workbook that I refer to all the time for as a guide to do different stitches. I just bought a Baby Lock Evolution that I love… but I wish that it came with a workbook so I wouldn’t get confused.

  • Candice
    July 15, 2016

    Love this book – it’s helped me many, many times!

  • Gelorus Dykstra
    July 16, 2016

    Was introduced to a surger by the wonderful ladies that I sew with. We make cjildren clothes for foster Xbox children. Our group has 2 older surgers and always need adjusting. Sure like the info you shared. Thank you

  • june g. tibbetts
    August 2, 2016

    I have a surger but it still is in the box.
    I’m not quite sure just how to use it.
    The manuel that comes with it really isn’t too helpful in inspiration.
    I feel rather lost…..

  • Vana
    December 23, 2016

    Aloha, I have a 5 thread serger and have been sewing for a long time. Im in the process of designing a new swim suits line and decided to try the Woolly Nylon thread. First I had to use a thread tool in order to thread the needles not to thrilled about that. I did a test using fabric’s for swim wear like 4-way etc. and it sews very nicely but, when I did a stretch test on the seams it was not good! The seams would stretch out about a 1/4-1/2″ spread! My tension is set at Auto! any suggestion be for I decided to switch to epic thread! I have all ready invested $ in the Woolly,
    Waiting for your reply,

  • Bernice Cloete
    February 26, 2017

    Hi Nancy,
    I just recdived my Babylock Evolution. Can the pressor foot lift higher, (for thick fabrics like fleece lined Scuba/Roma/knits) so that I can do a 2 or 3 thread hem on a sleeve or the hem of my pants? I have to squeeze the sleeve under the pressor foot (even though it is lifted) damaging my fabric, to get to the spot where I want to start hemming. The needles won’t penetrate either, I have to turn the wheel. Then, to remove my sleeve, I have to drag it out again, since one cannot just keep sewing to the end of fabric -there is no end in a I watched all your good comments and the decided Babylock is for me. It IS fantastic, except for my problem which could be ‘pilot error’! Pleass help?

      • C Van
        November 8, 2019

        I own the BL Evolution. The newest model upgrade has a higher foot elevation and a semi-automatic self threading feature.

  • Norma Vanest
    June 11, 2017

    I am a first time serger user. I have a Janome 3434D serger and for the life of me, despite following the instructions in the manual, cannot balance the stitch. The lower looper tension is either way too loose, or the upper tension is way too tight, and despite all my efforts, I can’t make it work on cotton fabric, help please and thanks!

  • Zo Anne Crane
    August 22, 2017

    Nancy, I have watched your shows for a long time and they have great ideas and hints that I have used. My question is I have a White superlock serger and when I see he over satin that has a raised design (small rhinestone like) the threads keep breaking on my needles. I have changed needles and loosened the tension on my needles, should I be doing something else differently? Thank you!

  • Tawai Rull
    October 7, 2017

    I’m having a problem with serging swim material with elastic, with out elastic it is fine but with it it bunches up and won’t stretch. What should I do? I’ve messed with it for hours

  • Barb
    July 7, 2018

    When I serve fleece,the seam pulls off the fabric. I tried adjusting the tension but that doesn’t seem to work. What am I doing wrong?Thanks

  • Helen Truax
    July 26, 2019

    My serger has a very tiny chain when checking before sewing. When using the cutter, it’s cutting a little over an eighth to the left of the cutting edge. It’s all set on normal.

  • john
    October 18, 2020

    my serger makes loops but not when fabric is being used

Post a Comment