Crew · Jersey · Overlock

A tale of two overlockers

My trusted overlocker is a 1970s New Home Knitlock 743 made by Juki. The label says “Made in Japan for Janome”, that’s for, not by.

It is extremely reliable, sews all kinds of fabrics with a minimal adjustment. However, to do a rolled hem, it requires a different needle plate and a special foot, and I haven’t got either of those. Besides, as with any other overlocker, a switch over from two needles to one needle is tedious and time consuming, and requires significant tension adjustment. And then of course you have to re-adjust again when going back to normal!

So I’ve been toying with the idea of getting another overlocker for narrow hems, rolled hems and possibly other specialised stuff. But overlockers are expensive, and reliable ones are rare (I had a Janome MyLock 334D before, and it was useless – I spent more time twiddling the knobs than sewing, and it would skip stitches a lot). And then I saw an AEG 760 on eBay, and it looked a lot like my New Home, only much newer and with a plastic body.

​Ok, I realise that on the outside it doesn’t look anything like the New Home 743, but it’s the inside that counts.

A bit of research has shown that it is a modernised version of the same mechanism, and only a few years old. They are still being sold new for £300-£400, and one shop was even giving a 15 year warranty on them, on top of the standard 2 years, and you don’t see that every day! Must be a reliable model then. Obviously, not made by AEG, but everything is just badged these days anyway, and nothing is what it seems*.

*The latest incarnation of this type is Juki 644D, but you can also find it under many other names including Bernette, and with somewhat different casing designs. I am pretty confident AEG 760 is made by Juki China.

But the best bit is that AEG 760 uses the same type of blades as my New Home – I need a new blade there, so was just looking for them, and the AEG on eBay came with three new blades, which are £13 each! So when my offer of £50 for the lot was accepted, it was a no-brainer: I bought three blades for my trusted New Home and got an AEG for £20… (don’t forget the postage).

The functionality

After thorough oiling, I set about testing the new and exciting functions of the AEG 760, now named Klümpie (can you see why? 🙂 ).

First off, this model has differential feed, while New Home 743 doesn’t (there’s a 743D model that does). I am curious to see how and when I’ll use it – oh, I know what it’s for, I just never missed it or needed it on the 743. (Do I need a new name for the 743? Or shall I just call it The Overlocker like Sherlock Holmse’s The Woman? Time will tell.)

Secondly, Klümpie has been “domesticated”: it uses standard domestic sewing machine needles (130/705H, a.k.a. HAx1) instead of industrial DCx1 or DCx1F, and its balance wheel is turned anti-clockwise like on Singer-based sewing machines, rather than clockwise according to the original overlocker design. Also the stitch length knob is much better accessible than in the old model, and there is even a free arm!

But those are really just cosmetics. What about the sewing?

Both models are 2-needle 4-thread overlockers convertible to 1-needle 3-thread, and in both machines either of the needles can be removed. You do a wide overlock with both needles or just the left needle, and narrow overlock with just the right needle – that is just an overlock stitch, not a rolled hem where the fabric is folded onto itself. The wide overlock stitch is about 6mm in both cases, but the distance between the needles is smaller on the new model (2mm instead of 2.5mm), so unless you are doing a rolled hem, the narrow overlock on Klümpie will be less narrow. I know that 0.5mm doesn’t sound like much, but it is 1/4 of the needle-to-needle distance and you really see it.

But Klümpie is clever. It has a cutting width adjuster which allows to vary the seam width by 2mm. In combination with thread tension adjustment, it should allow for different widths.

It works, but it all results in too much adjustment for my liking! We’ll have to see whether I’ll be using this feature much. So far I found that it really just works best close to the narrowest setting, which is incidentally exactly the cutting width on the old overlocker…

The sewing test

The first test is a full 4-thread overlock. I use a piece of cloqué Ponte Roma, which is a kind of double knit jersey with a textured surface on one side and a smooth one on the other. It is quite stretchy across the width and only slightly stretchy along the length. This is a fairly evil fabric, but the test should not be too easy!

I thread both overlockers according to their colour codes so that I could see what’s happening: green for the upper looper, blue for the lower looper, yellow for the right needle and red for the left needle. This is just cheap and rather fluffy polyester thread that I only use for overlocking – it’s not strong enough for sewn seams and besides my sewing machines get clogged up too quickly.

Of course, I could have used Coats Moon which is only a fraction more expensive and about a hundred times better, but the test shouldn’t be too easy, remember*. 🙂 I set the tensions to their recommended values (somewhere half-way).

*Why do I even bother with that cheap stuff when there’s Coats Moon? Because I only discovered a good source of it literally a couple of weeks ago, and I already have a drawer full of the cheap stuff that needs using up, and is in fact perfectly adequate for overlocking. I shall be buying Moon from now on, though. 🙂

The old overlocker takes the fabric sample and produces a nearly perfect stitch, both on a single layer and on a double layer. As always. With a small adjustment it will be perfect.

The new overlocker manages well enough on a single layer, with a small tension adjustment. Although the fabric puckers between the two needles, it seems that the loopers are pulling too much. But if I lower the tension, it’s too low, the overlock thread “spills” over the cutting edge.

The double layer however is a complete disaster. The left needle fails to form any stitches at all, and the right needle skips more than it forms. 😦 And no amount of knob twiddling seems to sort that one out! However, setting the foot to rolled hem (clever foot), improves the stitch a lot, yet not enough to get a passing grade.

​I switch to industrial overlocking thread (all black), it’s quite thin but tightly spun, so smooth and not fluffy. Basically, like sewing thread but a bit thinner. It always gives impeccable results on the old overlocker. But Klümpie still skips stitches on the left needle.

I try Coats Moon, the same problem. Moon is a slightly thicker thread, so I need to reduce the tension on the loopers, this is true for both overlockers. But then the result is truly beautiful (you guessed it – on the old overlocker).

Ah, but now I switch fabric and go for plain viscose jersey. Success! Klümpie likes that!​

A nearly perfect stitch, either with Moon on reduced tension, or with the industrial thread on normal tension. With a bit of adjustment it will be perfect, both on a single and double layer. Even the cheap thread produces acceptable results here without any skipping (although still perfect on the old overlocker).

Now for the rolled hem. Remove the left needle, switch the foot to rolled hem and reduce stitch length. I cannot do it on the old overlocker because it needs a different needle plate, and I haven’t got it. I’m still using the cheap thread to check for skipped stitches.​

As you can see, the tension is uneven due to the fluff on the thread, but it’s definitely a rolled hem without any skipping. I think that’s a pass. 🙂

Wild versus domesticated

I don’t see any reason why Klümpie should not be able to produce a perfect stitch like the old overlocker, after all the mechanism is nearly identical. Except that it uses different needles.

The difference between the “standard domestic” HAx1 needles and the wild industrial DCx1F is not just the length, that is in fact quite easy to alter. It is also the shape of the point, the size of the eye and the distance from the tip of the needle to the top of the eye – it is 0.5mm longer in a DCx1F needle. This means that the thread from the needle meets the looper in a different spot, and ends up missing the appointment when sewing thick cloth. Or at least that’s my theory.

Looking around various needle friendly websites, I discovered that Schmetz and Organ also offer HAx1SP needles termed “special point” and meant for overlockers*. According to Schmetz, they have a ball point and a larger and longer eye, in fact this sounds similar to Schmetz embroidery, jersey and stretch needles, all of which I have in my draw! So I’ll need to retest with these needles.​

*Equivalent Singer overlocker needles are #2022. The other Singer types are #2020 (universal) and #2045 (ball point, a.k.a jersey). See Singer website for more info.

​Ah, now we can see the difference! The universal needle that I’ve been using, is actually the worst fit! Stretch needle however looks very similar to DCx1F, so next I’m trying that. It’s still the same size as before: 90/14.

Stretch needles

What an improvement! I only had one stretch needle left, so I used it on the left, and a jersey needle on the right.

This is fake angora knit jersey, a very nice medium-heavy acrylic/polyester mix jersey that makes brilliant winter dresses, tops and skirts. And actually it’s dense enough to make trousers too. But the important bit for this test is that it is about as bulky as Ponte Roma.

As you can see, even the cheapest of threads performs reasonably well, the stretch needle made all the difference! The universal needle was not making any stitches at all on the left (red thread).

Now I replace the cheap red thread by Coats Moon (just only the one thread).

Nice!! 😀 Still a few skipped stitches, but that may well be due to me pulling on the fabric too hard because the sample was getting too small really.

And now for a double layer of the evil cloqué jersey, I only have a tiny scrap of that left…

Not great, but at least it’s making an effort! At least some stitches are formed… Certainly a huge improvement on no stitches at all that we had previously.

It seems, like with all sewing machines, you need the right needle!

Conclusion

All in all, AEG 760 is a very good machine for light to medium-heavy fabrics. Lives up to its name – “Aus Erfahrung Gut”. 🙂 It is quite gentle and delicate, a real fine worker. It’s a myth that any machine should be able to sew any fabric equally well – you never see the same machines used for silk voile and heavy wool in industry. Even if it’s the same make, the setup will be different.

So AEG will in fact complement my New Home very nicely, doing the narrow hems and the rolled hems and the occasional regular 4-thread overcast seams on thin fabrics – with the reduced cutting width they become narrower and finer than on New Home.​

It’s robustly built, and with regular oiling will run for many years! And I already ordered “Special Point” overlocker needles, in case you were wondering. 🙂

All hail Klümpie!

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3 thoughts on “A tale of two overlockers

  1. Thanks on the heads up for Moon thread. I’ve been wondering about it but don’t have any – will have to give it a go. And I will also have to get my overlocker out and try using it! I bought one second hand off ebay – a basically unused Janome 634D I think! It sewed really well when I tested it a couple of years ago but I haven’t touched it since, as my Elna Diva and Janome 15000 do a wonderful super overlocking stitch that I tend to use whenever I need one. And this is not too often on the type of sewing I do so it’s really not worth getting the overlocker out.

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    1. Coats Moon is supposed to be quite cheap, around £1 per 1000m spool, so it comes in boxes of 10. It’s meant as overlocker thread, so you need a lot of it, and it has to be soft. However, it’s a nice thread also for sewing, so many shops totally overcharge for it – I’ve seen it for as much as £5 a spool! That’s of course still half price of the regular Coats sewing thread, but too expensive for overlocking. Moon is not as strong as the regular thread because it is less densely spun, I think that’s what makes it a little thicker. Definitely give it a go! There are sellers on eBay who will sell not just per 10, but also per 5 or per 3 spools, and also individually. And it comes in many colours (lots more than the cheap stuff I used to buy) – you can download a colour chart from the Coats website, or you can even buy a colour match book with actual thread samples in every colour.

      I bought some Moon for that steel indigo top that I wrote about in “One yard is not enough!” – it was an unusual colour and there was no suitable cheap thread for it. And now I want it for all the other projects too! 🙂

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