Cleaning · Juki · Overlock

Live long and prosper, Overlocker

Always buy quality” is an excellent rule, if you have the money for it. But sometimes you just have to make do with what you can afford, and buy a cheap overlocker instead of a durable one.

Dan just shared his experience with an inexpensive overlocker Brother 1034D which he bought second hand – in a “good working condition”. The overlocker worked, no problem, just needed a bit of oiling, but then Dan noticed that the feed dogs were worn down to half height and the foot had wear underneath to match, and really had to be replaced. The cost of new parts would be higher than that of a whole used overlocker. 😦

Clearly, those feed dogs and foot were not made of a tough enough material, no doubt in order to reduce the cost. This makes me wonder which other parts were similarly “lightened”. 😦 And most importantly: how to make your “lightweight” overlocker last as long as possible and work well?

I can offer you three points: regular oiling, prevention of wear to feed dogs and foot, and use as intended.

Regular oiling

By this, I don’t mean once a year. I mean oil it after every project – the same frequency as you oil your sewing machine. (You don’t? Then you should!)

The more expensive overlockers and sewing machines often have teflon-lined joints which do not require frequent oiling – a yearly service is all you need. But cheaper ones don’t, so it’s just metal grinding on metal like before teflon was invented. No problem with that as such – old machines often run better than new ones – but naked joints require regular oiling. In particular when those joints may not have been made of top quality hardened steel but rather of something softer in order to cut the cost.

It is easy to find out whether the joints in your machine are teflon-lined or not. Take off the covers and look at the mechanism: spot any white or black rings? Any black joints with a slight glitter on them? That’s teflon or a similar lining. But where you don’t see it, it’s metal on metal wanting oil.

There are two areas for oiling in an overlocker: the feed mechanism and the internal joints. In my experience, the feed mechanism is the critical part as it dries up pretty quickly. Internal joints only need oiling every four or five projects or so.

It is usually easy to get to the feed mechanism: open or remove the left-side panel and it’s there in front of you. Oil everything that moves and behold the difference. 🙂 See a separate post on details about oiling.

Saving the feed dogs

The feed dogs and the foot wear out if you run the machine without fabric. So don’t!

Contrary to most sewing machines, overlockers do not need foot pressure to form stitches. So lift the foot for chaining off and gently pull on the chain to prevent it gathering up in a ball. Easy!

Use as intended

Don’t use it to hammer nails with… Yes, close.

Each overlocker is built for a particular range of fabrics: light, medium or heavy, for example. No overlocker can do them all because it requires different handling – the thread tensions and feed strength vary. Strong tension and feed are necessary to sew heavy fabrics but will rip light fabrics to shreads. Light tension and gentle feed is needed for delicates but will choke on heavy materials. It took me a while to figure that one out! See post 1 and post 2.

So, get to know your overlocker, read the manual and see what they suggest. It may not be written openly – they don’t like to admit that their machines have limitations (and who or what doesn’t?), but see for example what grades needle and thread they recommend. Needle size 60 to 90? That’s a fine worker – use it for light to medium fabrics, it will make excellent rolled hems but forget flatlock. Needle size 80 to 100? Oh, that’s proper heavy duty! It will chew up your chiffon and silk, but try it on heavier wool, interlock jersey or fleece. No rolled hems but try flatlock and dense decorative overedging, in particular with woolly nylon.

You know what they say – use the right tool for the job. 🙂

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5 thoughts on “Live long and prosper, Overlocker

  1. Elena,
    We’ll said. Another reason for regular maintenance with overlockers is they’re using a lot more thread than a standard sewing machine and also cutting the fabric, producing loads more lint. If not cleaned it’ll clog up joints that should be metal against oil against metal.

    Good point about lifting the presser foot for chaining off. I’ll certainly do that to save my feed dogs. Some machines do release the tension when raising the foot, so that won’t work for everyone.

    Dan H


    1. But you don’t need any particular tension for chaining off either! I had one of those machines. You can chain off with zero tension, no problem. 🙂


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