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4 Best Cheap Overlockers for Beginners (2021)

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If you’re a beginner who won’t use your overlocker often, don’t need fancy features, and want something cheap, I think the best beginner overlockers are (in order of preference):

  1. Brother 3034dwt
  2. Brother 2104d
  3. Brother m343d
  4. Elna 664

(All the links go to Amazon).

I chose these after comparing 40+ machines and calling overlocker sellers and technicians for advice. These machines are a good price (£200-£300), they have all the main features you’ll need, and threading is easy enough (for a manual machine).

However, there are downsides to these beginner machines:

  • Build quality isn’t very good (scroll down for more explanation).
  • They can’t make 2 thread stitches (more info and photos here).
  • No needle threaders are included or built-in.
  • You won’t get automatic air threading or automatic tension. These are premium features.
  • Some models don’t come with a free waste tray.

If you want to avoid these issues, go to my best overlockers post instead.

When it comes to budget overlockers, there are lots of Janome, Singer, and supermarket options available. I don’t recommend these and I’ll explain why later.

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best overlockers for beginners

Contents list. Click to skip to a section:


Best beginner overlockers & why I recommend them

The Brother 3034dwt (Amazon) is my top pick because of its excellent threading system. It also has more accessories than I’ve ever seen on an overlocker. You’ll get a waste tray, extension table, and 3 extra feet included; it would cost you £126 to buy this all separately!

brother 3034dwt overlocker

If it’s unavailable, the almost identical Brother 2104d (Amazon) is the next best option. When I called overlocker sellers, 2 stores told me this is one of their best sellers. You’ll get the same machine at a cheaper price, but no waste bin or extension table.

brother 2104d overlocker

The Brother m343d (Amazon) is also almost identical, but it’s older and has fewer accessories.

If all your Brother options are unavailable, I recommend the Elna 664. You’ll get the same stitches and a good price. The threading system isn’t as good as Brother’s, but it’s still fine, and you won’t get a free arm.

elna 664 overlocker

My top picks for cheap beginner overlockers are Brother machines because they’re well-designed when it comes to threading (for the non-premium market).

The lower looper, which is normally hidden and horrible to thread, pops out with a switch. This makes threading significantly easier and faster. For comparison, Janome’s budget overlockers are missing this, so they take much longer to thread.

brother overlockers threading diagram
The purple switch is circled in red. This helps you thread the tricky lower looper.

The threading guides are also colour-coded with clear arrows printed on the machine. The printed stitch diagrams will help you troubleshoot bad stitches. These are really helpful design features, but not all overlockers have them.

colour coded threading diagrams on a Brother overlocker
Useful colour-coded threading and stitch diagrams.

Are these beginner overlockers good quality?

When I asked overlocker sellers what their worst machines were, they named their cheapest models, including their best seller the Brother 2104d (Amazon link).

Build quality is one of the sacrifices you’ll have to make to get a good price.

The cheapest machines will be good enough to get the job done if you only sew occasionally. I think they’re a good option in this case. But for heavy users, I don’t recommend them.

Budget machines use weaker metals, weaker motors, and have more plastic components. They’re mass-manufactured in large amounts, so quality control suffers.

metal parts inside an overlock machine

Factories will lower their standards for what passes. They won’t mind if the parts don’t fit together tightly, for example, because it’s a cheap machine.

This means when you get your machine serviced or repaired, the technician might struggle to repair it permanently because it wasn’t made so well in the first place.

Or it isn’t worth the cost, so they might tell you to just buy a new machine.

If a cheap overlocker has a metal frame, is it good quality?

A technician told me that nearly all overlock machines have a metal internal frame (except a small minority of very, very cheap stuff).

It’s standard. This was a surprise to me because there’s a perception online that budget machines are all plastic inside.

Weak metals are used to make the frame in cheap overlockers; they have all sorts of different alloys mixed in.

The technician told me about a machine where he could bend the metal parts with just his hands!

So don’t let brands’ marketing fool you. Just because they advertise their cheap machine has a metal frame, it doesn’t mean it’s strong or sturdy.

I go into more detail about quality in a separate post.


Beginner overlockers to avoid (5 brands)

At this price range, you’ll see a lot of budget overlockers from Janome, Singer, and supermarket stores. I wouldn’t choose these and here’s why…

Avoid: Janome’s budget machines

Janome has 3 budget overlockers that I really don’t like: the 9300dx, 9200d, and 8002dg (Amazon links). 

The threading systems in these are badly designed and outdated. 

They have no “easy lower looper” system, so you have to pass the thread back and forth through the machine to thread this tricky area.

Many brands have solved this problem by making the hidden lower looper pop out with a button or switch, but Janome’s budget machines don’t have this (their more expensive machines do).

Because of this design issue, it takes 5 times longer to thread the lower looper in a Janome than it does in a Brother. No really, I timed it! 

It took 40 seconds in the Brother, and 3 minutes 10 seconds in the Janome. Not good. 

(The threading videos are by Ken’s Sewing Center and Syakademiet).

Side note: my criticism here is only about Janome’s budget overlockers. Their intermediate and premium ones are good.

Avoid: Singer machines

Singer’s are widely available on Amazon. Many official dealers won’t sell this brand because they think Singer’s are badly made.

A large dealer, GUR, says this on their website: “Stay away from the new Singers, although the old ones (30 years or older) are still excellent workhorse machines.”

A technician I spoke to didn’t hide his feelings. He hated them. 

He thought their machines are bad quality and not worth repairing. 

An overlocker seller told me not to fall for Singer’s “strong and heavy duty” branding. It’s not true apparently.

These industry specialists work with overlockers and sewing machines on a daily basis, so they understand construction quality better than me.

I don’t feel qualified to ignore their warnings, especially the technician’s. But I will say that overlocker stock has been hard to come by in 2020, so you might have to consider this brand.

*Note: this criticism might not be relevant to US buyers. Singer has a much bigger product range there than in the UK, so international buyers might have access to better-made Singer machines.

Avoid: Supermarket machines

A technician I spoke to disliked cheap supermarket overlockers. He said they’re bad quality. Think Aldi, Lidl, and John Lewis machines.


Best beginner overlocker review: Brother 3034dwt

brother 3034dwt overlocker

Typically £309. Check Amazon’s price.

Ideal for: people who just want a cheap overlocker for occasional sewing.

What stitches it can make

This overlocker can make the overlock stitch, rolled hem, narrow hem, mock flatlock, and blind hem stitches (here are photos). 

Like all budget overlockers, it can’t do 2 thread stitches. You can only make 3 or 4 thread stitches, but that’s all most people need anyway. 

2 thread stitches are good for finishing lightweight fabrics. They use fewer threads, creating a lighter stitch. If you don’t sew with fabrics like chiffon, you’ll probably never need them.

Like all overlockers, the cutting blade is retractable, so you can stitch without cutting.

Easy to thread

It has the same excellent threading system as the more expensive Brother 4234d (Amazon link – I own this model). 

There are colour-coded threading diagrams and stitch illustrations printed on the machine. This saves you from looking through your manual every time you need to thread the machine. 

The lower looper threading system, which can be horrible in other machines, is excellent. A switch pulls out the hidden lower looper so you can thread it in plain sight. This makes such a difference. 

brother overlockers threading diagram
The purple switch is circled in red. This helps you thread the tricky lower looper.

So many freebies!

It comes with an impressive number of free accessories:

  • Free extension table (about £22 if bought separately).
  • 3 extra feet (about £80 if bought separately).
  • Free waste tray (about £24 if bought separately).

That’s a saving of £126!

I haven’t seen this many freebies included with any other overlocker.

It also has a free arm which surprisingly many overlockers don’t. 

It works with normal sewing machine needles (Amazon link), which is a nice cost-saver in the long run. Some overlockers require special overlock needles, like Bernette and Pfaff.

Manufacturer’s warranty

Brother offers a 3 year manufacturers warranty, starting from the date of purchase. If your machine develops a fault that’s not caused by external influences, they will repair or replace it.  

If you’re using your machine for commercial purposes, the warranty is for 1 year.

Best suited for occasional sewists

Be aware that this is a budget machine. It will be made with weaker metals, weaker motors, and more “relaxed” quality control during manufacturing. 

This is inevitable for any cheap overlocker. 

If you just sew every now and then, it’s good enough to get the job done. 

Buy the Brother 3034dwt on Amazon.

If it’s unavailable, here are my favourite alternatives (in order of preference):

  1. Brother 2104D (Amazon)
  2. Brother M343D (Amazon)
  3. Elna 664

If you sew often, I recommend buying an intermediate machine instead. I talk about my top picks in my best overlockers post.


Overlocker needles you’ll need:

overlocker needles

Brother and Juki machines use 130/705H needles (Amazon link). These are standard needles that will work in your sewing machine too. You’ll need size 80/12 for lighter fabrics and 90/14 for thicker ones.

Babylock, Janome, Elna, and Husqvarna machines require HAx1SP needles in sizes 75/11 and 90/14 (Amazon link). These are standard ballpoint needles that will also work in your sewing machine.

Pfaff, Bernette, and Success machines require ELx705 overlock needles (Amazon link) in sizes 90/14 and 80/12


Overlocker thread you’ll need:

4 black overlocker threads on machine
My Gutermann Toldi-lock thread in black (size 2500m)

Overlocker thread is different to normal sewing machine thread. 

The thread spools are much bigger and more cost-effective.

The thread is generally weaker. Overlock stitches use multiple threads to create a seam, so each individual thread doesn’t need to be as strong.

I use and recommend the Toldi-lock polyester threads by Gutermann (Amazon link). 

Remember that overlockers take 4 threads, so get a set of 4 in black, white, and/or grey and beige (to blend better with coloured fabric). 

A size 2500m (pictured above) fits nicely on the machine and will last for ages. 


Learn how to use an overlocker

Overlocker manuals aren’t the best at explaining things. I really struggled with the black and white illustrations in mine.

Here are better resources on how to thread an overlocker and sew real projects with it.

Cheap online overlocker classes

If you learn best by seeing, here are the best online overlocker courses I’ve watched.

Creative Bug also has some practical online classes. Here are some overlocker projects to start with: a 1 hour long-sleeve top, a short sleeve t-shirt, and a tank top.


Will these beginner overlockers sew thick fabric?

overlocking thick black denim fabric

All domestic overlockers will sew thick fabrics, like denim and wool. 

They’re designed to sew 3 or 4 layers of fabric, and no more than that. Multiple industry specialists told me this.

So going over 4 layers of denim at the seams occasionally is fine, but you wouldn’t want to do it often

Domestic machines aren’t designed for intense use, especially budget ones. You’ll wear the machine out. 

This includes overlockers with “heavy duty” names *cough* Singer *cough*. Don’t let the marketing fool you. All domestic overlockers have limited power and durability.

If you’re going to sew thick fabrics daily, you probably need an industrial machine.

High presser foot lift

ruler measuring overlocker presser foot lift

If you sew with lofty fabrics, like wool or batting, look for a high presser foot lift

5-6mm is nice, but even 4mm will fit a lot underneath. My overlocker (Amazon link) can fit 8 layers of denim underneath the presser foot at 4mm. 

serging multiple layers of denim fabric

I haven’t seen any overlocker go below 4mm, so any modern machine you pick will be fine. 

If you want extra room, go for something higher. The maximum I have seen is 8mm on premium overlockers.


Will these beginner overlockers sew stretchy fabric?

The most important feature you need for sewing stretchy fabrics, like lycra and swimwear, is “differential feed”

This stops the machine stretching out your fabric and creating weird wavy seams. It will also stop the fabric becoming puckered.

All modern overlockers have this feature, whether they’re cheap or expensive machines. 

Just watch out if you’re buying an old, second hand machine. Triple check that it has differential feed.


Will these beginner overlockers work for everyday use?

Budget overlockers don’t suit everyday use

Using your overlocker everyday will put it under pressure.

Domestic overlockers aren’t designed for intense use, but intermediate and premium overlockers will handle it better

They’re built with stronger metals, fewer plastic components, stronger motors, and better manufacturing than cheap overlockers. 

No domestic overlocker can compete with industrial machines, however.

A technician told me that better-built domestic machines cost £300 and up. 

However, this conversation was pre-pandemic. Overlocker prices have been artificially inflated recently, so this figure is more like £400+ now. I would not buy anything under this price if I was sewing daily/weekly. 

Budget machines involve lots of manufacturing and design compromises, which I discuss more in a separate post.

Clean and oil your machine often to make it last longer

Be aware that you’ll need to clean and oil your overlocker often to protect it. Don’t forget to clean lint from under the needle plate. 

One salesperson mentioned an overlocker whose feed dogs broke after just 6 months! The owner was sewing a lot with towel/face wipe materials. She wasn’t cleaning her overlocker enough, especially under the needle plate. There was so much lint under there that the feed dogs broke under the pressure.

A technician told me about a customer who caused £300’s worth of damage to their overlocker. It was because they hadn’t oiled it in certain areas for a long time.

So if you want your machine to cope with everyday usage, make sure you’re cleaning and oiling it often to avoid these problems.

Get your overlocker serviced often

Getting your overlocker serviced every 6-12 months is essential if you sew everyday. 

The technician will take the machine apart to clean and oil areas you can’t reach.

They can spot and fix issues early on before they turn into major problems.


More overlocker info for beginners:

Here’s my review on the 5 best overlockers, not just cheap ones.

Here’s how overlockers are different to normal sewing machines.

If you’re not sure what stitches an overlocker makes, or when you would actually use certain ones, check out my beginners guide to overlock stitches. There are lots of close-up photos.

If you’re not sure what features to look for in an overlocker, here are 21 things to consider. I also explain common overlocker terms (like “differential feed”) with lots of photos and videos for visual learners.

I also asked industry experts what makes an overlocker good or bad quality? This is a really eye-opening read. Learn what sacrifices manufacturers make for cheap overlockers.


Note: this post was originally published on 13 December 2020. It has since been updated.

Sources

S. Maker (2020). ‘5 Best Overlockers, According to Industry Experts (UK, 2020)’ [online] Available at: https://threadsmonthly.com/best-overlockers-uk/

Phone calls with salespeople at Frank Nutt Sewing Machines Ltd and Gur Enterprise (UK) LTD trading as GUR Sewing Machines on 3 Sep. 2020.

Email correspondence with Jaycotts Ltd and Sew Essential Ltd on 4 Sep. 2020.

Phone call with a technician at BSK Ltd on 17 Feb. 2020.

Phone calls with salespeople at sewingmachinesales.co.uk, Frank Nutt Sewing Machines Ltd, Gur Enterprise (UK) LTD trading as GUR Sewing Machines, and Lords Sew-Knit Centre on 27 Feb. 2020.

Annette. ‘Sergers’. She’s A Sewing Machine Mechanic blog. [online] Available at: http://shesasewingmachinemechanic.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html [accessed: 29 Feb. 2020]

Mike. (2018). ‘Take Your Overlocker For A Run’. Mikes Sewing Machine Repairs blog. [online] Available at: http://www.mikessewingmachinerepairs.com.au/2018/06/05/take-your-overlocker-for-a-run/ [accessed: 17 Feb. 2020]

Mike. (2019). ‘Reward Your Sewing Machine with a Service’. Mikes Sewing Machine Repairs blog. [online] Available at: http://www.mikessewingmachinerepairs.com.au/2019/02/16/reward-your-sewing-machine-with-a-service/ [accessed: 17 Feb. 2020]

gursewingmachines.com. ‘FAQs’. [online] Available at: https://www.gursewingmachines.com/buyersguide#faq [accessed: 11 March 2020]

S. Maker (2020). ‘How to Choose a Serger or Overlocker: 21 Factors to Consider (+ Checklist)’. [online] Available at: https://threadsmonthly.com/how-to-choose-serger-overlocker/

S. Maker (2020). ‘Which Overlockers are Good Quality? (I Ask Specialists)’. [online] Available at: https://threadsmonthly.com/good-quality-overlockers/

Ken’s Sewing Center. (2012). ‘How to thread the Janome 8002D Serger’. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pSRH6ldom4 [accessed: 4 March 2020]

Syakademiet. (2017). ‘Hvordan tre Brother 4234D overlock’. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8DBV546nDs&t=92s [accessed: 4 March 2020]

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