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Sergers & Overlockers

How to Thread & Use a Brother Serger in 10 Steps + Pics

So you’ve just received your brand new serger machine (also called an overlocker), but have no idea what to do next?

Here’s exactly how to use a serger, from turning it on to doing your first test sew.

I’m going to assume that you’re a complete beginner who’s doing this for the first time. So I’ll cover every step in detail and with lots of photos.

All of the steps come directly from my Brother manual.

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How to use a serger (in a nutshell):

  1. Preparation before threading (check presser foot, needles, cutting blade).
  2. Place threads on the machine.
  3. Thread the lower looper.
  4. Thread the upper looper.
  5. Thread left needle.
  6. Thread right needle.
  7. Attach waste tray.
  8. Choose settings (tension, stitch length & width, differential feed).
  9. Plug in and turn on the machine.
  10. Test sew.

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how to use a serger for complete beginners

Step 1: preparation before threading

Normally, all of these preparation steps are done by the manufacturer/seller.

If your machine already has its presser foot and needles installed, and the cutting blade is up, then skip straight to the threading section below.

But just in case they aren’t, here’s how to attach your presser foot, put your needles in, and get the blade working.

At this point, make sure your serger is turned OFF.

We’re not going to turn on the machine until we’ve threaded it. There’s no need for power until then.

You’re going to be near the cutting blade during the preparation and threading process, and I don’t want you to accidentally start serging and cut yourself!

Attach standard presser foot

I’m assuming that your machine has no presser foot. If it was already installed by the seller, ignore this step.

Turn the hand wheel so that the mark on the wheel lines up with the mark on the machine.

This brings the needles to the highest position, so they’re out of the way.

Raise the presser foot holder using the lever. It’s generally on the side of the machine.

Here’s what the standard presser foot looks like.

a hand holding a standard serger presser foot

Place the standard presser foot under the presser foot holder.

Make sure the groove lines up with the bar on the foot.

If your presser foot holder isn’t high enough to fit the foot underneath, make the presser foot holder go higher. On Brother machines, you have to push the lever twice, and hold it, to raise the foot to its highest position.

Lower the presser foot by pushing the lever down.

At the same time, push the button at the back of the presser foot holder.

This will open the groove temporarily so that the bar on the presser foot can snap on.

You have successfully installed your presser foot!

Insert the needles

I’m assuming that your machine has no needles. If they were already installed by the seller, ignore this step.

Note: Brother manuals tend to recommend Schmetz Universal 130/705H needles in size #80 or #90. For light-medium weight fabrics, go for size #80. Size #90 is for heavyweight fabrics.

Turn the hand wheel so that the mark on the wheel lines up with the mark on the machine.

This brings the needle holder to the highest position.

Hold the needle with its flat side away from you.

Insert the needle into the hole, as far up as it will go.

serger needles being installed

While holding the needle, tighten the screw above it.

Use the hexagonal driver that came with your machine.

Turn the hexagonal driver in a clockwise direction (towards the right) to tighten.

All done!

If you’ve inserted the needles correctly, the right needle should be slightly lower than the left one.

Make sure the cutting blade is engaged

I’m assuming that your cutting blade has been deactivated. If it’s already up and ready to sew, ignore this step.

Pull the cutting blade lever up and towards you.

Do not touch the blade itself. Only use the white lever.

Bring the cutting blade up until it clicks into place.

serger blade up

Note: some Brother machines have different cutting blade designs. I know one popular design has the blade coming from the top, not inside the machine.


Step 2: place threads on the serger

Raise the telescoping thread tree to its highest position.

Make sure the thread holders align with the spool pins below. The thread tree should be straight, not wonky.

If you’re using serger thread, place these attachments on top of the spool pins.

Serger threads have a wide hole in the middle. The attachments will fill in the gap, so the threads won’t move about wildly when serging.

Place your 4 serger thread spools on top of the spool pins.

(Optional) If you’re using loosely spun nylon thread, place a thread net on each spool.

This will stop the thread from slipping off the spool. Let the cut end of the thread come out from the top of the net.

black serger threads with thread nets on

If you’re using sewing machine threads, don’t use the attachments.

These spools don’t have a big hole in the middle, so it’s not needed.

serger with yellow sewing machine thread on

If you’re using sewing machine threads, put spool caps on top.

This will stop the spool from jumping up. Make sure the spool cap notch is facing down.

Don’t put the cut end of the thread through the spool cap holes. I tried this and it caused my threads to snap while serging. The thread couldn’t unravel smoothly.

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Step 3: thread the lower looper

Most brands stress that the order you thread your machine in is important (unless you have a premium air-threaded model). My Brother manual says “the machine will not operate properly if the threading is not done in the proper sequence”.

My theory is that if you thread the loopers in the wrong order, the threads lay differently and catch each other when you serge, causing them to snap.

My Brother manual tells us to start with the lower looper.

Open the front cover by sliding it to the right and then pulling it towards you.

Pull the thread off the spool and up through the thread holder: step (1) then (2).

Here’s step (1) and (2) up close.

Pass the thread through the thread guide (3) at the top of the serger.

Here’s thread guide (3) up close.

Guide the thread down the tension channel.

It’s important that the thread goes through the tension disc inside the channel (it’s next to the numbered dial).

Your presser foot needs to be raised up.

This opens the tension discs, allowing the thread to slot in between. If the thread doesn’t go in between the discs, the machine can’t apply any tension to it.

Pass the thread through these threading points: (5) (6) (7) (8). You’re following the blue lines.

Here’s point (5).

Here’s points (6) and (7).

Here’s point (8).

Make the hidden lower looper pop out. On Brother machines, you slide the purple lever to the right.

Make sure the needle is at its highest position for this to work properly. You do this by turning the handwheel so that the mark on the wheel lines up with the mark on the machine.

The lower looper has now popped out.

Pass the thread through the triangle and hole of the lower looper.

You might find tweezers helpful here.

Pull the thread to the back of the machine.

(Optional) turn the handwheel to return the lower looper back to its original position.

serger lower looper being threaded with blue thread

Step 4: thread the upper looper

Pull the thread off the spool and up through the thread holder: step (1) then (2).

Pass the thread through the thread guide (3) at the top of the serger.

Guide the thread down the tension channel.

It’s important that the thread goes through the tension disc inside the channel (it’s next to the numbered dial).

Your presser foot needs to be raised up.

This opens the tension discs, allowing the thread to slot in between. If the thread doesn’t go in between the discs, the machine can’t apply any tension to it.

Pass the thread through these threading points: (5) (6) (7) (8). You’re following the pink/red lines.

Here’s point (5).

Here’s point (6).

Be careful not to include the point right next to it (where the blue thread is).

Here’s point (7).

Pass the thread through the upper looper hole. Tweezers might be helpful here.

serger upper looper being threaded with red thread

Step 5: thread the left needle

Slide the switch to the left.

Pull the thread off the spool and up through the thread holder: step (1) then (2).

Pass the thread through the thread guide (3) at the top of the serger.

Guide the thread down the tension channel.

It’s important that the thread goes through the tension disc inside the channel (it’s next to the numbered dial).

Your presser foot needs to be raised up.

This opens the tension discs, allowing the thread to slot in between. If the thread doesn’t go in between the discs, the machine can’t apply any tension to it.

Pass the thread through the channels that follow the yellow line: points (4) and (5).

(Ignore the switch position in this photo. It should be on L)

You’ll see a metal separator inside the channel. Make sure the thread is on the left side of the separator.

Pull the thread under the needle bar guide.

serger needle being threaded

Lower the presser foot using the lever at the side.

This makes the needle holes easier to access because the presser foot isn’t in the way.

(Manual way) Poke the end of the thread through the needle hole.

Raise the presser foot.

Pull the thread under the presser foot.

Then pull the thread about 2″ (5cm) towards the back of the machine.

(Optional) how to use the automatic needle threader

Note: only some Brother sergers have a built-in needle threader. If yours doesn’t, skip this section.

In the demonstration photos below, I’m threading the right needle (green thread), but the process is the same for both needles.

Pull the thread under the needle bar guide.

Then pull the thread up, through the notch and slit (7) of the automatic needle threader.

serger being threaded using automatic needle threader

Cut the excess thread using the thread cutter on the side.

Lower the needle threader lever as much as possible.

The automatic needle threader will go down, and then push the thread through the needle hole.

Let go of the lever.

The machine will create a loop of thread behind the needle hole. Pull it through.

Tweezers might be helpful here.

Raise the presser foot.

Pull the thread under the presser foot.

Then pull the thread about 2″ (5cm) towards the back of the machine.


Step 6: thread the right needle

Slide the switch to the right.

Pull the thread off the spool and up through the thread holder: step (1) then (2).

Pass the thread through the thread guide (3) at the top of the serger.

Guide the thread down the tension channel.

It’s important that the thread goes through the tension disc inside the channel (it’s next to the numbered dial).

Your presser foot needs to be raised up.

This opens the tension discs, allowing the thread to slot in between. If the thread doesn’t go in between the discs, the machine can’t apply any tension to it.

Pass the thread through the channels that follow the green line: points (4) and (5).

You’ll see a metal separator inside the channel. Make sure the thread is on the right side of the separator.

Pull the thread under the needle bar guide.

Lower the presser foot using the lever at the side.

This makes the needle holes easier to access because the presser foot isn’t in the way.

(Manual way) Poke the end of the thread through the needle hole.

Raise the presser foot.

Pull the thread under the presser foot.

Then pull the thread about 2″ (5cm) towards the back of the machine.

If you want to use the automatic needle threader instead, scroll back to step 5 (threading the left needle) to see instructions.


Step 7: attach waste tray (optional)

Close the front cover by pushing it up towards the machine, and then sliding it left.

Slide the waste tray under the front cover.

serger waste tray being attached

Step 8: Choose settings

I recommend doing your test sew on a piece of medium weight, non-stretch cotton fabric.

The settings I suggest below should work for this easy-to-sew material. They’re directly from the manual.

Tension settings

Turn the tension dials to 4, 4, 4, 4.

For Brother machines, this is the standard tension for a normal overlock stitch.

serger tension settings
My tension setting dials are on 4,4,4,4.

Stitch length & width settings

Turn the stitch length dial to 3.

3mm is the normal stitch length.

My stitch length dial is on the right side of my serger.

Turn the stitch width dial to 5.

5mm is the normal stitch width.

My stitch width dial is at the front of the machine.

Differential feed settings

Differential feed makes the machine stretch or gather the fabric. It’s often used to fix puckering or stretched out seams.

For our test sew, we’re using a medium weight, non-stretch cotton fabric. I don’t expect any puckering or stretching out issues with this.

So set your differential feed dial to 1, which deactivates differential feed for normal sewing.

The differential feed dial is normally on the side of the machine. Mine is next to the handwheel.

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Presser foot pressure

It’s very rare that you’ll need to change this setting. It controls how hard or lightly the presser foot is pushing down on your fabric.

Let’s make sure it’s on its normal setting of 2, which the manufacturer has probably already done for you.

The presser foot pressure dial is often at the top of the machine.

Step 9: plug in & turn on the serger

Insert the 3-pin plug into the machine’s socket.

Insert the power supply plug into a power outlet in your home.

Turn the power button to the “I” mark. (The “O” mark turns the machine off).

Put the foot controller on the floor.


Step 10: it’s time to test sew!

Pull all 4 threads towards the back of the machine. Pull them so that they’re about 6″ (15cm) long.

Place your fabric under the presser foot, but don’t put it past the blade and needles.

Lower the presser foot using the lever at the side.

The presser foot is going to feed the fabric.

While holding all the threads with your left hand, turn the handwheel a few times towards you.

The threads should entwine themselves to create a chain.

Note: In the photo, I serged a few inches to show the chain better, but you don’t have to do this much.

multi-colored serger thread chain

Push your foot down on the foot controller to sew. Don’t push hard. Start slowly.

When you push your foot down on it lightly, it will start sewing at a slow speed. The harder you push your foot down, the faster the machine will go.

Use your hands to guide the fabric as you sew.

(Optional) You can use the seam allowance guide to cut off a consistent amount of fabric.

When the stitch width dial is set to 5, the seam allowance lines represent 3/8″, 1/2″, 5/8″, and 1″.

In cm’s, that’s 9.5mm, 12.7mm, 15.9mm, 25.4mm. Just line up the fabric edge with one of those lines.

Once you’ve finished sewing your fabric, keep sewing slowly. You want to leave a 4″ (10cm) chain.

Then cut the stitches 2″ (5cm) away from your fabric.

Woohoo! You’ve just sewn your first 4 thread overlock stitch.

If your stitch looks unbalanced, you probably need to tweak the tension settings.

There are multiple ways to secure the thread chain and stop it from unraveling.

The easiest way is to knot the threads near your fabric and cut the rest of the thread tail off.

This post was originally published on 20 January 2021. It has since been updated.



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