I don't have a cute photo to go with this post, but I wanted to write it quickly because my darling sister received a serger this year as a gift!
So, this one is for all of you who either have a new serger or are new to using a serger.
1. This should have come with it, but if your serger doesn't have its manual, Google around and find your manual. It really helps to have the manual for YOUR serger. If your serger is secondhand, ask how long it's been since it was used. If it's been more than a few months, consider getting it tuned up by a professional repairperson. The oil could have congealed while in storage, and it might lock up on you, which would require repair, anyway.
2. Buy this book. I've read a lot of serger books in the last year, and this one has the best troubleshooting information, in my opinion. I'll never pass up the adorably cheerful 1980s serger books when I see them at Goodwill, but I don't really use them in the same way. They're just so adorable.
3. Buy this book, too. It's not quite as great at troubleshooting when you have a problem, but it has lots of great tips for getting the most from your machine.
4. Get a cover for it. You could make one, but I just bought this one. I'm a little paranoid about dust getting into my tension disks and messing up my machine. I consider this especially important if your machine is stored in a basement or other area that maybe isn't cleaned/used a lot. If you think your machine will go longer than 1 week without use, you really should cover it.
5. Buy a bunch of needles. If your machine takes regular machine needles, great! If not, buy the ones that your manual says you should have. If you're anything like me, when you're learning a machine, you're more likely to break needles.
6. Buy 1 cone of thread to match each of the tension disks on your machine. Ok, that's a weird sentence. What I mean is, if your machine takes up to 4 threads, each thread will have its own tension setting wheel. These are usually color-coded in some way. They might be yellow, pink, green and blue. My machine takes 5 threads, and I think they are blue, black, red, yellow and brown. When you're first threading up the machine, I think it's really helpful to thread each needle or looper with its own color, preferably matching the color on its tension wheel. It takes some practice to be able to see which thread is which, so if you already have it color coded, you'll be able to tell where the tension is off. I may never use up that yellow cone of thread, but it sure made my life easier when I was learning the machine. If your machine isn't color coded, just pick colors you like, but make sure they're easy for you tell apart.
7. Buy sets (3, 4, or however many your machine will take) of cones of thread in blendable colors. Unlike a regular sewing machine, all of the threads on a serger don't have to match. You can just use a matching thread in the left-most needle. I like to have black, grey, tan and peach in my arsenal. I've used Maxilock and Madeira Aerolock and I like them both. It's ok to look for deals, but cheapo thread is usually a false economy.
8. Buy these teeny vacuum attachments. If you're not perfect about cleaning a sewing machine, it's usually ok. If you're not at least good about cleaning your serger, it will break.
9. Get some oil. Now, you should have this, already, but see #8 for why I'm mentioning this. I have this one and I like it but if anyone has any tips for keeping it from leaking all over me when I use it, I'm all ears. As it is, I kind of swaddle it in a rag, but I still manage to drip on myself.
10. Buy some hemostats. It sounds weird, I know, but they're great for when you're threading the machine. Much better than tweezers. You can also use them to make grabbing short threads while seam ripping easier.
One more general tip: Try to set up your space so that you can have both your sewing machine and your serger ready to go at the same time. Switching back and forth when you actually have to move the machines will really wear you out.
Ok, still one more general tip: When you're getting to know your machine, just cut a bunch of fabric scraps into long strips, for practice. I try to cut myself strips to test stitches for every project. It really reduces my angst.
Craftsy class recommendations:
Sew With Your Serger: Quick & Easy Projects - If you haven't taken a Craftsy class with Angela Wolf, you are MISSING OUT! She's an absolute delight.
Coverstitch: Basics & Beyond - If your machine has coverstitch options, you don't want to miss this class. Gail has a lot of very useful tips.