Before I had an overlocker I remember seeing tutorials and pattern instructions everywhere that asked me to overlock my edges or seams. I remember feeling a bit excluded from the ‘overlocker owners’ club, and frustrated that I was left to finish my seams with a zigzag stitch or boring, old-fashioned and time-consuming seam finishes like binding or French seams.*
* (Please note that the ‘boring and old-fashioned’ judgment stemmed purely from envy – It’s nonsense. The non-overlocked seam finishes are almost always the most beautiful and the strongest. But I was blinded by ‘I want an overlocker, it’s not fair’. Now I have an overlocker I look for reasons not to use it – ha, there’s no pleasing some people!)
When I started designing my own patterns and writing their instructions I wanted to be as inclusive as possible – nobody should feel that they can’t play in my gang because they don’t have an overlocker – but we don’t always have time for bound seams, we don’t always want the extra bulk, and French seams really don’t like curves. So what can we do?
Simple – pull out your sewing machine manual and take a look at the overcasting stitches that your machine is capable of – you may find you never need to reach for your overlocker again!
Before we begin, please understand that the following stitches and foot recommendations are based on my experience with my own sewing machine – a Janome MemoryCraft QC 4900. The icons and feet shown in the photographs apply to my sewing machine, but other makes and models will have their own stitches, settings, and feet, so please, please, please refer to your sewing machine’s manual. (If you’ve lost your manual most sewing machine manuals can be downloaded quickly, easily and for free from the internet).
Even if you have an overlocker, try these stitches out and see how they work for you, they’re a great fall-back if your overlocker’s being serviced or repaired, but also sometimes it isn’t convenient for me to get out my overlocker (if it’s in the cupboard), to go to the other room to overlock (if it’s in the other room), or to re-thread the overlocker (if the thread colour is important). Sometimes I feel my overlocker is just too noisy, and to be honest, sometimes I just don’t want to get out of my chair. There are loads of reasons that you might want to use these methods, so give them a go. Besides, if you’ve spent all that money on your sewing machine because of all the stitches it can do, shouldn’t you try to use those stitches every once in a while?
Overcasting with the ZigZag stitch
This is by far and away the easiest and most accessible method of overcasting on your sewing machine. If your sewing machine can zigzag, you can do this stitch. You don’t even need a special foot, just set your machine stitch and sew close to the edge of the seam allowance.
My manual recommends using the Overedge Foot (Janome Foot C) rather than just the Universal or Satin Stitch feet, as it has a guide to help you sew in the correct position and little metal teeth within the foot that stops your thread from pulling too tight and puckering your fabric edge.
Having said that, mine did pucker a little bit, but not as much as when I’ve zigzagged my seam allowances previously, using my normal sewing feet.
Tricot Stitch (also known as multiple zigzag stitches) is used to finish the edges of synthetics and other stretch fabrics that tend to pucker. It’s a great stitch for sewing stretch fabrics as it has a huge amount of stretch within it – consider it for attaching elastic to stretch fabric or knits, too.
This time my manual suggested using the zigzag foot (Janome foot A) and to sew away from the fabric edge, trimming the excess away afterward.
I’m afraid I just used my usual woven toile fabric (the cheapest curtain lining I can find) and didn’t hunt out any knit fabrics to test these stitches on, but you can see the effect quite well, I think.
This stitch can be used to make a seam at the same time as finishing the edges – in the same way as an overlocker. If you do this make sure you’ve adjusted your seam allowance to 5mm (1/8″) or whatever your sewing machine requires. Remember the sewing machine won’t trim away your excess fabric in the same way as an overlocker will.
My sewing machine requires the Overcasting Foot (Janome foot C) for this stitch, which has a fabric guide to help sew straight and wires on the foot to help the threads lie properly.
Of all the overcasting stitches on my machine, this is my personal favorite. I don’t usually use it to simultaneously seam, I should probably try to do that to save some time – but I think it is a very neat finish when I can’t get at my overlocker.
Double Overedge Stitch
The double overedge stitch has two rows of zigzags which help secure very ravel-prone fabrics such as linens or gabardines. It used the Overcasting foot again (Janome foot C) and gives a lovely, robust, strong edge to your fabric edge.
I confess I had no knowledge of this stitch before this experiment with my sewing machine’s overcasting capabilities, but now I know it exists I’m excited to dip into my stash for some of my most fraying fabrics and see how much easier it will make sewing with them.
It’s a slow stitch to sew through, with lots of back and forth, which can be frustrating to sewers who just want it to “get on with it already” – resist the temptation to guide (euphemism for ‘tug’) the fabric through, just lightly line it up to the fabric guide with your fingertips and use your other hand to sip tea.
As for the Tricot Stitch, I need to apologize for not swapping to a knit fabric for testing. As the name subtly hints, this overcasting stitch is best used for synthetic knits or stretch velour and offers a great deal of elasticity and strength.
I used the Zigzag foot (Janome Foot A) and sewed away from the edge of the fabric, which I trimmed back after sewing.
The Overlock Stitch mimics the look and function of an overlocked edge, but it doesn’t trim the stray threads in the same way as an overlocker does. It uses a special foot, on my machine, it’s the Overcasting Foot (Janome Foot M), which guides the fabric through and has wire prongs to help the thread lie flat and over the edge.
Unlike an overlocker, this stitch won’t join your pieces together at the same time – for that you need to use the overcasting stitch.
It doesn’t look exactly like an overlocked edge, but having an edge of interlocked thread neatens and strengthens the fabric edge which can be very useful. Personally, I prefer the look of the overcasting stitch, but that is just my preference.
Experiment with your machine
Every sewing machine make and model will have different overcasting stitches – a quick Google showed me overlocking stitches and overcasting stitches that look very different to those that my machine produces. Be bold, go and have a poke about in the bag of feet that came with your machine, try different settings and read your manual – you’ve spent such a lot of money on your machine, why wouldn’t you learn what it’s capable of? After having a play around you’ll probably decide which stitches your prefer and which you probably won’t use again, but knowing they’re there, knowing you can access them, and knowing what they do will make any sewing task so much easier.