Mac Berg Directs the Drama of Serging

You have a serger and aren’t sure what to do next. Do you remain afraid to plug it in or do you fearlessly embrace all it can do?

What we recommend for any serger owner (fearful or fearless) is a day or two with Mac Berg, sewing instructor and serger guru who has years of experience with these mechanical beasts. And that’s just what we did. On July 14, a group of ASG Chicago members crowed (literally) in a meeting room at the Holiday Inn Express in Riverwoods. (Writer’s note: Yep, the room was too cozy, but the facility was great. We definitely would recommend it as well as Tasty Catering for lunch!)

Mac Berg, in white t-shirt sitting at serger, spends time with ASG Chicago members.

Mac, who can be contacted for classes at, explained that a serger is like a drama set in an apartment building where the tenants don’t speak the same language; however, when they find ways to actually communicate then something wonderful happens. It can be dramatic, but there are ways to avoid or benefit from that drama. The key to using any serger, as Mac explained, is understanding the basics and building from there. For example, in her apartment complex drama:

  • Lucy, the left most needle, has a controlling personality. She controls the seam.
  • Rosie, the right needle, is very calm, and she adds stability to the building and to the stitch.
  • Bambi, the upper looper, wants to be the center of attention and she dates Rual.
  • Rual, the lover…opps…lower looper, workouts a lot and is very strong, though he instantly reacts to stress and tension.

Once you know that neighbors, it’s a matter of helping them get along in a balanced stitch kind of way. A couple other players every serger owner should know are Knife and Tension, the maintenance team of the complex.

  • Tension can be tense. You can follow what the manual states, or you can use the additional tension tools that just about everyone owns, which are the thumb and index finger. Tension disks, Mac explains, are just squeezing the thread so if you want to alter a stitch, try squeezing the thread with just your fingers. Try it. Go ahead. Then when we adjust our tension dials, we can create decorative stitches. For example, if Bambie has had too many tasty beverages at a party, she is a bit loose and she visits the lower side of the fabric where Rual lives. This makes Rual then tightens up and he runs away from her into the arms of Rosie or Lucy. Oh, the drama!
  • Knife can be a little more complicated. Everyone feels differently about disengaging the knife when serging or changing the set-up. Mac suggests trying avoid disengaging the knife because if you forget to re-engage the knife the damage to the machine can be costly. Rather than disengaging the knife, owners can practice and gain confidence to serge against the knife; just because it’s engaged doesn’t mean it has to cut the fabric. If you do disengage your knife, Mac strongly recommends putting notes, signs, or any reminder to re-engage it. Also, remember that the knife is nothing more than a pair of scissors attached to the machine and you control where it cuts.

Using the serger, like any machine, is about building confidence and that is best done by using it and taking notes. Take a piece of paper and note what is indicated in the  manual and then as you play with it:

  • Name of stitch
  • Left Needle tension
  • Right Needle tension
  • Upper Looper tension
  • Lower Looper tension
  • Stitch Length
  • Cutting width
  • Differential Feed setting
  • How the stitch should be used
  • Attached (stable or tape) a sample of that stitch to the paper

Having this sample library will help when you want to remember what a change in the tension did to a stitch or how it gathered the fabric. Consider saving these papers in a binder with your manual for easy access.

As the day went on, Mac gave more nuggets of information to the class, such as:

  • 3-thread wide is good to finish raw edges and to attach elastic. It’s the stretchiest stitch and most decorative.
  • The closer the knife is to the needle, the more fabric it cuts; you can move it away from the needle, but try to avoid disengaging it.
  • 4-thread is the perfect construction seam for knits.
  • 5-thread seams are better for woven construction.
  • Never put serger thread in your sewing machine, but sewing machine thread can be used in the serger.
  • You can but more than one thread through a looper; think of it as a creative license to be decorative.
  • The thicker the thread, the more the tension will need to be adjusted.
  • Fingers are external tension devices.

Eventually, the apartment complex quieted down as Lucy, Rosie, Bambi, and Rual said goodnight to the ASG Chicago members who attended the class. Keep any eye on the ASG Chicago website for future classes with Mac or contact her directly (

A Sewing Machine with Custom-Colored Thread

Spools of thread

(Image source: Wikipedia)

How big is your thread bin? Does it grow with every new project because you don’t have the exact shade or that you run out just as you’re only left with the last 20″ of seam or hem, which then you have to run to the fabric store and buy another whole spool of vibrant orange to match, which you might never use again? Then there’s the whole idea of your top fabric is a different dominant color than your bottom, so you have to buy two different spools of color.

Well, wouldn’t it be nice if you could just simplify? I’m not talking about just using white, black or an invisible thread. Or what if you could have an endless supply of thread that wouldn’t take up more storage. Every shade you could imagine. How wonderful would that be? Well, short of working for Gutterman, Coats & Clark and having a dedicated wall of thread, it’s a dream for most of us.

But what if your machine just knew the right color? Nice, huh? Check out this concept machine from designers Monika Jakubek and Anna Müller that will match your thread to any swatch of fabric.

Leitfaden Concept Sewing Machine

According to‘s review, the guess is it’s like matching custom colors at the paint store. The swatch is scanned and interpreted by the internal technology, then ink tanks colorize the originally-white spool of thread as you sew, similar to how your inkjet printer shoots CYMK (cyan, yellow, magenta, black) ink colors onto paper to create color. How cool is that!

Color matching on the Leitfaden Sewing Machine

Also very cool on this concept sewing machine is that the stitch pattern is projected onto the fabric as you sew. The  concept machine is also designed with an easy access to stitch selection, length and width. With a nearly 360-degree open arm space, there’s plenty of room to move fabric around. The arm design reminds me of a long-arm where the sewist would be positioned in front of the machine.

Projecting stitch pattern from the Leitfaden Sewing Machine

No worries about a free-arm; it looks like the bottom panel flips off to give a very open free-arm allowing for very small turns…think how much easier it would be when sewing children’s clothing or doll clothes for the little ones!

Leitfaden Sewing Machine

The designers have even thought about the foot pedal. It took me a while to understand this, but the reverse is on the foot pedal. It might take some getting used to, but once you do get used to it, think how much time is saved.

Leitfaden Sewing Machine

The concept for this sewing machine was to make it visually user-friendly and to motivate new and returning sewists with its elimination of time-consuming tasks. This concept sewing machine has already won several design awards: Lucky Strike Junior Design Award Recognition, Recognition of the Mia Seeger Stiftung and IF concept award 2010 2nd place.

What do you think about this concept machine? Leave a comment or tweet us and let us know.

Image sources:

New Sewing Machines Have USB Ports, High-Res Screen and Other High-Tech Features

160 years of sewing machines timeline

(Image source: WSJ)

Sewing machines have certainly come a long way. A May 12, 2011 Wall Street Journal article highlights the trend of today’s computerized sewing machines.

“New multitasking sewing machines strive to be as accessible as a smartphone. Modern machines have added decorative stitches, automatic threading and touch screens for easier use. There are smartphone apps for matching thread to fabric and software that digitizes embroidery designs. With the USB port on the latest embroidery machines, users can transfer an image from laptop to sewing machine.” Machines can not only sense fabric thickness, but also fabric feed…such as when a new sewist pushes or pulls the fabric ahead of the feed dogs causing uneven stitches.

Viking’s Ruby includes a high-resolution touch screen that not only allows you to select and view your stitch design (embroidery or decorative stitching), but also allows you to manipulate the stitching from the screen on your sewing Viking Ruby.

Brother’s Quattro 6000D has a “camera-like feature built in over the needle that shows what the needle “sees” on the HD display. Users get a detailed image of hard-to-see places, eliminating the need for guessing about where to drop the needle.” Brother compares it to having a GPS on your sewing machine.

All these features are intended to make sewing easier for the experienced sewist, time-saving even and less scary or easier-to-learn for the new sewist. But nonetheless, it still comes down to the sewist and his/her skill at knowing how to use which stitch for which application. Although, some modern sewists are also pushing the envelope on that, too. I just finished a Twitter chat where several participants were discussing machine trapunto in modern designs…less fussy.

There are also computerized sergers that will tell you which thread to lay in first, then visually cue you to the next thread to lay in.

Even if you’re not in the market for a new machine, it would be worth going to your local sewing machine dealer to see what the new machines are offering…just to appreciate how far we’ve come from treadle machines.

Power Tip: Surge Protector For Your Sewing Machine

Power surge

(Image source:

If you have made the investment for a computerized sewing machine, you should take the extra precaution to plug it into a surge protector. Not just a power strip, so you can plug in your Ottlite and your mini-iron…that won’t help diffuse power surges.

A surge protector will have a green light on the strip to show that the protection is working; some surge protectors have an additional red light to indicate if there is faulty wiring coming into the surge protector. If you don’t have the additional red light, the green light will turn red when there is a fault or disruption. If you ever see a red light on your surge protector, replace the surge protector because at that point it’s no longer working.

APC Surge Protector

Example of a surge protector (Image source: APC)

APC is a well-respected surge protector manufacturer. You can find these in most office supply or computer stores. If you have a sewing or embroidery business, you might want to consider a surge protector with a battery back-up. A battery back-up provides you with an amount of time that you will be provided power, so you can shut down your machine, or you could even continue to sew.

Take a moment to go look and see if you definitely have a surge protector or if you only have a power strip…you would do it for your home computer, so why not for your computerized sewing machine? 

Video Tweet Day List

Watching movies clipart from MicrosoftDid you follow the tweets of videos yesterday? Did you follow #vidtweetday or did you follow on the blog? I really hope you liked them; I had a fun time finding various topics and not-the-norm videos.

In case you missed any, here’s a list of all the videos:

  1. Threadbanger’s How to Wet Felt a Beret
  2. The art of tambour beading as done in French Haute Couture Embroidery at Lesage in Paris
  3. The Making of a Chanel Haute Couture Outfit from New York Magazine
  4. VogueFabrics’ Mac Berg shows how to use the stilleto when sewing and pressing
  5. Embellishment With Bias Strips from Sandra Betzina
  6. Haute couture French crochet beading from Corinne Meunier and photos
  7. Bespoke tailoring in U.K.; mobile tailors set up in pubs and the suits are made in Hong Kong
  8. Traditional shibori tying & dyeing
  9. Shingo Sato, extreme pattern making: Transformational Arm-Hole
  10. Francesco the tailor, Italy (I wish there was more to the video)
  11. Julian Roberts Subtraction Cutting by an Indiana University student under Julian’s direction
  12. Japanese kimono maker. I love his foot action and mesmerized by his adept needle-handling.
  13. A two-fer deal: Spoonflower’s tutorial of how to design without Photoshop and creating wall art with custom-printed fabric

I hope you enjoy these videos! I’ll try to do another Video Tweet Day every few months.

Fashion Color Report – Spring 2011


Pantone Spring 2011 Color Palette

Image source: Groove Press blog

Below is a copy of my Sew Chicago Fashion Color Report – Spring 2011 post from September 12, 2010. I thought it would still be appropriate information to share since we’re on the closer side of seeing spring coming. (I’m very optimistic as snow showers are predicted.)

Pantone Fashion Report Spring 2011

Pantone Fashion Report Spring 2011 (Image source: Pantone, Inc.)

Fresh from New York’s Fashion Week, Pantone — THE authority of color trends — released the Fashion Color Report for Spring 2011.

When I used to be an ad agency art director, I lived and breathed by Pantone’s color trends when selecting colors for photo shoots, logos and packaging color stories. I always thought the coolest job would be to work for the Color Institute and get to name the colors. Cerulean blue was status quo to the art student as I went to the art store to buy paints, but when I became a working art director and could specify “Capri Ocean Blue” — oh! the visions that came to mind. Back then I hadn’t yet been to Capri! I don’t “pick colors” for a living anymore, but I still get excited when Pantone announces the color forecast.

As you look at these colors, keep in mind that these are saturated hues, kind of like if you colored straight from the crayon. Your skin and hair color combination may not work well with the full-saturation hue and you might be better with a tint (lighter) or tone (darker) of the color or lean to the warmer or cooler values. So, don’t be discouraged if Honeysuckle 18-2120 is not in the palette that your color consultant advised. There is probably a variation of Honeysuckle that you can work with. (Note: If you’re in the Chicago area and are looking for a color consultant, we can put you in touch with one that we know. Just drop us a comment and we’ll connect you to Kathy.)

Spring 2011

“Explore the world!” seems to be the theme for Spring 2011. Africa, India, Peru and Turkey were the inspirations for Spring 2011’s color palette. (Hmmm, I just might need to make trips to these places for the real deal.)

Pantone Fashion Report Color Palette Spring 2011

Pantone Fashion Report Color Palette Spring 2011 (Image source: Pantone, Inc.)

“The colors designers have chosen for the spring season present an interesting marriage of unexpected warm and cool tones,” said Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute®. “By cleverly combining complementary colors, those that are opposites on the color wheel, they have created a striking intensity to the palette. These unique color combinations make it possible for consumers to pair existing pieces in colors traditionally associated with fall, with new favorites to punch up springtime wardrobes.”

Flirtatious Honeysuckle is a feel-good hue that brings a festive sense of playfulness to this season’s palette. This vibrant pinkish-red for both apparel and cosmetics makes consumers feel alive, and is a perfect post-winter pick-me-up.

Spicy, gregarious and persuasive describe Coral Rose, a sophisticated orange that, much like Beeswax, a warm, honeyed yellow, conjures up feelings of faraway lands and locales. Pair either of these piquant hues with a cool, refreshing color-wheel opposite like Regatta for a vibrant color combination that will add zest to any wardrobe. Romantic, fanciful Lavender implies sensuality with its subtle hint of red undertone. Combine it with Beeswax or Coral Rose for a unique counterpoint.

Alluring Blue Curacao evokes thoughts of tropical destinations and pays homage to the 2010 Color of the Year, Turquoise. Practical consumers can continue to incorporate enticing Caribbean blues into spring by pairing Blue Curacao with warm, complementary colors like Honeysuckle or Coral Rose. Peapod, a fresh yellow-green, brings an organic element to the palette and is reminiscent of the green shoots that signify change and new beginnings traditionally found in spring.

Trans-seasonal neutrals ground this season’s palette and provide a stable backdrop for all the other colors. The so-called “nude hues” are represented in the range of ethereal Silver Peony to dramatically deep Russet. Another dependable background color, Silver Cloud, is the quintessential neutral that consumers can rely on to coordinate with everything in their closet.” Source: Pantone, Inc.

Download the full report with the designers’ inspirations from Pantone’s site. You’ll find sketches and color stories from designers such as Christian Soriano, Tracy Reese, Catherine Maladrino, Tadashi Shoji, and many more. They also give their quick “must-have’s” for Spring 2011. At the end of the report, Pantone also talks to other fashion industry influencer, such as make-up artist Collier Strong, Desparate Housewives costumer Cate Adair and Essie Weingarten from Essie Cosmetics to ask what geographies are influencing fashion and how it plays into the color palette.

Play with their interactive summary and you’ll see all the designer sketches who commented by specific color.

And for our male readers or if you’ll be sewing for a man in your life, Pantone specifies a separate color palette for menswear.

Menswear Pantone Spring 2011 Fashion Palette

Pantone Men's Fashion Palette Spring 2011 (Image source: Pantone, Inc.)

Fall 2010

If you’re like me, I haven’t even started to think about Spring 2011. So, I thought I’d include the Fall 2010 color trend. You can download the full report from Pantone’s site with the designers’ inspiration stories.

Pantone Fall 2010 Color Trend

Pantone Fall 2010 Color Trend (Image source: Dion Label)

Pantone’s iPhone/iTouch App

If you have an iPhone or an iTouch, you can keep the Pantone colors with you. What better reference to have the next time you’re in the fabric store and dreaming of your next garment or accessory?

Pantone has an iPhone/iTouch app, you can carry the Pantone library with you and build color palettes. Select a color and you can also select complementary colors or “matchy-matchy” tones. The really neat feature is being able to take a picture either already on your iPhone/iTouch or snap one immediately, then extracting a color out of that image and go from there to pick your complementary colors, etc. For more screen captures, read more about it on Pantone’s site with screen captures of the app.

Open your box of crayons or uncap your colored markers! Whether it’s a new fall scarf, patterned hose or just a splash of color on a trim, I hope you enjoy color throughout the seasons!

Note: After reading about this app, one of Sew Chicago’s members purchased this app and was so happy that she left this comment. This makes it all worthwhile to be able to share information through our blog.

Hi Tina! Bet you never thought one of your postings would be lifechanging, huh? I have known about Pantone forever, but since I’m colorblind (or at least color deficient), it’s never been much use to me. But thank you SO MUCH for posting about the iPhone app from Pantone. This one is killer! Within 5 minutes of reading your posting I was on iTunes to buy it for myself.

To test it out, I tried this out on a piece of multicolor fabric I have in my stash. To my eyes, I can’t tell if it’s purple tones or blue tones, and I’m not at all sure what the other colors are (I just know I like it). I set the palatte selections to textiles (home and fashion), took a picture of my fabric, and immediately I get a detailed description of the 5 predominant colors by name! I’m blown away! This is going to be such a big improvement for me in my fabric selection process, and then I’ll be able to take a first pass on coordinating fabrics without having to ask someone else for help all the time.

Thank you so much, Tina. This is lifechanging!

Have a great week and happy sewing,

%d bloggers like this: