Thursday, November 30, 2017

What the heck is Differential Feed???

Sergers are scary, they just are. Even after you get the threading process down there is still more to it than your standard sewing machine.
Lets talk about DIFFERENTIAL FEED.
What in the world is it?
Lets see what Craftsy has to say...

The differential feed system

Looking at your serger needle plate, you'll notice two independent sets of feed dogs: one front, the other one rear.
Serger Pepper - Differential feed dogs - Craftsy Each one has an individual feed mechanism: they will be able to feed the fabric at a different ratio (but you can also make them move at the same speed, if that's what you need!).
The differential feed knob/lever has a numbered scale, usually going from 0.6 (or 0.7, like mine) to 2, where:
  • From 0.6 to 1 (negative differential feed) the front feed dog doesn't move as much as the rear feed dog, causing the fabric to stretch under the presser foot to offset the puckering;
  • 1 (sometimes labeled as N - neutral differential feed) both feed dogs walks at the same speed;
  • From 1 to 2 (positive differential feed) the front feed dog moves more than the rear feed dog, amassing fabric under the presser foot (when set at 2 it actually makes twice as many rotations of the rear one!)
Differential feed lever- Craftsy To help visual people like me, most sergers comes with two little graphics next to the numbered scale, meaning stretched (0.6) and gathered (2) fabric.


If you're sewing a medium weight woven fabric, 99% of the times your differential feed will work just fine set on 1.
If you sew other kinds of fabric, you may need to adjust the differential feed to achieve a pucker-free or waver-free seam, laying flat.
Note: Always try on scraps to decide the ideal settings, paying attention to keep grains, bias and stretch directions consistent with your project!
  1. If you're sewing a sheer, lightweight or slippery fabric, you may experience puckering.
Differential feed on lightweight woven - Craftsy

How to fix it:

Decrease your differential feed ratio until you get a flat seam.
  1. If you're sewing knit, stretch, or even woven fabric cut on bias, you may stumble upon a stretched wavering seam.
Differential feed on knits - Craftsy

How to fix it:

Increase your differential feed ratio until you get a flat seam.

Differential feed: Creative uses

Differential feed >1


Since using settings above 1 will cause your front feed dog going faster than the rear one, you can easily create gathering with a 4 thread overlock, just increasing needles' tension.
Experiment on scraps to see how much you are able to gather your fabric:
  • If it's not enough ruffled, pull the right needle thread to increase gathering;
  • If it's too full, just pull the fabric to make it looser.
Gathering with the serger differential feed - Craftsy


Another practical way to use positive differential feed, is using it to ease in: think to fit a sleeve head into an armscye or sewing a rounded hem.
Remember you need to put the fabric to be eased in against the feed (to learn more good tips like this one, check Janet Pray's "Sew Better, Sew Faster" classes!)

Differential feed <1

Lettuce edge

Since using settings below 1 will cause your front feed dog going slower than the rear one, you can easily create a lettuce edge on a stretch knit (use narrow hem settings and learn more with Angela Wolf's "Creative Serging Class"), creating that fun wavy look!
serger differential feed If you're in the market for a serger, I would suggest you buy one with this feature, but what if your old/inherited/second-hand one doesn't have a differential feed and you're experiencing unwanted wavering on knits (or puckering on sheers)?
You can mimic the differential feed with your right hand in front of the presser foot, gently pushing (positive differential feed) or holding (negative differential feed) the fabric while it feeds through the needle, just as you would do with a regular sewing machine.
If all else fails: the stitch length and the foot pressure can influence the waviness/puckering of the fabric.
Play with those settings until you get the best result, while you're testing your settings!