Have you heard friends talking about sergers? Have you wondered if you need a serger to sew clothing? Here’s what you need to know about sergers or overlock machines.
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A serger is a type of sewing machine that can be very beneficial for someone who enjoys the hobby of sewing and is looking to add an additional tool to their repertoire.
The benefit of owning a serger is the ability to achieve a professional quality finish to your seams. If you are looking to another tool to enhance your sewing skills, here is the ultimate guide to a serger sewing machine.
What Can a Serger Machine Do?
A serger, also known as an overlock machine, is an all-in-one machine that can seam, trim, and finish. In addition, it works faster than a traditional sewing machine. It uses a blade to cut the fabric as it enters (this function be removed to sew without cutting), then two or more threads create a locked stitch. The number of threads used depends greatly on the type of stitch and the type of serger.
An important factor of a serger is that it can only sew forward, and it only sews on the left side of the needles. The overlock stitch, or serger stitch, is the most common stitch performed by this machine. There are variations to this stitch depending on the number of threads utilized. Below are the types of stitches performed by a serger and what they are best used for:
- 4-Thread Overlock Stich
This is the one of the strongest stitches that can be created by a serger machine. It utilizes two needles and four threads to lock in each edge and prevent fraying. Because of its strength, it is the best stitch for constructing a seam.
- 4-Thread Safety Stitch
This combines a 2-thread overlock stitch with a 2-thread chainstitch to produce a strong and sturdy stitch. It works well to create a seam on woven fabrics and can also be used with lightweight fabrics.
- 3-Thread Overlock Stitch
This stitch only requires one needle and uses three threads. It does not have the strength of the 4-thread overlock, but it is also not as bulky either. For this, it is the ideal stitch for finishing thick to medium weight fabrics. It could also be used to make a blind hem or create a seam for knits or fabrics that do not require significant reinforcement.
- 2-Thread Overlock Stitch
This the perfect stitch for edging lighter weight fabrics. It must be noted that this stitch is not as strong, so it does not work well for seams.
- 2-Thread Flatlock Stitch
A flatlock stitch is a way to create a seam that is flat on both sides. It can add stretch or be used for its decorative affect. On the front it leaves two parallel stitches while on the back the finish is loopier. This stitch is ideal for any type of sportswear or to decorate woven fabrics.
- Rolled Hem
This stitch is a way to finish all of the seam allowances inside the hem. It rolls the fabric to the inside and then closes it off using thread. It doesn’t add weight to the fabric. Therefore, it is perfect to produce a hem on lightweight or sheer fabrics. When finished, this hem is almost invisible.
What a Serger Cannot Do
While there are many benefits to owning a serger, there are several stitches that this machine cannot create. Here are some of the stitches that must be performed using a different machine:
Coverstitch- This stitch is used to create a hem and looks like two rows of stitching on the top and a serger, or overlock, stitch in the back. The benefit of this stitch is the flexibility it provides, especially for fabrics like knits or lycra. A serger alone cannot create this stitch, but there are combination machines that can produce both coverstitches and overlock stitches.
Straight stitch- A serger can do many things, but it cannot create a straight stitch. This machine is not a replacement for a regular sewing machine. Sometimes a project can be completed using a serger alone, but if you need to sew buttonholes, zippers, facing, or any type of topstitching, you will need a standard sewing machine.
Embroidery- This is a category of stitches used to create designs and patterns. Oftentimes, an embroidery machine is used to make zig zag or link stitches. There are even electronic embroidery machines that are programmed to make specific stitching patterns. A serger cannot perform embroidery stitches, this must be done with a separate machine.
What is a Serger vs Sewing Machine
The most common question posed by many who are looking to purchase a serger is the commonalities and differences between this machine and a traditional sewing machine.
Similarities: Both machines can produce a blind hem stitch, rolled hem, attach piping, and gather fabric.
Differences: A serger includes more needles and bobbins to efficiently make a strong overlock seam. It is much faster than a sewing machine, but does not have variable speeds. A regular sewing machine is much more versatile in the types of stitches it can create. It is the tool needed to produce a topstitch, or straight stitch. For a beginner, a sewing machine can be simpler to use and allows for easier correction of mistakes.
Overall, a serger and sewing machine are meant to work together to improve the stitching of your sewing projects. One machine might function better over the other for certain fabrics or stitches. As you become more comfortable with each machine, you will learn how to utilize each one according to its specific purpose.
Air Threading versus Manually Threading Your Serger
When choosing a serger, you will find that some machines are easier to thread. Most lower cost sergers must be manually threaded and they must be threaded in the correct order. Here’s a quick guide to threading a Brother 1034D, a common, affordable option for a serger.
I would not recommend buying a Singer serger as I’ve heard a long list of complaints about how difficult they are to thread; I have friends who never used their machines after one or two attempts at threading it.
Some higher end machines offer air threading. Many people find this more convenient and think that it’s faster than manually threading their machine.
I have used both a Brother 1034D and a higher end Babylock, and thought both machines were easy enough to thread. I like the air threading, but I’m not sure it saves me a lot of time.
Popular Sergers to Buy
Babylock Evolve: I own an older model Babylock Evolve that I purchased used. It’s both a serger and coverstitch machine, although I refuse to switch it over to coverstitch. I keep a separate coverstitch so I don’t need to rethread my machines over and over.
Babylock Sergers with Air Threading: You can also just find a Babylock serger-only with air threading.
The nice thing about sergers is that many people get intimidated by them so you can often find them barely used. The same is true for coverstitch machines.
If you are looking for a tool to compliment your sewing machine, a serger is a great investment to start with. It improves the process of hemming most any type of fabric, saving you time and creating a more professional finish in the process. In addition to hemming, a serger can also create seams and pipping.
With the right knowledge, you can create your sewing projects faster and more effectively using a serger and traditional sewing machine together. Visit my archive of sewing projects for lots of ideas for new items to make with your serger or sewing machine!
Here’s a list of beginner sewing tutorials if you’re new to sewing!
- Learn HOW to Sew
- Choosing a Sewing Machine
- Prewashing Fabric
- How to Thread a Sewing Machine & Bobbin
- Understanding Sewing Machine Tension
- The Best Sewing Books for Beginners
- 18 Sewing Tips & Tricks for Beginners
- How to Measure Yourself
- How to Cut & Sew Clothes for Beginners
- Sewing Phone App
- Sewing Needles: Everything you need to know
- Twin Needles for Sewing Knits
- Tips for using a rotary cutter (which helps speed up cutting fabric)
- Sewing Tools
- How to Install Snaps
- Sewing Thread: Everything you need to know
- How to Tailor Your Own Clothes for the Perfect Fit
- How to Sew On Bias Tape- and Make Bias Tape!
- How to Sew Hook and Loop (Brand Name: Velcro)
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Danielle Pientka is the sewing and DIY blogger behind DIYDanielle.com. She taught herself to sew in 2011 when she wanted to make cloth diapers for her first son. She’s been sewing everything from ecofriendly items to kids products to clothing since, as it has become a passion. She loves learning how to do new things and teaching others in the process. She hopes to inspire other moms to take time for themselves to find their own creative passion.
Danielle lives in Maryland with her three young sons and her husband, Brandon. In her spare time, she gardens, reads, horseback rides, and has a small homestead with goats and ducks. Visit her shop to buy patterns or her sewing eBooks. Subscribe to her newsletter to get blog updates, free patterns and other printables by clicking here.