Ten most asked questions about a serger (overlocker) 10

You read about a serger here and there and wonder “What is a serger and do I need one?” What about an overlocker? Are those two separate sewing machines? Or just different functions of the regular sewing machine? In this article, I am going to answer the questions I get asked most frequently about the serger sewing machine and how to use it in practice.

1. What is a serger /an overlocker?

An overlocker is a sewing machine which uses several thread cones, usually between three and five. The stitches are made with two needleswhat is a serger and the rest of the threads go into the loopers. In most cases, the overlocker has a serging knife. It is largely used in industrial sewing, especially with knit fabrics.

2. What is the difference between a serger and an overlocker machine?

The serger cuts the edges of the fabric, trims, and over seams at the same time. When we say “overlocker”, we usually have in mind just the type of the stitches. When we talk about a serger the focus is on the serging ability of this sewing machine. Some overlockers are made without a serging knife, but this is very rare.

In fact, both names are used interchangeably. It seems that “serger” is preferred In North America and “overlocker” is widely used in Europe. Anyway, both names seem appropriate. Therefore, in this article, I am going to use both names to refer to the same type of a sewing machine – the one that overlocks and cuts at the same time.

3. What is the difference between an overlocker and a regular sewing machine?

A regular sewing machine (a lockstitch machine) uses just two threads to make the stitches. The first thread is in the needle and the second is in the bobbin. Together they create a stitch that locks in the fabric. Most of the regular sewing machines come with а variety of derivatives, but the basic ones are zigzag and a straight stitch. Usually, we use the zig zag stitch for fabrics that stretch. The straight stitch is widely used in most sewing projects.

An overlocker doesn’t have a bobbin. It has a different number of loopers to create the seams.  It seals the edges of the cloth pieces or joins them together. An overlock seam is very durable and versatile. It is the best choice for joining seams on knit fabrics, upholstery, etc.

4. What is a serger/an overlocker used for?

The overlocker is used for a variety of sewing projects, mainly for cleaning the edges of the fabric on woven ones and to join the pieces together when working with knits. The seams, made with the overlocker are very durable. They tolerate intensive stretching very well.

5. Can I learn to sew with an overlocker?sewing with a serger

Learning to sew with an overlock machine is a bit different than sewing on a regular straight stitch machine. It has its specifics and requires some practice and extra caution due to the serging knife. If you follow the manual and train a little, you will get used to the motion of the machine. The more you use it, the easier it is going to be. My suggestion is to practice a bit on a scrap cloth until you gain confidence in your skills.

Then, try to sew two pieces of fabric together. Play with it until you get it – try to make some curves using the blade and then try not to make any curves :). Try different speeds, examine the density and elasticity of the stitches on different fabric. It is not that complicated as it seems. 

If you need to learn the basics of sewing with an overlocker, I would highly recommend this Beginner Serging class.

A big frustration about sergers is threading. Don’t be intimidated, it is unpleasant for everyone, including me. It seems that it is some kind of a rule for threading a serger to be complicated. But as anything in life, with some practice, you are going to get it.

6. Can I sew without a serger?

You can definitely sew without a serger. You can complete any sewing project without it and achieve very decent results. But, I’m not going to lie – I can’t live without mine. It rises up a level in sewing skills and results. It is like any other skill – good tools are half of the mastery.

7. How to use an overlocker machine?

When you get your new machine the very first thing you want to do is try it. But it seems so complicated! There are threads going up and down in all directions and you don’t have a clue what to do. Well, the best thing to do is to read the manual. Every manufacturer has а different organisation of the parts, the direction and the sequence of threading, the mechanisms of regulating the thickness and width of stitches.

Threading the serger is the most unpleasant (for me) part when using it. But you must do it every time you change threads, so you better learn how to do it. It gets easier with time and eventually, you won’t need the manual anymore.

8. Can a serger replace a regular sewing machine?regular-sewing-machine-and-an-industrial-overlocker

A serger can not replace a regular sewing machine because many sewing projects require straight stitches. A serger is used mainly for joining seams and for preventing the fabrics to fray. Therefore, if you need to sew hems, curtains, replace zippers, etc., a serger would not be of any use.  On woven fabrics, if you join two details together with an overlocker only, the whole seam might fray together with the edges of the fabric. Therefore, an additional straight stitch is added (a five thread overlocker will do both).

A regular straight stitch is the basic. Any other type of a sewing machine is building up on your skills and equipment. You can do a lot with the regular machine, without any other equipment.

9. What types of overlockers/sergers are there?

Overlockers differ mainly on the number of threads they use to make the loops. The most commonly used overlockers are the ones with four or five threads. The ones with five threads create not only the typical seam but an additional straight stitch, which make them widely used in woven fabric apparel.

Overlockers can also be industrial and for domestic use. If you choose carefully, a domestic one can do good enough for most projects. When you choose which one to buy, you should consider how much the pressing food is lifted, is the corpse of the machine heavy so it doesn’t move around, is it easy to maintain and repair, etc.domestic-and-industrial-serger

10. Do I need to own a serger? 

Well, it depends on your preferences. A serger makes sewing easier, but you can manage to finish most sewing project without one. It adds durability to seams and gives the manufactured look on the inside. It saves me a lot of time and that’s why it is a must for me. I work with knits on a daily basis and the overlocker is my best friend.

Anyway, buying an overlocker is not such a big investment as it used to be. You can get a good one for somewhere around $200.

Do you have a question about sergers that I didn’t answer here? Drop me a line below and I’ll be happy to share everything I know.

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10 thoughts on “Ten most asked questions about a serger (overlocker)

  • Neil

    I remember my sowing machine experiences back in the days at school when my teacher used to say I was like a racing car driver because I was too quick on the pedal, HA HA!

    However, being too fast lead to many mistakes, but it was fun though!

    WOW… the overlocker sowing machine surely does look complex, but I suppose it becomes easier to use the more you practice.

    This is a very insightful article, and you have answered my questions on this machine 🙂


    • Daniela

      Hi Neil,

      I would say that speed is not the way to go when using the machine, as you found out yourself. Lol

      Thank you for your kind words!

  • Bryan

    I never knew sewing machines could be so complicated. I have seen my wife’s mother using hew sewing machine and it looked easy. My wife likes to try new things, so maybe I could get her a regular machine and if she gets into it, get hew a more advanced one like the sergers. Thanks for the information. It has been very helpful.!

    • Daniela

      Hey Bryan,

      Sewing machines are not complicated, they just require some consistent practice and learning. An overlocker is not exactly an advanced sewing machine, it just operates differently and delivers other results.

      Thank you for stopping by,


  • Vic

    Thanks Daniella fr this post, who knew there was so much more to sewing machinery! The over-locker looks like one complicated piece of kit! I enjoy making things from time to time, but i’m afraid I am still a needle and thread kind of girl – probably why I only do it from time to time! I have just made myself 2 draft excluders and it’s taken 2 days – mainly because the sewing was so time consuming. I imagine you be able to create quite a few in that amount of time!

    • Daniela

      Hey Vic,

      As they say “Every master was once a disaster”. The overlocker seems complicated at first, but as any piece of machinery it is created to ease your life, not to make it harder. 🙂 Once you get used to it, it does make sewing easier. Anyway, most at home sewers do just fine without having one.

      Thanks for stopping by,


  • Marta

    Hmm, I guess I still have Grandma’s sewing machine somewhere in the basement… I have always dreams of learning how to use it, but had no idea where to start from and didn’t manage to figure out myself. It doesn’t seem so difficult the way you explain it though. I have several things that need fixing, so I may actually try…

    • Daniela

      Hey Marta,

      It is really not difficult, but it is a skill that requires patience and practice. Give it a try, it is a rewarding process.


  • Sandra

    I’ve been thinking about buying a serger for a while but I can’t make up my mind which one to choose. What should I look for?

    • Daniela Post author

      Well, it’s hard to tell which one is the absolute best, because they actually have quite similar functionalities and ways to operate. Some would go for something that is easier to thread, but this is not my main concern. After all, they all are somehow weird to thread, no matter industrial or domestic one.
      I would always go for a 4 or 5 thread serger because the seam it produces is wider and more durable. Also, search which one has maintenance service where you live, because it’s a machine and as it happens you might need to take care of yours eventually.
      I am actually working on a post with pros and cons compartment, but my quick recommendations would be the Brother 1034D, Brother Designio Series DZ1234 Serger or JUKI MO644D
      I would also go for a second-hand industrial one on eBay if you have the space and if you are planning to exploit it heavy (that is what I did).