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/overlocker?
An overlocker/serger is a sewing machine that uses several thread cones, usually between three and five. The stitches are made with two needles 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.
Here is an example of a serger seam on both sides of the fabric.
The 5-thread sergers make an additional chain seam a bit in from the overlocker seam to provide more durability and cleaner seams on woven 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 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.
in this article I am going to use both names to refer to the same type of sewing machine – the one that overlocks and cuts at the same time.
3. What is the difference between a serger 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 straight stitch. Usually, we use the zig-zag stitch for fabrics that stretch. The straight stitch is widely used in most sewing projects.
A serger 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. The way the threads combine in the serger seam make it very durable and stretchy. That’s why it is widely prefered for knit fabrics.
4. What is a serger/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 a serger?
Learning to sew with a serger 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 gets.
On the right, that’s me using my serger. By the way, this is my favorite sewing machine. It was not like that in the begining, though. My first attempts with it were on some T-shirts that we got stamped and were about to sell.
A couple of them ended up with some pretty odd side seams. They didn’t make it to the shop.
My advice is to practice a bit on scraps 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, and examine the density and elasticity of the stitches on different fabrics. Honestly, it’s not as complicated as it sounds.
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 raises the level of sewing skills and results. It is like any other skill – good tools are half of the mastery.
7. How to use the overlocker machine?
When you get your new machine the very first thing you want to do is try it.
it seems so complicated! Threads are 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 organization of the parts, the direction and the sequence of threading, the mechanisms of regulating the thickness and width of stitches (tension).
Many sergers need oiling prior first use. You most probably would need to make some adjustments to tension and differential feed (if your serger support feed options).
Apart from that, sewing with a serger is pretty straightforward. The user manual is going to help you with all of that.
8. Can a serger replace the regular sewing machine?
A serger cannot replace a regular sewing machine because most sewing projects require straight stitches.
A serger is used mainly for joining seams and for preventing the fabrics from fraying. 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 only with a serger, the whole seam might fray together with the edges of the fabric. Or if it doesn’t, the seam might look a bit wonky on the face side.
That’s why an additional straight stitch is added (a five thread overlocker will do both).
A regular straight stitch is the basis. Any other type of sewing machine is building up on your skills and equipment. You can do a lot with the regular machine, without any other equipment.
If you sew a lot and more professionally or, if you sew many knits, you should consider adding a serger machine to your sewing 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 an additional straight stitch to the typical serer seam, 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 just fine 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 stable so it doesn’t move around while you sew, is it easy to maintain and repair, etc.
And most importantly, the amount of work and the purpose you need it for.
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.
11. Should I pick a domestic or an industrial serger?
If you sew at home, or even make some alterations and small numbers of garments for sale, an at-home serger is more than enough. You can make any project from start to finish and get great, professional results.
Industrial sergers are heavy duty machines that can easily deal with many layers of thick fabric and different types of materials like sequins, upholstery and many layers of denim.
If you are about to use the machine heavily, on different projects and with different materials, I would suggest you buy an industrial one. Honestly, industrial sergers are significantly better.
they are a big investment which you might not need to make.
Industrial serger machines come with less options for types of seams (like rolled hem and specialty stitch functions) and need additional gadgets to produce different types of seams. This can easily add up to the investment.
Another thing you might want to take into consideration is that they require more space. They come with a separate stand and pedals.
If you are more of at home sewist and use the serger for garments and crafts, a domestic serger might be a better idea.
12. How to thread a serger?
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 like anything in life, with some practice, you are going to get it.
Unfortunately, there is no one universal way to thread a serger. To learn how to do it, you need to refer to the user manual or to look for tutorials on Youtube that are exactly for the brand and model serger that you have.
You don’t need to rethread the serger any time you change color. There is a quick and easy way to do it that works on each and every serger. Watch the video below to see how.
13. Which is the best serger sewing machine to buy?
I’ve been using different sergers for years now. For the most part, there are a couple of things I find of importance when picking up a good one.
Here is a list of what to look for when buying a serger sewing machine:
- Pick a serger that comes with 4 or 5 threads. It can easily be set to make a three-thread seam. But a 3-thread serger can’t produce a 4 or 5 thread seam. I personally prefer 4-thread sergers.
- If you buy the serger online (like Amazon) make sure that the motor comes in the same voltage that is used where you live. You can face troubles with this even if you use a voltage adaptor.
- Before you buy any serger machine, make sure that there is an authorized dealership of that brand where you live that is going to service the machine.
- It is a machine and just like a car for example, it is going to need to be serviced at some point. Save yourself the headache and make sure to check prior to buying.
- Pick a sturdy machine, preferably one with metal corpse or generally heavier. In my experience, machines with more metal parts tend to break less and are more stable when you use them.
I am currently using a 4-threads industrial Yamata that I love. It has a quiet motor and works like a charm.
But we’re moving to live somewhere else, so I need to pick a new one. I’m spending more time at home lately, sewing mainly for myself and my family.
That’s why I am looking for a good domestic one so that it takes less space and is easy to transport.
I’ve been researching the best serger reviews all over and also taking into consideration my own experience. Here is what I’ve found. I’m adding my two cents as well.
Serger machine reviews
- automatic rolled hem
- sews light to heavy weight fabric
- powerful knife system
- quiet and fast
- no scraps catcher
This Juki serger machine is the one I seem to like most. I’ve used other Juki machines in the past and Juki is a powerhorse.
People who purchased this serger say it’s sturdy and stable. They also review it as quiet and fast.
What I find most appealing is the serging knife capacity. Customers say it easily goes through many layers of fabric and jeans seams.
Other customers say it’s hard to thread. Honestly, this doesn’t bother me since all the sergers are weird to thread. There are videos on Youtube dedicated especially to this Juki serger that can help you with that in addition to the users manual.
What I find to be a con is the lack of a scraps catcher. This is something I’ll have to make or buy in addition as I can’t imagine using a serger without one.
- easy to thread
- appropriate for most sewing projects
- loud and shaky
- not for heavy use
This is a newer model of the popular Brother 1034D. Both Brother 1034D and Brother 1034DX are budget machines that are appropriate for beginners and sewists who doesn’t serge very often.
It’s not a heavy duty machine that is intended for large volume of sewing like Etsy shop or sewing for clients.
People who purchased this serger say it’s fast and makes nice stitches. It is also easy to thread and overall beginners friendly.
Other customers say it’s loud and the parts it’s made of are cheap. It’s not the case if you have to replace parts though – they often cost as much as ⅓ the machine.
Although this is Amazon’s best selling serger with a lot of positive reviews I don’t think it’s the one that is the best match for me. It is not that often that you buy a serger and I would go for one of a better quality.
Another Juki serger with many positive reviews by customers. This machine has parts that are made to last.
It has similar functionalities as the JUKI MO654DE except this one is made to sew light to medium-weight fabrics. Very easy to clean, oil and thread.
Although it is considered a portable machine, it is stable and durable and also cheaper than the MO654DE. Very good quality for the price.
But, I don’t know why Juki make their at-home sergers without a scraps catcher. It’s something I would most certainly state as a con.
- 5-thread serger
- adjustable stitch length
- optional free arm
- 4 build-in rolled hems
- self-adjusting tension
- complicated to thread
- bad user manual quality
This is an upgraded serger by Singer. It is 5-thread professional serger that can make many different seams, including flatlock.
The Singer professional serger comes with many accessories like screwdrivers, spare cutting knife and dust cover.
People who purchased it say it’s stable, quiet and produces professional results. It is a great buy to upgrade on your sewing skills and machine equipment.
It’s an affordable, professional class machine that is a great alternative of much more expensive industrial sergers.
Although Singer ProFinish is a professional serger and better than many at-home ones, it’s not an industrial machine. Consider the amount and type of work/materials you are going to use when making up your mind.
Some customers experience problems with the self-adjusting tension feature. They also find it difficult to thread. I think this is related to the instructions in the manual not being clear enough.
Overall, that is a great serger sewing machine that doesn’t ask for a very big investment (as industrial sergers) but will do the job if you sew for an Etsy shop or you have a small sewing business.
- Metal frame: a strong, reliable serger built to tackle heavy-duty projects.
- 1,300 Stitches per minute.
- High performance: a high-durability blade made from extra hard carbon steel.
- Comes with accessories.
- Replacement parts may be hard to find.
Customers say this serger is beginners friendly because it is easy to thread and maintain. It comes with additional feet and functions that you can use to complete miscellaneous sewing projects.
Some owners find it hard to get replacement parts, especially compared to other machines.
Overall a good heavy duty serger that is easy to use.
Compared to the Brother 1034DX, this one is faster, more stable and durable, better equiped to work with heavy-weight fabrics.
Perhaps you have all those questions answered and you’ve bought the perfect serger sewing machine. There is one more question that is going to rise inevitably.
Here it is:
How to unpick serger stitches? (the bonus question answered)
There is nothing more frustrating than having to unpick tons of serger seams if something goes wrong with your sewing project. All those looper and needle threads that overlock together make it a nightmare to unpick the seam.
Here is how I’ve been thought to do it some years ago when I started my sewing adventure.
Serger and overlocker troubleshooting
The most common trouble sergers cost are usually related to threading, setting tension, adjusting the knife, etc.
Although there is a lot you can find in the user manual related to these issues, I would recommend the Serger Solutions: Troubleshooting Techniques course on Craftsy to save you a lot of hassle and give you some additional ideas.
Well, that pretty much sums up all I have to say about serger and overlocker machines. Do you have any questions that I didn’t answer in this post? Ask them in the comments below, I would love to hear from you.
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More sewing tutorials:
- What is a coverstitch machine and how to use it
- Best Sewing Machine For Beginners And How To Pick The One For You
- Types of zippers – what you need to know
- Free online sewing classes for beginners
- Learning How To Sew (and why you should)
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