In the course of this article, we'd discuss what is serging, what is a serger, what is a serger used for, and if it is necessary to buy one. To make sure you have all the information, we'll also compare a serger with a sewing machine.
This should help you determine if you need to buy one for your sewing room or if what you want to do can be easily handled by your regular sewing machine. In conclusion, we'd give you a buying guide (in the form of tips) to help you make the right choice while choosing a serger.
What is Serging and a Serger Tutorial
What is a Serger?
A serger (also called an overlocker or overlock machine) is a machine designed primarily for sewing the edges of fabrics to prevent them from fraying. It gives a professional, store-bought look to your sewing projects. The serger machine will cut and sew at the same time. It has 3 to 4 thread cones instead of the 1 like a regular machine.
What is Serging?
Serging simply refers to the process of seaming or stitching the edges of a fabric with a serger to prevent it from unraveling. In addition to ensuring the edges of your material do not unravel, serging or overlocking also gives your fabric a professional finish and a durable seam. In stretchy fabrics, it gives a seam that will stretch and not break.
Usually, serging is achieved with the aid of a serger or overlocker. This is simply a machine whose main job is to overlock or serger the edges of your fabric. However, in the absence of a serger, you could also finish your fabric with your sewing machine using a zig-zag stitch.
You might recognize this technique as overclocking. In sewing, the word serging can be used interchangeably with overclocking, depending on the country in which you live.
Further Reading: Seam Finishes Without a Serger
What is a Serger Used For?
A serger or overlocker machine is used for seaming, trimming excess fabric, and finishing your fabric. The best part is that these functions are performed simultaneously.
As earlier noted, a serger gives your fabric edges a professional finish and is the best choice for knit fabrics. But this is not all it does. To the newbie, a serger can seem rather intimidating due to the multiple threads and knives. However, once you become more familiar with using one, you realize how indispensable it is.
What is serging used for:
- Sewing seams: Sewing seams with a serger will be a breeze as it lets you sew the seam, cut off the allowance, and overcast the raw edge of your material at the same time. This type of stitch can be made by all sergers and is known as the 4-thread stitch. Seams sewn with this stitch do not unravel. It's especially useful for stretch sewing as it still lets the secure seam stretch.
- Overcasting Edges: The 3-thread overcast stitch is best used for the edge of a solo layer of fabric. The raw edge of your fabric is automatically trimmed as the edges have overcast stitches.
- Making Flatlock Seams: These are decorative, reversible seams that lay flat and have no seam allowance. If you use different colors for the looper thread and needle thread, it adds even more color to your craft. Flatlock seams join two different fabrics.
- Creating Perfectly Rolled Hems: A serger machine is handy for creating a uniform tiny, rolled hem. Some outfits like wedding veils, napkins, and scarves would require these hems. With a serger, making them would be a snap.
- Easily Handles Stretchy Fabric: The differential speed of a serger can be adjusted to accommodate stretchy or puckering materials. By simply adjusting the speed ratio of the front and back feed dogs, your serger can ease stretchy fabric or stretch puckering fabric.
- Gathering: It is not commonly known that sergers can be used to gather fabric by adjusting the differential feed. Read my full article on gathering with a serger for tips. Sewing machines can gather by sewing 2 lines of long straight stitches which can be pulled to gather.
Of course, some of these functions are not possible on all sergers. So you might need to request a test before choosing a particular serger. For those that can perform these functions, you'd simply need to adjust the settings using the manual.
Here is what the overlock stitches look like on the back and front.
What is Serging vs. a Sewing Machine
Although the serger and sewing machine have functions that can overlap, they have mainly different functions. Below are some of the differences between a serger and a sewing machine.
- FUNCTIONS - The major function of a serger is creating seams, trimming excess material, and overcasting. The sewing machine specializes in making basic stitches, including straight stitch and zig-zag.
- FABRICS - With differential speed, a serger is able to sew difficult fabrics like Lycra and stretch knits. A sewing machine can make decorative stitches of varying stitch lengths but is not always able to sew all fabrics.
- STITCHES - A serger can create perfect tiny, rolled hems, gathers, and attach elastic. It cannot produce decorative stitches, though. A sewing machine can produce decorative stitches and also make gathers and blind stitch hems.
- BUTTONS - A serger cannot perform basic sewing functions like making buttonholes, sewing on buttons, or using special attachments or stitches. A sewing machine, though, can do all of these.
Should You Get a Serger or a Sewing Machine?
If you're a beginner who does not already have a sewing machine, then you should definitely get a sewing machine first.
Sergers are extremely efficient, but they cannot perform basic sewing tasks like the sewing machine can. It also does not have different stitches or decorative stitches. A serger would complement your standard sewing machine by adding a professional look to your craft, but it cannot replace a sewing machine.
So if you have to choose one or the other, get a basic sewing machine. If, on the other hand, you do not have to choose between them, then you can get both of them as both have their advantages.
Here is a chart comparing the serger, traditional sewing machine and cover stitch machine. All these types of machines have different uses.
Is a Serger Necessary?
While a serger is always a valuable addition to your sewing, you alone can determine how necessary it is to get one. And to make that decision, you'd have to consider your budget and sewing requirements. If you sew for pleasure in the comfort of your home, a serger would not be as strictly necessary as it would be for a person who sews for business.
Every business person requires an overlocker to ensure your fabrics do not look unprofessional or have unraveling seams. Also, if you sew for pleasure, you can easily decide to avoid using stretchy materials like Lycra if your sewing machine cannot handle them effectively. But someone who sews professionally would not have nearly the same options.
In summary, yes, a serger is a necessary addition for the business-inclined sewer but not a home sewer.
Alternatives to Serging
An alternative to using a serger is to use a zigzag stitch to finish raw edges. There is also an overcast foot or overlock foot that you can purchase for basic sewing machines. This foot, however will not cut as it sews.
How to Do Serging Quick Guide
Always remember to first use your serger on a scrap before using it on your final fabric. This will help you avoid making any machine-related mistakes on your good project.
After testing your scrap, make the necessary adjustments. Only sew on your fabric when you have set your serging machine to the required specifications for your project.
Read the full article on how to use a serger.
1. Serging a Straight-Edge Seam
- Leave a tail of chain thread hanging from the back of your serger. Insert the edge of the fabric material underneath the presser foot of your serger.
- Hold on to the chain thread to ensure it doesn't get caught in your material.
- Start serging, allowing the material to be guided by the plate and presser foot. The raw edges will be cut as you sew. If you're a beginner, you can control your speed by controlling the foot pedal. Slow and easy does it!
2. Serging Convex Curves
- Insert the material under the foot and feed the fabric with one hand.
- Guide the machine around the curve of the material, keeping an eye on the blade as it cuts off the excess material.
- Ensure you do not go off the edge.
3. Serging Concave Curves
- Note that you generally have a smaller space to work here but that's not a problem if you go slowly.
- Straighten the edge of the material under the presser foot to follow the line of the blade.
- Your material will be bunched up slightly on the back but this is not a problem.
4. Serging Corners
- Insert your material underneath the foot and sew the first straight-edge as usual. Stop at the edge of the first corner
- Slowly sew one or two stitches beyond the corner - enough to allow you to turn the fabric.
- Lift the foot up and turn the fabric to the next edge. Put down the foot and go ahead with your sewing.
Tips for Buying a Serger Sewing Machine
Now you know what is serging, you may have decided that you want to buy a serging machine. Congratulations! To help you make the right choice from the myriad of options available in the market, here are some tips:
1. Try Before you Buy
As much as possible, try your serging machine out before making your purchase. It would do you no good to buy a product that won't perform.
2. Choose an Easy Threading Serger Machine
Don't let the multiple spools of thread intimidate you. Serger sewing machines use looper threads to lock in the needle thread. If you can, get a self-threading machine, as it will save you a lot of time in threading. Self-threading machines, of course, are more expensive but worth it, in my opinion.
Go for a machine that is color-coded and has thread guides. When you have to thread your serger, these directions guide you and save you from constantly grabbing your manual.
There are 3-thread and 4-thread machines. Choose the former for smaller neat seams or the latter for both regular and knit seams. I generally use a 4 thread serger.
3. Get a Well Known Brand of Serger Machine
Choose a well-known brand such as Brother, Singer, Janome, Juki, or Pfaff. These brands will last and come with good warranties. I have a Singer serger that I've had for 20 years and a Janome I've had for 9 years. Both are still going strong, and neither has ever given me any trouble.
What is Serging - In Conclusion
In summary, a serger or an overlocker is a secondary machine that is essential for professional finishes on your seams. Serging machines are useful in sewing stretch fabric and can even be used to gather ruffles.