Serger F.A.Q.'s and Buying Guide


What is the difference between a serger and a regular sewing machine?
A serger is a specialized sewing machine. Sometimes it's called an overlock machine. It will generally use 4 threads and 2 needles. There are some machines that can also use 5 threads, and most machines have options that use 1 needle and 2 or 3 threads.
A serger makes a more professional and durable seam than a standard sewing machine, especially for fabrics that have stretch. The threads lock around the seam to prevent fraying, and the machine also cuts off the seam allowance as it sews. Sergers are very fast and make sewing knits much easier.
A serger is not a stand-alone machine- it can't replace a standard sewing machine in most situations. You need to have the standard sewing machine for things like topstitching and zippers.

What does a serged seam look like?

This is what a serged edge looks like.

If you look at the seams of your t-shirts, those will also be serged. The hem of most t-shirts is coverstitched. Some higher end sergers have a coverstitch feature. But if you're on a budget, here's how to "fake" a coverstitch.

Why doesn't everyone who sews have a serger?
For one, you still need a regular machine. Like I said before, a serger is not an all-in-one piece of machinery.
Second, they have only recently started making relatively inexpensive sergers (the cheapest quality sergers are around $200, scroll down for links).
And third, a lot of people have a heart attack trying to thread a standard machine... the idea of threading 3, 4, or 5 threads is a nightmare. However, it isn't actually very hard once you've practiced a few times. Some of the more expensive machines have automatic threading.

Do I have to have a serger?

Well, it depends on what kind of sewing you do and how often you do it. You technically don't even really need a standard sewing machine. Lots of people like to sew by hand. I don't. :P

  • If crafting and sewing is just a hobby, and you don't know if you'll stick with it forever, a serger can probably wait, especially if you don't have $2oo to burn. You can always keep an eye out for used sergers on Ebay and Craiglist, or wait until you're fully addicted to sewing and have decided a serger is something you can't live without.
  • If you sew a lot for yourself or your kids, and you work with a lot of knits and stretch fabrics, a serger will make your life a million times faster and easier.
  • If you'd like to produce clothes or other sewn items for sale, a serger will make your stuff look more professional.

I've seen "overlock" foot attachments for standard sewing machines, but I've honestly never used one or seen one used. I can't say how comparable it is to a genuine serged seam.

What should I look for when buying a serger?
Some of the cheaper machines (mentioned below, with a warning) only have 3 thread serging. I figure, if you're going to shell out all this cash, you might as well get your money's worth in thread. So look for something with at least 4 threads.
I also recommend differential feed (standard on most sergers, I think). Diff. feed helps make an even stitch on different kinds of fabrics.
Fancier machines will come with automatic jet stream threading and 5 thread capabilities and other such magical wonders. If that's in your price range, I envy you, but for most of us, it's not necessary or realistic. Contrary to advice I've seen on other sites, you do NOT need to spend $700 to get a functioning serger.
Some top-of-the-line machines will also come with a coverstitch option. Again, a nice option if you're independently wealthy, but if you're a student like I was when I got my first serger, it's not gonna happen.
It's always a bonus if your machine comes with an instructional DVD or video. Mine did, and I scoffed at first. How quaint, I thought, it comes with it's very own VHS! But I did sit down and watch it, and not only did I get to see all the cool stuff my machine could do, it made threading way easier to understand.
As with most stuff, you'll hear differing opinions about a particular machine anywhere you go. Check out some reviews before you buy, take some time to do some research. I like Amazon's reviews, Epinions.com, and sewing.patternreview.com.

Where can I find a cheap serger?
Stay away from the super cheap "off-brand" sergers on Ebay. I've only seen bad reviews for them. (I think the brand is called Gemsy.)
Brand name machines like Brother, Singer, Husqvarna, etc. will probably be your best bet, and you can always look for used models on Ebay or through local dealers.
I'll discuss my two machines briefly:

The Brother 1034D is my newest serger. Compared to my other cheapo serger, this mother (or Brother, I should say, ha!) is heavy duty. It's a lot quieter and "smoother" than my Simplicity serger. How smooth? Doobie Brothers smooth. I put this machine through a lot of abuse, and so far, it hasn't complained.
It cost me about $30 more than what I paid for the Simplicity 3-4 years ago, and it was worth every cent. Plus, you can usually get it with free shipping through Amazon. It also has the best reviews for the $200 range sergers.

I've had the Simplicity Sergepro since about 2003, and I used it almost everyday until I bought the Brother in 2007. I know other people that have it, and I've never heard any complaints.
At the time I bought it, it was the only serger I could find in my price range ($200 or less), and I bought it refurbished for $169. It gets the job done, but overall I think the Brother is a better buy.

If you have another machine in mind, or you've got a bigger budget than $200, check outAmazon's reviews, Epinions.com, and sewing.patternreview.com before buying. I pretty much don't make any big investments without checking out some consumer reviews.

Is it really hard to thread a serger?
Once you get the hang of it, threading a serger you're familiar with isn't too difficult. Just imagine threading your standard machine 4 times. ;)
It's definitely a plus if your machine comes with an instructional video. That's when I really "got" threading my machine.

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