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 very professional looking seam. The threads lock around the seam to prevent fraying, and the machine also cuts off the seam allowance as it sews. Additionally, serged seams are ideal for stretch fabrics because the stitches can stretch with the fabric. 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, zippers, and sewing inside corners.
What does a serged seam look like?
I often hear people ask how to make stitches that look like the seams on the inside of a t-shirt. That’s a serged seam.
(The hems of most t-shirts are coverstitched. Some higher end sergers have a coverstitch feature. But if you’re on a budget, here’s how to “fake” a coverstitch.)
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.
- 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 $200 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.
So the short answer, in my opinion, is No.
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.
If you’re going to sell your items, and you don’t have a serger, just make sure you pay special attention to your seams. Use pinking shears on the edges of woven fabric to keep it from fraying. On knit fabrics, trim your seam allowances to about 1/4″ after sewing, and then finish the edges with a tight zig-zag. Most people wouldn’t even know the different between that and a serged edge.