As we mentioned on the blog last week, April is National Serger Month! I received my first serger as a gift when I was studying fashion design in college, and I fell in love right away. Not only does a serger save you time by cutting, sewing and overlocking a seam all in one step, it has a multitude of options for constructing, embellishing and finishing dozens of fabric types and projects. (Jill detailed some of those fun options in her post from last week.)
When I’m traveling to sewing events throughout the year, I meet lots of fellow serger enthusiasts, but I also meet lots of sewists (both veterans and newbies) who’ve never tried using a serger or are intimidated by the process of choosing the right serger to buy. With so many makes and models and features, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. However, once you break down what you need in a serger and take a few for a spin at a machine dealer, it becomes much easier to find the one for you.
Whether you want to buy your first serger or upgrade to a new model, here are a few helpful features and options to consider as you start your serger search.
Number of threads: Most conventional sergers are available with anywhere from 2-threads up to 8-threads (like the awesome Baby Lock Ovation that you can enter to win this month!). Most sergers have the option of changing the number of threads you’re using depending on the application, so it’s a good idea to buy a serger that has the maximum threads that you’ll want to use at any given time.
- 2-thread: Most sergers have the option for at least three threads, but some sergers are still available that only have the option for one needle and use two spools of thread. They’re used mainly for finishing edges and aren’t designed to sew seams (other than flatlocking) because the threads don’t connect at the seamline. This machine is also known as a 2-thread overlock.
- 3-thread: These have one needle and use three spools of thread. The three-thread overlock is used as a seam and for finishing edges. This works well on knits because it allows the fabric to stretch. Both rolled hem and flatlock stitches can be made on this machine.
- 3-4 thread: These have two needles and use four spools of thread. The extra needle adds a row of straight stitches through the middle of the three-thread overlock. This adds durability to the seam. It’s suitable for both woven and knit fabrics. You can also create rolled hem and flatlock stitches by using only one needle, similar to a 3-thread machine.
- 4-thread: These have two needles and use four spools of thread. The stitch created is composed of a two-thread chain stitch that runs to the left of a two-thread overlock. All four threads are needed to serge a seam. This particular stitch is stable and suitable for woven fabrics–but isn’t recommended for knit fabrics since the chain doesn’t allow for stretch.
- 5+thread: These have two or more needles and use five or more spools of thread. The 5-thread stitch created is composed of a two-thread chain stitch combined with a 3-thread overlock. This stitch is used mainly for fabrics that ravel easily. Rolled hems and flatlocking can also be stitched with this machine, in addition to dozens of decorative and functional stitches. It’s the most versatile of all machines because of the options it offers.
Differential Feed: The feed dogs in a serger serve the same purpose as in a sewing machine: to help the fabric travel smoothly under the presser foot. However, most sergers differ from convential sewing machines because they have two sets of feed dogs positioned one if front of the other under the throatplate. This allows for a feature called differential feed, meaning that the two feed dog sets can be adjusted to feed the fabric through the machine at different speeds depending on the fabric and/or seam type. Most sergers have differential feed, so be sure to ask to try out that feature when you’re shopping. There are few instances when differential feed is super helpful:
- Knits: Differential feed is very useful for serging smooth knit seams because the varying speed helps guide the fabric without stretching it or creating a wavy edge.
- Gathering/Ruffles: If you’ve ever gathered an edge the old fashioned way (basting, pulling the thread tails, etc.), the differential feed on a serger is a huge timesaver. It can create a gathered edge in one easy step when the front feed dogs are set to move more quickly than the back set. This allows the fabric to bunch up under the the presser foot as the seam is formed, creating gathers.
- Lettuce Edge: Differential feed also gives you the option to create that cute, intentionally wavy and ruffled lettuce edge that you see on lots of little girls’ clothing. Reducing the differential feed slows down the front set of feed dogs in comparison to the back set, stretching the fabric edge to make that curly effect. (You can find a tutorial on creating a lettuce edge, as well as lots of other serger finishing options in my blog post here.)
Threading Ease: Most sergers have color-coded thread paths and a threading diagram for convenience. Some models offer self-threading loopers, which makes the process way easier. Threading a serger may seem difficult at first, but with practice, it becomes a quick and easy process. When purchasing a serger, thread different machines to get a feel for their threading ease.
Rolled Hem: A rolled hem is a narrow, dense stitch made on the edge of the fabric (see the pink sample below). It has so many handy applications that you’ll definitely want to make sure your serger can stitch it and stitch it well. Some sergers require a special plate or foot to sew a rolled hem, while others can be adjusted for rolled hemming without any attachments. When you’re testing sergers, make sure that conversion from the standard serger stitch to the rolled hem is a simple process. (Learn more about rolled hems and different ways to use them here.)
Coverstitch: Coverstitches are used with knits and active wear. The right side resembles double-needle topstitching and the underside resembles serger loops that cover the turned-down raw edge. Most sergers with a coverstitch option must be converted from an overlock stitch to a coverstitch. Any machine that makes this process easy will save you time when going back and forth between stitches. Ask your dealer to tell you about the coverstitch options for different serger models.
Free Arm: This feature allows you to finish hard-to-reach seams quickly and with easier handling, so be sure to check if the serger has this option.
When you visit the machine dealer, keep all of these features in mind as you test-drive the sergers on hand, and it will make the whole process much more fun and simple. And don’t forget to enter the National Serger Month Sweepstakes to win the Baby Lock Ovation serger and one-year subscription to Sew News! How exciting!
Do you currently own a serger? What are your favorite features on your serger? Tell us in the comments section below!