Helpful Hints on How to Buy a Serger

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.)

GettyImages 596380996 Helpful Hints on How to Buy a SergerWhen 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. 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.)

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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.) 

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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.

Do you currently own a serger? What are your favorite features on your serger? Tell us in the comments section below!

 Helpful Hints on How to Buy a Serger
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20 Responses to Helpful Hints on How to Buy a Serger

  1. My Dream have new sewing machine quilting and all parts out of work for one yr Bethesda care home as housekeeping for20yr got oz from company it in hayward ca.dobt help me. Debbiebarlogio 9939gouldst Oakland ca 93602=2344.

  2. Kathleen says:

    My first serger was a Singer 1464u that my husband purchased in 1986. He paid $300, and I assure you that I got my money back. I had this serger for over 20 years sold it and purchase A Viking Huskylock 936 eight years ago. Once you have serger, you cannot live without it. It is like having a extra set of hands. Makes everything look more professional and polished.

  3. Robin says:

    I got a Baby Lock Ovation for Christmas (I would have bought it myself if my loud and long hints and sighing hadn’t been heard), and ended years of serging misery for the best time ever. Everyone above was absolutely right. Nothing, absolutely nothing, serges like a Baby Lock. Save your money and buy the best. It also doesn’t hurt that I also found the best dealer, who’s already become a friend. I’m a Baby Lock convert for life.

  4. During quilt and sewing expo in my city, I tried serge in a Baby Lock machine in 2010, and I have not gotten it off of my mind since. Once you have tested one yourself, you will want a Baby Lock serge machine too.

  5. Lee Macdonald says:

    I love the info in your post but thought you might like to know that the link to the sweepstakes isn’t working.

  6. Jane says:

    I have a Kenmore serger that my husband bought me years and years ago. I was intimidated by it for a long time. It’s just a basic serger, but it makes finishing seams so easy and they look so nice. I have used the rolled edge to make table cloths and it was so easy. So, I have learned not to be intimidated by new machines – sewing or embroidery, but to embrace all that they will do.

  7. glenda pryor says:

    Would love to own a server..I’ve heard they are wonderful to own! Thanks for the opportunity to win one;)

  8. Darlene Deck says:

    I have always wanted a serger, I have bought two from Walmart, but never had much luck with the brand they sell both broke while using them. Please enter me for a brother serger

  9. Kathleen Marlow says:

    I own a Viking 936. While I do use it, I don’t use it as much as I should. I am still intimidated by the threading. I would love a new one…

  10. Banner Witt says:

    At the time my Mom and I are sharing her Baby lock. I love to use the serger to construct comfy pants. They go together so quickly. I could not live without the easy threader of her Baby lock. Not only do I save time I tend to not talk to the machine as much. :)

  11. Darcie says:

    I have a Viking 905 that’s about ten years old now. It’s a 4 thread, nothing fancy, does the basics PERFECTLY machine, and I love it. Couldn’t live without it. The one feature I wish I had was coverstitching!

  12. Cyndy says:

    One day I’ll own a serger………

  13. Pamela Caskey says:

    Years ago I purchased a Singer Serger on a whim it was just a basic one and I never was happy with it. I have seen many since then that I thought might be nice to own. Now am considering getting one again and am just checking out my options before jumping in and getting one. I live in the AZ desert and will probably have to order on e on line and not have any shop near by to learn to use it. So to me online support is important.
    I have to drive 80 miles to the nearest fabric store if I really want to go to one.

  14. I have three each a different kinds and
    Love each one for a defferent reason,but
    I don’have a baby lock do have baby lock
    10 needle love and my babylock embelisher
    Both a great machine.

  15. Maureen V says:

    I don’t have a serger & don’t know how to use one. My goal is to purchase one someday since I’ve always heard that they make the sewing process faster especially with knits, etc.

  16. Karen Poole says:

    I have owned several Sergers. The one I own now is a Babylock Enlighten and I LOVE it!! My favorite feature is the extroidinaire threading! It is a push button air “woosh” that automatically threads the looper threads, it also has a needle threaders for the needles and it can be threaded in ANY order!! I love using my serger!! It has been a great purchase for me! It makes threading almost fun!!

  17. Debbie Chenooweth says:

    My sister gave me her old serger and it is the hardest thing to thread. I dream about getting a baby lock serger that has the self threading.

  18. Terrie Morrison says:

    Love, love my Babylock serger! Sew more on my serger than the sewing machine. There’s just so much you can do on it. Makes sewing with knits a breeze. I have the Enlighten, but would love to have the Ovation.

  19. Vicki Pardons says:

    I have an Evolution that is wonderful!!! Heirloom techniques such as puffing, piping, edge joining are just so much fun on the surger!

  20. Peggy A. says:

    Mine saves me lots of time by threading itself and setting its own tension. Nothing serges like a Baby Lock!