Understanding a Serger or Overlocking Sewing Machine

  • 01 of 06

    What Does a Serger Do?

    Serger stitching
    Schafer & Hill / Getty Images

    A serger trims the seam and encloses the seam allowance or edge of the fabric, inside a thread casing, all in one step. The width and density of the stitching are two of the many variables available on a serger. The options are not the same on all sergers. As with almost anything you purchase, the more you spend, the more options you will have.

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  • 02 of 06

    2-3-4 or 5 Thread Serging

    Overlock stitch and straight stitch along curved edge of pink fabric
    Peter Anderson / Getty Images

    Sergers are available with various thread use options. You can create different stitches and different results with the number of threads you use on the serger. Again, the more you spend, the more options you will have.

    • A 2-4 Thread serger: This machine has the capabilities of a true safety stitch and a two-thread overlocked edge. Two threads are used on each operation and you can use the machine to create each stitch separately from the other.
    • A 3-4 Thread Serger: This is a machine that can function with three or four threads. Either amount of threads will have a seam with some stretch capabilities, however, a four-thread seam will give you a wider and stronger seam. Most of these machines also have a rolled hem capability by changing ​the throat plate. For a rolled hem, the machine rolls the very edge of the fabric to the underside and encloses the edge with thread. The four-thread seam is sometimes referred to as a "mock safety" stitch. It has much of the strength of a seam made with a safety stitch or a separate seam but is not as strong.
    • A 5-Thread Serger: This machine is in the expensive range but has all the seam capabilities you could want. Three threads are used on the overlocked edge and two are used for the straight seam line. This is the seam you see on ready-mades that have an overlocked edge with the straight seam having a chain stitch. When doing production work, this machine eliminates having to switch between machines for a strong seam and seam finish.
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  • 03 of 06

    What Is Differential Feed on a Serger?

    Double ruffle with two rows of gather stitches at top edge and single row of stitches on bottom edge of pink fabric
    Peter Anderson / Getty Images

    A machine with differential feed gives you more options. When you are working with knits, you can adjust the feed, to obtain the same results that you would with an even feed foot on your regular machine. When working with a single layer of woven fabrics, you can "speed up the feed" to create a ruffle. You can also adjust the machine to create a waved edge (lettuce leaf) effect.

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  • 04 of 06

    Cover Stitch or Double Needle

    What about that stitch with two rows of topstitching and the serged look inside? This is the finish you find on some cuffs and seams that appear to be double needle topstitched. This stitch is called a cover stitch. Upper-end sergers usually have this capability.

    Using a double needle on a sewing machine will have the same appearance, but it will not have the same stretch capability that a serged seam will have.

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  • 05 of 06

    Can a Serger Replace My Regular Sewing Machine?

    Woman working at studio
    Kohei Hara / Getty Images

    Although some projects can be done 100 percent on a serger, a serger cannot replace a regular sewing machine. You will still need a regular machine for facings, zippers, topstitching, buttonholes, etc. A serger cannot do this job.

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  • 06 of 06

    What Machine Is Best?

    Fashion designer working in studio
    Hero Images / Getty Images

    As with any machine purchase, all of our expectations vary. Take the time to learn about what is on the market. Decide what is best for you. A serger is a new experience. If your dealer offers lessons, take advantage of them, to learn how to use all the machines capabilities. There are many books on the market for projects.

    Do I Have to Have a Serger? 

    A serger is not required equipment to sew. It does make life much easier on many of today's fabrics and it adds a lot of strength to many seams, especially children's clothing.

    It is the machine that will make the inside of your sewn items look like they were manufactured.