In the sewing world, some people consider a serger machine (also known as an overlock machine) to be an essential piece of equipment. It is typically used for finishing raw edges and seams on woven fabric by creating a tightly bound edge that will not unravel or fray. Some fabrics, such as knit or stretchy fabrics are great for sewing with a serger because the serger makes a stretchy seam. If you are thinking about buying a serger and want to make sure you really need one, this article will help you figure out if you need a serger!
I remember how excited I was to get my first serger. I was sewing lots of kids clothes at the time and I was sure it would cut my workload in half and make everything easy. I was right, partly. It did make sewing clothes together faster, but it came with a learning curve that took a few weeks to get over. And even now when I find using my serger easy, I dislike changing the threads so I stick to my favorite settings as much as possible.
So in this blog post I will explain the purposes of a serger and help you decide if you really need one. I won’t go into the details of how to thread and use a serger, but I will discuss how it works with different types of fabric.
If you decide you want to buy a serger, check out my Best Sergers to Buy for the Money.
What does a Serger Machine Do?
A serger machine uses 3, 4, or 5 threads to sew a seam, trim off the raw edges, and finish the edges all at the same time. The most common type is the 3/4 serger which can sew with three or four threads and has a retractable knife. As far as I know, all sergers have an adjustable stitch length and width (to achieve the proper seam allowance, and differential feed (to move the top and bottom fabric layers together).
When you are sewing with woven (non-stretchy fabrics like in the photo above) a serger is helpful because it will finish the raw edges and prevent fraying. But it is not necessarily the most durable way to sew the seam, so the proper method is to sew the seams with a sewing machine first.
Note that I said that sewing the seams first is the proper method, I sometimes skip that step if I am sewing pj’s or I’m really in a rush. You can also make a serged seam more durable by pressing it to one side and topstitching the seam from the right side.
When you are sewing on knit fabrics (like the t-shirts and underwear above), the opposite is true. Having a serger machine is a must if you sew with stretch fabric often.
A Serged Seam will Stretch!
You don’t necessarily need to finish the raw edges of knit fabric (since they won’t fray), but sewing the seams with a serger is usually more durable than sewing them on your sewing machine because the serged seam stretches.
We’ve all heard that familiar thread ‘pop’ when we stretch a t-shirt and a thread breaks. That is because the fabric stretched more than the seam did.
Is a Serger Good for Quilting and Sewing Projects Other Than Clothes?
Quite frankly, if you sew quilts you don’t need a serger. I know some people love their sergers so much that they use them for quilts too, but most quilters don’t want all that extra thread buildup making their quilt tops lumpy. It would be very difficult to accurately piece a quilt block with a serger and why bother? None of the seams will show anyway.
The same is generally true for sewing bags. Tote bags and purses are not usually sewn with knit fabrics so there is no need for a stretchy seam. On woven fabrics, serged seams are not as durable as straight stitched seams so why bother with the extra thread on the inside when it will be hidden by a lining? In that case you can stick to your trusty sewing machine.
Have you seen my favorite sewing machines to buy on Amazon for any budget?
The finished seam that I have been discussing is usually sewn with 3 or 4 threads on a serger (the 4-thread seam being the most durable). But I have to discuss one more common use for a serger, and that is finishing the edge of a single layer of fabric.
On the picture above, I finished the edges of the collar ruffle with a narrow rolled hem. This is an easy finish for lightweight woven and knit fabrics because the serger knife cuts off the extra fabric as you sew. You can also use decorative thread (especially soft woolly nylon thread) for a nice effect. The narrow rolled hem uses three threads, and is handy for a quick tablecloth too.
You can also use 3 or 4 threads to make a flat finished edge that you can turn to the inside and hem with a regular sewing machine.
In the picture above, I finished a t-shirt by serging the edge with a flat 4 thread stitch. Then I pressed the serged edge to the inside and used a double needle on my regular sewing machine to stitch the hem. The double needle hem is stretchy (like the serged stitch) so this hem will be durable, and it looks a lot like store-bought hems that were sewn with a cover stitch machine (another sewing machine entirely). Note: my 5-thread serger can sew a coverstitch hem, but getting the special tool out and threading the 5th cone of thread is such a pain, I decided to buy a separate coverstitch machine.
I’ve only discussed a few different stitches because those are the ones I use the most. If you are wondering whether or not you really need a serger, I hope this has helped.
Disclosure: some of my posts contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of those links I may receive a small commission, so thank you for supporting SewCanShe when you shop! All of the opinions are my own and I only suggest products that I actually use. 🙂