The Low-Down on Sergers

Several people have asked me about sergers  (overlock machines) recently and of course my blog-mode mind automatically thinks: alert, turn this into a blog post.  So here we go – – sergers are DIFFERENT than sewing machines.  Why??  well, you sew with 3-4 threads instead of 2, but the biggest difference is that it cuts the material as it sews to give a nice edge.  The threads wrap around that edge. You can have a sewing machine and not own a serger.  But I don’t think you can have a serger without having a sewing machine.  Hopefully I can show you why with my pictures. 
Take a quick pause reading and turn your t-shirt side seam (or, let’s face it, the sideseam in your pj pants) inside out – see it??  That’s what a serger does.  That is a serged seam.  It looks like this:
When 2 pieces of fabric are sewn on top of each other, it cuts the edge as it sews and then wraps thread around the edge, for a really nice finish.  Here’s the same seam, unopened, just as it would come off the machine.
I LOVE using my serger.  The inside of all that I made just looks more finished and nicer.  If I get lazy, I serge in conjuction with hemming.  I run the edge through the serger, then fold it over once and on a regular sewing machine tack it down (see, you can’t get rid of your regular machine) – – this is instead of folding and folding again when making a hem – – here’s my visual, the underside of the bottom of a dress:
Another big difference in sergers – you feed your material straight through and pull it out the back – that means your foot still drives the machine even if there is no fabric directly under the needle (which is what you’re taught NOT to do with a regular sewing machine).  So the presser foot on a serger always stays down – you don’t lift it to put your material in, you just feed your material through it.  And you can go really fast with your serging.  You can even make decorative chains and stuff with the thread, but I’ve never done that – see the chain coming:
Above I talked about a serged seam.  That’s one of two ways I mainly use my serger.  The other is called a “rolled hem”.  A serged edge is not a finished edge – it’s wide and not meant to be seen.  A rolled hem, on the other hand, will finish an edge.  It’s a smaller, tighter stitch.  I always use a rolled hem on the arm holes of pillowcase dresses – regular hemming you’d turn it under and then turn it under again, and that’s hard to do in a curved area like an arm hole, so I just quickly zip it through my serger with a rolled hem.  Here’s what that looks like:
You see rolled hems a lot on the edges of tulle or netting, etc.  Or even knit dresses might have a rolled hem edge.  They work great for thinner fabric as well.
To switch from serging to rolled hem on my machine, I turn one dial and remove the “stitch finger” circled here, so it’s not hard:
But anything else I need to do on my serger, I have to get the manual out and look up the how-to.  Threading sergers is whole new ballgame – think of threading your sewing machine, getting it just right, times that by 4 threads that cross over each other – tricky (I opened my bottom panel in that first picture so you can see where it all threads).  So tricky that a lot of people, instead of rethreading for a new color, tie the new color on the end of the old color and pull the new thread through that way.  But once it’s threaded right, you should be good to go.
My machine came with a how-to video which was actually helpful to watch.  It does lots of things I haven’t ventured into, like adding on ribbon and elastic.  I did try out my Gathering Foot (see post HERE) and that was amazing, so I should probably branch out and try a few more features.
I think I mentioned that I bought my embroidery machine off of Ebay.  So you won’t be surprise to learn that I bought my serger off of CraigsList.  I’m a big fan of buying used – highly recommend it.  I paid $75 for mine and the lady had taken a how-to-use-your-serger class and then never used it again, so I thought I got an unbelieveable deal.  I’m sure there are great deals out there waiting to be found.
So I’ve kind of rambled my way around sergers.  Is there any questions you have that I missed?  I’m not a serger expert, but I do love owing one and think it was worth purchasing.  I use it in most things that I sew.  I’ll try to answer any questions you have about sergers.  Also, if you have a sewing/crafting topic you’d like to see me talk about, just let me know (I know someone mentioned learning about the Cricuit – I wish I had one! but I don’t – so I can’t expound on that machine – if only…)
Thanks for checking out this post from – – click on over to read it in its entirety – you’ll love it!

Thanks for Reading


  1. says

    I’m visiting from New Friend Friday. Wow! Your blog is amazing – so full of great ideas – I wish I had time and was this creative.

  2. says

    I’ve been considering getting a serger, because everyone who gets one seems to adore them. I love using the overlock foot and stitch on my regular sewing machine, so my guess is that a serger would make that easier and a cleaner finish. I recently bought a foot for my sewing machine that cuts the fabric for an overlock stitch, so imitates a serger look but of course without all the threads. I haven’t tried it yet.
    Hmmm…you’ve got me thinking. Perhaps I will try the new foot, and then go use a friend’s serger and compare the two. Do you have any feedback on comparing different overlock foots on a regular machine to a serged finish?

  3. says

    Of all the things I’ve looked for on CL, and a serger never occured to me. I will now! I’ve been wanting a serger, but they seem a little intimidating and this was a nice breakdown. Thanks. :)

  4. says

    Stopping by from New Friend Friday :)

    As a relatively new sewist, all of this info was super helpful! I knew of the general purpose of the serger, but now I’ll know what I’m getting into when I get serious with my sewing this summer.

  5. says

    I lover my serger too. I just ventured into using my gathering foot and need to practice some more with that. I can’t seem to ruffle stretchy fabric though. Do you know if that is possible with a serger?

  6. says

    I agree with getting a serger second-hand. There are definitely two types of serger owners – those who buy it and use it about twice, and those who love it to death. I bought mine from eBay. I also thought if I don’t use it, at least I can sell it again for about the same price I paid, but I love it!

  7. says

    I wanted to add my two cents about sergers.

    I bought a Singer serger because that’s what they had at Joann, and boy, was it hard to thread. I mean I spent HOURS on that thing and never got it done. I hired someone to try to help me thread it and we couldn’t get it done. I eventually sold it without serging a stitch.

    Last year I bought a Baby Lock Imagine at a nearby sewing machine store after very extensive research on popular sergers. The jet air threading is the best-you just feed an inch of thread into this little hole, press a button, and bam! it’s threaded. I switch colors often and it takes me about three minutes. The catch? It’s a VERY expensive machine. Mine was refurbished, and I think it was $1800. But worth every penny. This thing is built like a tank and has a very long-term warranty. Also, they tend to hold their value, so if I wanted to resell, I could recoup most of my money.

    If you are a dedicated sewer, it could really be worth it to invest in a quality machine with ease of use. The problems with my first machine were 100% of the reason why I didn’t use it. I use my serger almost every day now.

    (FYI, I am not in any way affiliated with Baby Lock).

  8. says

    I just bought a Serger and I’ll be linking to your post on my blog! Thanks!!! I’ve only had it for a week or 2 and have only used it to do serged seams. The gathering foot and the ability to easily create ruffles is a big reason why I bought a serger and I like to sew with recycled t-shirts. I also just sewed a quilt out of recylced sweaters and I had thought of using my serger, but I wasn’t sure how it would do serger so many different weights and textures of fabrics. Any idea on that? Maybe that’s where the differential feed comes in? I posted my quilt on my blog if you want to see what I mean. My serger is so new, and so treasured to me, I didn’t want to risk breaking it on one of my first projects! Thanks for all the info!

  9. says

    I really really want a serger! I think it is going to be a long time before I get one! Thanks for sharing the in and outs about them on Hoo’s got talent!

  10. says

    Guyie44 Hi. This is the first time I have read anything about sergers. They are one great help on the sewing room. I have my cutting mat, and cutter. I don’t need one of the things everyone is talking about. they are nothing compared to the serger. It dan sew as your machine does,you can decorate with them, I got my first one when they first came out. I quick went and got me one. The lady was all aflutter about The fact I wouldn’t take lessons with it. I told her I have the top modle of a machine and learned it myself, so I guess I can learn the serger. I read the book and then had a ball with it. I got a book from my aunt about all the ways you can embelish with it, so I played more. Then I made some onesys for a neww baby that was on the way. I sewed the shirts inside out with Wholly Nylon It looked so sweet. everyone at the shower wanted to know how I did it. Any way, I got the 4 thread when it came out, that one has two needles, twice the fun. I have 2 serg=ers, and 3 sewing machines, I keep them all set uo for different projects. I like to have a bunch or things going all at once. So Ladies do not be scared of the sergers, go by your book there are colors to show you what to thread and where. and most important, KEEP THEM CLEAN. I clean mine every time im done sewing with it. I get all the lint out, you can buy a small set of vacume brushes that fit right on your vacume hose, that cleans every thing out. Then oil them, put a paper towel under the pressure foot and when you want to use it again your good to go. Have Fun and get a book that shows you the many things you can do with it.

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