Sergers…Do You Need One?

For many years I lived without a serger (also called an overlocker). First of all, they weren’t even invented when I started to sew. But even years after they were available, I still hadn’t forked over the money to buy one. I hemmed (no pun intended) and hawed about the cost and wondered if I’d ever get enough use out of it. After all, my sewing machine could finish an edge just fine, I reasoned. If you’re looking to buy a sewing machine, check out this post on How To Choose a Sewing Machine.)

But on my 39th birthday, my husband came home from work and proudly set a large box on the table. Imagine my surprise and delight to open it and find this:

view of my serger, 134

He had earned enough bonus points at work to choose a prize from a catalog that featured all sorts of wonderful items. And he bypassed all the choices in the catalog that a guy would like in favor of this serger. Wasn’t that sweet and thoughtful?

And, boy was I surprised.

And, then I have to be honest. …

I let it sit there for months. I was intimidated and didn’t know how to make it work. It probably would have helped to read the manual right off the bat rather than let it intimidate me with the silent treatment.

One day, I sat and looked at the manual and learned how to thread it.

The next day, I learned about the tension disks. I watched the video that came with the machine and learned even more. By the end of the week I had enough courage to actually try it out.

And it’s been a match made in heaven ever since!

So, do you need an overlocker?

Well, it depends on what your definition of “need” is.

I use mine almost every day that I sew. And that’s about 5 days a week.

That may be in part because I run a sewing business. But even if I didn’t, there are so many wonderful uses for them.

It does such a beautiful job of finishing an edge. (In this photo, I put the serged edge on another piece of the same fabric so you could see the stitches better).

serged seam to show the advantage of serged seams, 137

It does such a wonderful job of rolling an edge (great for making so many things: from cloth napkins to hems on bridal gowns.)

Because I sew for other people, it makes my work look more professional.

That in itself is worth it.

I’ve also used it to finish off a torn edge on towels, rags, and finishing seam allowances on clothing that I make.

So, if you decide to buy one, there are a few options to consider.

First, be sure and get one that has differential feed. Sergers have two feed dogs and differential feed regulates them so that it serges a perfect edge every time. To engage the differential feed on your overlocker, simply turn the appropriate dial on your machine. Your manual should tell you what numbers work for each type of fabric.

Whether you are serging stretchy fabrics or condensable fabrics like georgette and crepe, ithe differential feed ensures that your overlocker serges them flat every time. I have used it on most every type of fabric and so far, it works great on cotton, polyester, silk, linen, denim, and every other fabric under the sun.

If you can, get one that does a cover stitch. This means that you can hem a knit (or other fabric) and the raw edges of the fabric all at the same time. Look at a T-shirt like this one:

the view of a serged hem seam, 135

This has been serged with a cover stitch. See, the underside is nice and finished:

back side of cover stitch on a knit top, 136

I have one that has the option of using three or four threads. It’s called a 3/4 thread serger. The three thread option creates rolled hems. The four thread does the rest. For me, that’s all I need.

But, if you like decorative stitches, there are all sorts of combinations to choose from. (3/4/5 thread, 2 thread, 4/5 thread, etc.) There are even machines that will combine a regular serged (flatlock) stitch with a cover stitch to give it an 8 thread look. So, check them out. See what fits your sewing lifestyle and your budget.

There are some sergers that offer a chain stitch. I would love to have this option. It’s the stitch that you see on lots of ready made clothing. It looks just like a chain with “links” (or chains) on one side and a straight stitch on the other. When you need to do an alteration, you pull on one thread and the whole seam comes out instantaneously. What a time saver!

Let’s talk about tension. At first I was intimidated by the tension settings as each dial is set independently of the other. So, once I figured out the perfect tension for a certain kind of fabric, I wrote it down. The numbers I wrote down represent the dials on the serger (from left to right). With this little system, I don’t have to re-figure out the tension every time I sit down to serge. Of course, your settings may be different on your machine.

my paper that shows all the tension settings for different fabrics on my serger, overlocker, 138

Pretty sophisticated system, huh? I lost this paper for about a year once and I was beside myself. It took moving to another house to find it!

Can you live without a serger?


Can you still hem stretchy knits without a cover stitch?


Here’s a post on How To Hem Stretchy Knits.

Can you still construct garments without one?

Yes, but some of my friends construct garments almost entirely with a serger because it stitches and finishes the seam all at the same time.

Do your homework on brands and models. Look at Consumer Reports and similar publications on the subject and see what features you like best. Borrow a serger from a friend or relative and give it a try. Then, visit your local sewing machine dealer and test drive several. Many dealers will let you check one out for a few days. You may have to leave your first born as collateral, but, hey, that might be just what the two of you need!

If buying a new serger is not in your budget, save up for a used one. Check out your local Facebook Marketplace and ebay. It may take some patience waiting for the right one to come along, but it’ll be worth it.

I’ve got to say that if something ever happened to my serger, I’d be awfully disappointed. It’s become as important to me as my sewing machine. I think once you’ve tried one, you’ll feel the same way!