Sergers…Do You Need One?

For many years I lived without a serger. 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 for one. I hemmed (no pun intended) and hawed about the cost and wondered if I’d ever use the thing. 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 proudly set a large box on the table and I opened it to find this:

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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 toys a guy would like in favor of this serger as a surprise for me. Wasn’t that sweet? That’s my man.

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. 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 tension. I watched the video that came with it 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 one?

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.

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).

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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 quite 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. Whether you are serging stretchy fabrics or condensables like georgette and crepe, it serges them flat every time. And, of course, it works great on cottons, polys, silks, linens, 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) without the loops going over the edge. Look at a T-shirt like this one:

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

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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 does the 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 combos out there. (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” 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.

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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 Craigslist 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 bummed. It’s become as important to me as my sewing machine. I think once you’ve tried one, you’ll feel the same way!