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Ask anyone what a sewing machine is, even someone who has never used one, and they can give you a decent explanation.
But not everyone has heard of a serger--even those with sewing skills may be confused about what it is.
Today, we’re going to compare and contrast the two, so you can decide if a serger is worth investing in.
What is a Serger and What is a Serger Used For?
A serger is a type of sewing machine, and it performs certain functions better than a regular sewing machine. It’s also known as an “overlock sewing machine” outside of the United States.
How Does a Serger Work?
It cuts the fabric’s raw edge, enclosing the seam allowance or edge inside a thread casing. The result is beautiful, neatly finished edges, all in one step.
What Does a Serger Do?
A serger is used to bind fabric together with an overlock stitch, which most sewing machines can’t do very well.
Types of Serger Stitches
Sergers have many stitching options to choose from. While by no means an exhaustive list, here are a few of the most common.
The 4-thread overlock is a tried and true serger stitch. It’s one of the most used, strongest stitches, and it’s the best for seaming. The 4-thread overlock encloses a seam at the same time it uses multiple threads to lock the edges.
The 3-thread overlock is similar to the 4-thread, but it’s less bulky and therefore less robust, as only one needle is used to create the stitch. It’s excellent for thick and medium-weight fabrics or if you want to make a blind hem.
The 2-thread flatlock is a strong and reversible stitch that joins two fabrics by creating a flat seam. It features two rows of parallel stitching on the right side, with a looper on the other.
Finally, you can use a serger to create a rolled hem, which is excellent for lightweight and sheer fabrics, as it’s almost an invisible stitch. The machine makes it by rolling the edge of the material to the underside, then closing the edge with thread.
What is a Sewing Machine and What is it Used For?
Though they come in many varieties, every sewing machine has one primary function: piecing fabric layers together.
Who Invented the Sewing Machine?
Barthelemy Thimmonnier, a French tailor, is the person we have to thank for the sewing machine. However, we’d be remiss not to mention Walter Hunt and Elias Howe. Both made significant improvements to the device that brought us closer to the machine we know today.
When was the Sewing Machine Invented?
Thimmonnier received a patent for the sewing machine during the Industrial Revolution in 1830.
How Does a Sewing Machine Work?
Sewing machines create stitches using two threads, one fed from above the fabric and another fed from below.
Types of Sewing Machine Stitches
Because a quality sewing machine can perform many stitches, the options can be overwhelming, especially for new sewers. Here is a brief overview of some of the most popular.
The straight stitch is the most basic stitch available, and as you’ve likely guessed, it creates a straight line. The straight stitch is what you’ll use most of the time when sewing, and it’s useful for all projects. Cheaper machines generally have pre-set lengths, while more expensive machines allow you to adjust the stitch length.
The zigzag stitch is another essential, useful stitch. It’s used to finish edges and sew seams on stretch fabric. The zigzag stitch is also helpful for applique motifs.
Blind Hem Stitch
The blind hem stitch is for creating invisible hems. All basic machines have this capability, and it looks like an uneven zigzag. When you’re finished sewing, you can barely see blind hem stitches. They’re best for wider straight-edged hems.
If you want to create buttonholes, this stitch reinforces the hole and keeps the fabric from unraveling. Even the most basic sewing machines have a buttonhole stitch, with the fancier models having various shapes to choose from.
Similarities and Differences
So now that you know more about sergers and sewing machines, you’re probably wondering which one is right for you. Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between the two, so you can answer that question.
Serger and Sewing Machine Similarities
Though their functionalities are quite different, sergers and sewing machines do have some similarities.
The most obvious “similarity” between the two is their appearance, which may cause an experienced tailor to accidentally purchase a serger or vice versa--a costly mistake.
Both sergers and sewing machines can deliver neat piping to add contrast to your garments.
Though gathering fabric is much easier on a serger, this is another feature that both machines are capable of.
Narrow hems are perfect for fine fabrics (think silks and chiffons), and they’re easy to do with sergers and sewing machines.
Serger and Sewing Machine Differences
While we can find some common ground, there are many more differences between sergers and sewing machines than similarities.
Sewing machines are the clear winner in terms of functions. Home models do pretty much anything you ask of them, and then some. They’re the quintessential sewing workhorse.
Besides using them to sew basic seams, you can do things like embroider, hem several different ways, attach zippers, and create decorative stitches (to name a few). Changing tasks on a sewing machine is also a breeze. It’s usually a simple matter of changing the presser.
Sergers have significantly fewer functions, though they’re by no means a one-trick pony. A lot of people underutilize sergers, thinking them useful only for overlocking. They’re one of the best tools to gather elastic evenly on a waistband, and you can also do piping, bias binding, beading, and blind hems with a serger.
When it comes to speed and efficiency, sergers win this category. They have an automatic system to control the thread flow, unlike most standard sewing machines that require the sewer to control the feed manually. Sergers also reach much higher speeds--an impressive 1700 stitches per minute--which makes them much more efficient.
Number of Threads/Bobbins/Needles
Sewing machines have just one needle, while sergers have multiple needles. Sergers also have more bobbins than sewing machines, which are needed to feed the needles that require varying numbers of threads at once.
Serger needles are typically smaller than standard sewing machine needles, and they cannot be interchanged.
Top Pick Between a Serger and a Sewing Machine
Given that they serve almost entirely different functions, it’s impossible to say that one is better than the other; each has its strengths and weaknesses. It’s best to carefully assess your needs and skill level before deciding to purchase a serger or a sewing machine.
If you’re a beginner, a sewing machine is all you need. You can make an extensive range of garments with it, and some make mock overlock stitches--just without the cutting knife that characterizes the serger. It’s also very flexible, and you can easily detect and fix a wrong line quickly. Plus, the learning curve for newbies is much lower than it is with a serger.
A serger makes an excellent complement to your main sewing machine, and it can help you work faster and make durable seams. But although a serger can do other stitches, its primary function is the overlock stitch, which makes it more limited in use. Unless you plan to sell garments and need them to look professional (and you only want to buy one machine), you may not need one.
If you have the budget for it, some people choose to have one of each. For experienced sewers, this strategy is excellent, as the two machines complement each other quite well.
In the end, the decision to purchase a serger or a sewing machine depends mostly on your skills, experience level, and needs. Everyone who sews needs a well-functioning sewing machine, but not everyone who sews needs a serger. We hope this post cleared up the differences between the two. Happy sewing!
People Also Ask
Let’s wrap things up with some common questions people have about sergers vs. sewing machines.
Why are Sergers so Expensive?
Sergers are expensive because they are specialized sewing machines that add a polished look to home-made garments. Additionally, they significantly speed up the sewing process, can be used for decoration/construction, and professionals need them to achieve a clean edge on their creations.
Can a Serger Do Embroidery?
A serger can do some basic decoration and simple designs, but it lacks a dedicated embroidery machine’s capabilities.
Can Sewing Machines Do Overlocking?
If you need overlocking functions, make sure to buy a sewing machine with this specific function. However, even standard sewing machines that come with overlock foot attachments tend to be inferior to sergers. They don’t give you the stretchability and durability you need to keep the edges from fraying.
Can You Do a Straight Stitch on a Serger?
While a serger can create many different stitches, straight stitches aren’t one of them. You need a regular sewing machine to make a simple straight stitch.
Can You Use a Serger for Regular Sewing?
A serger can do some sewing tasks from start to finish, but it can’t replace your regular sewing machine.
For example, forget about using a serger to create top stitches, buttonholes, and zippers. For these tasks, your standard home sewing machine is your best bet.
How Much Does a Sewing Machine Cost?
Sewing machines range greatly in cost. More basic models begin at around $100, while higher-grade sewing machines can cost $500. As is the case with most devices, if you want to spend more, you can--some of the fanciest models run thousands of dollars. But pretty much anyone can find something for them, regardless of their price range.
How Much is a Serger?
The price range of a serger varies just as it does for sewing machines. The cheapest models you can find are around $200, while professional-grade sergers can cost up to $2,000 (or more). Mid-range sergers cost about $500, making them a serious investment for most people.
When to Use a Serger vs Sewing Machine
One reason to use a sewing machine over a serger is that many models don’t require electricity, making them much more portable.
But if the electricity issue isn’t critical for you, you should invest in a quality sewing machine if you’re a beginner. As you get better and see the need for more advanced tools, you may want to consider investing in a serger. Sergers are excellent for knits, and they’re practical for anyone who sells clothes and needs them to have a professional finish.