Recently updated on July 17th, 2022
The serger also called an overlock machine, stitches a seam, trims the excess seam allowance, and overcasts the edge of the fabric all in one operation, allowing you to achieve professional-quality stitching in minutes. Their speed is amazing! It’s easy to repair torn seams, make PJs for your growing child, or throw together a gift in a flash. The number of thread spools required depends on the model. Sergers can be used for a variety of things, including:
- Finalizing seams
- Producing swimwear, T-shirts, lingerie, napkins, and table runners
- Add elastic to clothing
- Make flowers or other embellishments to decorate garments
- Cover stitch the hem and facing edges
- Sewing on knits more quickly than with a sewing machine
- Gathering or adding ruffles to clothing or home decor (pillow shams).
How can you use a coverstitch machine?
Coverstitching and topstitching knits are the primary uses of coverstitch machines. As the looper thread crosses back and forth between the needle threads, a grid or chain is formed on the reverse side. Stitching knit fabrics are made easier as a result of this elastic and durable stitch. Coverstitching is often superior to regular sewing when hemming stretchylLycra knits.
- Finishing the garment edges with hems
- Hemming in the round
- The fabric needs to retain its “stretchability”, specifically when it comes to knit fabrics (this may cause the fabric to pucker)
- A looper underneath can be used along with one, two, three, or even more needles
- Make complex thread patterns
- The classic T-shirt hem can be achieved by using two needles
- Taking care of raw edges on a fabric
- It is also useful for making jeans, attaching elastic, finishing necklines, and sewing decorative seams.
What is the difference between a serger and a coverstitch?
Coverstitch machines and sergers, both of which sew loops, are very similar, which is why you can buy a machine that combines both functions. However, if you use a regular, stand-alone serger, you will not be able to stitch a straight stitch and fold a hem. It is for this reason that investing in a coverstitch could be an option to consider.
Stitching with four threads overlock
Most sergers come with a four-thread overlock stitch for sewing seams and/or finishing edges. A cheap yet durable way to construct garments, this stitch type is often used in mass production. You will almost certainly find serged edges on garments made by fast-fashion retailers.
Sewing the seam and finishing the fabric edge in one go is possible with thinner fabrics. Using a serger to finish the edges of two pieces of fabric separately is an option when you don’t want the double layer of fabric in the seam allowance. Use a regular sewing machine to sew the fabric together and press the seam allowance open.
Due to its two needles for stitching parallel lines of stitching, as well as an upper looper and a lower looper (on the right side and the reverse side of the fabric), the serger can stitch a four-thread overlock stitch. A needle thread is yellow, a looper is red, and an upper looper is blue in the photos above.
The serger is incredibly fast, stitching, overcasting, and trimming at the same time. Below is a video showing how fast a serger sewed (and no, that is not sped up at all – it is actually the actual speed).
In addition to stitching the four-thread overlock stitch, the serger is very useful in two ways:
- Sergers make it easy to finish fabric edges quickly and professionally, which is great for impatient sewers like myself who are too lazy to do labor-intensive seam finishes.
- Sergers make sewing stretchy fabrics much easier than regular sewing machines, for two reasons. As a serger stitch stretches with the fabric, it won’t break (unlike a sewing machine stitch, which pops when the fabric stretches). Second, sergers have differential feeds that accelerate the feeding process, thereby preventing the stretching that occurs when regular sewing machines are used to sew stretchy fabrics.
Because these types of garments are often made out of stretchy fabrics, sergers are perfect for sewing athletic wear and swimwear. It is worth investing in a serger even if you don’t sew a lot with knit fabrics since it has many capabilities beyond the four-thread overcast stitch. The rest of these capabilities are discussed below.
For sheer, lightweight fabrics and napkins, rolled hems are a very neat and polished finishing touch. Like the satin stitch, the fabric rolls into the stitch to form a ridge at the hem, and the stitches are so close together that you can barely see the fabric underneath.
Often, I use rolled hems on sheer fabrics to replace labor-intensive hems (folding over your fabric, stitching a row of stitching, trimming close to the stitching, then folding over again and repeating the stitching) that I use on sheer fabrics.
It’s necessary to swap the basic four-thread overlock stitch for a three-thread overlock stitch on the serger in order to make a rolled hem. If you want a narrower seam, take out the left needle and if you want a wider seam, take out the right needle.
The stitch finger allows us to make narrow stitches, so we need to remove it next. Depending on the machine, the method for removing a stitch finger varies from one to another, so be sure to check your manual for more information. Pressing the stitch finger release lever on Brother 1034D for example makes the stitch finger slide out easily.
The tension settings need to be changed next. This tension is what causes the fabric edge to roll inward, so we need to increase it quite a bit on the lower looper. If you’re unsure about what works best for your machine and fabric, experiment on a scrap piece of fabric first.
We need to make the stitch length as short as possible in order to achieve the narrowest stitch width and shortest stitch length. Like many machines, my machine has an “R” mark for the shortest stitch length and width.
You can serge along the fold and trim off any excess fabric if the fabric is too lightweight and the rolled hem stitches do not hold. By folding the fabric, you increase its stability so that it can feed more smoothly into the serger.
A “narrow hem” can be made by following the steps above but not tightening the lower looper thread if you want to make a narrow serged edge but do not want the fabric to roll. A nice, narrow hem will result without this tension because the fabric edge won’t roll. In addition, I usually lengthen and widen the stitches (so that they are no longer on “R”). My stitch length, stitch width, and lower looper thread tension was all set to 4 for this sample.
The flatlock stitch is another versatile overcasting stitch, often seen in activewear, that can be made with a serger. When two pieces of fabric are serged together, and then pulled apart, the stitching is visible. As the fabric layers side by side and do not overlap, the seam does not have any bulk.
It looks like a ladder with horizontal dashes on one side and a series of straight lines with V’s in between on the other. Sew the fabric with the right sides together if you want the ladder to show on the right side of the garment, and sew the fabric with the wrong sides together if you want the loops to show.
Changing to 3-thread serging is the first step to making the flatlock stitch. Your serger’s needle must be removed in order to accomplish this. When you want a narrower seam, remove the left needle, and when you want a wider seam, remove the right needle.
The needle thread tension needs to be loosened as much as possible, and the lower looper thread tension needs to be tightened. Maintain the normal tension of the upper looper. The needle thread tension on my machine is set at 0, the upper looper tension at 4 or 5, and the lower looper tension at 7. To further reduce tension, I sometimes take the needle thread out of the clip leading to the tension dial if the stitch still isn’t forming properly.
Pull the seam open until it is flat after you adjust all of these settings. Then serge in the usual manner. Stitching with a flatlock can be used for seams as well as decorative topstitching. Make sure the blade doesn’t cut the fold when serging along the fold to the topstitch. Fold the fabric where you want it to be stitched, then serge along the fold.
Mock Band Hem
A serger can be used to make hems that look like a band or cuff without the need to cut cuffs separately.
Activewear, such as sweatshirts and leggings, frequently have banded hems.
Using the four-thread configuration on your machine, make this hem. Leaving a little bit of the hem exposed underneath, fold the hem up the desired width, then fold the fabric back on itself. Using the serger blade, serge along the fold, taking care not to cut it. You can reveal the hem by unfolding the garment.
If you use a blind hem foot, your serger can also make blind hems. It consists of tiny, nearly invisible stitches on the right side that hold the hem in place.
Tailored pants often have this type of hem.
Blind hems can be made on a serger in the same way as mock band hems. Your serger should be set up with a four-thread configuration at first. Once the hem is folded up to the desired width (ensuring it is the same width all the way along), fold the fabric back over itself, leaving a little bit of hem exposed underneath. With the blind hem foot, stitch along the hem just barely catching the fold edge. Your blind hem foot’s roller edge should be adjusted to ensure that the fabric is always positioned so that the stitching just barely catches the fold edge when stitching.
It can be tricky to blind hem with a serger since you need to ensure that the stitching just catches the fold edge, but it is worth mastering as it provides an easy way to finish the edge AND secure the hem in one step. In the video, I used a wool coating to show how blind hemming works on a serger. Thin fabrics are not recommended because the stitches will show through. In my experience, sewing the blind hem by hand is the best method (instead of using a sewing machine).
In addition to gathering fabrics much, much quicker with a serger than by sewing long stitches and then pulling those threads to gather them. Additionally, sergers can create perfectly even gathers, which are difficult to achieve manually.
The differential feed on your serger should be greater than 1 in order to gather fabric. Set it up with the regular four-thread configuration. As the fabric is sewn, the front feed dogs move faster than the back feed dogs when the differential feed ratio is greater than 1. The fabric will gather as you sew if you serge as usual.
The differential feed setting can be adjusted to control how much fabric gathers. For really deep gathers, you will need a ruffler foot; otherwise, you can use a sewing machine. Below is a photo showing what happens when a differential feed of 2 and 1.75 is used on some lightweight muslin. When you set the setting to 1.75, only the slightest ruffles are produced.
By using a gathering foot, you can take advantage of the serger’s gathering capabilities and serge one layer of fabric into a piece of flat fabric at the same time. Two levels of the gathering foot allow the fabric to be fed separately into the feed dogs. Having the bottom fabric gathered while the top fabric lying flat allows the bottom fabric to be gathered.
A regular sewing machine vs. a serger might seem similar, but there are some key differences. Sergers provide three main advantages over regular sewing machines – first, your gathered material has a nice finished edge; second, their differential feed enables smooth gathers to be formed more easily; and third, they produce gathers much faster than regular sewing machines.
What can you do with a serger machine?
By using a serger, you can sew seams, trim seam allowances, and overcast edges in one step. All sergers can create this type of stitch, known as a 4-thread safety stitch.
Can a serger do regular sewing?
While sergers can be used for some projects, they cannot replace regular sewing machines. A regular machine is still needed for facings, zippers, topstitching, and buttonholes. This cannot be done by a serger.
What is the difference between a serger and a sewing machine?
It is primarily the binding that differs. The overlock stitch on a serger is different from the lockstitch found on most sewing machines, and some even use a chain stitch. The use of three or more thread sources is another difference between sergers and other sewing machines.
Can a serger do embroidery?
Sergers create stitching and cutting off fabric using needles, lower loopers, upper loopers, and knives, while embroidery machines use different sewing tools. Embroidery machines are primarily used for creating patterns on fabric.
In this article, SewingWithEase covers just a few of the most commonly-used serger functions. Sergers with specialty feet or higher-end models may have additional capabilities (such as cover-stitching).
At this point, you’re probably asking yourself: Is a serger really necessary in addition to my regular sewing machine? Sewing stretchy fabrics require a serger, so invest in one if you’re serious about sewing. Due to its differential feed and ability to make stitches that can stretch smoothly, a serger is a worthwhile purchase in and of itself. You may even discover that you can use your serger for more than you originally thought.