What is the Difference Between Serger and Sewing Machine?

Beginners might find the vast selection of sewing machines on the market overwhelming. Even seasoned sewers might be reluctant to experiment with specialized machines due to the extensive variety of models available. If you are thinking about buying one, you likely want to understand the distinction between a serger and a sewing machine.

Unlike other sewing machines, sergers have specialized capabilities. Sergers and sewing machines differ primarily because sergers specialize in sewing seams, cutting seam allowances, and simultaneously enclosing raw edges.

As you’ll learn in this article, a serger works differently from a regular sewing machine. We’ve included some key questions to help you decide whether or not you need one.

Key Takeaways

  • A serger is a sewing machine that binds fabric together with an overlock stitch and cuts the fabric simultaneously.
  • Sergers are quicker and easier to use than traditional sewing machines and produce a stronger, more durable stitch.
  • Sewing machines are still helpful for topstitching, projects that require a longer neck, or sewing on the right side of the fabric.

What is a Serger (Overlock Machine)?

What Can You Do With A Serger Machine (Overlocker)?

Sergers are not the same as sewing machines, although they are a type of specialty sewing machine. A serger, also known as an overlocker, uses an overlock stitch that cannot be found on regular sewing machines. It utilizes three or more thread sources to create this overlock stitch and produce a high-quality binding for the fabric.

Overlock machines may also be referred to as sergers. These machines use overlock stitches to stitch over the edge. American companies usually call them sergers, while European companies use the terms overlockers or overlock machines.

What is a Sewing Machine?

Modern sewing machines use lockstitch technology, where the top and bottom threads are looped and locked to create a secure series of stitches. At the very least, these machines can typically handle basic stitches such as straight, chain, and zig-zag. Many sewing machines also come with decorative and design-focused stitch options.

How Does a Sewing Machine Work?

How Does a Sewing Machine Work?

A sewing machine uses thread to stitch layers of fabric together. Most domestic sewing machines can sew straight stitches, zigzag stitches, buttonholes, and even pretty flowers.

Sewing seams can be done in many ways; hemming fabric, setting zippers, creating buttonholes, and embroidering designs are also possible.

In modern sewing machines, stitching patterns are programmed and usually computerized. Sewing machines have not changed much since the Industrial Revolution when the first machines were invented, though!

What is the mechanism behind a sewing machine? As the machine runs, the needle pulls a thread from the spool and pushes it into and out of the fabric. Bobbin thread (a tiny spool of thread beneath the needle) is caught and slipped through by a unique hook each time the needle pushes through. Stitches are created by holding the thread on both sides of the fabric!

Setting your machine to fancier stitches makes things a little more challenging. Some domestic machines also have a double-needle setting. While complex machines may have more complex mechanisms, the needle and bobbin still work essentially the same!

Serger vs. Sewing Machine: What’s the Difference?

Sergers use an overlock stitch to completely enclose seams as they sew, which is the main difference between a sewing machine and a serger. Most sewing machines are more general and have fewer capabilities than sergers. You can accomplish multiple tasks simultaneously using a serger instead of a regular machine.


Sergers generally have a rack of tall thread cones on top, a key difference in their design. Sewing machines usually use a spool of thread and a bobbin. A serger uses looper threads instead of a bobbin and draws from three to five thread cones.

The design of sergers is usually squatter and more squared than sewing machines. Sewing machines usually have longer necks. Sergers are designed to sew seams, while these machines require more wiggle room to sew in zippers.


Sergers are also manufactured and sold by the most prominent sewing machine brands. Brother, Janome, and Singer models can be found at any sewing store, on the manufacturer’s website, or on Amazon.

Some sergers have more bells and whistles than others, just as some sewing machines do.

Number of Threads

The number of threads these machines use is a key difference between them.
(Unless you use a double-needle machine, which uses two spools of thread, sewing machines use one spool of thread and one bobbin to create stitches.)

Sergers draw from two to five cones of thread at once to create a finished seam that will not fray easily.

Cutting Knife

Sewing machines lack sergers’ features, such as a cutting tool for trimming seam allowances. This creates a perfect finish in addition to sewing the seam.

It is possible to use a zigzag stitch to finish a seam on a regular machine, but this process must be completed in stages: first, sew the seam. After the fabric is removed from the machine, trim its seam allowance. The final step is to finish the seam with a zigzag stitch on your machine.

All of this can be done at once by sergers, thanks to their cutting tool!

Number of Stitches

Most sewing machines today offer dozens of stitch options. This is usually not the case with sergers, which provide a limited selection of stitches that can be used for various purposes.

While primary sewing machines can perform many tasks that overlocking machines cannot, they can also perform several unique tasks.

Easy to Thread

Easy to Thread - needle and sewing machine parts

Threading a sewing machine takes a little practice. Threading sergers might be more challenging for you.
This is because you must learn the thread paths of three to five different threads instead of just one!

You should refer to the owner’s manual and perhaps watch some YouTube videos if you are unfamiliar with this process.

Getting your serger set up won’t take long once you’ve mastered the process.

Performance: Stitches per Minute

While sewing machines and sergers stitch at slightly different speeds, sergers typically produce far more stitches per minute than sewing machines. The average sewing machine stitches between 1000 and 1500 stitches per minute, while sergers average between 1300 and 2200 stitches per minute!

Learning Curve

You may have trouble understanding sergers if you are used to sewing machines.

Almost everyone who sews at home learns basic skills like sewing straight seams, hemming garments, and adding zippers with a regular domestic machine. You decide to invest in a serger later on to create professional-looking finished seams.

How difficult is it to use a serger compared to a sewing machine? However, most sewers are already familiar with regular machines when using them. A serger works differently from a sewing machine, which makes it confusing for someone who is used to sewing.

A serger does fewer things than most sewing machines, which is good. Then you’re ready to go!


A serger’s price range is similar to that of a sewing machine. For about $300, you can buy a basic serger, but for more than $2,000, you can purchase an advanced model!

The average price of a decent domestic machine is usually between $200 and $300. Expensive sewing machines can be programmed with hundreds of different stitches, costing as much as a couple of thousand dollars. Computerized embroidery machines are the most expensive sewing machines, but that’s another story.

Pros and Cons of Sewing Machine

Let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of the average sewing machine:

  • A spool of thread and a bobbin are generally used
  • The long-necked design allows for easier manipulation of fabric when setting sleeves
  • This machine can perform various sewing tasks, including facings, hems, zippers, buttonholes, and ruffles.
  • Many come preprogrammed with dozens of stitches.
  • You can enclose the raw edge of the fabric by sewing a zigzag stitch around the seam.
  • Encasing the seam allowance at the same time as sewing a seam is not possible.
  • Overlock stitches cannot be sewn with stretch.

Pros and Cons of Serger

In addition, here are some quick pros and cons of the average serger:

  • Three to five cones of thread should be used at once
  • The neck is usually shorter, and the shape is smaller
  • Can sew seams with encased edges for a limited range of specialized sewing tasks
  • Typically sews 1000-2000 stitches per minute
  • Sews a seam, cuts off the excess fabric, and encases the seam allowance edge at the same time
  • Seams that are very strong and secure are perfect for children’s clothes or anything that will be handled rough
  • Cannot set sleeves, sew facings, insert zippers, or sew buttonholes.

Can You Use a Serger for Regular Sewing?

Some sewing tasks can be completed with a serger, but others require features that an overlocker cannot provide. You should consider the type of sewing you plan to do when making this decision.

If your sewing project involves many straight seams and maybe some hemming, you can likely use only a serger. Even better, you’ll save time this way! Although sergers do not replace all sewing machine functions, they can be more efficient than sewing machines because they accomplish several tasks simultaneously.

Sergers are also excellent for sewing on knit fabrics due to their overlock stitches. These stitches can be stretched a bit. If you don’t have a regular sewing machine, a zig-zag stitch can be used on knits.

On the other hand, sewing a wedding dress involves topstitching, sewing in facings, setting sleeves, adding a zipper, and generally doing many fiddly, complicated tasks that are best tackled with a regular sewing machine.

Do I Need a Serger?

The kind of sewing you like to do will determine whether you need a serger. A serger can help you accomplish many simple sewing tasks more efficiently and easily.

Additionally, if you sew professionally, you probably prefer overlocked seams on your products. The look is much more professional now.

Here’s the answer to whether buying a serger is worth it: if you’re a regular sewer or plan to open an Etsy shop from home, you’ll benefit from having one. Overlocked seams last longer than unlocked seams, so you might want a serger if you sew items subjected to vigorous wear and tear, such as sports jerseys or children’s clothing.

Your serger might become an expensive decoration in your craft room if you only sew occasionally for yourself or your family.

Your sewing machine probably can’t be replaced by a serger. Due to its limited capabilities, you won’t be able to use it for everyday sewing. If you only have space or money for one, you’re probably better off buying a sewing machine.

You can buy one of each to have the best of both worlds! Combo machines are also an option if you want something fancier.

What Is A Sewing Machine with Serger Function?

Some regular sewing machines can sew an overlocking stitch with an overcast foot. By purchasing just one machine, you may save money and storage space by having only one machine to store!

Consider a few potential issues before investing in a sewing machine with an overlock stitch. Even though these machines with overlock capabilities have only one or two thread sources, the stitch will never be as strong and stretchy as a real overlock machine. Additionally, your regular sewing machines lack the trimming tool that removes seam allowance while sewing, even with the overcast foot.

Do you think an overcast foot is worth trying? The gizmos can help you finish your seams and roll your hems nicely. However, if you want perfect encased seams, you’ll eventually need a serger.

Sewing Machine Serger Combo

No proper serger/sewing machine combo from any significant manufacturer currently exists. For a short period, Singer sold a combination sewing and embroidery machine that combined many stitches with computerized embroidery.

This might seem like a marketing ploy by the big companies to get you to buy two separate machines. You’re probably right to a certain extent! Moreover, sewing machines and sergers operate very differently; combining their methods does not work well.

In contrast to the simple needle-and-bobbin of an average sewing machine, sergers make overlocked seams by looping thread. They all perform entirely different tasks using completely different processes.

Best Serger Sewing Machine

Choosing the right serger depends on what you need to sew. If you’re just starting out, a model with three-to-four threads and color-coded threading instructions is best. In addition to stitch per minute, a four-to-five spool machine with more stitch options is also essential for sewing professionals.

Sergers are available for sale online or in person. A new machine with a warranty can be purchased directly from the manufacturer, on Amazon, or at a sewing store such as Joann Fabric. Various sewing machines are also available on eBay and Craigslist if you want something cheaper but less guaranteed.

Before committing, you should research each model’s capabilities. The serger model you want to purchase at your local thrift store can be found on Amazon. You can then determine its features, limitations, and ease of use.

What Is The Best Serger For Beginners?

If they are new to sergers, beginners should start with a model that isn’t too expensive. Ensure the model has clear, color-coded instructions and uses fewer threads.

Also, you might want to stick with well-known brands like Brother and Singer. Both companies offer excellent machines for beginners.

Serger vs. Sewing Machines FAQs

What is the primary difference between a serger and a sewing machine?

The main distinction lies in their functionality. While both are used in sewing, a serger, also known as an Overlock Machine, uniquely trims the fabric edges and encloses the seam allowance or edge of the fabric inside a thread casing all in one step. This is achieved using 3 or 4 threads. In contrast, a conventional sewing machine generally uses one or two threads and doesn’t trim the fabric while sewing.

What types of projects are best suited for a serger compared to a sewing machine?

Sergers are ideal for projects requiring a clean, finished look, especially on fabric edges. They are commonly used for hemming garments, sewing stretchy fabrics, and finishing seams to prevent fraying. Sewing machines, on the other hand, are more versatile for a wide range of sewing tasks, including detailed work like topstitching, buttonholes, and decorative stitching.

Can a serger replace a sewing machine?

No, a serger cannot completely replace a sewing machine. While it excels in tasks like edging, hemming, and seaming, it lacks the versatility of a sewing machine for detailed and varied stitching styles. Both machines are recommended for a complete sewing setup as they complement each other’s capabilities.

How does the speed of a serger compare to that of a sewing machine?

Sergers generally operate at a higher speed than sewing machines, making them efficient for projects requiring long, straight seams or quick finishing. This speed is beneficial for projects with tight deadlines or those involving mass production.

What should a beginner know before choosing between a serger and a sewing machine?

Beginners should consider the types of projects they plan to undertake. A serger is a valuable tool if their interest lies primarily in garment construction, particularly with stretchy or fraying fabrics. However, a sewing machine is essential for a wide range of sewing projects, including quilting, crafts, and garment construction. Beginners should also consider the learning curve; sewing machines are generally more user-friendly for those new to sewing.


The functions of a serger and a sewing machine are different. Each machine has its unique design and way of operating, but they can perform some of the same tasks. Overlocked seams are the primary purpose of sergers. Overlocking seams is impossible with sewing machines, which offer a broader range of capabilities.

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