If you are new to sewing, then you have probably heard of serging and wonder how it is different from sewing.
Both sewing machines and sergers have one thing in common: they are both used to join fabric together by means of thread and needle. However, when you take a look at the main parts of a serger, you can see quite easily that it is a more specialized machine than a sewing machine.
So, serger vs sewing machine, what’s the difference? A sewing machine creates a wide variety of stitches for different purposes. A serger is a specialized piece of equipment made for sealing off cut edges of fabric to prevent fraying. Unlike a sewing machine, they have a built-in blade that cleans up the frayed edges before overlock stitching.
However, these are just the basic differences. If you are contemplating whether you should add a serger to your sewing corner, let’s first find out how a serger is different from a sewing machine and how it can help you sew using different techniques.
What Is Serging In Sewing?
When you cut fabric, especially if a piece of fabric is a plain weave fabric, it is very prone to fraying – the threads will slowly unravel from the piece of fabric, and this problem will worsen unless you “seal off” the cut edges. Well, a serger is a specialized machine that helps you do just that.
Depending on the brand of serger you have, this machine usually has 3-8 thread cones, and the machine will help you loop these threads together to “overlock” the edges, preventing the fabric from fraying any further. This is why a serger is also often referred to as an overlock machine.
The machine also has a very sharp blade attached to the presser foot, so it will cut off the frayed edges and tidy up that area, making your sewing look much neater and more professional.
This is one area where a serger is actually superior to a sewing machine. While sewing machines can perform similar “overlocking” functions with a zig-zag stitch, the blade that cleans up the frayed edges before sealing them off with overlocking stitches is unique to serger machines.
If you’re wondering whether it’s worth it to buy a serger for your sewing corner, you should know that it does more than just clean up frayed edges. When the blade is retracted and not in use, the machine can perform a few more functions that help you create seams and edges in just one step.
A serger can help you:
- Sew seams – With a serger, you can easily make seam cuts and sew the seam at the same time. It eliminates the need for cutting and overcasting the raw edge at the same time, creating a neat seam in just one step. This will work with stretch sewing as well.
- Overcast edges – This is the main function that we have mentioned above. When you have a raw edge that is prone to fraying, a serger can help you cut and seal off the edge so that no further fraying will occur as you use and wash your garment.
- Sew flatlock seams – Flatlock seams are visible on both sides of the garment and are a decorative type of seam that often employs a contrasting color compared to the fabric. This type of seam is often seen in jersey or knit garments because they need a stretchy seam that expands and contracts along with the fabric.
- Sew rolled hems – Tiny rolled hems are always a challenge, even to the most experienced sewists, but a serger can easily solve these problems. This is especially useful when you work with fabric that is very unforgiving, or if you want to make a rolled hem that is as tiny as possible, a serger will make the job really quick and easy.
- Work with stretchy fabrics – Stretchy fabrics are always fidgety, and you never really know how the result will look. A serger can be adjusted to work with stretchy fabric with ease, making the job much more enjoyable.
Depending on the brand of serger that you have, you can enjoy more or fewer functions. One consensus among professional and career sewists is that a serger makes many tasks much easier while making the final product look more professional with less effort.
How Is A Serger Different From A Sewing Machine?
It is true that a sewing machine can perform a lot of the functions that are mentioned above, albeit with a few more steps. Let’s take a look at a few major differences between a sewing machine and a serger.
1. Thread Cones/Bobbins
A serger usually looks a lot more intimidating than a sewing machine because of the number of thread cones that it has.
While most sewing machines have only one thread cone and a bottom-loading bobbin, a serger, being an overlocking machine, actually has anywhere from 3-8 thread cones, which helps the overlocking process go much faster.
The threads used in sergers are usually finer than the ones used in sewing machines. Because so many lines of threads are used, fine threads are employed so that the final result doesn’t look too bulky.
A sewing machine only uses one needle to work with both the thread cone and the bobbin. However, a serger has multiple needles that correspond with the thread cones, which work together to create a very secure overlocking pattern.
A serger has a very small but very sharp blade near the presser foot, which helps chop the excess frayed fabric as a piece of fabric is fed through the machine. This tool is amazing if you have a piece of fabric that has already frayed a lot since you don’t have to trim the fabric by hand before sealing the edges.
This blade helps the serger achieve a very clean edge that is completely “sealed off” without catching any excess threads inside the overlocking stitches. When you want to use other functions of the serger, this blade can be retracted so that it doesn’t cut the fabric if you don’t want it to.
In comparison, a sewing machine doesn’t have this awesome tool, which means you often have to cut off the frayed edges by hand before sewing a zig-zag stitch over the edge, which can sometimes even catch threads inside the stitch itself.
This process is time-consuming when done with a sewing machine, and it doesn’t always create the best result, especially if you have woven fabric that is very prone to frayings, such as denim or linen.
A sewing machine can usually be controlled using a foot pedal as well as by hand, which gives you a lot of control over where stitches go. A serger has an automatic system to control the stitches, and it is usually not possible to gain manual control of the machine as you work.
With a sewing machine, you also have more control over how the stitches will look. By adjusting the stitch length and tension of the machine, you can totally create different results with your stitches. This is a great feature if you want to experiment with your stitches and explore different looks.
A serger usually works at a very high speed, around 1000 stitches a minute, which is substantially faster compared to sewing machines. Since you need more control over a sewing machine, the speed at which you sew is much slower, which allows you to create more precise stitches.
Because of this speed factor, a serger is actually considered more efficient than a sewing machine, especially in mass production. The high speed also allows sergers to work with very stretchy fabrics such as lycra, while sewing machines often have a lot of difficulties working with these types of fabrics.
For casual sewists, a sewing machine actually offers more versatility in terms of function because there are many stitch designs available, and some stitches can replace the functions of a serger altogether, although they will take longer.
A sewing machine is also able to create decorative stitches with various stitch lengths, as well as create buttonholes, sew buttons, as well as use special attachments to create different types of stitches.
Compared to these versatile functions, the functions of a serger are very basic since they are only able to create rolled hems, attach elastics, or overlock frayed hems. Although a serger is less versatile compared to a sewing machine, it gets the job done faster, which is why it is preferred by professionals and career sewists.
A serger is often significantly more expensive than a sewing machine. While you can certainly find a great sewing machine in the $100 to $200 price range that can serve various purposes, a serger usually costs no less than $200, and you can find expensive sergers in the range of $1,000 – $2,000.
Can A Serger Replace A Sewing Machine?
If you are only a casual sewists, then you probably don’t need both a serger and a sewing machine. As we have mentioned, a sewing machine has many functions and features that can replace the functions of a serger, although they will require a few more steps. In that sense, a sewing machine can replace a serger.
On the other hand, a serger cannot replace the functions of a sewing machine, especially in terms of creating buttonholes or decorative stitches. For hobbyists, a sewing machine is also friendlier for the following reasons:
1. Sewing Machines Are Easier To Use
If you don’t know anything about sewing machines, they are still pretty easy to use, especially with the modern computerized sewing machines that allow you to select stitches and adjust stitch length with ease.
Since a sewing machine gives you more control over the fabric, you are less likely to make mistakes. If you are unfamiliar with the machine, then there are a ton of tutorials, tips, and tricks available for you to learn.
On the other hand, a serger is definitely a lot more intimidating. From threading to 3-8 different thread cones to getting the machine working properly, it takes a lot of work. The speed at which the machine operates is definitely not beginner-friendly, and you may have a hard time learning how to use a serger properly.
2. Sewing Machines Are More Flexible
Depending on the make and model of your sewing machine, you will have up to hundreds of stitches that are fully customizable, which is definitely more versatile than a serger, which can’t perform buttonhole stitches or any decorative stitches.
Sewing machines also allow you to work with many types of fabrics and employ many different techniques. By switching out the presser foot and the needle or adjusting the different settings in the machine, you can create totally different results.
If you want more freedom to explore your creativity, then a sewing machine is the superior option for you. This is especially true if you mainly want to do quilting or embroidery with your sewing machine since the decorative stitches are not available with sergers.
However, a serger still has many of its own superior benefits. If you are interested in buying a serger, especially to “level up” your sewing, then let’s take a look at some of the benefits here.
Benefits Of Having A Serger
Okay, we have established that a sewing machine is more versatile and easier to use than a serger, but it doesn’t mean that sergers don’t bring anything to the table.
In fact, if you are serious about sewing and want to scale up your business and the quality of your sewing products, then a serger is probably a must-have (in addition to a sewing machine).
Let’s take a look at some of the main benefits of a serger here.
1. Faster And More Efficient
At a speed that gets up to a thousand stitches a minute and multiple needles working at the same time, a serger definitely gets the job done in a shorter time.
But the speed of the machine is not the only thing that helps shorten the working time. In many techniques, such as rolled hems or sewing with stretchy fabric, a serger is definitely superior in terms of performance.
If you have a sewing machine, you may have to adjust the fabric a lot of work in multiple steps to get the job done. In comparison, a serger can help you achieve a perfect, polished rolled hem in just one step. The result will also look more polished and put-together, compared to working with a sewing machine.
This also makes a lot of the processes seem less time-consuming and more efficient – which is a huge bonus if you are hoping to get more done in a shorter time. This is especially true if you are hoping to scale up production or just to save time.
2. Professional Looking Finish
This is especially true when you work with woven fabrics that fray a lot – there’s really no getting around it; you need to seal off the edges to prevent fraying. A serger will make the finishing of the fabric look much more professional compared to using the zig-zag stitch on your sewing machine.
Flatlock seams and rolled hems also look more polished and perfect when you use a serger compared to a sewing machine. These types of hems are very subtle, but they actually help the overall product look more professional and neat compared to using a sewing machine.
If you intend to sell your sewing products or mass-produce items in your workshop, the benefits of having a serger are definitely undeniable. However, if you are only sewing casually, you can probably get away with using a sewing machine to replace the functions of a serger.