If you have been watching sewing tutorials online – or are taking sewing classes, you may well have heard about a mysterious and efficient machine called a serger.
While your basic sewing machine is capable of rendering quality stitches and beautiful garments, a serger permits a wider range of stitching and finishing, as well as working with a greater variety of fabrics.
Have you every tried to sew jersey or other knits on your sewing machine?
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The stretch, the curl of raw edges; the likelihood of bunching under your presser foot...
There was a time, in the history of sewing, that needles of bone or wood were the only type of notion available.
Aren't we grateful that technology has refined the practice of home sewing!
These days, sewing machines are computerized, allowing for precise plying of needle and thread, making it easier than ever for the seamstress, tailor or dressmaker to turn out quality clothing in no time flat.
Let Superprof ease your way into beginner sewing – from the blind stitch for hemming to the buttonhole; from garment patterns to sewing curtains and pillows...
Now we enter the enticing world of home sewing on a serger.
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What is a Serger?
It would be fair to state that you would be hard-pressed to create on it if you know nothing about it.
In fact, you might find it difficult to follow your sewing lessons at all if you don't know the vocabulary of sewing.
With that idea in mind, we borrow WhatTheCraft's definition of a serger:
Sergers are fast and make sewing knits much easier: the threads lock around the seam to prevent fraying and the machine cuts off the seam allowance as it sews.
In short: a serger makes a more professional and durable seam.
The function described above is called overlocking: a word you must absolutely store in your lexicon of sewing.
Besides the overlock stitch, one of the serger's best features is the trimmer. As you run your project through the machine, it will cut off the excess material - the seam allowance your sewing pattern calls for.
The serger is unique in that it uses several threads (as few as 2, and up to 5) on the raw edge of the fabric to create a clean edge.
Overlockers, as sergers are formally called, were originally only used in industrial sewing.
However, technology has made it possible to create lighter and smaller machines that can be used at home and produce the same type and quality of sewing stitches as their industrial counterparts.
The machine's formal name gives an indication of its fundamental purpose, which can best be described as 'overthreading'.
Here is how it works.
Unless you excel at cutting cloth along its warp (or weft), you are bound to have free-hanging threads on the raw edge, poking out of the fabric's weave.
If you are working with knit fabrics, you are less likely to have unraveling; however, in thin knits such as jersey, you would have substantial curl.
To preserve and protect your fabric's raw edge manually – stitching it by hand, you would require meticulous and time-consuming work.
Contrast the hours you could have to spend edging your fabric with the mere minutes the efficient serger would require for the same task!
It would probably render a much more even sewing stitch, too!
You can learn more about sergers/overlocks by discovering the history of sewing …
Which Serger Suits You?
In fact, there are 2 types of machines that can fulfill these multiple functions:
One with a single needle that renders a whip stitch of varying grades, depending on how the machine is set – fine or gross stitching.
Sergers are double-needled and can use up to five spools of thread, and cuts off the seam allowance as you stitch.
Again, keep in mind: for fabrics such as jersey, fleece or lycra, you will be best served with a serger!
Some types of fabric, especially thinner or more delicate ones, are very difficult to work with a classic sewing machine.
The overlock also ensures a beautiful finish of the hem, especially on those fine fabrics. If you like to make your own clothes, you should definitely consider investing in such a machine.
Imagine working silk on a standard sewing machine. Or even more challenging: by hand!
What about a material that stretches easily, such as tricot or some other poly knit fabric?
Not everything can be made out of cotton – that ultimately workable type of cloth, after all!
One of the greatest advantages to working with a serger is the ability to stitch stretchable materials effortlessly.
Of course, if you are unusually adept at sewing by hand or with a machine, you could already possess exquisite sewing techniques, and might have sewn whole wardrobes, using a zig zag stitch instead of overlocking your edges and seams.
Join the discussion: is sewing a skill that only women should cultivate?
Stitching Made Possible with a Serger
Anyone who has ever used such a machine can attest to its versatility.
As this article is intended to be a sewing tutorial of sorts, we will assume you have never used one and, in fact, are contemplating its merits prior to selecting one for purchase.
Let us reassure you that sergers are capable of all types of stitching. Here are the most common:
- The 4-thread stitch
This type of stitching calls for the machine to use 4 separate threads from 4 independent spools, also called cones. This stitch is most often used to sew together fabrics that stretch easily.
- The overedge stitch, using 3 or 2 threads
This type of stitching is meant to tidy up fabric edges without actually sewing any two pieces of cloth together.
It is advisable for fine fabrics, such as linen or muslin. You can set your machine to use 2 threads or 3, depending on the look you are aiming for or the anticipated stress on the seam when the garment is worn.
- The Rolled Hem (3 or 2 threads)
Of course, it is entirely possible to sew an acceptable rolled hem by hand or your sewing machine – with or without a special presser foot.
Most likely, you already know how to execute such a hem; that technique is covered fairly early in learning to sew.
However, a serger renders an especially precise hem, with minimal fabric loss.
Even though we are currently in the grip of winter, you may be looking at sewing patterns for summer clothing – keeping your sewing room busy in preparation for spring.
If that is the case, mastering the rolled hem on a serger would be ideal, because such a hem is particularly suited to light, airy fabrics.
You might start with easy projects: maybe a dress or skirt, with a choice of using a 2- or 3-thread stitch.
If you opt for a 3-thread hem, you will get a finer rendering; a 2-thread will give the right side the same appearance as the wrong side.
- The Flatlock Seam
As its name implies, it is a flat seam: most likely, you are familiar with them if you own a lot of sportswear.
A prominent example of such a seam can be found on casual wear collars.
This seam consists of two fabric panels butted together. It is executed by selecting that particular type of stitch.
Of utmost importance when sewing in this manner is to disable your serger's cutting blade.
You can also select this type of stitch to make decorative borders if you are making a scarf, or adding ruffles to a sleeve.
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- The Classic Hem
Who has never stitched a hem?
In a hurry and your pant's cuffs have come unraveled. A quick bit of hand sewing, a snip of the scissors, and that's got it, right?
Have you ever dismayed over how elementary your hand sewing stitches look, compared to machine-stitched hems?
This type of hem, rendered on a serger, was executed with 3 threads, giving it a professional grade look.
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Learn to Sew: With or Without a Serger?
Of course you can learn how to sew without a serger! However, you should invest in a basic sewing kit containing:
- a sewing needle complement – an assortment of different sizes, for different types of fabric
- a needle threader might be a good tool to have, too
- sewing thread: at least of the basic colours, for easy sewing projects
- you can buy specific shades later, for specific crafting
- A thimble or two
- a scissors set: fabric shears, pinking shears and maybe even a rotary cutter
- straight pins and a pincushion
- bias tape
- elastic and velcro
These are the sewing basics. There will certainly be much more available at your sewing notions counter; these are just to get started on needlework.
Of course, not even fabric shears can match the precision of a serger's cutting implement, when it comes to eliminating seam allowance.
Furthermore, you would have to be mighty experienced to achieve a finish that would be comparable to anything a serger could yield, by hand or even with the best sewing machine.
As great an advance as machine sewing was, novice seamstresses may find themselves dismayed to see their beginner sewing projects come unraveled after just a few turns in the washing machine.
Sewn with a serger, your garments' lifespan will be much longer.
Do you absolutely need a serger to achieve beautiful finishes?
Of course not! There are other finishes, like the zigzag stitch or a nice French seam, done on a standard home sewing machine, to finalize your sewing work.
Still, to assure quality, durability and attractive work: of all the sewing tools available, the serger is the only one to deliver all three!
Also learn the terminology for all of your sewing tools and materials...
The Straight Stitch on Sergers: Are They Worth the Cost?
If you love to sew, have entire drawers full of free sewing patterns; have a room replete with sewing supplies...
If every member of your family has a complete wardrobe sewn by your hand, most likely you will redeem the cost of your serger within a few months.
However, if you have just completed your Sewing for Beginners class and, at best, have managed to turn out a pillowcase – or some other simple sewing projects, perhaps you should hold off on your investment.
At least, for a little while, until you get another sewing lesson or two under your belt.
Overlock machines use two needles and up to five spools of thread at once, and can be highly specialised.
The downside to such a machine is that it does not function like a regular sewing machine so, if you are just starting out in dressmaking, you might spare yourself the just over £200 price tag.
Conversely, if you intend to establish yourself as an independent tailor, you might consider more complicated machines, with all the bells and whistles, that could set you back nearly £500!
As you consider your serger purchase, bear in mind some of the top names: Janome, Brother, Toyota, Singer, Bernina and Pfaff.
Think about what options you would like to have, versus those that are absolutely necessary for efficient use of the machine, such as: a retractable (or easily removable) blade, and a needle threading accessory.
It might also help to have a catcher under the knife, otherwise you will have errant threads everywhere.
You can learn a lot more about sewing in general and serging in particular by reading sewing books, joining a sewing circle or taking part in a sewing bee.
We hope that this article has helped to point you in the right direction as far as selecting your very first serger!
Now you can learn how to sew from the masters of fashion!
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