Clearing up confusion about serger and overlock machines. Understand what they are and if you need one for your sewing projects 🩱👘👗
Sergers vs. Overlockers: What’s the Difference?
If you spend any time reading about sewing machines, you’ll likely come across the terms “serger” and “overlocker.” At first glance, they seem like two different types of sewing equipment. But are sergers and overlockers actually the same machines with different names? Or are there key differences sewers should understand?
In this in-depth guide, we’ll unravel the mystery and explain everything you need to know about sergers and overlockers.
What is a Serger?
A serger is a specialized sewing machine that stitches, trims, and finishes the raw edges of fabric in one step. It uses 3-8 spools of thread at once to create a strong, stretchy overlocked stitch that binds the cut fabric edge.
Sergers stitch incredibly fast, up to 1500 stitches per minute. The knife blades trim away fabric right before the stitching. This enclosed finish prevents fraying and gives projects a professional look.
What is an Overlocker?
An overlocker is simply another term for a serger sewing machine used primarily in Europe. “Overlocker” refers directly to the type of stitch these machines create – an overlock stitch.
So sergers and overlockers are actually the same sewing equipment! Whether you opt for a Brother serger or a Pfaff overlocker, you’ll get that lightning quick edge finishing power.
Can You Sew Normally with an Overlocker?
While overlockers excel at finishing edges, they can also be used to construct full projects. Depending on the model, overlockers may have settings to reduce the cutting width for regular seams. Slowing the speed can also help.
However, sergers do not replace all functions of a regular sewing machine. Tasks like topstitching, buttonholes, and zipper insertion are best left to a traditional machine. Sergers simply lack the right capabilities.
Why Use an Overlocker Instead of a Sewing Machine?
Overlockers provide several advantages over regular sewing machines:
- Speed – sergers stitch insanely fast, cutting total sewing time significantly.
- Professional finish – the wrapped edge prevents fraying and gives projects a high-end look.
- Ideal for knits – the stretchy stitch prevents popped seams in knit fabrics.
- Specialty stitches – sergers can easily create rolled hems, lettuce edging, coverstitch, etc.
- Durability – the overlapped thread edge withstands heavy wear and frequent washing.
If you sew knits often or want a speed boost, an overlocker is extremely useful.
Can an Overlocker Do a Coverstitch?
Some overlockers come with a coverstitch function that mimics the look of a twin needle on a regular machine. Two parallel rows of straight stitching cover the fabric edge.
This coverstitch is great for hemming knits and joining pieces while maintaining stretch. Not all overlockers have this capability, so check before buying if it’s essential.
Can I Use Overlock Machine for Regular Sewing?
Overlock machines lack specialty presser feet and the precise control of a traditional sewing machine. So construction tasks like inserting zippers, sewing buttonholes, and topstitching should be left to regular sewing equipment.
However, overlockers can be used creatively to assemble projects, keeping some limitations in mind:
- Adjust settings for a narrower seam allowance.
- Slow the speed way down for better handling.
- Use an overlock stitch rather than cutting for seams.
- Compensate for lack of backstitch or tie-off function.
With practice, an overlocker can construct full garments or other sewing projects. It just takes a creative approach.
When Not to Use an Overlocker?
While overlockers excel at many tasks, some are best avoided:
- Buttonholes – The linear stitching motion cannot easily replicate the rectangle of a buttonhole. Use a traditional machine.
- Topstitching – Lack of precision and presser feet options make topstitching tricky.
- Zippers – Again, the constant motion makes insertions like zippers very challenging.
- Heavy layers – Multiple denim layers or heavy canvas can jam the blades.
- Delicate fabrics – The fast blades could cut tiny holes in silks or satins.
For the most control, leave construction tasks like these to your regular sewing machine.
What to Look for When Buying a Serger
If you decide to purchase a serger/overlocker, keep these key factors in mind while shopping:
Number of Threads
- 2-3 threads – more basic overlock stitch options
- 4+ threads – adds coverstitch and chainstitch capabilities
Most sewists recommend investing in a 4+ thread serger for maximum versatility.
Sergers use multiple threads, so easy threading is crucial, especially for beginners. Look for:
- Color coded paths
- Numbered guides
- Lay-in threading
Stitch Length/Width Adjustments
- Allows fine-tuning for different fabrics and seam finishes
- Makes it easier to reduce cutting width for regular seams
Free Arm/Removable Side
- Lets you serge cuffs, sleeves, pant hems, and other tubular areas
- Not essential but offers more versatility
Presser Feet Included
- Specialty feet for buttons, piping, etc. expand possibilities
- Feet can be purchased separately, but inclusion is a nice bonus
- Sergers tend to be compact but some are quite hefty
- Make sure it suits your space and needs
How Sergers and Regular Sewing Machines Work Together
A serger cannot entirely replace a traditional sewing machine. Although advanced sewers can work around some of the limitations, a regular machine expands possibilities.
Here are the general roles of each machine:
- Finishing raw edges
- Sewing knit fabrics
- Coverstitch, rolled hems, lettuce edging
- Sewing very fast
- Durable seams and hems
Regular Sewing Machine:
- Inserting zippers
- Sewing buttonholes
- Precision handling
- Decorative stitching
Owning both types of equipment allows sewists to capitalize on the unique advantages of each. Sergers dramatically cut finishing time while regular machines provide control. Together they offer the best of both worlds!
Now that you understand the similarities between sergers and overlockers, it’s time to decide if adding one of these machines could benefit your sewing projects! Have a great sewing day!