What Is a Serger Machine, a tutorial by The Sewing Korner

If you love to sew, you already know that there are numerous types of sewing machines on the market, including lots of specialty machines. One of these is a serger machine, which is unlike a regular sewing machine because it is made for a completely different purpose. The machines look a little odd to a beginning sewer but indeed, they can become invaluable later on.

Serger machines are also called overlock machines, and they are a great way to get professional-looking seams that have neat, even stitches. They also look quite different from a standard machine because they have room for up to eight spools of threads that can be used.

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    Just the Basics

    A serger sewing machine can be a little funny-looking to someone who’s unfamiliar with it, in part because it has from three to eight large spools of thread in the back of the machine. The thread is not on a spool, but on a large “cone” that sits up high and is connected so that you can use all of the threads together if you like. Most of these machines use three to four cones, although up to eight are possible.

    Of course, it is precisely these multiple threads that are the reason for great-looking seams when you’re done. The seams also tend to be a lot more durable than ones made with a regular sewing machine, and as all sewers know, a sturdy and good-looking seam is a must when you want your sewing projects to look professional.

    When you use a serger machine to create the perfect seam, the threads actually lock around the seam so that it doesn’t fray, and the machine also comes with a blade that automatically cuts off the seam allowance as it is being operated. Of course, you can cut off this blade and not use it if that’s more convenient for you.

    One of the things people love best about sergers is their top-notch speed. A serger can encase raw edges and trim away seam allowances in a jiffy – up to 1,700 stitches per minute, as a matter of fact!

    Of course, if you think that a serger is only able to handle seams, think again. As a matter fact, a good serger sewing machine can handle tasks such as:

    • Gathering fabric
    • Executing a narrow rolled hem
    • Do piping neatly
    • Hemming knits

    What can’t a good serger do? Well, for starters it cannot accommodate tasks such as zippers, buttonholes, facings, and top-stitching. This is because a serger is not a stand-alone machine but instead, it is one that is used in conjunction with another sewing machine. In fact, if you’re looking for something that can essentially replace your standard sewing machine, the serger is not it.

    Should You Buy Both a Serger and a Standard Sewing Machine?

    When you’re a beginning sewer, you likely won’t need a serger machine and in fact, you’ll likely not use it that often anyway. In the beginning, you instead need a good, high-quality sewing machine that provides you with the basic functions you’ll need. You can always add a serger later on if you need to.

    Having said all of this, here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re researching sergers and wish to learn more about them:

    • If you’re a beginner, concentrate on getting to know your sewing machine before adding a serger to your collection of sewing goodies.
    • If you sew clothing or other finished projects, a serger can be a big help because it makes the perfect secured seam every time.
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    If You’re a Beginner ...

    When you’re just starting out with a serger machine, you’ll likely have some questions. Below are some things to keep in mind if you have a serger, but are considered a beginning sewer.

    Buy the right thread

    Always get high-quality thread because without it, your seams won’t look good nor will they be as sturdy as you need them to be. Thread cones can usually be found online and are the backbone of a good serger, so it’s important that you take your time and find the right cones in the end. Serger thread that is of poor quality can result in broken thread and having to rethread way more than you want to.

    Learn how to rethread your serger correctly

    Don’t use the “knot and pull” method because the knot may accidentally pass through the eye of your needle and the needle might either break or bend permanently. Start out acting like a pro, and that means rethreading your serger the right way and not the way you may have been taught by an aunt or your grandmother.

    Never sew on your pins

    When you’re using a regular sewing machine, you can sew right over your pins and it won’t matter, but that can’t be said for a good serger machine. In fact, sergers require that you sew from the left side of the pin as you work to keep the pin safe from destruction. Or, if you’ve gotten enough experience with one of these machines, simply skip the pins altogether and don’t even use them!

    Make a serger book for convenience

    Experiment with tension levels, working with different colored threads at the same time, and other ways to alter the look of your project. If you keep a “booklet” that tells you the tension number, the color, and so on, of each sample, it can save you a lot of time later on when you want to go back to that design and start all over again.

    Don’t wait long to give your serger a good cleaning

    Serger’s get filled up with lint quickly, so even as you’re working you should stop periodically and give your machine a good cleaning. In fact, if you stop and clean your serger every three to four hours, lint won’t have time to build up and you’ll prevent inconveniences such as broken needles and tensions that are off-kilter. When you’re done for the day, give the machine a few drops of oil to keep it extra smooth when operating.

    Take pictures of the original threading

    It’s easy to forget your original setup when you first get your serger machine, so once your machine is all set and ready to go, take a picture of it so you won’t forget its “layout.” If you do this, it makes it easy to replicate the setup later on if you want to. When you open the packaging for your serger, it will be at the perfect setup – so go ahead and take pictures of it so you won’t forget what it’s supposed to look like before you start working again in the future.

    Keep in mind that a serger CAN’T BACKSTITCH

    Because of this rule, you have to leave long tails and make sure you never cut your chains near the end of the fabric. This is very likely one of the biggest differences between a serger and a standard sewing machine, and even if you try to backstitch, it won’t work because it will merely cut those beautiful stitches that you just made, which is something no sewer wants! Once you get used to your serger not being able to do backstitches, it’ll be much easier to remember the tips you need to know to make up for this fact.

    Don’t buy too many cones of each color because it isn’t necessary

    It’s best never to buy more than one 10,000-yard cone of each color, because this is all you’ll likely need when you’re a beginner. If you buy any more than that, you’ll usually end up with far more thread than you’ll need, and then you’ll end up with a very large thread collection that you can’t seem to use quickly enough. Save yourself space in your sewing room and a lot of money by just sticking with one cone of each color, at least in the very beginning.

    Keep the speed of the serger in mind

    Serger machines go faster than a standard sewing machine, so when you’re sewing don’t “put the pedal to the metal,” but instead go at a slow and steady pace. It’s also a little harder to control your stitches with one of these machines, so remember, “slow and steady wins the race.” This might take some practice, but you’ll get the hang of it eventually.

    Video: SINGER 14CG754 Serger Overlock Tour of the Machine

    In Summary

    Serger machines are truly invaluable when you want to go above and beyond standard sewing functions. Even though you don’t have to rush out and purchase one immediately, this should definitely be one of the items on your wish list. As with other products, you can compare different machines a lot easier if you start online, and this can also help you get the right one for your needs at a price you can afford.

    If you want beautiful, strong seams that are both durable and attractive, a serger is the perfect accompaniment to your other sewing supplies, and it will certainly never let you down.