Once you’ve dipped your toes in the sewing world, you’ve probably seen or thought about getting a serger. Which is the best serger for you, though? It can be daunting to shop for one: what features matter? What’s a differential? What if I don’t even know what a serger does?
I remember being intimidated by sergers at first too (what’s going on with all of those spools?) I wasn’t sure what I’d need or want a serger for, until my mom showed me the magic of fast, perfectly finished hems with her Singer serger. Even if you’ve never seen a serger, you’ve probably seen the stitching from one on a fleece blanket.
Sergers can be a great investment to save you time and boost the quality of your work. So how do you decide if you need one, and if so, which one to get? Read on, and all of your serging questions will be answered.
Note: this post is a looong one, so if you want to skip ahead to the #1 serger on our best serger list, click here.
What on earth is a serger?
The short version: a serger is a machine used for finishing the edges of fabric, quickly.
Slightly longer version: a serger is a machine that simultaneously sew a seam, cut off the raw edges, and finish the edge. It uses 2, 3, 4, or 5 threads to create various ways of finishing an edge. The most common type of serger is 3/4, meaning it supports the use of 3 or 4 threads to finish an edge. Sergers can create different types of finishing stitches, which are called overlock stitches. Another name for sergers (outside of the US) is “overlock sewing machine.”
You feed the fabric through the serger, which uses an automated cutter in conjunction with the thread overlock to quickly finish the garment. This means you get a professional-looking finish to your garments at a fraction of the speed of other methods. How fast? Up to 1,700 stitches per minute, depending on which serger you get.
Sergers do not replace sewing machines, but can help speed up and tidy up your projects by making seams and finishing more manageable.
Do I need a serger?
Unlike a sewing machine, a serger not only sews the fabric but also cuts it, giving you that fast and polished look. It’s hard to say no to something that saves you time and makes your clothes look nicer, right?
Not all types of fabrics need their edges finished, though.
Serge your seams if you:
- Are sewing something that is woven (not stretchy). Serging will prevent the edges from fraying
- Have trouble sewing knit (stretchy) edges with your sewing machine
- Want to speed up the process of finishing edges and seams
- Are going to be making a lot of garments (repeated washes = fraying)
- Want quick, decorative edges.
- Want a more professional look to your creations.
Don’t bother if:
- You’re going to line the garment. All of the seams will be enclosed, so there’s no point.
- You’re making a quilt (where bulkiness of the seams might be an issue)
- Any garments where the added ‘bulk’ of a serged hem will be a problem (go with pressed-open seams instead).
Sergers can be used to:
- Finish seams
- Reduce weird puckering on stretchy or hard-to-sew material
- Finish sheer or chiffon fabric
- Gathering (taking advantage of the differential feed)
- Rolled hems
- Apply trims or elastic
What features to look for (what makes a serger “the best”)
If you’ve gotten this far, then you’ve likely got some projects in mind that would benefit from speedy, beautiful edges. How do you narrow down the options? The best sergers compete on a number of specifications, while other features are pretty much standard.
- Adjustable differential feed: in cars, the differential lets the car’s wheels rotate at different speeds (such as during a turn). Cars have wheels, sergers have what are called “feed dogs”. Feed dogs are what move the fabric through the machine, and it can be handy to have them move at different speeds. That’s where the adjustable differential feed comes in.
- If the differential feed is set to 1, the feed dogs are moving at the same speed, so the top and bottom piece of fabric move through the machine at the same speed.
- For a differential feed of less than 1, the front feed dogs are going slower than the rear feed dogs. This can be used for lightweight fabric to prevent rippling or puckering.
- If the differential feed is more than one, the opposite is true. This helps for stretchy fabrics, as the difference in speed helps to work against the stretch of the material (in a way that won’t snap the thread, which sometimes happens on a sewing machine).
- What types of stitches are supported, and how many threads:
- 2, 3, 4 or 5 threads. Again, 3 /4 is the most common. 5 threads can be a pain in the butt.
- Various types of stitching, including: Overlock stitch, Cover stitch, Flatlock stitch, Rolled hem (fancy!), and more.
- Adjustable stitch length and width: just like it sounds, adjusting the length and width of different types of stitches.
- Sewing Speed: typical sergers have a speed up to 1,200-1,500 stitches per minute.
- Ease of Use: automated vs manual threading, and overall design factor into the usability of a serger.
- Free Arm: the ability to remove a plate or piece of the serger, allowing for easier sewing of small, difficult sewing areas (cuffs, collars, kid’s clothes, etc.)
Nice-to-haves (these typically come standard):
- Color coding: guides or arrows printed on the machine, with a different color per thread path. This makes threading much easier
- (Easily) removable blade: for when blades get old and blunt.
- Built-in (or removable) seam gauge: to ensure consistent measurements.
- Built-in thread cutter: if you’re like me, your scissors always end up halfway across the room. This feature saves you a little bit of time and effort.
- Sewing light: more light is always good to see what you’re doing. Included in most models.
- Removable pressure foot: convenient for changing or threading needles
- Other accessories: fewer things to have to buy separately, like feet.
Choosing the best serger depends on what types of projects you like to make, what your budget is, and your experience level. As a result, the five sergers listed below show different trade-offs of features vs. price and ease-of use.
The 5 Best Sergers Available On the Market in 2017:
This serger made it to the top of our best serger list because of ease-of-use, number of stitch functions, accessories, and a great price point. This is a great option for beginners and professionals alike, and includes instruction guides to get started.
- Differential Fabric Feed
- 22 built-in stitch functions: lots of stitch functions at an affordable price. 3 / 4 thread.
- Easy to use: includes instruction manual and video, plus numbered looper threading.
- Color coding: guides or arrows printed on the machine, with a different color per thread path. This makes threading much easier.
- Affordable: The product is reasonably priced with as many or more features than other models.
- Accessories: includes a carrying case for travel or just keeping the dust off when your serger is not in use. Plus a Blind Hem / Flatlock Foot and Gathering Foot
- 25-year limited warranty
- Heavy fabrics: some customers had said that the product may not to be able to work with thick or heavy fabrics
- Does not do: Coverlock Stitch or Chain Stitch
- Noisy: Some customers said that it got loud at times. Another user noted that you need to oil the machine (as shown in the instruction guide) before first use.
Next up on the list is another Brother product, which has a number of features at a slightly higher price than the first serger. Still a great deal, with a lot of stitches (the most on this list!) and some bonus accessories thrown in.
- Differential Fabric Feed
- Lot of stitch options: 3 / 4 thread. 23 different stitch options including slim hem, turned hem and ribbon lock.
- Accessories: includes $75 worth of bonuses, including 3 feet (Blind Hem Stitch Foot, Gathering Foot and Piping Foot) and starter thread
- Color coded threading: makes thread setup much easier
- Compact Size: The model is perfect for small rooms and easily portable.
- Movable Cutting Arm: This allows users to create rolled hems easily.
- Free Arm Sewing: the free arm allows for fuss-free finishing for sleeves, collars and stitching cylindrical fabric.
- Pressure foot: Some customers had problems with the pressure foot.
- Heavy fabric: some users said that the serger performed poorly or jammed when working on heavier fabrics.
While the Singer ProFinish Serger doesn’t have all of the more expensive sergers on our best serger, it might work for your needs. This product might fit the ticket for budget conscious customers, with speed, a free arm, and a modifiable upper cutter.
- Differential Fabric Feed
- Fast: This model makes sewing and stitching fast with a stitch speed of up to 1,300 stitches per minute.
- Affordable: The most affordable serger on this list. The product comes with most of the features at a budget-friendly price.
- Instructional DVD: Singer eases the process of setting up and using your serger with step-by-step video guides on the included DVD.
- Free Arm Sewing: makes it easier to sew difficult to reach or difficult to sew areas of projects (cuffs, sleeves, etc.)
- Modifiable upper cutter
- Easily adjustable tension nobs for each thread
- Short Warranty: this serger has a warranty of 25 years for builder faults and 2 years warranty for electrical parts. However, the warranty for labor and components was only 90 days.
- Noisy: Some customers said that it got loud at times.
- Difficult Threading: Although the model includes an automatic threading system, some customers have complained about difficulty while threading the serger.
The JUKI MO644D model is ideal for beginners. Reviewers said it was simple to operate, while also having all of the essential features of a serger.
- Rolled Hemming: The product allows rolled threads, with a professional look.
- High Speed: up to 1,500 stitches a minute.
- Adjustable Differential Feed dial
- Adjustable Stitch length and width dial
- Provides a multi-function pressure foot
- Color coded threading: makes thread setup much easier
- Short Warranty: The serger has a warranty of just 90 days for labor and components.
- Manual Threading: The model does not include an automatic threading system, and some customers have complained about difficulty while threading the serger.
Finally, the Brother 2340CV is actually not a serger, it’s a cover stitch machine. This means that it can finish edges, but it can’t cut them, because it has no cutting arm. If that fits your needs, this can be a great model to combine with another machine.
- Cover stitch: none of the other machines in the list do cover stitch.
- Differential fabric feed: adjustable knobs
- Quiet: It operates with very little sound, making it ideal for homes where noise is an issue.
- Color coded threading: Makes thread setup much easier.
- Easy to use: Users said that it is extremely simple to use, with great stitching results.
- Hemming: Cover stitch, circular hems, and lace attachment are very easy to perform using the product.
- Not technically a serger
- No cutting arm: so it can’t cut edges, only finish them.
- Manual work: Some users said that it was a hassle to keep using different buttons for threading.
- No Free Arm
So, which is the best serger for you?
In the end, the best serger is the one that is best for you and your needs. We found the Brother 1034D to be the best in terms of features and cost, but there are options out there for everyone.
We hope that this best serger guide has been helpful for you! Happy sewing!