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Do I Need A Serger? Or Just A Sewing Machine?

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Do I need a serger?  That’s the question I asked myself for years before finally deciding, yes, yes I did need a serger.  This wasn’t a decision I came upon lightly.  Especially considering the cost of the serger, the space needed to store and use it, and the cost of the supplies.

I love my Brother 1034D serger and don’t regret the purchase.  It’s great for beginners and one of the most affordable, user-friendly sergers on the market.

But, do you need a serger?  Or just a sewing machine?  To help you make this decision, I’ll walk you through the differences between a serger and a sewing machine.  Then, I’ll help you understand the role a serger plays in a craft room and the groups of people I think will benefit from buying a serger and those who should skip the purchase.  In the end, you should have a better idea if you need (or even just want) a serger to accomplish your sewing goals.

Do you need a serger?

Can Serger Replace A Sewing Machine?

Let’s first start out by saying a serger is not a complete replacement for a sewing machine.  While sergers aren’t necessarily one-trick ponies like you might think, they don’t fully take the place of a sewing machine.  For instance, need to make a buttonhole and attach a button?  Done in no time with a sewing machine.  Very difficult using a serger, although you could painstakingly make a buttonhole by hand with needle and thread.

Sergers also don’t sew very tight curves, and sharp angles are better sewn with a sewing machine.  For instance, serging a slit is possible with a serger, but that crisp point will be better done with a sewing machine.

As such, accuracy is better with a sewing machine.  The bulky presser foot of the serger makes seeing underneath the needle where the stitch is happening and where the knives will cut more difficult.

While you can lower the knife to prevent cutting on a serger, if you’re making a garment and need to be very careful with fitting, consider using a basting stitch on a sewing machine first.  Then, go back and serge, cutting off the excess fabric.

Sergers also use a TON of thread compared to sewing a straight stitch with a sewing machine.

Do I need a serger?

Sergers haven’t been around near as long as sewing machines.  Seamstresses had been plugging along successfully for decades before the first serger made its debut.  My grandmother sewed all her clothes, bedding, upholstery, and everything in her household with just a mechanical sewing machine.  I still have some of the outfits and doll clothes she sewed, and they are impeccable.  She sewed a seam with a straight stitch and then finished edges with a zigzag stitch.  Those were two of the few stitches available at that time.

So no, you do not necessarily need a serger to accomplish any specific tasks.  You can sew almost everything with a sewing machine.  But, would a serger make your job easier and ultimately the finished project more handmade vs homemade?  Yes, of course!

What does a serger do better than a sewing machine?

More Professional Seams

With a serger, you can create a seam, finish fabric edges, and trim fabric all at one time, creating a more professional seam.

Take a look right now at the inside of one of your shirts or pants.  More likely than not, the seam is a 3- or 4-thread overlock stitch done by a serger.  This is a strong, durable seam, giving that professional finish.  Here’s an example below.

sergers produce better seams

Sergers can also create flatlock seams, narrow or rolled hems, and several other stitch types depending on the model.  Many of these stitches can even be used for decorative effects!

Trimming Fabric While Creating Seams

Your sewing machine will not trim the fabric edges while sewing.  While there is a specialty presser foot called a side cutter foot, which cuts fabric while you stitch with your sewing machine, it is in no way as good as a serger.  I’ve written a review of my side cutter overlock foot, and while it acts as a “faux” serger for cotton, its performance on knits was the ultimate reason I decided to purchase a serger.

When you engage the knife blades on your serger, your fabric will be perfectly trimmed each time you sew!

Faster Stitching

Sergers stitch at almost twice the speed of a household sewing machine.  This means you’ll accomplish tasks even faster! I detest finishing raw fabric edges, so I’m glad to do this task more quickly on my serger!

More Success With Difficult Fabrics

Sergers have effortless success sewing tricky fabrics like knits and sweater knits.  There is less stretching and a more professional appearance, thanks in part to its differential feed.  My sewing machine sews knits fairly well with a little finesse, but my serger slices through those stretch fabrics like nobody’s business.

Superior Rolled Hems

I think rolled hems with a serger are also easier to perform and produce a more perfect appearance compared to a rolled hem on a sewing machine.

Chainstitch and Coverstitch Options

example of a chainstitch on a serger

There are also different types of sergers.  Some sergers have simply the option of 2-, 3-, or 4-thread stitching like my Brother 1034D serger, but others, like the Singer 14T968DC, have a 5th thread.  This 5th thread often means the serger is able to do a coverstitch and a chainstitch.  You will recognize a coverstitch as the stitch on the hems of shirts.  If you take a look at your t-shirt hem, you’ll likely see two lines of parallel stitching on the outside and a much more ornate stitch appearance on the inside; this is a coverstitch.  While this stitch can be mimicked by using a twin needle to sew parallel lines with your sewing machine, a machine that produces an actual coverstitch provides a more professional appearance.

Who Should Definitely Consider a Serger

Now, who needs a serger or would benefit from one?

1. Anyone seriously considering garment making, especially if wanting to sell items.  Do you need a serger to make clothes?  No, of course not.  You can make clothes with just a sewing machine.  However, your work might not be Etsy-ready without one.  Sergers produce a much more professional finish and work better on trickier fabrics.

2. If you’re planning to frequently sew knits or other stretchy fabrics.

3. Sewists who sew frequently enough that having a serger to make and finish seams will save significant time.  There will then be more time to sew more awesome projects.  Then again, not everyone hates finishing seams with a sewing machine as much as I do, so maybe you would miss that part.

Who Should Not Get a Serger

There are a few subsets of people I recommend against getting a serger without some serious introspection first.

1.  If you aren’t wanting to take the time to learn to set up and use a serger, skip on this machine.

A lot of beginners report frustrations learning to thread a serger and switch between stitches.  Many times when you switch between stitch types, you have to add or remove a needle and rethread your machine.

There are also some basic rules regarding using the differential feed and knowing which tension, stitch length, and stitch width to use depending on your project.  I find I spend more time trying to troubleshoot serger issues (all of which are usually my fault) compared to sewing machine issues.  Sergers aren’t for the faint of heart!

2. Limited workspace or limited funds.  Sergers are pricier than basic sewing machines, and replacement parts and serger supplies are expensive as well.  Furthermore, even if a serger is in the budget, you may not have space for it.  Sergers take up a small footprint, but they still need a table that provides clearance on all 4 sides of the serger.

Do i need a serger?

Do You Need a Serger? – Conclusion

To summarize, you don’t necessarily need a serger because a sewing machine will suffice in most circumstances.  However, given the superior seams, faster speeds, and better success on tricker fabrics, you might find you do really want one, just like I did!

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