Hi there! I'm Irene and I usually blog at Serger Pepper; today I'm here sharing with you all I know about one of my favorite topics: sergers!
Yes, I'll do my best helping you choosing your first serger (or overlocker, depending on where you come from)… aren't you excited? I am!
Let me start saying that the perfect model does not exist! It's all relative!
Read what you should consider before you start evaluating the models/features:
What is a serger sewing machine?
Maybe you already know what a serger is/does, maybe not: let's define it!
A serger is a fast sewing machine that produces professionally finished seams because it trims away seam allowances and encases raw edges with an overcast stitch…. wow!
Can you guess how much it reduces the boring time spent trimming and zig-zagging seam allowances? One step does everything!
Do I really need a serger?
Well, technically you don't, but you should consider
- why you are sewing,
- what kind of fabric
- how much do you usually sew.
A serger isn't going to replace your sewing machine: some tasks are unachievable with the serger alone (topstitching, for example).
One of the advantages of using a serger, is that it's fast!
Not only it do multiple actions in one only time, it also sews so many stitches per minute (they're around 1300 for a domestic serger… more than 20 each second, while a sewing machine usually stitches 600/minute).
If you have decided it's time to take your sewing up a notch… it's time to buy a serger!
If you're not a professional sewer (and probably you aren't, if you're just considering to buy a serger), you will hardly need so many fancy options: do not spend those extra money for features you are not going to use!
What will you use it for?
To help you decide which features are really important for you, one of the most important things to consider is what do you think you're going to use your serger for: no need to have a coverstitch feature if you don't hem knits!
- A serger can help you a lot in sewing knits (also without a coverstitch feature); let's think about it: our wardrobe nowadays is filled with knit garments so, why do we have to sew woven and wear knits?
- Also if you can perfectly sew knits with a regular sewing machine, a serger will make things easier, way faster and tons neater!
- Even sewing wovens can be faster and neater with a serger: no more seam allowances fraying!
- A serger can be the right choice also if you don't sew garments, but do lots of bed skirts, pillows, curtains and things like this: again, more work done in less time!
That said, you should take in account that your plans may change, while the time passes by: once you climb the first steep part of the learning curve (problems threading anyone?) you will almost certainly fall in love with the endless possibilities your serger gives you.
When you start playing with your serger, you'll see that it's perfect for adding decorative details (like edgings and pintucks), for adding strength while keeping flexibility to your seams: just start playing with the various stitches (I even have created a useful Cheat Sheet for all the settings!).
How much are you going to use it
Another perspective to consider, to define must-have features for your first serger, is how many hours a week (or a day…) you're going to use it: if you sew for yourself and your family, probably you're not going to overuse it and wear it down as much as if you have a sewing business.
Not all of the domestic sergers can withstand extensive use and saving some bucks now could probably lend you to spending more in manteinance later.
Maybe you're planning to jump into the growing wagon of crafty women who sells handmade garments on Etsy or local fairs: seams finished with an overlocker will look much more professional to the buyers, helping you in increasing your sales.
Let's talk about money!
Everything is relative, in this field! Just honestly consider your budget: everyone has one, high or low, and price range for an overlocker is between $ 200 to several thousand dollars.
Often, you're going to get what you pay for but:
1) For the average home sewers, a good entry-level machine will cost you around $200; there's no need to spend too much, if you're not going to use it intensively! [Deb – this is the one I'm getting for Christmas – the Brother 1034D]
2) It's not always true that more expensive equals better. Sometimes you only pay for extravagant features you'll never use (and sometimes you pay for the brand too!)
Choosing a serger is a very intimidating choice because there are so many brand and models in the market and nobody really want to make a mistake and end up paying for it twice!
Where should I buy it?
When you will have tried a lot of sergers at local dealers and narrowed to a selection of your favorite models (within your budget and basing on must-have features listed below), try to wait and search for sale prices on Amazon/eBay/Google… you could save a lot from your local retailer's price!
TIP: Check how maintenance will work: some won't service your serger if you've bought it elsewhere…
In my humble opinion, it's ok buying used sergers but only from trusted sources: you should ideally be able to check an used machine before you buy it (even better: let someone experienced test it for you, someone who can spot problems just hearing the sound of the engine, or note some warning signals you could even miss!).
If I was in the market for a new serger, and I was thinking to buy a used machine, I would try asking local dealers first: usually, when someone decide to change her machine, sells her old basic model to the dealer, who often re-sells spare parts and can recondition the serger for a fraction of cost, then he will re-sell it to you.
Be sure it comes with a sort of warranty, better if it's written (you never know…).
It's all fun but… which features do I *really* need?
I have to admit that, also if I'm really amazed by all those fancy features I see on high-end expensive machines, I'm not easily suggestible.
I'm a frugal mom, the kind of woman who plans any expense, since I'm not swimming in moneys… so I must carefully evaluate the cost-effect ratio of a purchase.
Also if this seems to be a huge list, most of the features I'm mentioning here are included in most (if not all) the modern home sergers; you can even carry this list with you when you're visiting your local dealers: you'll look less like a newbie, if you already know what to ask for!
- Adjustable differential feed (this is a must-have for sewing different types of fabric and to create gathers). Most modern sergers have this feature, better check with the seller that it's included, when the price is in the low-end!
- adjustable stitch length and width
- adjustable sewing speed by foot control on the pedal: exactly like with your sewing machine (and your car), the more you push the foot on the pedal, the faster you sew (or drive);
- easily removable presser foot: it helps when it's time to thread (or even change) the needles! A snap-on foot is the best choice.
- sewing light (I've never seen a serger without, but I haven't seen all the sergers for sale in the world and a bright light is a must-have)
- colour coded threading paths and/or threading chart, better if it's pasted on your serger
- thread tension released when you raise the presser foot
- adjustable presser foot pressure, for sewing different fabric thicknesses
- easy seam width adjustment: turning the dial you can cut more or less fabric on seam allowances, sewing closer or farther from the edge
- removable stitch finger (and even better if it comes with 2 different width stitch fingers)
- high quality blade you can disengage, sharpen or even easily replace
- each needle secured by its own screw (or Allen wrench): if they're both attached with one only screw, they will likely fall inside your serger when you decide to change them
- dials with numbers stamped on, to help you adjusting settings
- tweezers, manual, dust cover, spool nets (to keep consistent feeding of bulky nylon, wear those nets on the spool), spool caps (to be able to use domestic spools and reels of thread), screwdriver(s)
- seam gauge (either built-in or removable): this will ensure the fabric is cut and sewn consistently
- check if the serger is easy to open for threading it or cleaning it
- it can sew with regular home sewing machine needles
- built-in thread cutter
Other features that can be really useful, but not mandatory, are:
- bag to carry it around if you don't have a sewing room
- free arm/flat-bed convertible sewing surface: useful feature for when you need to sew on small cylindrical portions of garments (read: collars, cuffs, armholes, especially when sewing for small kids)
- serger classes either in person or DVD/video (also if you can find plenty of them on YouTube)
- built-in storage. This will help you get organized and keep all your sewing tools.
- coverstitch convertible (better two separate machines, usually the conversion isn't that easy to do and you'll end with paying a potential feature you won't use that much)
- different feet (maybe on the low-end models you won't have them all in your box, you should check if they are available to be added later and how much they cost if bought separately) – blind hem foot, elastic foot, piping/cording foot, chainstitch foot are the most common.
A couple of words about number of threads/serger stitches:
Home sergers comes with 3, 4 or even 5 threads: if you're an average sewer/crafter, better choose a 4 (3 is for finishing seams only, 5 is for added coverstitch and chainstitch).
If I was in the market for my first serger, these are the stitches I'd like to be able to work with it:
- 2 threads overlock (for finishing seam allowances on light weight and sheers)
- 3 threads overlock (for finishing seam allowances on medium weight fabrics)
- 4 threads overlock (for finishing seam allowances on heavy weight fabrics and for seaming)
- rolled hem (with 2 threads, for light weight fabrics)
- rolled hem (with 3 threads, for medium weight fabrics)
- narrow hem
- super stretch stitch (perfect for dancewear, swimwear, leotards…)
Another important thing to check with your dealer (better ask him/her for a demostration) is how easy is to convert your serger between stitches. Some sergers have a quick way to covert (like a leverage you turn to switch between rolled hem and overlock, or a two-thread convertor), while others may require you to unscrew the throat plate… and you know that you're not going to convert between stitches if you need to pull apart your serger, isn't it?
Fancy features you CAN do without on your first serger
(but you should look for if your budget is a little bit wider)
- Automatic threader (for loopers and needles)
- I've seen some Bernina overlockers have the “micro thread control” that gives you the perfect seam at the turn of a knob: with this feature, tensions are adjusted automagically… at a huge cost for you! If tensions are a problem for you, you may be interested in reading (and maybe pinning) this post I wrote about it!
- LCD screen (fun, but not more useful than knobs and dials… that costs a lot less!)
- Waste collector (I have it, somewhere! Never used it…)
When I've bought my serger, my needs were to stay within a really small budget without buying a “cheap” machine: I'm highly satisfied with it (it's a Necchi Lock 181, which I don't think you'll be able to spot anywhere in the US) and I don't plan to change it with another (unless I find one that makes me the manicure while I sew): it's such a sturdy and durable machine, all built with metal mechanisms inside (just try to lift it and you'll notice it by its weight!).
I hope you'll make good use of my suggestions about must-have features for your first serger, maybe you've been a good girl and you'll find a new one under the tree…
If not, here are my little pearls of wisdom for helping you choosing one, at the local dealer's:
- try one of the cheaper and one of the more expensive… and see if you can spot a difference
- try threading it trying before you choose – maybe twice!
- choose the brand/model trying it live, then buy online and spend less
- if you are unsure between two brands/model, compare ease of use and maintenance/cleaning
- be sure to get any sort of training and access to support after purchase
Wanna know more about your serger? Follow my “Serger Obsession” board on Pinterest!
More serger resources
Books about serging and serger projects to work on