In 1881, the serger, also known as an overlocker in many countries, was invented by the Merrow Machine Company. Starting from the Merrow Company’s technology for machine crochet stitching, sergers grew in popularity so much that they became a staple for textile manufacturers. The popularity and demand for the serger have not dwindled since then; if anything, they are in demand now more than ever. Sergers are critical in the sewing process, especially for commercial and industrial sewers, in lending a professional, clean look to the garments. But even as these machines gain widespread use, versatility is the name of the game, and the modern sewer is most interested in the question, can you use a serger for regular sewing?
The answer to this is not so cut and dried. Although you may be able to do all your projects on a serger to completion, there are simply some tasks that a serger cannot do. Tasks such as creating zippers, buttonholes, and topstitching will need to be carried out on a regular sewing machine.
The best way to use a serger and get the maximum efficiency and performance would complement your sewing machine. Use the serger to do what it is best at, finishing seams. With this excellent coupling, your productivity will be at an all-time high.
What Is the Difference Between a Serger And a Regular Sewing Machine?
1. The number of threads
Regular sewing machines can use only one at once to sew (although some models can use up to 2 threads at once), while sergers can use as many as eight cones at once. Each of these thread formations in a serger has its unique uses. These uses include:
a) 1-thread– using one thread cone for a serger is mainly done for end-seaming goods for textile finishing.
b) 2-thread– the 2-thread stitch is the most used one on the serger. Each operation uses two threads, and you can use each stitch separately from the other. It is used for edging and seaming, hemming, creating flatlock seams, and stitching lace and elastic.
c) 3-thread– a three-thread machine offers excellent stretch-stitch capabilities. You can also create a rolled hem by changing the machine’s throat plate. The rolled hem is created by rolling the fabric’s edge to the underside and then enclosing it with thread. Other used for the 3-thread cone are decorative edging, sewing pintucks, and seams on woven fabrics.
d) 4-thread– commonly known as a “mock safety” stitch, the 4-thread seam has almost the same amount of strength as a safety stitch. These stitches are broad, strong, and retain flexibility while still creating extra strength. Like the 3-thread seam, you can also use this seam to create a rolled hem and do decorative edging and finishing. The 3 and 4 thread seams are also known as merrowing, after the merrow company that invented overlock stitching.
e) 5-thread– a 5-thread serger is a top-of-the-line machine that eliminates the need to switch between different machines for a strong finish. In this machine, two threads are used for the straight-line seam, while three threads are used for the overclock edge. This seam is used in garment manufacturing and can be seen on garments with an overclock edge where the straight seam has a chain stitch. The price tag on this machine matches its high efficiency and performance and is an excellent option for anyone looking to go into large-scale garment production.
2. Amount of needles
Regular sewing machines typically have only one needle but can have more, such as the twin needle setting that uses two needles. Sergers, on the other hand, have multiple needle types to help them get the work done.
One of the most significant advantages that sergers have over regular sewing machines is that they have a trimming function where the fabric is cut off before stitching. This feature ensures that any seams produce are neat, clean, and look professional. This cutting mechanism is done by an upper and lower blade, which forms a sort of scissors and cuts away the fabric.
What Advantages Does A Serger Have Over A Sewing Machine?
The most significant advantage of the serger over the sewing machine is its ability to cut off seam allowances as you sew. Sergers have upper and lower blades that start working as soon as you apply pressure on the presser foot. You can also retract these blades, so they are inoperative if what you are working on does not require cutting.
A serger’s ability to secure and finish seams in one step is a big reason to add one to your sewing machinery collection.
Depending on the machine model and its type (mechanical or computerized), sergers operate at significantly higher speeds than regular home sewing machines. These machines can work at speeds of up to 1,700 stitches. You may need some practice at doing high-quality work at this speed, but you can utilize your serger’s maximum capacity with the time you save. The high speeds will save you time and money and lead to high productivity.
3. Great for woven and stretchy fabrics
While regular sewing machines can be attuned to sew stretchy fabrics well, the give, in sergers is designed to sew smooth and durable stitches on all types of knits and stretchy fabrics. Sergers sew excellently on these materials giving neat results without puckers.
4. Durable and secure stitches.
The stitches that are sewn using sergers are strong and meant to last. The use of multiple threads also ensures that you will encase the fabric securely with enough give to prevent the stitches from tearing and breaking. These stitches will survive multiple launderings and regular use for years without fraying.
If you are sewing commercially, investing in a serger is one of the best decisions you could make. Sergers allow you to put a clean and professional finish on your seams and hems. Pieces that you produce will have a high-quality look to them which could only be suitable for your sales.
6. Differential feed
Most sergers today are manufactured with a feature known as a differential feed. Regular sewing machines typically have an even feed mechanism. A serger that has differential feed uses split feed dogs. One set is located towards the back and another towards the front. This feature allows you to adjust the speed at which you feed the fabric and the speed ratio for the front and back feed dogs.
Differential feed will help you achieve better finishes on knit fabrics and adjust to compensate fabrics that stretch and pucker. You can use this by turning the dial lower to stretch a puckering fabric as you sew.
Another cool use of this feature is to create special effects on garments such as waves and gathers.
What Advantages Does a Sewing Machine Have Over a Serger?
1. Easy to use.
Compared to sergers, regular sewing machines offer a more straightforward learning process, after which handling it in day-to-day operations becomes easier. The learning curve for sergers is not quite simple, and they are not as easy to use as most sewing machines. This feature makes regular sewing machines easy to learn for novices who are just getting into sewing.
2. Working flexibility
Regular sewing machines can perform any task you need in your sewing process. While it may not perform some tasks as quickly or as efficiently as the serger, the sewing machine can get the job done. A serger, on the other hand, is not an all-purpose machine, and you will need a
regular sewing machine in addition to your serger for maximum effectiveness.
3. Works quietly
The high speeds at which sergers operate make them work a bit more noisily than regular sewing machines. As with most sewing machines, this can also be compounded when you buy a serger made of cheap or plastic construction.
4. Thread usage and threading
Since regular sewing machines use only 1 or 2 threads at once, the amount of thread they use is significantly lower than that used by sergers. Sergers can use as many as eight threads. This number will require you to purchase large spools of threads to make sure that you do not keep running out.
In a serger that does not have automatic threading, threading the machine can also become quite an exhausting and inconvenient task due to the multiple needles. You will only need to thread one or two needles in regular sewing machines, which is easier and faster.
Can You Do A Straight Stitch on a Serger?
A serger is a machine meant to join seams and prevent the fabric edge from fraying. To do straight stitches, you will need to buy a regular sewing machine. You can then use the serger as a great compliment to increase efficiency. A serger would not be of any great use when sewing zippers or curtains or when creating buttonholes.
The range and type of stitches you get on a serger will depend on the machine you buy. Below are the most common stitches that are offered in most sergers.
1. The overlock stitch
The overlock stitch is the main reason why people invest in a serger. Overlock stitches are used to finish the raw edge of a garment to prevent fraying and join two fabric pieces to create a seam. The most used overlock stitches are the 4-thread and the 3-thread stitches, while only mid or high-range machines can do a 2-thread overlock.
- The 4-thread overlock stitch creates a stronger seam, with the 4th thread acting as a backup line to prevent holes. Due to the high number of threads used, these stitches are usually bulkier. This stitch can be used for general construction, inserting zippers and elastic, and gathering.
- The 3-thread overlock is generally the same as the 4-thread stitch but only uses one needle, making it more flexible. This stitch is excellent for creating seams for a garment that will not be under a lot of stress. It is also used for making decorative edges, piecing patchwork, attaching lace, piping, and blind stitching.
- The 2-thread overlock is a much lighter and more delicate stitch than the other overlock stitches. It uses only one needle and needs a stitch converter on the upper loop to properly form threads. This stitch is excellent for decorative edges and finishing delicate and lightweight fabrics.
2. The flatlock stitch
A flatlock stitch is created by pulling apart two fabric layers apart after sewing so that one side has loops and the other ladders. The pieces of fabric are joined without a seam allowance creating a flat seam. Like the overlock stitch, this stitch can be created using the 4 and 3 thread stitches, either wider (and hence sturdier) or narrower. This stitch is great when you create garments that would be more comfortable with a flat seam and when joining thick fabric layers to reduce bulk. You can also use it for joining lace, piecing patchwork, and sewing heirlooms.
3. The rolled hem
This stitch is excellent when you need to finish the edges of fabrics. It is created y folding the fabric edge under and then wrapping the fabric in threads. You can also create it using 3 or 2 threads, where the 2- threads version is less bulky, hence, great for lightweight and sheer materials. Some of the rolled hem uses include hemming, lettuce-edge finish, decorative finishes, and pintucks.
4. Picot stitch
The picot stitch is a decorative stitch used to finish the edge of 1 layer of fabric. The creation process for this stitch is almost like that of the rolled hem. The lower loop tension is tightened, the upper looper thread is pulled toward the back, and the edge is wrapped in threads. Unlike the rolled hem, the stitches’ length is longer, so there is a space between the stitches, making the fabric have a more delicate look.
5. The narrow hem
A narrow hem is generally sewn with three threads: the upper and lower loopers and the right needle. The thread tension is set very similar to the one used in the three thread overlock stitch. Like a rolled hem, the edge of the fabric is folded and wrapped in stitches. The threads meet at the outermost edge of the fabric, and the fabric edge remains flat.
The narrow hem is wider than the rolled hem as the fabric is not being rolled but narrower than the 3-thread stitch edge. This stitch is the right choice when working with fabrics of medium heaviness that usually resist rolling. It is also used in heirloom sewing, lingerie seams, and creating seams for delicate fabrics.
6. The blind hemstitch
You can also do the blind hem stitch on sergers. It creates a very clean seam, and the invisible hem with a serger allows the fabric to retain all its natural stretch. This stitch creates a bulkier stitch as it uses more threads. It is also not relatively easy to achieve, and it needs a unique foot (blind stitch foot) which is not included in all machines.
7. Specialty stitches
When adjustments and various variations are made to some of the basic serger stitches, this van result in some specialty stitches that can prove useful. Some of these specialty stitches include:
- The 2-thread wrapped overlock- this stitch uses one needle and one looper and has higher needle tension. It is useful in doing edge finishing for scarves and jacket openings.
- The super stretch- this stitch uses both needles and one looper, thus offering strength and maximum stretch. The super stretch stitch is mainly used in creating activewear.
Can You Use a Serger Without Cutting?
The cutting blades are a huge part of what makes the experience of a serger unique. They trim the fabric’s edges before the stitches are made to make sure you get the cleanest and neatest finished edge possible. So, how does this function work, and can you operate your serger without it?
Sergers have two blades that work in tandem like scissors to trim the fabric. In most machines, the upper blade moves up and down while the lower blade, usually under the needle plate, remains stationary. When the upper bade move downward, its sharp edge rubs against the lower blade, and the material is pinched and cut. You can also easily adjust these blades by turning the knob on the machine.
There will be times when you feel you do not need to cut off any more fabric. Whenever this happens, you need not worry as you can sew on a serger without cutting. You can sew without cutting by disengaging the blade, as this allows you to serge away from the fabric edge and apply several decorative stitches.
Although you can sew without cutting, most regular stitches will look their best when you trim away even a small bit of the fabric. They have a neat and professional look that is just hard to beat.
What Stitch to Use If You Don’t Have a Serger?
The serger is undoubtedly an invaluable addition to any sewers workshop. Despite this, you may not be able to get one due to several circumstances, such as financial reasons. If you are an occasional home sewer or hobbyist, getting a serger may also be an investment you are not willing to make as you may not need it enough to justify the purchase.
If you do not have a serger, worry not. There are numerous ways you can use your regular sewing machine to create neat finishes and sew knits using existing stitches and use several other creative methods.
Some of the stitches that you can use on your regular sewing machine are:
- The zigzag stitch- almost all sewing machines have a zigzag stitch whose length and with is adjustable. First, find the dimensions of the zigzag stitch that will work best for you. There are two ways you can finish a seam using a zigzag stitch. First, you can sew a seam using the correct allowance, then go back and sew a zigzag stitch near the seam allowance and cut away the extra fabric. Second, you can sew a zigzag stitch directly to the edges before sewing the seams together. This method works well on garments where trimming may not be possible.
- The mock overlocks- Most regular sewing machines today have some overlock stitches supposed to imitate the serger’s overlock stitches. These stitches will sew a decent edge, with the main difference between this and the serger being that the sewing machine does not trim the edge as it sews. You will need to trim away the excess fabric after you have sewed. The overlock stitch may be labeled as an overedge or overcast stitch on your machine. You will also require a unique foot for your sewing machine to do this stitch, making using this stitch a bit frustrating as you will need to keep changing the feet.
- The reinforced straight stitch is created by the needle moving forward and backward in a straight line, creating three parallel stitches. It is best used when working with thicker knits.
Apart from the stitches mentioned above, there are several other ways you can finish the seams neatly. These include trimming the seams with a pair of pinking shears, the turn, and stitch, and binding the edges.
Can You Back Stitch on a Serger
No, you cannot backstitch on a serger like you would on a regular sewing machine. But since finishing your stitches is vital in preventing unraveling, there are many other ways that you can finish your stitch on a serger without the backstitch.
These methods include:
- Use seam sealant at the ends of the seam. All you need to do is place a small bead of sealant at the threads’ intersection.
- Tie the thread tails together and snip the thread after the knot.
- Feed the thread tail into the created seam.
- Flip over your finished seam and serge right over it.
The serger is still at the peak of its usefulness, and this is not set to change any time soon. Advanced and upgradeable Serger models are being rolled out annually, making this already iconic machine that much more valuable. But for the budding sewer looking to get maximum value for their money, the critical question still is,
Can you use a serger for regular sewing?
As we mentioned above, the serger is a machine whose primary function is finishing seams of garments professionally. But, paired with a regular sewing machine, you have all that you need to do your best work yet.
I hope this article has provided all the information you needed on sergers and how they relate to sewing machines. Any questions, thoughts, or suggestions on this content are welcome in the comment section below.