Serger Or Sewing Machine? What’s The Difference, And When Should You Use Each?

Have you ever been shopping at your local hobby store, and you see a machine called a “serger“?

You’ve wondered, “What is that used for?” I remember doing that several years ago, and I honestly thought it was a complex machine I would never need or want. 

Fast forward a few years, I now have a serger and have had lots of fun (and maybe a little frustration) trying to figure out how to use it and what to use it for. 

This post will go over all the ins and outs of a serger machine, what you can do with it, how it differs from a regular sewing machine, and if it is worth your time and money to purchase one.

What Is a Serger and How Does It Work?

A serger is a sewing machine used primarily to conceal raw edges to prevent fraying and unraveling. Instead of using just one spool of thread, a serger can use up to four threads to create an interlocking chain over the fabric. Sergers are also known as overlock machines. 

Another unique aspect of a serger is that it cuts the fabric to make a uniform, straight edge that the serger conceals. When using a serger, you will notice it cuts and sews much faster than a regular sewing machine. 

So how does a serger work? Essentially, the serger has three main parts that work together to achieve professionally finished edges. 

  • The Feed Dogs: Similar to a regular sewing machine, a serger has feed dogs that “feed” the fabric through the machine evenly under the needle.
  • The Knife or Cutter: The knife moves at the same speed as the needle, ensuring that it cuts the excess fabric from the seam allowance to give the threads a clean, straight edge.
  • The Loopers: The inner workings of the serger are sometimes referred to as “loopers.” These parts wrap and loop the threads around each other, creating chain-like stitches on the raw edges. 

These parts work simultaneously to create professional seams in all types of sewing projects, from finishing hems to garment making. 

serger vs sewing machine

Can a serger straight stitch? The answer to this question is, unfortunately, “no.” A serger cannot replace a regular sewing machine and is incapable of doing a lot of different sewing projects, such as adding zippers to projects to piecing a quilt. 

There is a bit of a learning curve when setting up a serger. The threads have to be threaded through the machine “just so.” Also, the speed and movement of the machine take some getting used to. 

That said, with some practice, you should be able to figure it out, and you’ll be concealing those raw edges in no time. 

Is a Serger Really Necessary? 

To answer this question, you need to know what type of projects you will be working on and if a serger can help you with those projects or not. If you want to attempt garment production, I guarantee that a serger makes your garments look much more professional and helps them last longer. 

You can probably get along fine without a serger if you are strictly a quilter. Though I have seen several quilters using a serger to conceal the raw edges of a quilt before they put on the binding. I have not tried this, but they say it helps with that final step. 

It also depends on your budget. If you have the extra cash and want to play around with a serger, I say go for it! But it is not necessary for everyone and is ultimately a personal decision. 

If you were to ask me what is better, a sewing machine or a serger? I would probably say a sewing machine since you can do much more with it than a serger. If you will be doing a lot of sewing where a serger would be helpful, however, I would highly recommend investing in one. 

When to Use a Serger vs. Sewing Machine

Now that we’ve gone over some of the basics of a serger, let’s look at several different sewing projects and figure out which would be a better match: a serger or a sewing machine. 

1. Zipper Pouch

As we mentioned before, you cannot use a serger for adding a zipper. You need a straight stitch for that. Also, since the raw edges of a zipper pouch are concealed inside the layers of the pouch, you won’t need to overlock them. 

2. Baby Quilt

I also briefly talked about quilters using a serger to conceal the raw edges of the quilt before adding the binding. To me, this is a personal preference. If you have a friend who has a serger, maybe you can borrow theirs and see if you like adding this extra step before purchasing your own serger. 

3. Making a Dress from Scratch

Here is a great example of when having both machines would be the most beneficial. You can use the regular sewing machine to piece the dress together, adding zippers or buttonholes as needed. Then take the dress to your serger to conceal all the raw edges with the overlocking stitches for a professional finish. 

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4. Hemming Curtains

At first, you may think a serger could do this, but in fact, a sewing machine can do this beautifully. If your sewing machine has “fancy” stitches, you can even use them to add a decorative element to the curtain hem. 

5. Pillowcases

Depending on what type of seam you use to finish the pillowcases you make, you could use a serger or a sewing machine. For example, if you want to use french seams, a sewing machine will work just fine. 

serger vs sewing machine

However, if you want a basic seam on the inside of the pillowcase, I would suggest using a serger to conceal the raw edges, so they don’t start to fray over time. 

6. Scarf

Many scarves are made by simply cutting a rectangle out of a gorgeous piece of lightweight fabric and serging (overlocking) the edges. I have made many scarves this way, and the serger makes this type of sewing project a breeze. 

I hope this short list gives you a good idea of when to use a serger vs. a sewing machine. Yes, a serger is an incredible machine! And it would make a great addition to your sewing tools collection, but it can’t replace your trusty sewing machine. 

You're wondering what a serger machine is and what it does. In this post, learn the difference between a serger and a sewing machine and when to use what.

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