Introduction to Sergers for Beginners

When I first started sewing, I thought that all I needed was a sewing machine — no other gadgets and tools, just that. When I started going to fashion school and saw other types of machines, particularly the serger machine, I was quite overwhelmed. What is it? Do I need it? How do I use it?

Hello, beginners, don’t you worry — I’m here to introduce to you our new pal, the serger, and guide you through the basics of this machine. We’ll briefly look at what it is, the difference between it and other types of machines, the tools you need, the threading process compared to a normal sewing machine, and the top 5 common serger stitch types you would encounter.

Ready to be welcomed by the overlocker? Read on!

What Is A Serger?

So, what is a serger? What does it do? The serger machine is a type of sewing machine that requires a few threads to seam fabric as well as overcast to cover raw edges from fraying. Most of the time, this machine is used as a type of finishing — you don’t want your seams to be exposed; when you wash them, you’d realise they’re all frayed and messy. 

Some people use a serger as a type of construction and detailing for their projects. Using it this way saves you the hassles of another running stitch to sew two pieces together. You can get quite creative with the various serger stitches. 

A serger can produce stitches that involve as few as two threads to as many as eight threads. This depends on the serger machine that you have — not all of them are capable to produce 8-thread stitches. If you don’t know which serger machine to buy, check out our 10 best sergers of 2021 for recommendations. 

Why Do You Need A Serger? 

The next question you’re most likely thinking of is, “do I need a serger?” The answer is yes. If you’re committed to the craft of sewing, you’re most likely going to need a serger. A sewing machine alone can’t do what a serger does — a sewing machine only stitches one line, like a running stitch or zig-zag stitch. A serger is more complicated. 

If you look at all your commercially bought clothes, you’ll realise that the seams of those clothes have some sort of decorated stitched on them. It can be the basic overlocking stitch to a more decorative one to add a fancy touch to the garment piece. 

While you could finish a seam with just a sewing machine, it requires a lot of effort and resources — like a bias tape or extra fabric for a french seam. A serger takes just as much time as sewing: not a lot of time at all. The serger keeps the fabric together and, as a result, ensures the garment lasts longer. 

A serger can sew up areas that a basic sewing machine can’t, like gathering fabric easily, doing piping, achieve the rolled hem and even hem knit fabrics.

If you’re fully invested in sewing, then a serger is a great investment. There are a few out there that are budget-friendly while still producing high-quality stitches. 

Serger vs Overlocker

We mention a lot about sergers, but when you’re Googling the term, the word “overlocker” also pops up. Some would say that they’re basically the same thing — overlocker is used mostly in European countries while serger is used in the states. 

That’s partially correct, but these two terms are also referring to two various types of machines. Both machines are niche-based that come with limited functions — basically saying it can’t replace your sewing machine. Both of them are used to finish off seams as well as provide decorative features to edges. So functionality is basically the same.

When it comes to technicality, the difference between them comes — while both serger and overlocker come with two needles, they vary in the number of spools. A serger has more spools than on overlocker, so the sewist has more options with a serger than an overlocker. 

That comes to the point of the stitch types — a serger has more variations as well as decorative stitches while an overlocker doesn’t; it only does overlocking stitches. 

Speaking of stitches, a serger can stitch more stitches in an inch than an overlocker — depending on the machine, a serger can stitch more than an overlocker with its high number of stitches per minute (usually 1,000 to 1,300 stitches per minute).

So as you can see, they’re not the same — a serger is capable of so much more than an overlocker.

Tools To Use A Serger

Just like how you need some tools for your sewing machine, you would need some as well when using a serger. In fact, you would possibly need extra tools for it. The essentials would probably come together with the serger that you buy, like screwdrivers, thread nets and oil, but there are also some others that are useful to have next to your serger. Here are some:

Awl or stiletto: This is a type of tool that’s pointed and it’s useful when you’re feeding the fabric close to the presser foot and also the cutting knife. You wouldn’t want to use your hands for these acts — they’re dangerous!

Clips: We often use our pins to hold the fabric together, and while sewing over our metal pins with the standard sewing machine is possible, it’s impossible with a serger. You’re most likely going to damage the cutting knife or, even worse, injure yourself. Get some of those clips like Wonder Clips by Clover. 

Tapestry needles: After you’ve serged the seams and finished, you can tuck the end threads into the seam, or weave them in. To do this, you would need a tapestry needle — a large-eye, blunt-tipped needle.

Tweezers: This tool is already essential for a sewing machine, but it’s also essential for sergers. They’re used to thread loopers, needles, or get into any tight spaces where your fingers can’t reach.

Serger threads: For sergers, you would need a different kind of thread, and you would need big ones if possible. Generally, polyester serger threads are the best as they are the most durable and can hold more stress, stretching, washing and wearing. Those are the most important factors for a serged seam. 

Threading The Serger

Speaking of threads, threading the serger is a whole other hurdle. It’s one of the most intimidating, confusing and demoralising parts of the machine. Don’t worry too much — a lot of the modern-day serger machines have easy-to-read manual books as well as colour-coded markings on the serger itself to guide you through the process.

In fact, some machines have an auto threading function — you wouldn’t even have to lift a finger! Of course, this kind of machine will cost so much more, but if you really can’t be bothered and have the extra cash, why not?

Basics of How to Use A Serger

When you buy a serger, the manual booklet would give you the rundown of how to use a serger. We’ll give you a general overview in a few simple steps:

Step 1: Thread the serger.

Step 2: Check and adjust the tension and differential feed according to the fabric type you’re using.

Step 3: Check your looped thread by running a practice stitch and on scrap fabric. 

Step 4: Place your fabric under the presser foot and needles. Depending on what you’re trying to do, place the seam allowance accordingly. If you’re just finishing the edge of the fabric, align the edge of the fabric with the knife. If you’re cutting off the seam allowance, align the stitching line with the needles so the knife will cut off the seam allowance.

Step 5: Guide the fabric while you sew.

Step 6: When you’re done, make a tail of stitches so you can tuck them under the other loops.

5 Common Serger Stitch Types

Since you’re on this page, you’re probably new to serging. Sergers offer various types of stitches, and you might be wondering what the differences are and which stitch to use for various projects. 

You’ll get used to serger stitches over time, but we’re here to look at the 5 most common serger stitch types that you’ll see on most garments in stores.

1. 2-Thread Overlock 

The first one is the 2-thread overlock. This is best for lightweight fabrics that need to have their raw edges finishes. Not all machines are capable of 2-thread stitches, so if your serger machine can, it gives you this option. However, this stitch is not strong compared to the others.

2. 3-Thread Overlock

The next type of stitch is the 3-thread overlock. It’s best used on stretchy, knit fabric as well as woven fabrics that wouldn’t want to have a lot of stress put on them. Compared to the 2-thread overlock, this one is slightly stronger, but still not the strongest on the list. 

3. 4-Thread Overlock

The 4-thread overlock stitch is the most common type of serger stitch out there. You’ll use this the most. It’s used to finish seams on clothes and it’s quite durable.

4. Rolled Hem (2-Thread Rolled Edge)

2 thread rolled hem

The rolled hem is also known as the 2-thread rolled edge stitch. This is seen on the edges of tablecloths or napkins, and is used mostly as a decorative feature. 

5. Flatlock (2 or 3 Thread)

3 thread flatlock stitch

The final stitch on the list is the flatlock stitch. This type of stitch can use 2 or 3 threads and is mostly used on stretchy fabric like yoga pants and athletic wear. There are lots of loops on one side and horizontal lines, known as “ladders”, on the other side. This stitch is flat and thin, the smoothest on your skin on this list. 


Now you’re pretty much informed about the basics of sergers — everything from its usage to its stitches. Will you get a serger for yourself, or will you rely on other means with just your basic sewing machine? Consider getting a serger machine if you’re really invested in this craft!

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