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Conversational Threads

How much do I need a Serger?

MargaretAnn | Posted in Equipment and Supplies on

Dear Experts

I am sewing again after a gap of thirty years, and I am working hard to catch up on all the developments I missed.  I bought a basic Viking (Sew Easy 320) when I retired five years ago, and so far it does most of what I want, although I wish I had gone one step up to a better buttonholer.  I have read most of the current books, and I read Threads as if it were the Bible.  I was a skilled sewer when I stopped, but with all the new innovations I’m finding this a steep learning curve.  There are so many new interfacings, stabilizers, knits, fabrics–anyway, you see what I mean.  Most of what I do is clothing for myself and occasionally for my husband.  I am also making some cushions for the porch furniture.  I don’t sew childrens clothes.  My main question is : do I need a serger?  I read the article in Threads about them, and the ones recommended for dressmaking are expensive.  Will a Serger really help enough to make it worth buying?  Could a cheaper one do what I need?  Is “five” really needed, or would “four” do?  Also, if anyone has tips for the returning sewer beyond my main question, I would appreciate them.  Thanks for the help.

Margaret Ann


  1. SewerDMcG | | #1

    I'm a serger fanatic. My seams have to be finished whenever possible on the clothes I make. The serger is the easiest way to finish seams IMO. But, there are other ways to finish seams (i.e., seams binding, zig zag stitch).  If you like your seams finished, then I would say a serger is worth it, but you won't need the top of the line; a 3 or 4-thread serger would work just fine. 

  2. sewhat | | #2

    I, too, think a serger is a very important machine to have if you plan to do a lot of sewing.  It is great for garments where you don't really need to have the usual 5/8 inch pressed open seam, as you can zip right through the seam with your serger, sewing and overcasting it at the same time.  I really like it for blouses and shirts.  That type of seam really reduces bulk, and of course saves time. 

    My serger is also my preference for overcasting seams.  I have a new sewing machine that has an overcast stitch used with a side cutter attachment, and it is okay, but does not produce the professional quality seams or the speed a serger offers. 

    Sergers are fantastic for sewing knits of all kinds.  In addition to seaming, you can make rolled edges, do decorative stitching using a variety of thread types and weights, and there is a blindstitch for hems. 

    Right now my serger is out of commission, and I can't wait to get it back in operation!  My serger cost about $700 about 17 years ago, but sergers have come a long way since then.  They are now far less expensive and have much more to offer in terms of sewing features and ease in use. 

    If it is at all affordable, I would get one if I were you.  I don't believe you will ever regret it.  There are a number of good ones out there and you should be able to identify one that will fit your needs.

  3. Dar | | #3

    I agree that if you sew regularly, a serger is a wonderful investment.  I have a regular machine and my Juki serger always set up together so I can finish any seam and make it look professional.   One thing I can say for sure:  a serger makes hemming pants a cinch because it cuts and finishes; all you have to do is press and sew.

    I remember getting the serger and looking at the directions/diagrams and thinking how incredibly complicated it looked.  Once you get the hang of threading, though, it's just a matter of adjusting the machine for different materials.


  4. carolfresia | | #4

    I sewed for a long time without a serger, and didn't really think I'd need one, but I got one last year and have been absolutely delighted with it. Mine has 5 threads, but quite honestly, I use the three-thread stitch most often, and 4-thread on occasion when I need a good strong seam. I use it for my own clothes as well as my kids', and since I have very little time to sew, I am most pleased with its speed. It sews faster than a regular sewing machine, and as others have mentioned, does at least two jobs at once (stitching the seam and finishing it in one pass). Now, it's not for super-couture sewing (although a serged rolled hem can be very elegant, as can a serged rolled-hem seam), but it's wonderful for everyday garments that you'll wash and wear a lot, and excellent for sewing stretch knits.

    I've also experimented with using the serged edge decoratively in place of other types of binding. You can use decorative threads to jazz up edges, turn and topstitch them, and it looks as if you've sewn on custom trim, for example.

    Bottom line, I think you'd probably enjoy having a serger if you can afford one; you don't need the most expensive one out there, but do buy from a dealer you like, and be sure the inquire if classes are available to get you well-acquainted with your machine.

    For tension adjustment advice, check out the Basics column in Threads, No.106. That info. has been priceless to me!


    1. stitchmd | | #5

      I've been mulling this same question and now I'm convinced I should get one too.

      1. MargaretAnn | | #6

        Thanks for all your responses about the need for a serger.  I think I could use one, but it doesn't seem to be mandatory.  Why did Threads say you needed a "5" for fine dressmaking?  (Remember I don't know one thing about these machines).  You are all so helpful.


        1. FitnessNut | | #7

          I don't feel you need a 5 thread for fine dressmaking, personally. You would likely use a 3 thread stitch to finish the seam allowances of pressed open seams for much of your sewing needs. A 4 thread stitch is wonderful to have, particularly if you sew with knits. And I use a 2 thread to finish the seams of very fine, lightweight fabrics (such as chiffon) - this is the stitch I thought I would never use and I'm surprised at just how often I do. But the real workhorse, at least in my sewing studio, is the 3 thread overlock.

          Have you read the Threads article on sergers yet? I highly recommend that you do....it will answer many of the questions that you have and give you a sense of what features you would like to have, should you decide that a serger purchase is for you.


          1. MargaretAnn | | #9

            Thanks Sandy.  Yes, I read the article on Sergers, because that is where most of questions came from.  That was the article that said a "5" was needed for fine dressmaking.  These responses have been very interesting and helpful, since they are based on real experience. 


          2. Jean | | #10

            If   you don't have any experience with a serger, the 5 thread can be a scary machine. I've had one for a couple of  years and still haven't used all of its functions. Very intimidating and the instruction booklet is not very user friendly.

          3. carolfresia | | #11

            I've rarely seen a sewing machine or serger manual that is user friendly, to be honest, and I read 31 of them for the "Basic Sewing Machine" comparison we did last year. That's why it's important to find a good dealer who will walk you through all the features and give you some lessons to get you started. Once you know the basics, the manual makes a lot more sense.

            I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who has 1 thread of her 5-thread serger languishing unused!


          4. Jean | | #12

            It's a time thing. With DH around 24/7 it's hard (impossible?) for me to set aside the block of time that I know I'll need to get the machine set up and do some experimenting. When I'm in a learning mode I do not suffer interruptions graciously. I keep encouraging him to go on a hunting TRIP, but no, he hunts locally and comes home for lunch, home for supper, home for coffee..you get the picture. LOL

          5. carolfresia | | #13

            I have 2 kids and also the DH who needs "help" with various things, and like you, just can't find a good couple of hours when I know I won't be interrupted, and also am conscious enough to absorb all the information. Sounds like we need to pack some lunchboxes and fill some thermoses, and tell them all to take a hike for the afternoon!


          6. Jean | | #14

            Good thinking!!! I may need more than just a couple though, it may take that long to find the instruction booklet. ;-)

          7. mainestitcher | | #15

            I never had a serger 'til my Mom gave me one as a gift. I don't know how I got by without it. It runs much faster than a traditional machine, so you can finish your seams and start construction fast. I had a four thread and have never coveted a five thread, yet.

        2. JeanEsther | | #8

          If I remember correctly, it was so you could do (a) a cover stitch for hems, and (b) a chain stiitch for basting and decorative top-stitching. The additional $$ for the fifth thread was too much for me, but I love my 4-thread machine. I use 3 threads most of the time.

  5. JulieP25 | | #16

    I use a 3/4 thread serger. I sew mostly garments and use the serger for finishing the seams.  Except when I sew with knits then I use the 4 thread. I would look for a machine with differential feed as well. Classes really do help you learn the machine and how to thread them. So do take them and have some fun.  I've had mine for 17 yrs now. I covet the 5 thread sergers now cause I would like the cover hem capability. But I still can not justify the cost of a newer machine. Jump in and welcome to a whole new world in sewing. Jules

    1. muranojo | | #17

      I absolutely love my sergers!  In fact, I'll bet I use them for 90%+ of most of my sewing, and the s/m has turned into an 'accessory' for darts, buttonholes, etc.  I have a Bernina 2000 DCE that has a built-in cover stitch, but it was a real pain to set it up for cover stitch, then set it back to regular serging.  So, two years ago, my hubby got me the Bernina 009DCC for Christmas, which does nothing but cover stitch and chain stitch.  Now, I just whip between machines as needed.

      A good reference book that explains how you can use the serger for most all of your construction is "Serged Garments in Minutes," by Tammy Young and Naomi Baker.

      1. JulieP25 | | #18

        I would love those Bernina machines.   I have a very old Singer 14U34 3/4 thread machine with no differential feed.  I am saving for a newer machine until then I'll just have to dream. In the mean time, I 'll pick up the book you suggested and have some fun with the serger I have. Thank you for the great info. Jules

      2. FitnessNut | | #19

        The Bernina cover stitch machine is on my wish list. I'm glad to hear someone else has it and likes it. It just doesn't make sense to me to replace my old faithful 2/3/4 thread machine (Bernette 334DS) which works beautifully just to get a cover stitch.


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