Sergers add a versatile element to any sewing room
Sergers create the type of professionally finished seams you usually see on commercially made garments. This is done by using up to a dozen threads to wrap, or overlock, the fabric, while simultaneously trimming away the waste with a built-in cutting device. A serger's special mechanism keeps edges of fabric from fraying and rolling. They are particularly useful for stretchy fabrics, since serger stitches are able to stretch with a garment. In addition to finishing seams, many people also use sergers to create ruffles, sew elastic and create overcast rolled hems -- a decorative finish that's nice for lingerie and for ruffles on dresses. They're fast, too, with some sergers working at speeds of up to 1,700 stitches per minute. Sergers cannot, however, be used to topstitch, to put in a zipper or to make buttonholes, so a serger can't replace a regular sewing machine.
Sergers can be very pricey. The more bells and whistles a serger has, the more it costs. A basic serger that merely performs overlock functions and is non-auto-threading can be had for as little as $200. However, the big complaint about these machines is the learning curve involved in changing thread. Some frustrated seamstresses say they practically give up sewing because of the difficulty in changing threads on these streamlined machines. Others say they learn it eventually. Even those who get used to self-threading say once you have an auto-thread serger, there's no going back.
Auto-threading sergers are worth the price, reviewers say. One sewing review site contributor summed up the attitude of many regarding non-auto-threading versus auto-threading machines when she said, to paraphrase, that going from the former to the latter was like driving a clunker for years then getting a brand-new car. The ease-of-use feature of a self-threading serger can't be overstated -- it saves that much time and frustration, especially if you're talking about five or more threads. The downside is that this convenience comes at a price and there aren't many companies who make self-threading sergers. Baby Lock's patented Jet-Air Threading technology is miles above the rest. Their least-expensive auto-threading serger is about $1,200, and its many admirers say it's worth it. On the other hand, plenty of other folks say that you don't need this feature; just find a machine that gets good ease-of-threading reviews and take the time to learn.
Coverstitch capability isn't always included with a serger. Our research shows that one of the biggest mistakes serger buyers make is thinking their five-thread machine will perform a coverstitch. Coverstitching is a type of stitch used on stretchy fabrics to make them appear to be topstitched, but without compromising the elasticity of the fabric. This is especially handy for sewing workout clothes, dance costumes and swimwear. Coverstitch capability is not standard, and many hobbyists have two machines -- one for serging and one that can coverstitch. Some machines do both, but, again, that feature adds to the price of a basic serger, and the less-expensive ones get complaints about the difficulty in switching from serger to coverstitch.
Some sergers are available online, but many can only be purchased in retail stores. Part of the reason for this is that buying a serger is such an investment, and such an individualized purchase, that very few serious sewers would shell out the cash without a hands-on test. Another is that sergers are often a one-time, lifetime purchase. Still, a good serger is considered a must for the dedicated sewer -- just as important as a good sewing machine.
There aren't a lot of professional review sources for sergers, but there are a lot of great discussions and reviews by enthusiasts -- from beginner to advanced -- on sewing sites and forums. In-depth reviews can also be found for some brands at retail sites like Amazon.com and Walmart.com. We have analyzed hundreds of these user and sewing enthusiast reviews to find three sergers that come out on top with the lowest possible financial outlay for their features.