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 fabric edges from fraying and rolling. Sergers 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. Serger sewing machines are fast, too, with some 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, which we cover in their own report.
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 a big investment, and such an individualized purchase, that very few serious sewers would shell out the cash without a hands-on test. Still, a good serger is considered a must for the dedicated sewer and crafter because it makes quick work of otherwise difficult -- or impossible -- jobs. A reputable local sewing machine retailer won't mind you spending the time to get to know a machine before you buy, even if it takes several hands on tests.
If you just need a basic serger for finishing seam allowances and creating decorative rolled hems, the Brother 1034D (Est. $200) is a great choice. Owners say it's a great value, with good features for the price, including 3- and 4-thread overlock, a differential fabric feed and color-coded thread guides. It also has an adjustable stitch width and a free arm that users say is handy for sleeves and cuffs. It sews up to 1,300 stitches per minute and is reported as easy to clean. The one consistent complaint we saw is that it's very noisy.
Reviewers say the Brother 1034D handles different types of fabrics very well, from silks to fake fur to heavy canvas and its differential fabric feed and thread tension control help to keep stitches smooth and even. Owners say their biggest fear in buying a cheap serger is tension issues but this machine gets virtually no complaints in that area.
The biggest complaint -- as it is with all non-auto-threading sergers -- is that the manual threading on the Brother 1034D is difficult to learn, although users say it gets easier with practice. To help with that process, the serger comes pre-threaded and has color-coded thread guides and an instructional DVD. An analysis of forum threads and consumer reviews seems to bring a consensus that it takes at least three uses to begin getting the hang of threading the 1034D. Some say they never get it; others say their young children can even figure it out. This is a situation when it's probably worth trying before buying -- maybe more than once.
The ease-of-use factor 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 only a few companies make self-threading sergers.
Reviewers say that once you try a Baby Lock serger machine you'll never look back, and their patented Jet-Air Threading technology is without equal when it comes to easy threading. The most affordable in the Baby Lock line of self-threading sergers is the Baby Lock Eclipse DX Serger (Est. $1,200). Baby Lock's auto-thread sergers get raves from anyone who has ever used one; owners say this is an incredibly intuitive machine. The Jet-Air system whisks the thread through the threading process in seconds, with just a touch of a button.
Aside from its highly praised auto-thread system, the Eclipse is a basic 2/3/4 serger that performs the same functions of our Best Reviewed Brother 1034D, albeit with higher-quality components, say reviewers. It has a fabric support system and differential feed, and a variety of stitches, including a unique wave stitch. The cutting system is reported as crisp even on heavier-duty fabrics. All in all, it's a high-end, basic serger, but with the extreme convenience of a self-threading machine. Baby Lock sergers are not available online, only at authorized dealers. We provide links to the manufacturer's website where you can find a dealer near you in our What To Look For section.
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.
The Juki MO-735 Serger with Coverstitch (Est. $900) gets good reviews as a decent all-in-one machine for those who can't have, or don't want, a separate machine for coverstitching. It's a five-stitch serger that reviewers say is easy to learn to use, but many say that switching between the serger function and the coverstitch function is complex and there is a learning curve. The manual, according to users, does not help with that curve as it's described as nearly useless -- difficult to read and interpret. Instead, users turn to YouTube videos and forums to learn how to use the serger and to switch back and forth between the two options.
Aside from that complaint, people love this machine, saying how impressed they are with the high-quality results it turns out. The Juki MO-735 gets raves for producing fine edges, straight stitches, working on a variety of fabric types and weights, and for its smooth, quiet operation.
Like all high-end sergers, the Juki features adjustable stitch lengths and widths, an adjustable presser foot and a differential feed. Owners say the heavy-duty knife system results in a professional-looking finish. Although this Juki serger is close to $1,000, there are a number of small, convenient extras included, such as tweezers, a needle pack and an accessory pouch. Reviewers agree that the Juki MO-735 with Coverstitch is a sturdy, durable, versatile machine at a great price. As with the Baby Lock, Juki machines are only available at authorized dealers.
Coverstitch capability is not standard on sergers, and many hobbyists have two machines -- one for serging and one that can coverstitch. Many prefer this, saying it's easier to use a dedicated coverstitch machine than to switch back and forth on a serger with coverstitch capability. One caveat: dedicated coverstitch sewing machines will not trim the fabric as sergers do.
A well-regarded, yet very affordable option in coverstitch machines is the Janome CoverPro 900CPX (Est. $400). It gets rave reviews for its ease-of-use and its professional results. It has a very large workspace and extra-long free-arm, which makes it suitable for a wide range of projects -- even difficult-to-sew items like yoga pants. The variable stitch adjusts from 1 to 5 mm, and it sews up to 1,000 stitches per minute. We read several reviews from professional tailors and seamstresses who say they use the Janome CoverPro 900CPX in their shop, and it's a sturdy, durable, consistent workhorse.
Many home sewers who love their sergers say that investing in the CoverPro 900CPX has made a huge difference in the finished quality of their knit and stretch garments. This machine comes pre-threaded, but users say it's extremely easy to rethread when you need to change colors -- more like a traditional sewing machine than a serger -- and that it sews smoothly and evenly, even over bulky cross seams.
There aren't a lot of professional review sources for sergers, but there are plenty of great discussions and reviews by enthusiasts -- from beginner to advanced -- on sewing sites such as PatternReview.com and SewingInsight.com. In-depth reviews can also be found for some brands at retail sites like Amazon.com, SewingMachinesPlus.com and JoanneFabrics.com. These user reviews are invaluable in helping us find the best sergers by performance and ease of use -- as well as the easiest on the wallet.