Sewing With a Serger

I was sewing without the benefit of a serger for nearly 25 years, but since that time, I have been sewing with a serger and have owned several different models. One thing I know for sure: I will never be without my serger again. When my kids were younger and I was working full-time, it was the machine that enabled me to accomplish ANY sewing at all. Sergers are FAST. With a serger you can quickly repair torn seams, make a pair of PJs for a growing-too-fast child, or whip up a quick gift for any occasion.

Serger gathering foot

Sergers use multiple spools of thread (anywhere from two to eight, depending on the manufacturer and model). While it can seem intimidating, most stitches  I use frequently only require three spools of thread. And if you think about it, that's just one more than a sewing machine! All sergers today are equipped with some utility and some decorative stitches. A little experimentation will help you determine which stitches belong in your sewing arsenal. I don't feel like a serger expert because I use a small set of stitches constantly, but lately, I have been experimenting to expand my serger skills.

My advice is to master one or two basic things with a serger, and then move on to more complex functions. Start with a 3-thread overlock, which is probably the most basic and most used overlock stitch. Once you learn how to vary the stitch length, the knife cutting width, the thread tensions, and the differential feed on a variety of fabrics, then branch out and experiment with other stitch options available on your machine. You'll be a pro in no time!

Here are the serger functions I couldn't live without:

Serged open seam finish

3-thread overlock seam finish on a skirt

1. Seam finishing

I love the way a 3-thread-overlock stitch quickly neatens and finishes seam allowances on woven fabrics.

Serged seam

3-thread overlock seam

2. Seaming knits

Serger overlock stitches have built-in elasticity that make them a natural fit with knit fabrics. Most of the time I use the 3-thread overlock for seaming, too.

Serger gathering foot

Gathering foot for a serger

3. Gathering

Now that I have a granddaughter, the gathering foot for my serger is getting more of a workout. It's a quick and easy way to add a ruffle to garments or home decor items, like pillow shams. One trick for gathering is to increase the differential feed -- meaning turn to a higher number -- and this will help push more fabric under the gathering presser foot as you serge.

Coverstitch  hem

Coverstitch hem on a knit dress

4. Coverstitching

Ready-to-wear garments are all hemmed with a coverstitch machine, and since I like my garments to look as RTW as possible, the coverstitch function on my serger gets a workout. Not all sergers have a built-in coverstitch, but if yours does, give it a try!

Here are some other useful serger functions that I use less frequently:

1. Rolled hem

This stitch is awesome for quick hems on children's clothes and for whipping up napkins.

Serger Chain Stitch

2-thread chain stitch on a skirt yoke

2. Chain stitch

I love the look of this decorative topstitch, especially with denim or topstitching thread. I used it on a cotton skirt and plan to use it on my next pair of jeans. Yes, this is the stitch that if you pull the wrong thread, it completely pulls out!

3. Elasticator application

The elasticator foot only handles 1/4" elastic, so while it's useful, it is also somewhat limited. It's great for quick half-slips, though!

4. Flatlock seams

Over the years, I have made a few pairs of running tights where I didn't want a seam edge on the inside to cause any rubbing, but this stitch does not make it onto my favorites list.

If you have yet mastered the use of a serger, sign up for Craftsy's class Beginner Serging: Machine Basics & Techniques with Amy Alan. Or, if you're ready to take your serging to the next step, check out Creative Serging: Beyond the Basics with Angela Wolf.

Do you own a serger? What are your favorite serger stitches?


Gabriela Hernandez

I was looking into buying a serger but there are so many options. Which one do you recommend?

Maris Olsen

HI Gabriela,
I personally prefer Berninas, but many of my ASG friends own Babylocks. It is really a personal preference, so best to visit a couple of good dealers and test drive a few models to find the one that “feels” right to you. Happy shopping!

Beverly Van Nortwick

Go try ALOT of different ones…. See what you like best.

yvonne swinney

hi i cant decide if i want a sewing machine or a serger? can you help me out by what your opinion is.

Maris Olsen

Well Yvonne, I think you need a sewing machine first. You can’t make buttonholes and insert zippers into garments very well on a serger. They are 2 entirely different machines with different capabilities. Good luck shopping!

Aloma Cronberg

I am a professional seamstress and I agree that you need to start out with a basic sewing machine first. You need to learn the basics before you step into the wonderful world of serging! I recommend that you take some classes, and Craftsy offers a lot of them for the beginning sewer online. Or get hold of your local fabric store or sewing machine dealer and they can help you with what you need!


I have a relationship with my serger, truly! I can’t live without it: fast and practical, you can whip up anything in half of the time I used to do… I <3 My Serger!
MammaNene @

Aloma Cronberg

As a professional seamstress a Serger is a must! The classes at craftsy on how to use your Serger are a boon to new Serger users. I own 2 of them right now. When I got my first one I had to figure it out myself with the aid of the instruction book. Seeing how to use it from an instructor would have been much easier to understand. I bought the Craftsy class on sergers because there are many things I still don’t understand about Sergers.

Maris Olsen

Thanks Aloma – I agree. I still have lots to learn about my serger too, but am definitely trying to expand my skills.


” I use frequently only require three spools of thread. And if you think about it, that’s just one more than a sewing machine! ”

My sewing machine only uses one spool. I’ve used an industrial serger in a school setting, but don’t own one. At some point I will buy one, and later a coverstitch machine because my understanding is that it’s difficult to use one machine for both functions.

Maris Olsen

What I meant was 1 spool + 1 bobbin thread for a sewing machine – sorry that wasn’t clear.

My new Bernina 1300 MDC is a combined coverstitch + overlock, and it is a dream machine. Super easy to switch between the 2 modes. But I have owned an older model Bernina that I never was able to successfully switch between the modes. The technology has definitely improved tho!

Noemi OrtizBlack

I have a sewing machine and do a lot of sewing, hoping to take the serving class has soon as I get my serger machine, I will probably miss out on the sale that some classes are offering but oh well that’s ok. My question is that serger I am getting if not the instructors kind of serger does this matter???do I have to buy the brand that she uses in her class??? My will be the brother’s baby lock ,will I be able to use that for the class???please let me know thank you

Maris Olsen

You can definitely use any serger for the class. All sergers have basic overlock functions so no need to worry about brand. Newer sergers have some updated technology and capabilities, but a basic serger is just fine for the vast majority of serging needs. Enjoy!

Tomas Tom

The serger have many wonderful function that you can live without them,when you do the sewing task.And one of the most useful features is that it does the great job on various clothes.For example, it is able to finish the task on the variety material,And it also make the safisfying sewing result on the stretchy fabrics.It is also suitable for the standard cotton.By the way it has many kinds stitches as you have metioned.


what machine/stitch would you used to attach a knit bodice to a woven skirt? it is for a children’s dress with a full gathered woven skirt.


Loved this article! I have the same Serger as you do but just recently I bought a Babylock Ovation. No matter how much I tried I could never serge an infant baby knotted knit hat on my Bernina… matter what I tried it just couldn’t get the little knot to serge on it because of the small curve on the pattern….anything small and curvy always have issues with the Bernina :/ but I still have it and use for many other projects and of course the classes on Craftsy were wonderful too!

Barbara Mooring


I am looking for some advice. I am embarking on a journey of sewing some pre fold diapers and want to attempt it with a serger. Which serger would you recommend using?

Stephanie McGuffee

I am a brand new serger, but have been sewing for years. I have a SILLY question…when I am finishing the edge of something that is going to show, do I change all 4 threads to the same color?

Velma Hare

very interested in buying a serger . Do alot of quilting but now would like to sew more ,I love the look of the finished seams of a serger. What is a easy brand of machine to begin with?


I am in the market for a new sewing machine and a serger. My question is, do I need to purchase both or can I sew (garments) with my serger as well?


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