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.
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:
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.
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.
Gathering foot for a serger
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 on a knit dress
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.
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.