Sewing Blog

Sewing With a Serger: Tips for Getting Started

Many sewing enthusiasts can get by — successfully — without benefit of a serger. But once you try sewing with a serger, you’ll never want to go back. What’s so special about sergers? Find out what all the hype is and everything you can do with a serger.

Linda Lee Serging

What is a serger?

Sergers are sewing machines that use multiple spools of thread to create complex stitches.

While it can seem intimidating, the most common stitches 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 both utility and decorative stitches. A little experimentation will help you determine which stitches belong in your sewing arsenal.

Why use a serger?

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.

A serger’s basic stitches tend to be sturdier and stretchier than regular sewing machine stitches, making your garments and accessories more durable.

Finally, sergers come equipped with a blade that can slice of excess fabric as you stitch. This means you can get perfect hems with no extra cutting required.

Serger settings

Three variables offer endless options to help your serger serve its purpose. By adjusting the cutting width, differential feed and thread tension, you can achieve many different types of stitches.

Cutting wdith

The cutting width adjustment affects the amount of fabric within the seam.

If you want more fabric within a seam or rolled hem, change the cutting width to a higher number. For example, if you are trying to create a rolled hem and your fabric is really ravelly or quite thick, increasing the cutting width might help.

For fine delicate fabrics, you might need to reduce this setting to get a nice rolled edge. If there is extra fabric bunching up under your overlock stitching, try reducing the cutting width.

Differential feed

Serger have two sets of feed dogs with a differential feed system. The front feed dogs push the fabric under the presser foot, and the back feed dogs push the fabric out of the serger.

Usually for a medium weight fabric setting, setting the differential feed on “N” or 1 causes the fabric feed uniformly through the serger. Moving the setting to a higher number causes the fabric to gather, and moving it to a lower number will cause it to stretch out a little.

So how can you use this to your advantage? Try increasing the differential feed (turn the dial to a higher number) when you want to ease something in, such as a sleeve cap into the armscye or the hem of a flared skirt. Try decreasing the differential (turn the dial to a lower number) if you are sewing on a lightweight fabric that is puckering.

Thread tension

Balanced 3 thread overlock

Balanced tension

3 Thread overlock, lower looper to tight

Lower looper tension too tight or upper looper tension too loose

Upper looper tension too tight, 3 thread overlock

Upper looper tension too tight or lower looper tension too loose

Thread tension settings are the source of many serger stitching woes.

First, start by using the recommended settings for your serger and the stitch you plan to use. If that doesn’t produce the result you want, try threading your machine with a different color thread in each placement so you can more easily identify which thread is creating the problem.

Once you identify which thread is causing the problem, adjust the tension setting by a smaller amount and test again. Continue until the stitch quality is appropriate for the intended stitch. For 3- and 4-thread overlock stitches, you want a balanced stitch with both looper threads visible and “connected” along the cut edges.

Must-have serger functions

Seam finishing

Serger Seam Finishing

I love the way a 3-thread overlock stitch quickly neatens and finishes seam allowances on woven and knit fabrics. Using this seam finishing means you never have to use pinking shears to finish seams.

Seaming knits

Seaming knit fabric with serger stitches

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 is a quick and easy way to add a ruffle to garments or home decor items. The best method 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 finishing on t shirt

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!

More useful serger functions

Rolled hem

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

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!

Elasticator application

The elasticator foot only handles ¼” elastic, so while it’s useful, it is also somewhat limited. It’s great for quick half-slips, though!

Flatlock seams

Over the years, I’ve made a few pairs of running tights where I didn’t want a seam edge on the inside to cause any rubbing, where this stitch comes in handy.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2013 and was updated in February 2018.


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.

joy mcnally

There are only three company’s that make sergers for other company’s. It a mechanical machine and some have come out with computers and auto threading. I have 3 Viking sergers and a machines that just does cover stitches. I don’t like the self theading machines because u can’yt get your hands into the machines if u need to. Computer ones I’m starting to get used to but I still like the plain old mechanical machines. I have a white serger and its still works after 30 years of use. I forgot about that one because I let my daughter use it. There are so many sergers out there and only 3 companys who actually makes them. U don’t need to spend tons of money to get a good serger. I sew every day with mine.


Buy your serger at a reputable dealer—-one who will give you lessons on how to use it. The store I work at—-the know how to use your machine is included with your purchase and is unlimited. Which means you can take the class as many times as you need to!

Ruth Keech

I have a HV HuskyLock 936. It is an older serger, but I wouldn’t part with it. Once you are using a server for home dec and/or clothing everything would seem unfinished without served edges. I also like the non raveling on washable items.

Barb Dircks

Very informative… Wish you could expand it more…

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!


GREAT post!!! Thank you!


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.

Aloma Cronberg

Me too!


” 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?

Heather Sinclair

No. I would et the new sewing machine. You cant sew everything on a serger.


I got my first serger many years ago when the home models first came out. I ended up not using it very much because of the difficulty threading it. The first thing to learn was to tie new thread onto the one you were replacing so that you didn’t have to start threading all over again each time. But it still has it’s drawbacks, such as when you want to use different stitches. Your order of threading changes and you end up having to start from the beginning anyway!
I now have a Baby Lock Evolution and use it constantly because of the automatic threading. They are not inexpensive, but totally worth it because you actually use it. And by the way, the elastic foot is adjustable and can fit up to 1″ elastic.


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