This guide has general information about home sergers and gives an overview of some home serger models that are now in production. The recommendations given in this section are my recommendations and opinions. Compare them with your requirements and decide what will work for you. I have no connection of any kind with the companies that make these machines. My criteria for recommending machines is value, reliability, ease of use and flexibility. New models are being introduced all the time so check those out as well. The model numbers for these machines are the ones sold in the USA and are 120 volt machines, in your country similar machines may be sold with different model numbers and use a different voltage.
First, a word about inexpensive sergers – Online sellers like Amazon and large discount stores like Walmart can sell inexpensive machines and make a profit. Most local sewing stores do not like inexpensive machines because they can’t make a profit from the sale or service of these machines. Some local stores and smaller chain stores spread misinformation about inexpensive machines in an attempt to cause customers to buy a more expensive machine. These stores tell customers that inexpensive machines are of bad quality and will break or will give inferior stitch quality. Unfortunately this is so widespread that some of the people who work for these stores honestly believe this misinformation. The blanket statement that all inexpensive machines are bad is false. Inexpensive machines from major brands like Brother and Singer are usually very good machines.
Features & Capabilities
This is a general checklist of features and items that you may find are important for your type of sewing.
- Top Speed – Home sergers run at 1300 to 1500 SPM (stitches per minute). This is much faster than you would think because a serger makes a complete stitch every cycle. In contrast a sewing machine takes two cycles to make an overedge stitch. If a fast home sewing machine can sew normal stitching at 1000 SPM the same machine could only sew an overedge stitch at 500 SPM. This means that the serger would be about three times faster than the domestic sewing machine. This is because the serger has one needle and two loopers that are all forming the stitch at the same time whereas the sewing machine needle has to do all the work when a sewing machine makes the overedge stitch.
- Stitches, threads and needles – Most common are:
- 2 thread (1 needle) Overlock stitch.
- 3 thread (1 needle) Overlock stitch.
- 4 thread (2 needle) Overlock stitch.
- 5 thread (2 needle) Safety stitch.
- Easy threading – Most newer models are not too difficult to thread and some have various features to make threading easier like gizmos to help thread the lower looper. Some older machines were much more difficult to thread and this was a problem when the thread needed to be changed often like for projects using different color threads. If you are worried about threading difficulty try threading the machine before you buy it. Keep in mind that with practice it gets much easier but that all sergers are more difficult to thread than a sewing machine.
- Automatic threading – Some very expensive models have automatic threading. Most auto threading machines use compressed air to move the thread through the machine to achieve this. In my opinion the added cost and complexity is not worth the convenience, but you should make your own decision about this. If you are frequently changing thread colors this can be an advantage.
- Numbered tension dials – All new machines now have numbered tension dials so that you can make notes about what tension settings worked well for different combinations of thread and fabric and then reset those tensions at a later time.
- Easy to operate controls – Some models are laid out with the controls in locations that make them easier to operate. For instance some models have the presser foot lifter on the right hand side of the machine, this leaves the left hand free to guide the fabric through the machine.
- Differential feed – Most newer machines have differential feed. Differential feed uses two separate feed dogs, one in front of the needle and one behind the needle. These feed dogs can be set to run at different speeds. If the front dogs are running faster than the rear dogs the fabric will bunch. If the front dogs are running slower than the rear dogs the fabric will stretch. In this way the feed can be adjusted for any type of fabric including difficult stretch fabrics that would be very hard to sew normally. This is a big advantage when sewing hard to handle fabrics such as knits or fabrics with slippery surfaces.
- Stitch width and stitch length – All new machines that I have seen recently have an acceptable range of stitch widths and stitch lengths but some older machines were limited. Most newer machines can vary the stitch width from 3mm to 7mm and the stitch length from .8mm to 4mm.
- Free arm – Good to have if you are sewing sleeves and cuffs. Most newer home sergers have a free arm.
- Robustness – Some machines are quite heavy-duty and can handle many layers of thick fabric and very thick threads in the loopers, other machines do not do so well with thick fabrics or threads. Unlike home sewing machines where there are specific heavy-duty models there are no home sergers that are specifically marketed as heavy-duty. This means that if you are going to sew thick fabrics or use thick threads you should test the machine before buying it to make sure that it can live up to your expectations. I have noted my experiences with a few machines in the following list of machines that are quite heavy-duty, the other machines I did not test with thick fabrics or thread so you should test them your self if you are interested in those machines.
- Feet and accessories – Some machines are sold with several feet and accessories, this can save time and money later if you need these feet and accessories.
- Computer and LCD – Some high end models are electronic machines and have built in computers with an LCD display. In my opinion the added cost and complexity is not worth any features or convenience that a computer could add to a serger, but you should make your own decision about this.
- Adjustable presser foot pressure – This helps to adjust the feed to the type of fabric you are using.
- Knee lifter – Allows the presser foot to be lifted by a lever with your knee so that both hands can be used to guide the fabric. Most industrial overlock machines have a knee lifter, most home machines do not.
These new machines are the best value in their price range and are all good machines. If you are new to serging and are not technically proficient, you may find threading a serger difficult. If this is the case consider the Brother 1034D, Brother DZ1234, Singer 14J250 or Viking 200S models. These models may be easier to thread for new users. If you are not sure, take some time and go to a store and try out the machines you are interested in to make sure.
Brother 1034D – This is a very good 3/4 thread serger at a low price, very reliable and easy to thread. Handles all types of fabrics including heavy fabrics and multiple layers. In my experience this is the best machine available the low price range. Handles large size looper threads for decorative stitches. Has both cutters mounted in the machine bed for improved visibility in the needle area. The upper cutter can lock into the low position when not being used and becomes a fabric guide. The pressure foot lift handle is of the right side of machine so your left hand can be used to position the fabric. Max speed is 1300 SPM. Color coded threading, adjustable presser foot pressure. Uses regular home type needles (130/705 H).
Brother DZ1234 – Same as the Brother 1034D but comes with extra feet.
Singer 14CG754 – This is a 2/3/4 thread serger at a low price. Good for light to medium weight work, not as strong or as easy to thread as the Brother 1034D. The Singer 14SH654 is similar but is a 3/4 thread machine. I have included the 14CG754 because it is low cost, widely available, and will make the two thread stitches (if you need them). Some first time users that find this machine hard to thread, experienced users do not have this problem. Max speed is 1300 SPM.
Singer 14J250 – 2/3/4 thread serger with easy access to loopers. This machine has an opening front assembly that gives full access to the lower looper for easy threading, so it is easy to thread and easy to clean. Well built machine good for light to heavy fabrics.
Janome 8002D – 3/4 thread serger. Great work horse machine for any fabric weight.
Juki MO-644D – This is a 2/3/4 thread model. Great work horse machine for any fabric weight. The two thread converter that is needed to make the two thread stitches is an optional part on this machine and must be ordered separately. Max speed is 1500 SPM, Differential feed, stitch length 1mm to 4mm, stitch width 2mm for rolled hem and 4mm to 6mm overlock stitches, color coded threading, adjustable presser foot pressure. Juki makes high quality machines, all of their models are very good. Uses regular home type needles (130/705 H).
Janome Magnolia 7034D 3/4 thread serger. Great work horse machine for any fabric weight.
Juki MO-654DE – This is a 2/3/4 thread model that comes with many feet and accessories. Great work horse machine for any fabric weight. Max speed is 1500 SPM, Differential feed, stitch length 1mm to 4mm, stitch width 2mm for rolled hem and 4mm to 6mm overlock stitches, color coded threading, adjustable presser foot pressure. Juki makes high quality machines, all of their models are very good. Uses regular home type needles (130/705 H).
Baby Lock Lauren – Great basic2/3/4 thread work horse machine. Many of the stores that sell this machine will include instruction on how to use the machine. This can be good for anyone who is worried about getting started with a serger.
Singer 14T968DC – 2/3/4/5 thread serger, that can also make a coverstitch. This machine has a lot of capabilities for the price! If you are technically proficient you will have no problem, but if your not the learning curve for this machine may be a problem for you.
Viking 200S – Same as Singer 14J250 but sold through Viking dealers. Most Viking dealers offer instruction.
Juki MO-655 – This is a 2/3/4/5 thread machine that will also make a two thread chain stitch. Max speed is 1500 SPM, Differential feed, stitch length 1mm to 4mm, stitch width 2mm for rolled hem, 4mm to 6mm overlock stitches and 10mm for the chain and safety stitches, color coded threading, adjustable presser foot pressure. Juki makes high quality machines, all of their models are very good. Uses regular home type needles (130/705 H).
Juki MO-735 – This is a 2/3/4/5 thread serger that will also make a two or three needle cover stitch and a two thread chain stitch. Max speed is 1500 SPM, Differential feed, stitch length 1mm to 4mm, stitch width 2mm for rolled hem, 5mm to 7mm overlock stitches and 10mm for the chain and safety stitches, color coded threading, adjustable presser foot pressure. Juki makes high quality machines, all of their models are very good. Uses regular home type needles (130/705 H).
Expensive Machines ($1000 to $5000) – Baby Lock, Juki, Brother, Janome, Pfaff, Viking and other companies all make expensive machines. Most of these machines work great if you can afford them. Just make sure that you really need the bells and whistles (extra features) and that the cost makes sense to you. Remember all machines can make a good looking stitch!
Unless you can get a used serger in very good condition at a very good price then get a new serger. Used sergers get expensive quickly if you have to take them to the repair shop. You can spend more on a used serger and a single visit to the repair shop then a new serger will cost. On the other hand if you are getting a great deal and you are sure that the used machine is in good condition then a used machine may be worth considering.
Simple is good! – If you are not sure what type of machine is best for you, get a basic inexpensive machine and save yourself some money. The stitch quality of all machines is about the same if they are adjusted properly and are in good condition. Most industrial machines used by seamstresses, tailors and in factories are basic machines. Proficient sewing is achieved through skill. An expensive machine with automatic features wont make up for a lack of knowledge and skill.
Stitch selection – A large selection of stitches is not important! Ninety five percent of all sewing is done with a few basic stitch types, but because this is not well understood, many people buy machines with as many stitches as possible.
For general use get a 4 thread (2 needle) serger. You will need a 4 thread (2 needle) serger for construction seams (structural seams) because the fourth thread forms a second stitch line that makes the stitch much stronger. Three threads are good for edge finishing and non-structural seams but not for construction seams. There are very few 3 thread (1 needle) home sergers still being made because a 4 thread serger will also make a 3 thread stitch by removing one of the needles, so it makes sense to buy a 4 thread machine.
Five thread stitches are slightly stronger than a 4 thread stitch but for most sewing a 4 thread stitch works fine and the added expense and complexity of a 5 thread machine is not normally needed. You can also add another stitch line to a 3 thread overlock stitch using a straight stitch sewing machine if you need a 5 thread safety stitch occasionally.
Coverstitch – Some models of sergers will also make the coverstitch. If you need to sew with a coverstitch one of these machines may be a good idea or alternatively you can get an inexpensive serger and an inexpensive coverstitch machine for about the same cost.
Machine adjustment – The correct needle, thread and adjustment of a machine makes a huge difference, more difference then the brand and model of machine. An improperly adjusted $2000 machine will sew considerably worse than a properly adjusted $190 machine. Learning how to troubleshoot a serger is not difficult and will add tremendously to a positive sewing experience.
Do you really need a serger? You can use a zigzag sewing machine for edge finishing (using a zigzag stitch or an overedge stitch). If you need to stitch and cut the edge of the fabric at the same time (like a serger does), you can buy an edge cutting foot for your zigzag sewing machine. The down side to using a zigzag machine for edge finishing is slow speed and poorer stitch quality. The overedge stitch does not look as good as a real overlock stitch. If you need to do edge finishing only occasionally then try using your sewing machine before buying a serger, it may work for you. If you don’t like the results then get a serger.
If you already have a sewing machine and want to expand your capabilities, a serger may be a good addition to your sewing setup. Generally a serger does not replace a sewing machine, you will still need a sewing machine for straight stitching and zigzag stitching.
How to test machines and do research
First do your research on the Internet. Before you go to a sewing machine dealer and try out machines you should research the machines you are interested in and read user feedback and comments. This is very important because it takes a while to really know a serger. During a quick test you may think that you really like a machine only to find that after a few months you don’t like it. This can be avoided by reading as much as you can about the machines you are interested in. If you find that a certain machine is overwhelmingly liked by users then it is a good bet that you will like it. Or you may read about certain issues with a machine that need further consideration.
Go on-line and download the user manuals for the machines you are interested in. If the manuals are not available on-line then the manufacturer may be hiding something or does not want you to do a direct comparison of their products. Reading the user manual can give you a good amount of information about the machine that you will not find elsewhere.
Be careful about getting opinions from users that have just bought a new machine and are trying to convince themselves that they made a good purchase but have not extensively used the machine yet. Ask them how long they have had the machine and what they have actually done with it. This includes on-line opinions.
Test sew the machines if you can. Also go through threading the machine, some machines are overly difficult to thread. Bring the type of fabric and thread that you use for your projects. Do as much sewing on the machines as possible. Try out all of the features that you are most concerned with. Take notes if you are testing several machines. If you know what the most troublesome operations are for you, then try those operations with the machines you are testing.