Serger vs Overlock: Differences & Similarities

Sewing & Embroidery

Overlock Machine vs Serger

In the most basic form, the sewing machine makes a straight stitch with a thread that goes along the top of the fabric. This stitch keeps two pieces of fabric together.

The majority of modern sewing machines also feature several types of zigzag stitches, which are better suited for knit fabrics.

Using a standard sewing machine, sewing fans are able to sew almost everything, however, there are a couple of restrictions. They are unable to deal with multiple kinds of cloth or to do a professional job on the clothes you get at the store. At this point, dedicated sewing machines enter the picture, which is where you may be interested in the Serger vs. overlock battle.

These machines facilitate the life of a seamstress and have an essential part in giving a piece of clothing a professional look. However, when it comes to the world of specialized sewing machines, where should you pay attention? As it relates to specialty sewing machines, you likely want a machine that is going to assist you in finishing the piece of clothing. This will be done by either hemming or the serging feature.

What’s a serger

What is serging? Serging is the process of using threads from a series of beads and looping them around the edge of the fabric using eyelets. The two special sewing machines used for this serging process are known as serging machines and overlock sewing machines. The terms “surging”, “serging” and “overlock stitch” are often used as synonyms in the sewing world. In an effort to simplify terminology as much as possible, this article will simply refer to this stitch as the “serger stitch”.

Serger vs. overlock: which should a sewing beginner choose when considering these two machines?

When it comes to practical application, serger and overlock sewing machines seem indistinguishable to the untrained eye. However, technically they are not one and the same thing, but two different machines with different applications and functions suitable for performing different sewing tasks.

You will also notice that seamstresses are incredibly fond of their specific machine, no matter if it is an overlock, serger, or cover stitch machine. Keep reading to find out more on what to consider when shopping for overlock and serger machines, and figure out which one is perfect for your particular sewing needs.

How a serger works

In a serger, the edges of the cloth are enclosed with a thread casing. To do this, multiple threads will be used to create an overlock. According to the type of device, the unit uses from two to eight threads to make an overlock.

There is nothing complicated about operating the machine. All you need to do is understand how to use it and practice!

How to use the serger?

The first thing you would like to do when you get your new machine is to check it out. But, it appears to be so tricky! The threads are running in every direction, leaving you with no clue what to do. The easiest thing to do is to check the instruction guide.

Every manufacturer comes up with a different layout of parts, the direction, and sequence of threading, the mechanisms for adjusting the thickness and width of the stitches (tension).

Many sergers have to be oiled before first use.

Most probably, you will also have to set the tension and differential feed (if your sewing computer supports such options). Aside from that, sewing with a serger is fairly easy and uncomplicated. Refer to the user’s manual for help.

The working mechanism of serging machines

Before learning about the operation of your sewing machine, it is important to get an understanding of the way in which this machine produces stitches. When you place the cloth in your sewing machine, it initially arrives at the feed dog. After that, the cloth keeps moving till it arrives at the knife that trims the edge of the cloth. This is where the needles and looper enter the picture. They are used to create the stitches on the edge. The final step is trimming, which is performed with the help of the stitching fingers.

  • Feeding system

As soon as you feed the fabric, it is led to the feeders. These are strips that resemble teeth and are made of serrated metal. These are found on the stitch plate, which is located directly under the presser foot.
If the serger features a differential feed, you will possibly find an extra pair of feed dogs.

  • Cutting mode

Most sewing machines are fitted with a movable knife to cut seam allowances. Based on the type of sewing machine you own, there can be more than one knife. In addition, this knife operates at the same speed as the needle.

  • Loopers

In regular sewing machines, there are loopers used to make stitches. But in a serging machine, there is a lower and an upper looper. Normally, both needle threads and looper are closed together to complete or sew the stitches.

  • Stitch finger

Finally, there is the stitch finger stage. In serging machines, the stitches are done near one or two stitch fingers.

What can a serger do?

While it is known as a sewing machine, a serger sewing machine completes operations that no ordinary sewing machine can do. A serger sewing machine trims the seam of a piece of cloth and folds the edge of the cloth, which is often referred to as the seam allowance, into a thread casing. All of this is accomplished in one easy step and is often more similar to knitting than sewing.
Just like every machine, there are several kinds of sergers that rely on the serging stitch. Higher-priced models of serging machines come with a greater number of options. The different machines have distinct options for stitch width and density, and this is also something to consider when buying.

What types of stitches does a serger machine make?

The most common stitches on serger sewing machines are 2-thread, 3-thread, and 4-thread stitches. The 4-thread stitch is the most common and strongest of the stitches. The 3-thread stitch is most commonly used for seams, but is less strong compared to the 4-thread stitch and therefore should not be used for garments or seams that will be subject to heavy use.

2-thread stitches should not get applied for seams, rather they should be used to create a final look to a piece of clothing or to make it look like the fabric has undergone a cover-stitching. With serger machines, you still have two choices when it comes to needles. The left needle is typically used for thicker threads or materials, while the right needle is for finer threads and lighter materials.

Serger machines

Sergers are available in a range of models, often identified by their thread usage capabilities. Every model features various stitches and delivers different outcomes. A few popular serger sewing machine models are as follows:

  • 2-4-thread serger

The serger sewing machine executes a genuine safety stitch and a two-thread serge edge. In this case, two threads are used for every step, yet the machine is able to perform every stitch individually.

  • 3-4 thread serger

This serger sewing machine operates on three or four threads and provides stretch to the seam. The four-thread seam is wider and at times is known as ” Mock Safety” due to it being the thickness of a safety stitch seam. The 3-4 thread sergers normally give you the opportunity to produce a rolled hem also.

  • 5-thread serger

This sewing machine is perhaps the costliest of the sewing machines, yet it features all you could ask for concerning sewing efficiency. With it, you will be able to handle production tasks too.

Is it possible to learn sewing with a serger?

Sewing with a serger machine is slightly different compared to sewing with a standard plain stitch machine.

Having its own specifics, it needs a bit of training and particular care due to the serging knife.

By following the instructions and getting a bit of practice, you will become comfortable with the motion of the machine. As you use it more it gets easier and easier. We suggest you do some practice on pieces of leftover fabric until you get confident in your abilities. Next, attempt to sew two pieces of fabric together. Experiment with it until you are able – to use the knife to create some curves, followed by trying not to create any curves at all.

Experiment with various speeds, and test the tightness and elasticity of the stitches on several fabrics. Frankly, it’s not as complex as it may sound.

Related post: How to choose a sewing machine for beginners

Should I go for a domestic or industrial sewing machine?

If you are sewing at home or even doing some modifications and creating a limited quantity of clothes for sale, a serger for domestic use is more than sufficient. You can sew any project from beginning to end and achieve awesome, professional-quality results. Industrial sergers are high-performance machines that can handle multiple layers of heavy fabrics and multiple kinds of fabrics like sequins, upholstery, and multiple layers of denim without a problem.

If you are going to use the machine often, for various projects, and with various materials, I would suggest getting an industrial machine. Frankly, industrial serging machines are much superior. But, these are a big investments that you might not have to do.

Industrial serging machines provide fewer choices for different types of seams (such as rolled hem and specialized stitching features) and need extra devices to create different types of seams.

That can quickly push up the investment. The other thing to keep in mind is the extra space you’ll need. These come with separate stands and pedals. If you are more likely to sew at home and use your serger for clothing and needlework, a domestic serger is perhaps a preferable option.

How to choose a serger?

Here is a list of what to look for when buying a serger sewing machine:

  1. Choose a sewing machine that has 4 or 5 threads. It can easily be adjusted to create a three-thread seam. But a 3-thread server sewing machine cannot create a 4- or 5-thread seam. We personally prefer 4-thread serger sewing machines.
  2. When you buy the sewing machine online (for example, from Amazon), make sure that the motor has the same voltage that is used in your country. Even if you use a voltage adapter, you may run into problems with it.
  3. Before you buy a sewing machine, make sure that where you live there is an authorized dealer for that brand who will service the machine.
  4. It is a machine, and just like a car, it will need to be serviced at some point. Save yourself the headache and do your research before you buy.
  5. Choose a sturdy machine, preferably one with a metal body or heavier in general. In my experience, machines with more metal parts break less often and are sturdier when you use them.

what is serger

Overlock sewing machines

The key substitute for the serger sewing machine is the overlock sewing machine. An overlock sewing machine is still able to sew a simple serger stitch, however, it lacks a trimming feature unlike a serger sewing machine, and comes with a smaller amount of thread spools. Overlock sewing machines also commonly make a coverstitch. A coverstitch is a kind of overlock stitch that is lacking on serger sewing machines.

Given the applicability of the cover stitch, overlock sewing machines are commonly known as coverstitch sewing machines and are regarded as substitutable. But there are overlock sewing machines that lack a coverstitch, and coverstitch sewing machines that don’t have a basic serger stitch. To keep matters simplified, let’s suppose that overlock sewing machines do have a cover stitch, and just describe both overlock sewing machines and coverstitch sewing machines as “overstock sewing machines”.

What makes an overlock machine?

The overlock sewing machine is also commonly used for finishing clothes and is for sure a great way to fix seams. They are primarily used to finish the outside of the clothing item by hemming or to create some decorative look to the clothing item, like adding lace or other decorations.

What is the structure of an overlock sewing machine?

The overlock sewing machine is more basic in its design, yet extremely multipurpose. It is quite often designed to resemble a serger sewing machine, yet the stitching and capabilities are quite distinct. The overlock sewing machine comes with up to 3 needles to perform either narrow or wide hemstitches. There is also a looper, but no knives, as it does not trim the fabric as it passes, plus it offers more features than simply completing the piece of clothing.

Why choose to use an overlock sewing machine?

Overlock sewing machines turn to make a hem into a snap. They are perfect for novice sewers who consider this job too challenging or time-consuming to do on a regular sewing machine. Overlock sewing machines are commonly used for their coverstitch, which is great for use on stretchy clothing and enables all raw edges to be finished into the hem in a single step. You may also use an overlock sewing machine for adding seams to a piece of clothing. It allows you to put on lace and elastic fast and effectively, avoiding any tangles as you would on a standard sewing machine.

Related post: Best sewing machines for advanced sewers

Choosing and using an overlock machine

When choosing your machine, you can take into account a lot of factors, including functions, cost, accessories, and usability.

  • A. Features

First of all, you must be aware of what you are trying to accomplish with your machine. This means you have to outline the features you are looking for.
When you are aware of what you need the machine to do, it becomes an effortless task to pick from the multiple brands available. You can search for characteristics like available stitches, switching between stitches, the needles that you can use, etc.

  • B. Cost

Think about how much you would like to spend. Balance the cost against the functions you would like your unit to possess. That will help you further limit your options.

  • C. Usability

You need to pick a unit that is not overly complicated or difficult to use. You can check out reviews of the devices and simply pick on the basis of what you have read.

  • D. Supplies

Who is not fond of awesome accessories? You may compare the multiple accessories that are included with every unit when you buy it. Then you can pick the unit that will come with the accessories that fit your needs.

Can a serger replace the normal sewing machine?

A serger is not able to substitute a standard sewing machine, since many sewing products need straight stitches. A serger is used mostly for joining seams and keeping fabrics from fraying.
Hence, if you have to sew hems or drapes, replace zippers, and so on, a serger is not useful.

With woven materials, if you are sewing two pieces using just a serger, the whole seam might get frayed together with the edges of the fabric.

If this is not the case, the seam might appear a bit lopsided on its front side. So, an additional straight stitch will be added (a five-thread overlocker will do both). A standard straight stitch is a basis. Any other kind of sewing machine relies on your abilities and equipment. You can make plenty with the standard machine, with no other equipment needed. However, if you sew a lot and professionally, or if you do a lot of knitting, consider adding a serger machine to your sewing kit.

Difference between serger and overlocker

What is the difference between serger and overlock sewing machines? The simple explanation is that the key distinction between a serger sewing machine and an overlock sewing machine is the serging feature and cover stitch performance of both. An overlock sewing machine might not be as proficient at serging and spooling as a serging sewing machine, though it is proficient at doing the serging stitch along with the cover stitch.

Serger vs. Overlock: Performance

Serger sewing machines and overlock sewing machines both come with two needles, a long foot, and a stitch plate. Therefore, you could assume that their overall output would be quite comparable, but this is not actually true. An overlock sewing machine is a very convenient, ready-to-use machine. You can thread it and wait for it to be used. A serger sewing machine comes with a wide range of choices, from spools to styles, and is, therefore, the perfect machine for seamstresses looking to get a lot of possibilities. This specialized sewing machine enables you to complete several jobs at once effectively, which you can’t do on an overlock sewing machine.

Serger vs. Overlock: Fabric

When comparing the ease of use of sergers and overlock sewing machines, it’s obvious that overlock sewing machines are easier. You can start working with an overlock sewing machine right away and learn to use its features in no time. This is because their construction is much simpler. The serger sewing machine has more functions, thread spools, and stitch types. To master all the functions, you need more time.

Serger vs Overlock: Threading

The serger sewing machine and the overlock sewing machine have the same number of needles for threading, but threading is very different on both machines. A serger sewing machine has multiple compartments that need to be threaded and depending on the model of serger sewing machine you buy; you can have up to 8 separate spools of thread for a garment. An overlock sewing machine is easier to thread than a serger sewing machine but has fewer bobbins available. The overlock sewing machine can also remain threaded and serviced. This speeds up the transition from a regular sewing machine to an overlock sewing machine.

Serger vs. overlock: Creating borders

The stitch width, stitch eccentricity, and the number of stitches vary based on the machine you pick. A serger sewing machine features more stitches per inch compared to an overlock sewing machine. Due to the greater number of stitches, the outcome is a denser and better quality hem. The stitches on a serger sewing machine will also be wider and more eccentric, making the stitches stronger and more solid to the touch than the stitches on an overlock sewing machine. Improved stitches equal improved edges on your clothing items.

Serger vs. overlock: The feed dog

The feed dog of a sewing machine consists of a group of metal bars that extend from the bracket in the stitch plate of the sewing machine. These gently grip the fabric and keep it in place as it runs through the sewing machine, thus making a contribution to a high-quality stitch. The feed mechanism on serger and overlock sewing machines differs depending on the manufacturer’s brand. Top-of-the-line machines feature several feeders

What about combo machines?

There are combo machines that let you make cover stitches and serging simultaneously. But such machines are quite hard to configure, and changing between serging features and cover stitching becomes very inconvenient. For one factor, you will not have the free arm that you would have on a regular serging machine. And the other factor that keeps the majority of sewing fans from getting a combo machine is the fact that the performance of the two functions is affected since they are concentrated in the same machine.


When it comes to choosing a specialized sewing machine, you have so many choices that it is tough to make a decision. Finding the perfect specialized sewing machine is what will give you superior sewing, assist you in making superior borders, and offer you greater decorative possibilities.

When looking at the differences between serger and overlock sewing machines, both of them have their benefits. When you are searching for a basic machine, the overlock sewing machine will be the champion. But if you are looking for superior edges and options, the serger is the definite favorite. Overlock sewing machines may sometimes be less expensive due to having fewer options, yet the cutting feature and additional spools mean that the serger machine makes for a superior specialized sewing machine if you can only choose one.

But most sewing fans would tell you that you must have both to create the absolute best professional and gorgeous clothing you can. Committed sewers are going to want to keep both in their arsenal to produce the best clothes possible. It’s also essential to identify a respectable shop assistant to assist you. Often, sellers may even provide courses to get you started and help you figure out your machine. Enjoy your sewing experience!

Additional Questions

What differentiates a serger from an overlock thread?

In essence, the main difference between a serger and an overlock thread relies on the number of threads involved and the presence of built-in cutting blades. Sergers, typically, handle more threads than overlock machines do, sometimes managing up to 8 threads or more. Overlock machines, on the contrary, usually utilize 2-3 threads. Additionally, sergers often come equipped with built-in cutting blades, a feature that most overlock machines do not possess.

As an experienced textile worker, I have noticed that those who like to work with thicker materials or require a more professional finish to their textile projects often prefer using a serger. It’s really a matter of individual requirements and expertise.

What common characteristics do a serger and a sewing machine share?

Despite their functional differences, you’ll notice some physical resemblances and shared mechanisms between a serger and a sewing machine. Both machines are designed with needle plates, a presser foot, and a needle. Tension dials and buttons are present on both machines, and several functions may seem quite similar. However, in terms of size and shape, a serger usually appears more robust and compact compared to the tall and slender shape of a sewing machine.

I have been working with both types of machines for years, and I can confidently say that each has its unique usage and benefits. Selection greatly depends on your sewing needs.

Is it possible to perform overlocking on a serger?

Absolutely, you can definitely overlock on a serger. In fact, this is actually one of the primary functions that sergers are designed for. Sergers could be a great investment if overlocking is something you do frequently.

Can overlocking be achieved with a sewing machine?

Yes, indeed. With a sewing machine, overlocking can be executed rather conveniently, given that most sewing machines are built with an overlock stitch setting. It is relatively simple to undertake an overlock stitch with a sewing machine, and it could be a fantastic method to achieve a clean finish on fabric edges without fraying.

From my years of expertise, I’ve observed that beginners often find it easier to start with overlock options on a sewing machine before shifting to a dedicated serger or overlock machine. The transition is smoother this way. However, once again, this depends on the projects you handle and the level of finish you want in your work.

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