seam finishes on serger and sewing machine

Who would win: sewing machine vs. serger

In a battle between sewing machine vs. serger, who would win?

Well, like a lot of things, the answer is not either/or, but yes.

When I was first starting to sew seriously a question I asked a lot was, what is this serger thing I keep hearing about, and do I really need one.

While I can’t make that decision for you, I can show you what each machine does. Each machine shines at particular tasks. By the end of this, I want you to have a clear picture in your mind what a serger does and why you would choose it over a sewing machine for certain tasks.

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Sewing machine vs. serger: what does each machine do?

A sewing machine at its most basic sews multiple layers of fabric together. It creates a stitch with a top thread and bobbin thread that forms a seam.

On woven fabrics, this leaves unfinished edges. There are ways to finish a seam with a sewing machine like French seams, Hong Kong finishes, or a zigzag stitch. All of these finishes take a second step to do on a sewing machine.

A serger uses 3-5 cones of thread to make a very flexible stitch. A knife on the serger cuts the extra seam allowance and stitches at the same time. This means that you can sew a seam and finish the edge at the same time.

Plus that finished edge is nice and clean. While it’s not usually best to sew woven seams with a serger, you can sew knit seams with a serger.

Stop, go grab your favorite t-shirt from your closet. Look inside. I’ll bet you $5 you will only find a serger stitch on the seams!

The out-of-the-box test: which machine is easier to use?

There’s definitely more of a learning curve with a serger. With many more combinations of tension settings, starting out on a serger can be frustrating.

The best thing to do if you buy a serger is to take a class that’ll get you over that initial “I want to love my serger, but I want to chuck it out a window right now” time.

With a sewing machine, you can pretty much get it out of the box and get to work straight away without too much fuss. Changing things around for different techniques is definitely quicker and much more straightforward on a sewing machine.

Who’s faster–a sewing machine or serger?

A serger wins on speed every time! The machine just moves faster unless you have an industrial sewing machine.

The speed can be intimidating at first. If you’re just starting out sewing, I would absolutely recommend that you get the basics of handling fabric down first. That way when you decide to add a serger to your arsenal of sewing tools, the speed won’t freak you out so much!

Can a sewing machine do more than a serger?

As you pit sewing machine vs. serger, you’ll likely ask which machine does more overall.

The sewing machine is the winner here. Most home sewing machines do just about everything you would possibly ever want and then some.

Beyond sewing seams you can embroider, hem a variety of ways, sew all types of zippers, zigzag and straight stitch and make buttonholes and a variety of decorative stitches on your basic sewing machine.

Your sewing machine is really a one-stop shop solution for sewing. It’s usually very simple to change tasks on a sewing machine. Simply pop on a different presser and that’s usually it. You might have to change your thread setup if you’re doing something like hemming with a double-needle, but that’s usually as complicated as it gets for changing tasks on a sewing machine.

Can a serger do more than sew knits and finish seams?

You betcha.

I’m pretty sure that all of us who have sergers are not using them to their full potential!

Sergers are excellent at handling elastic. If you want to gather elastic evenly on a waistband, it’s hard to beat a serger. This is my favorite way to sew pajama bottoms. I love that the serger anchors the elastic inside the casing. That way you don’t have to thread the elastic through the casing, and the elastic will not twist ever inside the casing. You can see how to do that on this video.

I’ve got to give the win to the serger too on gathering. With a couple of easy adjustments you can gather fabric much quicker with a serger.

gathering samples sewing machine vs. serger

You can also sew piping, bias binding, beading, as well as blind hems and gathering with a serger. Shoot, you can even sew exposed zippers with a serger. Here’s the inside of a 7 minute DIY zipper bag I made with my serger.

The only thing I would modify here for a serger is trimming down the side seam allowances so that your serger knife doesn’t have to sew the seam AND sew over the zipper. Serging right on the edge is the thing to do here.

Some of these tasks require specialized presser feet just like on a sewing machine. Here’s a quick list of serger presser feet:

  • piping/cording foot
  • gathering foot (you can gather on a regular foot too though)
  • beading foot
  • blind hem
  • elastic foot
  • taping foot

What can a serger do that a sewing machine can’t?

Sergers can also make specialized hems. The best example is the narrow hem. It takes a little different setup and a changing of settings, but a rolled hem on a serger is a really fine finish.

It’s so nice, that you’ll see it on ready to wear scarves and even formalwear.

serger rolled hem on scarf
rolled hem on polyester scarf

You can narrow hem on a sewing machine, but it takes a lot more practice and it often doesn’t turn out as clean or narrow!

serger flatlock hem

The one thing that a serger can do that a sewing machine absolutely can’t is a faux flatlock hem. A flatlock is a decorative stitch straight from activewear designers. In ready-to-wear they have specialized machines that make this flat stitch. You can mimic it on your home serger in place of a hem. It gives the hem a cool ladder stitch that’s something different than a straight stitched hem.

The best combo: using your sewing machine AND serger

The best way to get the advantages of a sewing machine and a serger is to use both machines in tandem.

What does that look like in practice?

Sew a seam on your sewing machine, finish the seam with the serger.

Next time you make pajama pants, sew the elastic into the waistband with the serger. Then flip the elastic to the inside and stitch down the edge of the casing with the sewing machine.

One of the prettiest things you can do with both machines is make French seams. Sew the first pass on a serger with a rolled hem. Then you can press and sew the second part with a zipper foot and a straight stitch on your sewing machine. This makes the tiniest little beautiful French seam!

The one downside to a serger French seam is being able to see the serging from the right side in the finished seam. Ah, but you can use that to your advantage. Think of how bold a decorative contrast thread could be on a sheer in such a seam!

A great class to learn more about all the serger things

If you’re looking to try out new things on your serger, Angela Wolf’s Creative Serging class on Bluprint is awesome. Angela walks you through all manner of things to do with your serger, and she has you practice them in small easy projects.

Unlimited Access, Endless Inspiration —Less Than $4/Month!

A handy chart to compare sewing machine vs. serger

To wrap this pony show up, here’s a handy little chart to help you see who would win in the sewing cage fight between sewing machine and serger!

Who wins the task?Sewing MachineSerger
finishing seamsX
rolled hemX
blind hemXX
flatlock hemn/aX
ease of useX

So hopefully I’ve got you thinking about the different ways you can use the machine(s) in your life better. In truth I use both my serger and sewing machine daily. I can’t imagine not having either though I prefer one vs. the other quite often. What’s your favorite technique for each?

More machine shop talk:

2 thoughts on “Who would win: sewing machine vs. serger”

  1. I really appreciate this post. Although I have been sewing for many years, I still don’t like to sew too fast! I think the serger would run away from me! Haha! That aside, and more importantly, its what the machine can & can’t do that makes the investment worth while or not. This post made very clear the uses. Quite a few times I have wished I had a serger, and wondered about getting one. Now I see that for me, it is the investment vs. the amount of times I’d really use it – that’s the crucial point. So thank you, you put my mind at rest about that.

    1. You’ve got to the heart of it. For me, having one is a useful investment since I work with knits often, but that’s not necessarily for everyone, and absolutely you can get amazing results without even touching a serger.

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