Serger vs sewing machine – similarities and differences

You may have heard of serger sewing machines. This is a misnomer; sergers and sewing machines are two different items. If you’re determining whether to purchase a serger vs a sewing machine the differences are incredibly important.

A serger and a sewing machine can do some of the same tasks, but each does things the other can not. Sewing machines are well-known, but sergers are not as common.

When purchasing a new machine, you should consider your needs. If you are just getting started, you will want to purchase a sewing machine. If you want to create items that have a professionally-finished look, you will want to invest in a serger to use alongside your sewing machine. This article will provide a side by side comparison to help you make your choice.

Singer Serger Machine
Multiple threads are a giveaway when looking at a serger vs a sewing machine.

Sewing machines

Most people are somewhat familiar the mechanical sewing machine. This helpful device allows us to stitch pieces of fabric together with thread. Using a sewing machine enables us to do this much faster than we could by hand. It’s also more precise. Most projects can be accomplished using a sewing machine.

What are sewing machines used for?

Sewing machines are used for many things, including:

  • sewing zippers
  • adding facing
  • making buttonholes
  • decorative stitching
  • stitching material
  • topstitching


Sergers are specialized machines that perform tasks that sewing machines can’t. Sergers can stitch neat seams. They use many threads, and loop those threads around the edges of the fabric. This keeps fabric from unraveling and provides a long-lasting edge.

Depending on the type of serger you purchase, you may have two, three, four, or even eight threads on the machine! More threads enables you to create more decorative stitching.

Sergers can also trim extra fabric to give your finished pieces a more professional look. This special task is possible because sergers have blades.

What’s incredible is that sergers sew, trim, and finish the edges simultaneously. They are also very fast. If you are wanting to create professional-looking garments quickly, you’ll want to use a serger.

What are sergers used for?

  • sewing stretchy fabrics
  • sewing sheer fabrics
  • trimming and finishing fabric edges at the same time
  • hemming garments
  • locking the edge of fabric to prevent raveling
  • giving items a neat and professional finish

Stitches a serger can perform

  • cover stitch: creates hems
  • flatlock stitch: allows two joined pieces of fabric to lay open flat
  • overlock stitch: gives a finished look by encasing the seam with looped threads
  • rolled hem: creates a small roll of thread to cover the fabric edge

Can a serger replace a regular sewing machine?

While sergers have incredible functionality, they cannot replace a regular sewing machine. A serger is an excellent companion to your sewing machine. Together, they can help you create beautiful pieces with a finished look.

Sewing on a Sewing Machine
Sewing on a standard sewing machine.

Quick comparison: when to choose a serger vs sewing machine

When deciding between a serger vs sewing machine, consider these situations.

Choose a sewing machine when

  • You are a beginner, just getting started on your sewing journey.
  • You are working with standard thread.
  • You don’t have a need for perfectly-finished inside seams on items.
  • You don’t sew items involving stretchy or sheer fabrics.

Choose a serger when

  • You already have a sewing machine.
  • You are working with stretchy fabric.
  • You want to hem knits.
  • You are working with sheer fabrics.
  • You are working with thick thread.
  • You are creating rolled hems.
  • You want to trim raw edges from the inside of your items.
  • Your sewing projects require a professionally-finished product.
  • You are very comfortable with all your sewing machine can do and are ready for a bit of a learning curve with a new device.

Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between a serger and overlocker?

While a serger and an overlocker may sound like two different things, they are not. Sergers can perform overlock stitching, so they were called overlockers when they were first invented in 1889. This term is still used in some parts of the world, but in the United States, the machine is called a serger. The terms serger and overlocker can be used interchangeably. You might also notice a serger called an overlock machine.

Which is better, a serger or a sewing machine?

The key difference between a sewing machine and a serger is that all beginners will need a sewing machine. Beginners will want to sew fabric pieces together, create buttonholes, and add zippers to garments. These are tasks best accomplished with a basic sewing machine.
Sergers cannot perform these basic sewing tasks. As experience is gained, some will want the extra capabilities and convenience that a serger offers for some tasks. Sewing stretchy fabrics is much easier with a serger. Hemming edges in a way that looks professional is much easier with a serger as well.
It is possible to purchase an overlock foot attachment for a sewing machine. This will approximate a serger’s capability, but will not be the same.
A serger will give your overlock stitches durability that a sewing machine cannot. This is because a serger can use multiple threads. Sewing machines use only one thread.
Both a sewing machine and a serger are helpful. If you have to choose just one, choose a sewing machine. When you reach the point at which a serger could make your work easier, invest in one to use alongside your sewing machine. Most who have the need for a serger cannot imagine going without one.

What is an overlock stitch?

An overlocking stitch is used for edging. This stitch can be used to create, decorate, and reinforce items, making it valuable. There are different types of overlock stitches. The main difference between the different types of overlock stitches is the number of threads used in the stitch.

1-thread: used for textile finishing
2-thread: used for knits and woven fabrics; the most common overlock stitch
3-thread: used for making rolled hems, decorative edging, and finishing fabric edges
4-thread: used for seaming edges that may experience high stress
5-thread: used in clothing manufacturing to create a very strong seam with two needles