One of the most common questions I am asked in my Craftsy class, Beginner Serging, is “What kind of serger should I buy?” It’s a question that doesn’t have a short answer, so I thought I’d share my ideas on the subject here, and get your thoughts as well. I have brands and models of machines that I prefer, but I encourage everyone to form their own opinions and to educate themselves on the available features before making a decision.
I am a firm believer that you should always try out a machine before you buy it. I don’t care if you get it from a store or buy it used off of Craigslist, always try it out first! You may find that you don’t like the way the machine sounds, how it feeds the fabric, or hey, you might discover it doesn’t actually even turn on when the posted ad said it worked fine!
With that said, I also believe it is best to buy a machine from a dealership. I know that you may think that you’re getting a great deal on a machine from Amazon, but what happens if a part breaks? Who will help you to find accessory feet or parts as your machine gets older? A big box store won’t help you out at all if you have a question about your machine. Stumped on threading or need some troubleshooting advice? A good dealer should happily help you and answer your questions, and if you ask, they may also offer a free class to go along with your machine.
Choosing a machine is a personal experience. Everyone likes different machines for different reasons. Try out as many machines as you can before you pick one to take home. Check out multiple brands, go for low-end and high-end, and you’ll see different features and be much happier with the machine you choose in the end. If you are completely stumped with where to start, look at different brand websites to get an idea of the capabilities of various machine models. You can often times download the manuals that go with your favorite models to review the stitches, features and threading paths. Don’t look at too many online reviews. It’s better to form your own opinion right from the start than to look at a certain machine with bias that you haven’t even tried out yet. Just because someone else has had a poor experience with a machine, it doesn’t mean that you will as well.
Bring your own fabric samples into the store and try out as as many different stitches as you can. Will you only ever sew with quilting cotton, or are you maybe into upholstery fabrics with much thicker weaves and threads? It’s important to know if the machine will be able to easily sew the fabrics (and layers) that you intend to sew with. Some machines will jam when 6 layers of denim are run through them, and others will cut through the thickness like butter. A dealer will have swatches for you to serge with, but if the samples aren’t anything like what you’d actually sew, then you don’t know how the machine will put up with your projects once it’s home.
Don’t buy a machine based solely on the price. I understand, completely, that a machine that’s on sale for $100 looks amazing. In fact, if you don’t have a serger and you’ve been wanting one, it may look as tempting as a chocolate cupcake after you’ve sworn off sugar for a week. You might get what you pay for though!
The biggest difference between higher-end machines and lower-end machine is on the inside. The materials used to make the mechanical parts is one of the most important aspects of a sewing machine or serger to consider. Many of the lower-end machines are made with a large percentage of plastic parts. When these parts are put under a lot of stress, or simply wear out, they snap. Most machine technicians will tell you the truth- it can be less expensive to go out and buy the same cheap machine over again than to pay to have someone fix it. A higher-end machine is made with metal parts. The machine should be heavy to lift. It will have drive and power to work thru your fabrics. I often recommend that students who are considering buying a lower-end machine, simply to have a “newer” model, don’t do that if they have an older, all-metal machine. It’s better to have the older machine serviced than to buy an inexpensive model with plastic parts that won’t last for as many years or have as much power.
What stitches are available on the machine and how easy is it to thread? Most machines these days can sew 2, 3, and 4 thread stitches, and some models can sew with 5 or even more threads. There are still models being produced that are 3/4 thread machines though, which means that they only sew with 3 or 4-threads. They cannot make 2-thread stitches, and if you sew with a lot of very delicate fabrics, you may want to have those stitches as an option. Be sure to ask the salesperson to demonstrate the threading of the machine for you, so that you can carefully watch and get a sense of whether you’d be comfortable threading the machine on your own.
If you sew lots of knits, and you want to have the option to create a coverstitch, then you will want to look at models that have this available. My personal choice is to have a separate coverstitch machine. I find that I am able to finish my projects much more quickly if I have my machines all threaded and ready to go, instead of switching a serger back and forth from serging to coverstitching.
Look over the accessories that come with the machine and see if you think anything is missing. I’m not trying to say that parts will be missing from your new machine, but there may be things you wish you had later on. Does the model you chose include a waste catcher, or will your sewing table be a mess? Does it have a nice big lint brush for cleaning out the fuzz? Take a look at the tip of the tweezers too. Some inexpensive pairs won’t hold on to threads because the tips hardly touch. While you’re at the dealer, stock up on needles too. Some serger brands require needle systems that are hard to find online and in fabric stores.
My personal preferences for machine features may be different from yours, but I thought I’d share what I can’t live without. My machine must have a waste catcher, needle threader, differential feed, adjustable tensions, LOTS of power, an easy-to-thread lower looper, any easy-to-read foot pressure knob, retractable stitch finger, at least 2, 3 and 4-thread stitch capabilities, and a cloth plate that opens up so I can clean as much lint out of the machine as possible. Now, that might seem like a huge list to you, but it doesn’t mean your machine has to have all of the features that I look for.
When I got my first serger, I was a very poor college student. I needed to have a serger at my apartment, so that I could still work on my projects when I wasn’t in the studio on campus. I found a White Superlock on Craigslist (yay $100 find!), and scooped it up. It turned out to be an okay machine, but I wasn’t that happy with it. It didn’t have a waste catcher, it didn’t open up easily and I could hardly see the lower looper to thread it. It also didn’t come with any accessories or a manual, so I had to figure it out on my own. I spent a lot of time being angry at that machine! I went thru a few other machines too, until I got my current model, a Bernina 1150MDA. I love my machine. I honestly don’t know that I’ll upgrade until there’s a new model that can make espresso while I sew. It’s very easy to use, quick to thread and I’ve never had any issues with it.
Don’t be scared of your new machine! The absolute best thing that you could do is learn to thread it from scratch. I promise that it’s not nearly as scary as people make it out to be. You learned to thread a sewing machine, and that was kind of scary at first, right? After you understand how the machine works, it’s easy to switch out your threads. The sooner you go for it, the quicker you’ll be a pro. I’m always happy to help you too! Here is a link for $25 off of my Craftsy class, Beginner Serging, if you’d like to come over and learn all about using your new machine. I promise that you’ll wonder why you didn’t buy a serger sooner!