Do you need a serger?

As we get closer to launching Jade, my next pattern for knit fabrics, I thought I’d recommend my (new-ish) serger for those of you looking for a good recommendation. I know it can be a bit overwhelming to wade through all of the options and figure out how much is reasonable to pay. There’s also something quite intimidating about the multiple cones of thread on top and the fact that it has knives (insert silent scream emoji).

Juki MO654DE / serger recommendation from made by rae

I’ve been asked whether you really need a serger to sew knits, and I know that it’s all the rage to say that you can sew knits without a serger, but once you’ve tried it, you wonder why anyone would ever want to. Every knit sewing book and pattern I’ve ever read dedicates a section to patting you on the back and saying you’ll be just fine with a standard machine…but if you’re on the fence and you’re not on a super tight budget, I strongly recommend that you GET ONE. I might even say that if you are on a budget, saving up for a serger makes more sense to me than spending that money on knit fabric, since you can easily harvest knit yardage from thrifted or second hand garments and then you’re off to the races.

I got my first serger (a Brother 1034D, shown below) back in 2009, but my new favorite is the Juki MO654DE (shown at top of post), which I upgraded to a couple years ago, though it’s definitely still not pricey (it’s about $340 on Amazon at the time of this writing) when you look at the range of sergers out there.

Brother 1034D serger

When I got the Brother serger, I was unsure if I would possess the mental capacity to figure out how to operate it, so I went cheap and simple. This is, incidentally, why I still end up recommending this one to people; it really is a nice machine for someone who wants to learn how to use a serger with pretty small investment. I struggle a little bit with this, though, because I normally don’t subscribe to the “buy cheap stuff just to try it out” approach to purchasing in general, since it’s not nice to the earth and clutters up my life, but on the other hand, my Brother lasted quite a long time and is still going, so it definitely isn’t a disposable purchase. Mine is still in fairly good working condition, and that’s with pretty heavy use for almost a decade. I’m just reaching a point where I can tell it wasn’t meant to be used to the extent that it has, if that makes sense. It’s getting temperamental, even after being serviced, (differential feeds don’t seem to work well, tension iffy, etc), and it’s also VERY NOISY, though to be fair it was pretty noisy from the get-go. Like, can’t carry on a conversation while you sew, noisy. The new Juki, on the other hand, is really quiet, and the action is sooooo smooth. I’ve used it for over two years and it’s still just so very lovely.

Note: I chose the MO654DE over the MO644D (which is cheaper that one’s designed for only lighter to medium weights and I wanted it to work with all weights of fabric)

overlock seam sewn with serger

Just in case you need a bit of an intro, a serger is a machine that creates a multi-thread overlock stitch around the edge of the fabric as it sews, using two (but sometimes just one) needles and at least three (but usually four or more) cones of thread. It goes only forward, not in reverse, and it has a pair of knives that trims the seam as it sews. It also has two feed dogs under the presser foot that can be adjusted to go different speeds to can prevent the fabric from stretching out or gathering, which is especially handy for sewing knits.

What I use my serger for:

  • ALL knit sewing. I sew all my knit seams with the serger, with the exception of neckbands or ribbing, which I always baste on first with a sewing machine to make sure it’s even.
  • Finishing edges of delicate and loose-weave fabrics before prewashing. Before I throw my new fabric in the wash (and I always prewash any fabric that will become a garment if I intend to machine-wash it, to prevent shrinking), I like to finish the raw edges so they won’t tangle and fray as they get tossed around in the machine. Usually I just use the zig zag stitch on my sewing machine over the raw edges. For fabrics like linen or double gauze, a serger is nicer because it finishes the raw edges very securely with the four-thread overlock stitch.
  • Finishing edges of delicate or loose-weave fabrics after cutting/before sewing. Similarly, if I’m sewing something really delicate, I sometimes run the cut pieces through the serger to finish all the edges before I start sewing. This helps prevent the edges of the fabric from stretching out while they’re being sewn, similar to stay-stitching.
  • Seam finishing for woven garments. I love a good seam finish (see this Super Seams post for a few examples/tutorials), and it’s super fast to run a seam through the serger after first sewing the seams on the machine (note: I don’t use the serger to sew the seams for woven clothing, though I do for knits). I was recently asked via email why not just sew all woven seams with the serger (a great question!) and the reason is that with woven garments, you often need to be able to adjust fit even after sewing seams, and that is really difficult to do once you’ve sewn a seam with a serger.

Since I use my serger constantly, I’m happy to have one I really love. It’s become an essential part of my process for sewing clothing and I can’t imagine sewing without one. Do you have a serger you love? And if you have any questions about sergers, I’m happy to answer them in comments!

PS. If you can find a local Juki dealer (you lucky ducks in Columbus have Sew to Speak), it’s so worth it if you can purchase a machine at a shop that will also be able to service it. Plan for the inevitable.

PPS. If you want a more thorough review of the Juki, check out Heather’s post.

21 thoughts on “Do you need a serger?

  1. I thoguht about getting a serger for a long time. Then someone gave me a used one… I let it sit in the basement for about 6 months until I had to send my regular machine in for repairs. I finally got the serger out and figured out how to make it run (it’s the Brother you show above). Now I ALWAYS sew knits on the serger. The results are better and it is so, so much faster. It has definitely earned a spot on my sewing table.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on sergers. When it’s time for me to upgrade I will check out the Juki!

  2. I also have a Juki, but mine is the M0-114D. It’s $550 on Amazon, but I could have sworn I paid less than that at my local sewing machine shop. It’s my first serger and, like everyone I’m sure, I was very intimidated by the idea of threading it, etc. I needn’t have worried though, as it was easy to follow the directions in the instruction manual and I’ve been able to successfully trouble shoot a few issues too. So, I second Juki machines!

    • I purchased the same model (Juki MO 114D) last June and I love it! I knew I wanted one that was sturdy enough to handle many types of fabric but I didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars. I was a serger newbie- had never sewn on a serger before. I bought it from a local dealer who offers free classes on the basics of any machine you buy from them. Plus, I can go in any time I have a question and get help. I’ll admit threading was a challenge for me at first but I kept practicing and can now confidently thread it. For those in doubt, I say- save your money and buy one. A serger is a game changer.

  3. I upgraded to the Juki MO654DE, too. I would recommend it to beginners and advanced sewers alike. I don’t know that I will ever want to upgrade from this machine – it does everything I need it to, and it does it well. I had so many problems with my first serger, which wouldn’t even sew on knits or thin fabrics. I wish I’d saved up longer to get a better machine right from the beginning. The Juki just works, no matter what, on all different kinds of fabric, which has been so liberating. I can sew all kinds of knits that my old serger and my sewing machine just would not handle.

  4. I was eyeing the same JUKI MO654DE model prior to deciding to get the 1034D for the same reason. HUGE REGRET! I honestly thought and eventually accepted that sergers were meant to be THAT loud, and that anything more quiet would run into thousands of $. Well, I live in an apartment with 2 toddlers on one of the busiest streets in New York City. My ears are familiar with all kinds of noise… even the jackhammering at 2am. Jackhammer is quiet compared to the Brother 1034D. And the only time I get to sew is after my kids go to bed and I’m not going to risk waking them up with this monster. I’d love to know what other major differences there are other than noise and smooth operation and whether there are other sergers on the market that are virtually noise-free.

    • I can’t say the Jukis are silent, just more quiet than the Brother. The Juki is more similar noise-wise to my regular machine. If you want more info, check out the link at the bottom of the post; that’s definitely a more thorough review!

  5. We’re Serger Sisters Rae! I bought the same one after using it at my jeans class at Dry Goods last year. It serges like butter! Did you know it has a tape feed that you can use to put in clear elastic in the shoulder seam?? I just figure that out and it works beautifully. Thanks for spreading the love….

  6. I started with the same Brother and really liked it. I only upgraded because I wanted a combo machine that does coverstitch. I really hate using a twin needle. I ended up buying a used Babylock Evolve and love it, though I hear there’s a Juki combo machine that retails for around what I paid for my used Evolve. If I had to replace my Babylock, I’d probably get that (and lucky me, I’m in Columbus so I can buy local!).

  7. When I returned to sewing I did buy a serger – a Husqvarna S25 which was the price of a used car. It was about $1800? Crazy. But it also doubled as a Coverstitch so I thought I couldn’t go wrong but did I ever. One of those purchases I deeply regretted. Threading this monster was a nightmare so switching it between Coverstitch and Serger I NEVER did and then one day I broke it – I don’t know how exactly but it was done for. I decided if there was ONE priority I had in my next serger was ease of threading – hence along came the Babylock Imagine which was also pricey ($1500?) but I will say unequivocally, I LOVE MY BABYLOCK 🙂 I went out and bought the Babylock Coverstitch as well and I love it too. I looked at Juki as well – they have an air threading Serger too – but I didn’t know anyone who owned one of those so I was hesitant after my nightmare with the S25. I had heard that Juki makes the Bernina Sergers as well which also have an excellent reputation. So happy to read you have been happy with both of yours!

  8. Another point is that it is usually pretty easy to find a used serger that hasn’t been used much. It is one of those things that people buy, but either are too intimidated to figure out or find they don’t use it as much as they thought they would. I have one my friend found for $50! I think it is a Singer, so not the highest quality, but it works for the amount I use it. You can make a t-shirt in no time on a serger and it is so much easier than a regular machine. What I wonder about is a coverstitch machine. Do you have one and do you find it useful?

  9. I got a Juki serger last year – this one with a coverstitch. It is the third (and best) serger I’ve owned. I love the coverstitch. It is just such a process to get professional results with a regular machine! I was always disappointed. When my kids were little it was a godsend – their little shirts, shorts, and leggings, etc. we’re whipped up in no time!

  10. I bought my first serger in 1989 when they were not so popular. I don’t know how I sewed prior to that. When I bought that serger, you really had to play with tensions for every different fabric and you had to change the throat plate to do a rolled hem. I have a Janome upgraded since that 1989 serger; however I still have it as well and it has been used by friends and family that don’t have one.

  11. What is the difference between a three- and four-thread machine? I stumbled into an older triple threaded machine which I love for finishing woven seams, but I’ve been under the impression that I can’t use it for knit garment construction. Hence my total fear of working with knits! If I’m actually sitting on a usable serger, game on!

  12. OH Rae. Thank you for this prompt. I bought that Brother Serger 4 years ago and have only had it out of the box one time to look at it. Your post may have me taking it out one more time to learn to use it.

    • I have a Juki – MO634DE – it is over 25 years old (give or take) – practically ancient in today’s technical world. I paid a fairly large amount for it at the time but I have to say, it is one of the best investments I ever made. It has never required servicing (knock on wood) the ease of threading and tension adjustments and the ease of cleaning, etc, etc has made this my only serger. I am now in my late 60’s and planning to live a very long time. I believe this little Juki will probably outlive me so if anyone is on the fence about a serger or specifically a Juki, take a leap of faith. You will not be disappointed!

  13. My hubby bought me the same Brother for Christmas a couple years ago and I have yet to get it out and play with it. Doh!! To be fair – I’m more a quilter than a wardrobe stitcher. Guess I know what I should set as my summer goal. (Once I finish the 4 quilts I have stacked ready.)

  14. Great advice! I have found over time that seams in knits sewn on my overlocker/serger come apart with light wear. I’m not sure why this would be? So I only use them for finishing knit seams now (which mostly don’t need finishing anyhow).

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