Why a Serger Make Sewing Knits a Breeze

Welcome to the fourth lesson in the Beginner’s Guide to Sewing Knit Apparel! Download the ebook for free!

This lesson is basically my ode to sergers. In the last lesson, I explicitly explained how a serger is NOT a necessity for sewing with knits. But by golly it sure makes it a lot easier. I am asked frequently whether someone should upgrade their sewing machine or keep their basic sewing machine and purchase a serger instead. My answer is always the same:

If you intend on sewing a lot with knits, a serger will become your best friend

When it comes to constructing knit garments, there is very little that requires the help of your sewing machine when you have a serger. This means that a basic sewing machine can most certainly get the job done with its serger buddy doing all of the heavy lifting. So what exactly makes a serger a better option for sewing knits?

Differential Feed

Sewing machines are known for creating waves in knit fabrics because they don’t have a differential feeding mechanism. Differential feed means that there are two sets of feed dogs pulling and pushing the fabric underneath the presser foot. These two sets of feed dogs work independently of one another which means you can make them move at different speeds. By adjusting this you can either eliminate that seam wave completely or you can accentuate it for a decorative touch.

Check out the picture below to see the two sets of feed dogs on my serger.

Editor’s Note: Enjoying this fundamental sewing technique? Put it to use on our Rosa Tulip Dress!

They Like to go Fast!

Your first time sewing with a serger might catch you a bit off guard. It is incredibly fast moving compared to most non-industrial sewing machines. This might intimidate you at first, but it really is just a matter of learning how to “drive” it. A few laps around with a serger and you’ll feel like you’ve got the top down driving down the highway!

Having the speed of a serger helps you power through knit projects like a madwoman. Once you get the hang of sewing knit apparel, you will appreciate the opportunity of literally being able to sew yourself a new shirt or pair of leggings on your lunch break.

Less Likely to Eat Your Fabric

The differential feed does more than eliminate wavy seams. It also prevents the notorious “my machine keeps eating my knit fabric!” issue that so many sewers experience. There is nothing worse than working on a project with some nice knit fabric and having your machine chew it up. While there are plenty of ways to troubleshoot this problem on sewing machines, it is essentially a non-issue for sergers.

Auto-trims Your Seam Allowance

Every pattern should give you a seam allowance. This refers to how far in from the raw edge you want your stitch to span. When sewing with a sewing machine, you’ll want to go back and trim off any excess with scissors to eliminate any bulk to your seams. Sergers, however, are equipped with a knife that automatically trims off the excess for you. This saves you time and makes the seam look more professional.

Stretchy Stitches

In our last lesson, we reviewed the different stretch stitches to look for on your sewing machine. Another nice thing about sewing with a serger is the fact that the finished stitch will always have a decent stretch to it. This is even truer when you use wooly nylon or stretch thread in your lower loopers.

How To Use A Serger for Sewing Knit Apparel

So there are three main methods for using your serger to construct your knit garments. I’m not going to tell you which way is best. In my opinion, it is all a personal preference.

Complete Garment Construction

When you construct your garment completely with a serger, you are sewing all of your joining seams with it. Basically, every seam that keeps all of your pattern pieces attached to each other. You then use your sewing machine or coverstitch machine to hem and topstitch. But all of your main construction seams are done exclusively by your serger. This is the method I use to sew my knit clothing, purely because it’s quick and easy. Important Note: This is only a good option if you are using a 4-thread serger stitch. If you are only using a 3-thread stitch, use an alternate method.

Sewing to Construct, Serging to Finish

Some sewists prefer to put together their pieces using their sewing machine. You have a bit more control at the speed of a sewing machine so it can make it easier for you to be precise with your seam allowances, curves, and corners. After making the seams first with your sewing machine, sewists that use this method would go back over the construction seams with the serger to finish them.

Serging to Construct, Sewing to Reinforce

Other sewists like to construct the garment quickly with the serger, but want to reinforce the stitching with the sewing machine. This is a less common method but it can be helpful for seams that take a lot of abuse. An example would be a crotch seam in leggings or side seams on an athletic top with a lot of negative ease.

Setting Up Your Serger

If you have a serger but it’s been sitting in the closet because you’re scared of it, pull it out! Threading and adjusting the tension on a serger is the most intimidating part of learning to sew with one. To the inexperienced hand, threading your serger looks far trickier than it is. Hop on YouTube or Google and search for your model and how to thread it. Once you know the proper order and pattern, you’ll be threading that baby in no time.

Now tension is a different beast. All four threads in your serger will have their own tension dial. And adjusting the tension of one will effect the behavior of the other three. Perfecting your serger tension is extremely important. Incorrect tension can result in insecure seams that show through on the front side of your garment.

If you need help understanding the tension on your serger, check out our post, Serger Tension Made Easy.

This lesson’s assignment: If you have a serger and it’s been sitting there collecting dust because it scares you, pull it out. Get out the manual or open up YouTube and learn how to thread that beauty! Then start with some scraps of knit fabric and test out your differential feed options and tension to start to get a feel for how it works.

Don’t have a serger, but have the budget for one and have plans to be sewing a lot of knit garments? Start looking into reviews of the different sergers in your price range. Go to a local sewing shop and test drive a few to see which ones you like.

Don’t have a serger, and still have no intention of buying one? Get yourself a Dr. Pepper and move onto the next lesson, What is a Walking Foot and How to Use One 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Why a Serger Make Sewing Knits a Breeze”

  1. THANK YOU for the article! Very informative. I’ve been thinking about getting a serger. I’m truly appreciative of the time and effort you took to write this piece. I’m caring for my very, very sweet, 99 y.o. dad, and his arthritic hands make dressing a bit difficult for him. His brain is good and he likes to feel independent. I find myself altering his clothes to fit him better – but really, he could use some custom garments. Soft knits would be best, I think. So – I found YOUR excellent article to start me on the road of acquiring knowledge. Again, THANK YOU!! xx

    Just one suggestion:

    “There is nothing worse than working on a project with some nice knit fabric and having your machine chew it up.”

    I’ve had cancer. I think instead of the cancer, the pain, and the difficulties of treatment, I’d rather have some nice knit fabric and having my machine chew it up.

    Yes, I DO think I’m funny! ‘-D


  2. I have a Bernette 334DS which I have owned for 30+ years. I only recently pulled it out again. Had it serviced (I think for the first time). Also, in refreshing my memory on how to thread it, I realized that my machine was made by Juki for Bernette and is identical to yours (having found an HD vid on threading the Juki) I purchased my serger years ago as I was making cloths for my daughter. Knit tank dresses were a breeze on this machine. I’ve enjoyed pulling it out again to make useful, comfortable and durable clothes for myself. I couldn’t find my anti-vibration cones, so I cutup a foam coolie cup and stuffed in the bottom of the spool. Perfect. I just recently ordered an upper and lower blade and serger needles. I love my serger…good equipment is an investment.

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