What is the difference between a sewing machine and a serger?

The Serger and the Sewing Machine

The difference between the two isn’t so simple to define.  Each have different functions and abilities.  If you are new to sewing you should begin with a sewing machine and work your way up to learning how to use a serger.

The Sewing Machine

A sewing machine stitches fabric or other materials together with thread.  Most sewing machines have the basic stitches; straight and zig-zag.  Some sewing machines consist of 100’s of decorate stitches which are not used as a type of seam.

Threading of a sewing machine

Sewing machines use a spool of thread and a bobbin thread.  The bobbin thread is wound off of the main spool of thread and put in a compartment under the presser foot.

The Serger also known as an Overlock Machine.

A serger also called an overlock machine, can cut the fabric and sew it together in one pass.  They are great for working with knits and stretchy fabrics.  In sewing fabric, it creates a finished edge that will not unravel. It doesn’t cut out the pattern but cuts off some of your seam allowance.  You have to know exactly how much it will cut off and where you seams should be.  Take a look at the inside seams on any of the store bought clothing you are wearing right now.  The seams are made with a serger.

Threading of a Serger


Threading a serger can be very intimidating.  You must thread it 100% correctly or it will not create a single stitch. One big difference between the two are the types of thread.  It’s a big misconception that you can use serging thread on a regular sewing machine.  The reason you do not want to do this is because the thread for a serger isn’t as strong as regular sewing machine thread.  With a serger you use from 2 all the way up to 5 different spools of thread.  Thus making the strength of the stitches created much stronger.

A serger can do different kinds of stitching.

With the different number of threads and threading you can do a handful of different stitches.  A few include the rolled edge hem, 2/3/4 thread overlock, coverstitch, chainstitch and flat lock. See my other article about Serger Type Stitches.

Both the machines are important tools in sewing

I believe you need both machines in your sewing arsenal.   Each have different functions that are very useful for numerous projects.  When I sew, I always have both machines set up to use.  This way I can jump between both easily at different points in my current project.