Sewing Machine VS Serger / Overlocker: What’s the Difference?

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Are you wondering what’s the difference between a sewing machine and a serger (also known as an overlocker)?

You’re not alone.

I saw this question in a forum recently:

Q: “I want to start learning how to sew but don’t have a clue where to start. Should I buy a sewing machine or an overlocker [aka. serger]? Are they basically the same? Or is one better than the other?”

Sergers and sewing machines are both used for sewing, but they make different types of stitches.

They are not the same and can’t replace each other.

overlocker vs sewing machine

Contents list:

Related: 5 Best Overlockers, According to Industry Experts

Related: 8 Serger Stitches Explained for Beginners (with Photos)

Related: How to Choose a Serger: 21 Factors to Consider (+ Checklist)

Related: Which Sergers are Good Quality? (We Ask Specialists)

Comparison table: serger/overlocker vs sewing machine

—————–Sewing machineSerger or overlocker
Straight stitchβœ”
Zig zag stitchβœ”
Embroidery stitchesβœ”
Create buttonholesβœ”
Insert zippersβœ”
Overlock or mock overlock stitchβœ”βœ”
Rolled hemβœ”βœ”
Attach pipingβœ”βœ”
Gather fabricβœ”βœ”
Blind hem stitchβœ”βœ”
Mock flatlock stitchβœ”
Cutting knifeβœ”
Number of threads needed14+
Average sewing speed (stitches per minute)300 – 8001300 – 1500

PS. some of these stitches require extra feet, or the sewing machine or serger won’t be able to do them.

Should you get a sewing machine?

brother sewing machine
Photo credit: Brother.

A sewing machine can make a range of stitches. You can make an entire garment using it.

From straight and zig zag stitches, to embroidery and buttonholes, they can do a lot.

If you’re a beginner, this is the only machine you need.

PS. some sewing machines have mock overlock stitches (more info here). This means they can do a stitch that’s similar to an overlock, but there’s no cutting knife.

Should you get a serger / overlocker?

brother overlocker / serger
Photo credit: Brother.

A serger or overlocker is focused on making an overlock stitch. This stitch joins pieces of fabric together and finishes the edge at the same time.

It cuts the raw edge of your fabric, making it neat, and loops thread over the edges to stop the fabric from fraying.

On a sewing machine, you have to stitch the fabric together and finish the raw edges separately.

A serger / overlocker can do other stitches too, like rolled hems and blind hems, but its main purpose is the overlock stitch.

This is a great machine to use with your sewing machine. It will help you create neater, more professional-looking items.

If you’re planning to sell or gift your makes, this becomes more important.

What does a serger / overlock stitch look like?

Here’s a close-up of the most commonly used stitch: the 4 thread overlock.

4 thread overlock stitch on polka dot georgette fabric
The front and back of a 4 thread overlock stitch.

The red thread is creating the seam (ie. joining the 2 pieces of polka dot fabric together).

The black thread is a “back-up” line of stitching, in case the red thread pops. This means you’re less likely to get a hole. A 3 thread overlock is missing this thread.

The pink and blue threads are wrapping the fabric edge. They stop it fraying.

PS. I have a dedicated post about the different types of stitches a serger / overlocker can do. I talk about what each stitch is for and when to use them. Plus lots of close-up photos of the stitches!

Can a sewing machine do overlocking?

sewing machine stitches
Photo credit: Brother.

Many sewing machines can do a mock overlock stitch. However, there’s no knife to cut the edge, so my edges never look as neat as they do on an overlocker.

If you’re not sure if your sewing machine has a mock overlock stitch, look for these stitch symbols:

overlock or overcasting stitch chart for a sewing machine
A range of overlock (aka. overcasting) stitches on the Brother Innovis A50 sewing machine. Photo credit: Brother.

These stitches are from the Brother Innovis-A50 sewing machine (Amazon link) by the way. It has an impressive selection of overlock options.

You can also buy an overlock foot (Amazon link). This will wrap your thread around the edge of the fabric. It’s also called an overedge or overcasting foot.

overcasting foot for a sewing machine
Overlock foot for a sewing machine. Photo credit: Jaycotts.

If you have a basic machine, however, it might only have a zig zag stitch. You can use this instead.

See the differences in videos:

This video does a great job of showing you what things a sewing machine can do versus a serger/overlocker.

It’s nice to see that they cover many lesser-known features. Many people don’t know they can gather and attach piping with it, for example.

I want to add, however, that many of the stitches they do require extra attachments and feet.

Also, a normal serger/overlocker can NOT hem a t-shirt the way they showed at 1:19. They did a cover hem or cover stitch which normal sergers can’t. The Youtubers are using a very high-end serger-coverlock machine that has some extra abilities.

Here’s another video comparison. She explains the main differences with lots of fabric samples:

Can a serger / overlocker replace a sewing machine?

No. Only having a serger will limit you.

You won’t be able to do the most essential stitch: the straight stitch. You’ll need this stitch for most sewing projects.

Let’s say you want to make cushions and napkins. You’ll need to sew straight stitches. A serger can’t do that. You might want to add a zip to your cushion. A serger can’t do that.

Do you need a sewing machine and a serger/overlocker?

If you’re just starting, no. A sewing machine is enough. You’ll be able to make most things with it.

If you’re a sewist with some experience, having a sewing machine and serger/overlocker will make your sewing faster, easier, and more professional-looking.

Is it worth buying a serger / overlocker?

A serger is a great addition to your sewing machine, if:

  • You want to stop fabric edges fraying.
  • You want to finish seams without using a zig-zag stitch. You want your makes to look shop-bought.
  • You want to sew with knits. A serger creates a stretchy seam that’s relatively hard to break. It has a differential feed system to stop knits stretching out or puckering. You won’t need a walking foot anymore.
  • You work with chiffon-type fabrics a lot and want to create really fast rolled hems.
  • You want to sew seams and finish edges faster than you could on a sewing machine. Domestic sergers normally sew at 1300 to 1500 stitches per minute. Sewing machines generally sew at 300 – 800 stitchers per minute, according to Brother.

Serger vs. overlocker – what’s the difference?

These are different words for the same machine. There is no difference between them.

Based on manufacturer websites, “serger” is used in the USA and Canada. “Overlocker” is popular in the UK and Australia.

Related: 5 Best Overlockers, According to Industry Experts

Related: How to Choose an Overlocker: 21 Factors to Consider (+ Checklist)

Related: Which Overlockers are Good Quality?

Related: 8 Overlocker Stitches Explained for Beginners (with lots of close-up photos!)

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