Coverstitch Machine 101: What Does it Do? Do I Need One?

A coverstitch machine is a specialized type of sewing machine that adds a professional finish to knit fabrics and activewear projects. The secure and stretchy stitch it creates is often seen on t-shirts, leggings, and elastic bindings.

It’s a worthy investment if you sew frequently with stretchy fabrics, especially if you notice popped stitches on hems made by your regular sewing machine. The stretchy stitches made by coverstitch machines solve this problem.

Contents list:

What is a coverstitch machine? And what does it do?

white bernette b48 coverstitch serger machine on a brown table
The Bernette B48 coverstitch-serger combination machine. Photo credit: Kat Waters.
back view of a coverstitch machine
This machine has 5 spool pins at the back. Photo credit: Kat Waters.

Coverstitch machines are rarely used for sewing two seams together. When constructing your garment, you’ll likely use your regular sewing machine or a serger (aka. overlocker).

Instead, you’ll use your coverstitch machine to hem stretchy garments with a stitch that is secure, yet able to withstand even the stretchiest of knit fabrics. You’ll also use it to add topstitching to activewear (try it in a contrasting color on leggings!). And with a binding attachment, you can add elastic to swimwear or activewear projects.

Different types of coverstitch machines:

There are four types of coverstitch machines: two-needle, three-needle, serger/coverstitch combo, and top-coverstitch machines. The main difference between machines is the number of different stitches that each one is capable of.

Two-needle: Chain stitch and Double Coverstitch, using up to three threads at a time.

Three-needle: Chain stitch, Double Coverstitch, and Triple Coverstitch, using up to four threads at a time.

Combo machines: All the functions of a two or three-needle machine (depending on the model you select) plus this machine converts to function as a serger. These machines use up to four threads at a time, but often come with five or six spool pins.

Top-coverstitch: A high-end machine which sews Chain, Double, and Triple as well as a Top-Coverstitch, using up to five threads at a time.

How does a coverstitch machine work?

While domestic sewing machines create a lockstitch – essentially interlocking the upper and bobbin threads together with each stitch – a coverstitch machine forms a chain stitch. The chain is modified by altering the number of needles in the machine. The resulting stitch is secure, yet extremely stretchy, allowing you to hem slinky knits, activewear, and even attach elastic to items without fear of popping stitches.

What stitches can a coverstitch machine make?

In general, most coverstitch machines produce three different stitches, with one notable exception. All stitches are composed of a lower looper thread combined with various configurations of upper threads.

Chain Stitch

This stitch uses a single needle. The chain stitch is useful for items that need a sturdy seam but still need a little bit of ‘give’. For example, waistbands on stretch trousers, or adding shoulder binding to a knit t-shirt. It’s a versatile stitch, but it can unravel easily so be sure to tie off your threads securely!

yellow chainstitch on blue fabric
Front and back view of a chain stitch. Photo credit: Kat Waters.

Double Coverstitch (Narrow and Wide options)

This stitch is sometimes referred to as a “Coverhem” stitch, which gives away its main purpose – hemming! Most knit t-shirts available in stores use this stitch to finish sleeve and hem edges.

This stitch uses two needle threads. The width of the stitch is adjusted by changing the needle position.

It’s perfect for hemming because you can use it to capture the raw edge of the knit fabric and it doesn’t restrict even the stretchiest of fabrics. By changing needle positions, you can achieve a narrow or wide stitch. The narrow coverstitch is most often used with a binding attachment to attach fabric binding or fold-over elastics. 

narrow double coverstitch on blue fabric
Narrow double coverstitch. Photo credit: Kat Waters.
wide double coverstitch on blue fabric
Wide double coverstitch. Photo credit: Kat Waters.

Triple Coverstitch

This stitch is very similar to the double coverstitch, but uses all three needles. It results in a firmer stitch than the double option, so it’s not quite as stretchy. It’s commonly used in activewear or swimwear for reinforced topstitching.

If your machine doesn’t have a 5-thread or top coverstitch, you can use the bottom of this stitch to imitate the look of the top coverstitch.

multicolored triple coverstitch on blue fabric
Triple coverstitch. Photo credit: Kat Waters.

Top Coverstitch (5 thread machines)

There are only a handful of domestic coverstitch machines that include the 5 thread coverstitch, and they come at a pretty high price point. This stitch looks like the bottom side of the triple coverstitch on both the top and the bottom. It’s also used in many of the same applications as the triple coverstitch.

If you sew a lot of activewear or if this look is important to you, it may be worth seeking out a machine with this feature. Although the look of the stitch can be recreated by stitching a triple coverstitch upside-down, doing it this way means you won’t be able to see what you’re doing and may end up with alignment issues!

Serger / overlocker stitches (combination machines)

If you buy a serger / coverstitch combo machine, it will also be able to sew serger stitches. You’ll need to convert the machine to serger mode to access these stitches. This process can take 5+ minutes which some people find frustrating.

Coverstitch machine uses:

A coverstitch machine is a powerful addition to your sewing room if you want to work on a lot of the following types of projects:

  • Professional looking hems on knit fabrics (like t shirts)
  • Topstitching seams on activewear such as leggings or workout tops
  • Attaching fabric or elastic binding to swimwear or lingerie in a single step
  • Topstitching elastic or stretchy fabric while retaining stretch properties

Is it worth getting a coverstitch machine?

Everyone is at a different place in their sewing journey, with various space and budget requirements, so whether or not you choose to add a coverstitch machine to your collection is a big decision!

If you’re sewing a lot of knit fabrics (projects like t-shirts or knit dresses, swimwear, leggings, activewear, or loungewear) and are looking for a way to elevate the finish of your garments and avoid popped stitches, a coverstitch machine may be just what you’re looking for.

Personally, when I got my serger/coverstitch combo machine (a Bernette Funlock b48), I didn’t have the space in my sewing room for a dedicated coverstitch. However, I was still enthralled with the idea of getting those beautiful finishes on my knit garments and activewear! It has been a joy to use and I love having it. It’s become an integral part of my sewing room.

Can a sewing machine, serger, or overlocker do a coverstitch?

Regular domestic sewing machines and sergers (aka. overlockers) can create stitches that can be used in the same applications as coverstitch machines. But neither can recreate the exact stitches and properties of a coverstitch. These options are perfect if you’re not quite ready to add a machine to your family.

Similar stitches on a domestic sewing machine:

You can closely replicate the narrow double coverstitch with a twin needle. It looks similar on the top, and it’s a useful way to hem projects made from knit fabrics. However, the twin needle stitch doesn’t have as much elasticity as a coverstitched hem, and some fabrics are prone to tunneling when a twin needle is used.

Similar stitches on a serger / overlocker:

A flatlock is a great alternative to secure stretchy activewear and swimwear seams without a coverstitch machine, as an alternative to the five-thread or top coverstitch.

This is essentially a construction seam that is stitched, opened, and then stretched flat to reveal a line of stitching completely enclosing two raw edges. It does look fairly different from the top coverstitch, but it’s equally functional, withstands stretch, and finishes seams quite nicely. Your serger’s manual will include tension adjustment instructions for sewing a flatlock seam. However, you may not wish to use it for hems as it can add bulk.

How much is a coverstitch machine?

In the US, expect to pay $450 – $1700. In Australia, $650 – $2400. And in the UK, £500 – £1200. 

Brother, Janome, Bernina, and Juki offer coverstitch machines at several price points. The Brother 2340CV (a three-thread coverstitch machine with a standard, fairly basic set of features) retails for around $450 US, while the Bernette b48 funlock serger/coverstitch combo machine is around $750 US.

At the higher end of the range, the Janome Coverpro 3000 includes top coverstitch as well as a host of other features including a free arm, automated needle threader, and a proprietary tension control system, retailing at about $1700 US. 

Here are the coverstitch machines I recommend for US and UK buyers. Most of these will be available worldwide too. I’ve also reviewed coverstitch-serger combination machines.

How to choose a coverstitch machine:

When selecting a machine, think about the stitches you’ll use the most. If you’re mostly hemming t-shirts, a three-thread coverstitch would probably be enough. But activewear enthusiasts would likely benefit from the top-coverstitch option.

Keep an eye out for differential feed adjustment, ease of threading, and a free arm (especially for small hems like t-shirt sleeves or legging ankles).

And if you can, visit your local sewing shop to test out a machine before you buy. Like sergers, coverstitch machines can be difficult to thread until you learn how, so it’s useful to have someone show you how to do this before you purchase your machine.

What to read next:

This article was written by Kat Waters and edited by Sara Maker.

Kat Waters (author)
Kat has been sewing since her feet could reach the pedals, starting with quilts she made with her mom and eventually graduating to garments. She now makes everything she wears, occasionally teaches classes, and shares her projects on social media. Highlights include her wedding dress, shoemaking, and a love for almost any fabric that comes in hot pink! Read more…