Coverstitch vs. Serger: Which is Best?

Jean Chaney
Jean Chaney
Research Writer
Jean is the brains behind her fashion label. She's a whiz with a needle and thread, and has been sewing since she was old enough to hold a pair of scissors. Jean has always read more
Reviewed By
Isabel Misner
Isabel Misner
Expert Consultant
A professional seamstress. Isabel has her own video blog where she shares her experience about all the aspects of sewing – from choosing suitable materials to step-by-step read more
Last updated: August 11, 2023
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If you’re new to sewing, one of the earliest challenges that you may need to overcome is understanding the differences between a serger and a coverstitch machine. Many people believe that these two machines are basically the same thing, but that is a mistake. They make look similar at first glance, but they are quite different in how they work. Although the serger and coverstitch share some similarities, they may be better suited to different tasks. The purpose of this article is to explore the serger and coverstitch and help a new sewer to make an informed choice.

What is a Coverstitch Machine?

A coverstitch sewing machine is a fantastic machine for detailed finishing on your projects. This machine can finish hems on the majority of garments, and it’s especially good for knitwear. Many people new to sewing avoid working on knit projects because stretchy fabrics are hard to sew with a sewing machine. A serger can work well with knit garments, but nothing matches a coverstitch machine if you want perfect hemming and strong seams.

Getting the hem right is probably the hardest task to perform when sewing garments. This is a common perception amongst people that have never owned a coverstitch machine. When you use a coverstitch machine, it can hem with a speed and accuracy that cannot be matched. Other key features include the ability to attach bindings easily and attaching elastic, lace or other trim types with an unbreakable stretch seam.

When you look at a coverstitch vs. serger comparison, you will notice that the coverstitch looks more like a typical sewing machine than the serger. A coverstitch machine is not particularly complex; it has a single looper, and there are no knives. So, the machine is easy to thread, and you can leave it threaded for hemming at any time. If you’re interested in making garments, but hemming is too intimidating, a coverstitch machine is the ideal solution.

What is a Serger?

A serger is often referred to as an overlocker and vice versa because they are the same machine. Most American sewers will refer to these machines as sergers, but elsewhere in the world, they are known as overlockers. Essentially, the serger machine performs a useful overlocking stitch, which is a significant departure from most stitches because it’s more akin to knitting.

When the machine is serging, the seams are trimmed and bound, which prevents the fabric from unraveling. This is the perfect method to add a professional finish to the insides of garments. Some people may use a serger to finish hems (rolled hemming) or embellish a seam, but this is quite rare. Generally speaking, the serger is used to construct the garment, and it’s not well suited to finishing.

A serger is very different when compared to a typical sewing machine, and it’s more complex. Most serger machines have three or four pathways and a pair of loopers. The loopers are needed to perform the complex knitting required in a strong overlock stitch. A serger will also have knives; these cut the seam allowance as the serging is performed. A serger is not a replacement for a sewing machine; it’s a complementary machine that can perform tasks that a sewing machine cannot do.

What is the Difference Between a Coverstitch Machine and a Serger?

If you want to make garments that have a finished hem like those you would see in a store-bought garment, you need a coverstitch machine. This will give you a professional hem with two stitch rows at the edge and faux serge stitching on the back. A coverstitch machine on has a single looper making it easier to thread.

A serger will create a series of overlocking stitches that are knitted into place with a pair of loopers. The serger joins together the edges of two pieces of cloth with stitching. The seams are trimmed during the sewing, and extra sections of fabric at the edges are cut free.

A coverstitch machine can join two fabrics together, but it works in a different way. When the extra fabric is cut away during the joining, the fabric cannot fall apart. An extra allowance of fabric that is not cut can fray right up to the stitching, and garment will simply fall to pieces.

A modern serger will usually have a pair of needles, but older machines may have only a single needle. A coverstitch machine will have three needs to create those more complex stitches. The serger will also have a pair of blades to cut the fabric edges, but a coverstitch machine has no blades installed. The needle plate surface and side cover on a serger are smaller than the same components on a coverstitch machine.

When a sewist is hemming or attaching trim, such as lace to fabric, they will have an ample amount of space to work. But, a serger is designed to join together two fabric pieces, and the sewist only needs a narrow space to work. So, you will notice that the serger sewing area is smaller when compared to a coverstitch machine.

What are the Similarities Between a Coverstitch Machine and a Serger?

Coverstitch vs. Serger: Which is Best?

Both machines have adjustable stitch length, and shorter stitches are stronger. They are both equipped with a differential feed mechanism, and the feed ratio can be adjusted to make the fabric gather or stretch as required. The stitching quality on both types of machines will depend on the quality of thread used. The idea thread to use would be thin, firm, and elastic if you want the best results.

The coverstitch and serger must be threaded in a very specific way, and this is detailed in the owner’s manual. Many modern iterations of both machines will have a handy color-coded threading path to follow on the machine. This makes the threading process easier, and it can save a lot of time.

Both machines are electrical appliances, and they need to be treated with respect. A quick read of the owner’s manual is recommended to ensure that the machine is set up correctly and safe to use. This is also a great place to find extra features that can make you sewing time more productive and efficient.

What About Combo Machines?

There are combo serger/coverstitch machines available for people that don’t have the space for multiple machines in their homes. But there is a caveat; a combo machine tends to be more complex, and changing the function takes time. Serious sewers tend to have two separate machines because they can leave them set up and ready to use. Moving back and forth between machines on a project makes things easier, and it can be a real time saver. A combo machine may be a good choice for more casual sewers, but it is a compromise, and a serger with coverstitching will not have a free arm. Purists will also argue that a combo machine cannot create perfect overlock or coverstitches, but this is debatable.

In Conclusion

A person new to sewing can look at a Brother coverstitch vs. serger argument and become confused. The initial question we asked was, which is best? But, as you can see, that is not really the point of these machines. They excel at different tasks; many serious sewers may own both, and they will own a sewing machine as well! Both machines will deliver long lasting professional grade stitches, but the serger is designed to trim the seam, and the coverstitch machine is better at hemming and attaching trim. If you need both of these functions, a combo model may be the ideal solution and a serger that can handle more than four threads can act as a coverstitch machine too.

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