Best Picks / Reviewed
Best-in-class: Brother 3234DT 2, 3, or 4 Thread Serger with Differential Feed Review
The Brother 3234DT is a truly beautifully designed machine at a great price point with high-end features. This quality, well-thought-out serger offers impressive 2, 3, and 4 thread options for everything from lightweight, lacey fabric to inseams and heavier-duty fabric.
The color-coded threading is a must-have these days, but the Brother 3234DT takes things a step further with quick-change threading for those who frequently use multiple thread types. It’s also got a bright LED-lit workspace that seems to light better than comparable models, so doing away with that work light is no longer a pipe dream.
Storage options and customization possibilities reign on the 3234DT; its in-table storage is handy for quick part changes and organization. And it tops the list for easy-to-thread models—it’s got a lever-operated threader that cuts minutes (and many headaches) out of your preparation process.
What really seals the deal is the adjustable, extendable, and unusually large worktable. It’s one of the few in this price range that’s ideal for large-scale projects, and that combines with its huge range of accessories and customization options to make it a sure-in for the high-end, professional serger pick.
- Adjustable foot pressure and stitch length and width make customizing creations easy.
- The stitch quality is just as good on knits as it is on wovens.
- It is, hands-down, quieter than the other Brother models listed.
- The larger-than-average table is a must for large-scale commercial projects.
- The tension, stitch consistency, and pressure are very dependable, a must for professional users.
Best value: Brother 1034D 3/4 Thread Serger with Differential Feed Review
The Brother 1034D is truly a steal with a time-tested, trusted name and a wide range of customizable features. It offers both 3 and 4 thread options, the perfect range of versatility for new to mid-level sewers.
The Brother is also exceptionally easy to use and understand (when you put the time in to read the instructions, of course). It includes helpful features like how-to videos and color-coded thread guides, removing a huge amount of the headache built-in to other machines of the same caliber.
It’s also equipped with quite a few functions, including a variety of hem and stylized stitch options, that are great for both new and experienced serger users. It sews and cuts smoothly and is a breeze to adjust—the differential feed adjustment and adjustable stitch sizes are particularly helpful.
The table could stand to be a little larger for things like curtains and dresses; however, with a price point comparable to more entry-level machines and a wide range of customizable features, the Brother 1034D is one of the best sergers available for mid-level projects and light use.
- It’s got a powerful 1,300 stitches per minute.
- The Brother is equipped with adjustable stitch size, differential feed, and presser feet, so it’s easy to tailor the machine to the project.
- The flexible thread options are great for everything from basic seams to creative projects.
- There’s something to be said for a machine that is easy to set up and use.
- It is rather loud, and vibrates at the highest speed setting, so it’s not necessarily the best choice for close living situations.
Also great: Brother Designio Series DZ1234 Serger Review
The Brother Designio Series DZ1234 gave our best-value pick a run for its money. This simple but effective machine is nearly as personalization-friendly and has many of the same ease-of-use features as its “Brother”.
Like the other Brother model, it’s got over 20 stitch options, including many chic and design-oriented adaptations. Both stitch width and stitch length are adjustable, too, and it comes with a versatile 1,300 SPM maximum speed for the quicker hobby sewers.
We won’t go too far into detail on the features, as they’re virtually identical to the 1034D, but we will say that it sews and cuts as smoothly as you’d expect a product in its price range to and offers the in-depth instructions necessary to get newbies up and running in no time.
So why is it only the runner-up? The threading seems a little less intuitive than the 1034D and the knobs can be a little lessthan smooth to turn. Still, with an attractive design, plenty of customizable features, and a competitive mid-range price point, the Brother DZ1234 is one of the great affordable sergers on the market.
- It’s got an adjustable stitch width, length, pressure foot, and differential feed.
- The 1,300 SPM max speed is perfect for new and mid-level sewers.
- It is slightly quieter than its best-value counterpart.
- The Brother comes with many accessories, from tweezers to cleaning tools and feet.
- The knobs don’t turn as smoothly as you might expect.
Budget choice: SINGER 14SH764CL Stylist Serger Review
Singer is an age-old sewing machine maker, and this simple but versatile little Singer 14SH764CL Stylist Serger is a great buy on a budget. Perhaps one of the most impressive things about it for a budget serger is that it offers a metal frame, making it more reliable, sturdy, and high-quality than its competitors.
It’s also exceptionally easy to use—the threading is comparatively quick and the color-coded thread guide is very understandable. It even provides a 2-3-4 stitch capacity for light- to heavier-duty projects. Another big plus is the adjustable knife, which keeps users from accidentally cutting their fabric while they work.
A perfectly workable six stitch types (and 17 built-in stitches) make this a machine to grow with for the entry-level serger user. Its table leaves a bit to the imagination but, nonetheless, what it offers for the money combines with its relative reliability to make it a solid budget serger.
- You can adjust the stitch width, length, and the differential feed.
- The machine is simply designed and easy to use (including the color-coded thread guide).
- The tension can be adjusted for further versatility.
- 1,300 SPMs are all you need for hobby projects.
- It only has one presser foot, which may be limiting for more adventurous sewers.
2. Why buy a serger?
If you’re reading this, chances are good that you already know what a serger is. Essentially, it’s a fast-paced sewing machine that’s ideal for edge work because it trims away loose ends and secures your stitches with an overlock stitch. That’s why a serger is sometimes also called an overlock machine.
They’re more effective than sewing machines for a variety of edge-based projects, including:
- Decorative edgework
- Making seams
- Larger projects (like sheets and curtains)
- Projects that use atypical fabric, like stretchy or extra-thick types
The last two points are true because it’s significantly faster than a sewing machine: it can churn out 1,000 or more stitches per minute to a sewing machine’s 600.
They’re also helpful because they cut off extra fabric as you sew to prevent fraying and breakage.
Once you get a serger, you likely won’t be able to live without one. But not all sergers are created equal.
It’s important to consider factors like stitches per minute (SPM), number of threads, available stitches, and accessories before choosing the best serger for your needs.
3. Serger material matters
The outside of sergers are often made of plastic, and that’s fine. It’s the inside that really matters. The mechanical parts that keep your serger stitching away will be made of either plastic or metal.
- Plastic machines are usually significantly cheaper. They’re fine for the occasional seam-fixer and hobby sewer, but the parts don’t just wear out—they snap. Fixing them can be expensive and time-consuming, so plastic-based machines are not ideal for frequent or professional use.
- Metal machines are more expensive, but they’re longer-lasting and cheaper to fix—although they break less often to begin with. They also tend to be more powerful.
4. Serger thread count
The next most important consideration—which also relates directly to price—is the number of thread settings a serger offers. Typically, this ranges from two threads to five. Each number offers a different set of capabilities.
If you’re buying a serger for a variety of projects, remember that it’s mandatory to find a serger with easy thread-shifting so changing thread counts isn’t a headache. Generally, two thread settings will provide you with the versatility you need—look for a serger with two-three or three-four thread options, for example. Use the chart above to determine the right pair of settings for your projects.
5. How many stitches per minute (SPM) do you need?
Sergers are, by definition, faster machines than sewing machines, but their speeds can still vary widely. Serger (or overlock) speed is measured in the amount of stitches per minute the machine can sew.
The faster the machine, the less effort your projects will require and the faster you can complete them. However, faster also means more expensive, so there’s no need to invest in more speed than you need.
The right amount of SPMs
Sergers typically range from about 1,000 SPM to 9,000 SPM. For the entry-level overlock machine user, 1,000 SPM will be sufficient. Splurge on the maximum amount you can get in a quality machine if you sew professionally or intend to take on high-volume projects.
Don’t skimp on quality in high-speed machines
Important: It can’t be stressed enough that fast, professional machines must contain primarily metal components. For commercial use, you’re just asking for snapping plastic parts and expensive (or impossible) fixes if you run a plastic-based machine at fast speeds for long periods of time.
6. Go for a variable feed differential
“Feed differential” represents the rate at which fabric is pushed into the serger for threading and cutting. Most serger differentials will vary from about .5 to 2 mm, with higher numbers representing a greater push-through of fabric than pull-back.
Having a wider differential range means you can work with a greater array of fabrics, but the most important thing is having an adjustable one. If you only have one feed rate, the quality of the threading will differ from fabric to fabric. For example, you want a different feed rate for knits than you do for cotton or leotards.
The wrong serger feed rate can result in ripples, puckers, and stretches. Of course, sometimes you want that, which is why you need the option to increase your feed differential for things like ruffles.
Turn your feed differential up when:
- You’re using stretchy fabric
- Your fabric has a tendency to pucker
- You want to create gathers (like ruffles or waves) in your fabric
Turn your feed differential down when:
- You’re working with light-weight fabrics
- Your fabric has a tendency to slip or change placement
For most users, a differential range between .7 and 1.5 mm will be more than sufficient. But look for the maximum of .5-2.0 mm if you want to work with exceptionally light-weight or stretchy fabric or want to create tight gathers.
7. Serger stitch length makes a difference
Much like with a sewing machine, the stitch length is just as important as the stitch type. If you already own a sewing machine, you know that stitch lengths can vary from about .5mm to 5 mm or more. The length you need depends on the application.
- Securing seams: A short stitch length will suit you fine (1.0 mm or less).
- Creating seams: This will require a step up to about 2.5 mm.
- For gathered stitches: You’ll want about a 5 mm stitch length.
Of course, you’ll also need to keep in mind that long stitch lengths mean looser seams, so you typically want smaller stitch lengths for hems and edges that need to be kept secure.
What’s the right stitch length range for you?
There’s no “good” or “bad” stitch length range, so it all comes down to what kinds of projects you’d like to do. For example, if you want to do everything from making simple seams to creating decorative ruffles, go for the widest range—about .5 to 5 mm—but, if you anticipate more basic use, a 1 to 3 mm range will suit you fine.
8. Do you need a whisper-quiet serger?
Just like sewing machines, sergers can range from pleasantly humming to house-shakingly loud. Most sergers produce 60-80 decibels of noise.
To give you an idea of what that means, 80 decibels is about as loud as an alarm clock. That’s no big deal for a few seconds, but it can get grating for minutes at a time. So pick a machine in the 60-decibel range if you live with others or are bothered by noise.
9. Helpful serger features and accessories
Sergers offer a wide range of different features that can make or break your sewing experience. The features range from basic sewing niceties to game-changing modern luxuries, but they all serve to help you sew more easily, with more customized options, and—of course—with better results.
- Specialty feet: These are the do-dads that feed the thread into and out of your machine. Many are tailored to specific uses, including beading, gathering, and lace feet. While the basic feet are plenty functional, specialized ones allow for greater versatility.
- Thread shifter: With a thread shifter, you can switch between thread settings, like a loose two-thread setting and a secure four-thread option, without re-threading your entire machine.
- Adjustable differential feed: As mentioned earlier, an adjustable differential feed lets you work on any fabric you please, from a stretchy leotard to light-weight cotton, without ripples or stretches.
- Adjustable stitch length: If you plan to tackle both practical and creative projects—hemming pants and creating decorative pillow stitches, for example—then adjustable stitch length is just what you need.
- A light: It’s nearly impossible to sew or serge precisely without light on your workstation. Most sergers have a light in the needle area.
- Automatic threader: This saves you time (and avoids slippery finger problems) on threading the needle and looper.
- Color-coded thread guides: Of course, automatic threaders can cost a lot extra. So, if you’re on a budget, look for a color-coded thread guide to make manual threading easier.
- Adjustable foot presser: An adjustable foot presser lets you change the pressure to match the material thickness for better-quality stitches. Use more pressure for heavy materials.
- LCD screen: If you don’t mind the extra expense, LCD screens are a convenient new serger feature. They convert many of the separate knobs and buttons of conventional sergers to one modern screen.
- A large table: These make it easier to work on larger projects without constant adjustment. Big tables are a must for efficient work on sheets and curtains.
- Built-in storage: Many models offer drawers and storage spaces in the serger table; this clever addition helps keep things tidy without taking up any extra space.
- Tension control: A knob or roller-style control lets you adjust tension or pull in your thread for cleaner, more consistent stitches.
- Tweezers, screwdrivers, and other tools: Tools can always be purchased separately, but having a machine-specific kit on-hand makes adjusting and maintaining your serger much less of a hassle.
10. Serger buying tips
Much like sewing machines and any other crafting tools, there’s no point in purchasing more than you’ll use. Conversely, dropping a lot of money on a machine that doesn’t have everything you need is extremely disappointing.
Use this check-list of crucial features, good-to-have extras for the intermediate sewer, and great-to-have features for the experienced or professional sewer to find the perfect serger for you.
Must-have features in a good budget serger
- It’s best to choose a serger with at least two thread options (two and three are a good start).
- Look for at least 1,000 stitches per minute (SPMs).
- If you’ll be working on a variety of projects, an adjustable feed differential is a must.
Good to have features for a mid-price serger
- For greater versatility, go for a model with multiple accessory feet.
- A metal frame is highly recommended for longevity and reliability over time.
- Adjustable stitch length means greater customization and project freedom.
- Invest in a color-coded thread guide to remove the threading headache.
Great-to-have features in a professional-level serger
- An automatic threader removes one of the most frustrating sewing steps.
- Splurge on a model with 5 thread options available for unmatched versatility.
- A model that includes a variety of tools and needles will provide the most comprehensive start.
- The faster the better for the professional user: look for high SPMs for the most convenient workflow.