Overlock vs Serger – Which Machine Do I Need?

Overlock vs Serger machines are very similar, but have a few differences that you should know about. Although each machine can look quite similar there are some differences to take note of. In this article, we’ll go over those differences so you can make an informed choice about which machine you may need.

Deciding on what you want from a finishing sewing machine is the first step. Do you want a machine that can perform one main stitch? Or, do you need a more versatile machine? Considering your budget is also important as these sewing machines can differ hugely in price.

The three main finishing sewing machines we will discuss in this article are the overlocking sewing machine, the serger, and the cover stitch serger.

Let’s get started.

Overlock vs Serger - Which machine do I need? Picture of a sewing room with sewing machine, overlock, and coverstitch machine follows.

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Table of contents



What does an overlocker machine do?

What is an overlocker sewing machine?

An overlocker sewing machine is a specialized sewing machine that joins the edges of fabric together using an overlock stitch. It’s main purpose is to encase the edges of your fabric in thread, protecting the raw edges. This gives your fabric a professional finish and stops the fabric from fraying. You will find examples of this stitch in most of your clothes. This type of sewing machine cannot sew a straight stitch or other general sewing stitches, so you would need separate machines in your sewing room for actually sewing your projects.

What does an overlocker machine do?

The overlocker creates stitches by using loopers, these loop the thread on the edge of the fabric to stop it from fraying. Overlocker machines also have a blade that trims the edges of your fabric to ensure it is fully encased in the looped stitches. Meaning you don’t need to be exact on your seam allowances if you then secure your sewing with an overlocker.

An overlock machine uses multiple cones of thread at the same time and sews much faster than a regular sewing machine. Their standard speed is usually around 1700 stitches per minute. This is significantly faster than most regular sewing machines.

When using an Overlocker you can sew with two, three, or four threads. The number of threads you choose depends on your project and the weight of fabric you are using.

  • Using two threads: This creates an overlocked edge with two threads and is mainly used on light fabrics. This stitch is less durable than when using more threads.
  • Using three threads: This creates an overlocked edge with three threads, the result is slightly stretchy and more durable than using two threads. Three threads are a good choice when working with cotton knits. You can also create a rolled hem when working with three threads.
  • Using four threads:Working with four threads is the most durable when using an overlocker. Four threads are a good choice when working with medium to heavy-weight fabrics.

Although the overlocker sewing machine has some fantastic uses and features it is important to remember that it will not replace your regular sewing machine. This machine is made to encase the seam allowances in thread. However, joining fabric together with a straight stitch will still require a regular machine to pair with it for your sewing projects. It will however enhance your sewing experience and allow you to create more professionally finished products.

Is a serger a type of overlocker?

Essentially a serger and an overlocker are indistinguishable. They both help to finish the edge of fabrics and help stop fraying. Serger is the most common name in America whilst Overlocker is more popular in the UK.

But there are a few differences which are important to mention when deciding to purchase a new machine. But both machines have two needles, a longer foot and needle plate than regular sewing machines and both can accommodate multiple cones of thread.

The main difference when looking to invest in a serger is the make and model. Some models can hold as many as eight different cones of thread and create more decorative stitches that the humble overlocker is unable to perform. The most expensive models of serger can also create a cover stitch, we will explain more about this later in the article.

For more information on sergers and overlock machines, check out our post — What’s a Serger?

What special stitches can a serger perform?

  • Overlock Stitch– Both the overlocker sewing machine and serger can perform this stitch. It is the most common stitch used and can be usually found on manufactured garments. This stitch encases the raw edge of the fabric and is ideal for both woven and knit fabrics.
  • Flatlock Stitch- This stitch is used to create a seam that lays flat when joining two pieces of fabric. This stitch is ideal for garments such as sportswear where you don’t want bulky seams on show.
  • Rolled-hem Stitch- When creating a rolled-hem the serger machine automatically rolls the edge of the fabric over so no raw edge is visible and stitches it in place. This is an ideal stitch so larger projects such as baby blankets and tablecloths. This stitch can be created using two or three threads.
  • Chain Stitch- This stitch looks like a chain of threads on your fabric. It is an ideal stitch for basting or decorating your fabric rather than securing fabric permanently in place. This stitch has no stretch in it and can unravel easily, which makes it perfect for basting.
  • Coverstitch- This stitch is used to finish the edges on garments such as t-shirts. This stitch is very stretchy and durable and ideal for sportswear and cotton knits. Most overlock machines and sergers can NOT sew this stitch. It is most frequently found in a specialized coverstitch machine.

What is a cover stitch serger machine?

Not all serger sewing machines are capable of performing the cover stitch so it is important to double-check your machine has this feature before purchasing if it is a stitch you want to perform in your sewing. Most sewists choose to buy a serger and a cover stitch serger separately to speed up their sewing and ensure each machine is an expert in its own craft.

The cover stitch serger is the queen of finishing machines and takes the stress out of professionally finishing garments. Especially if they have been sewn on stretchy or knit fabrics. The stretchy durable seam created by the cover stitch serger means that you can create beautiful garments and items in any fabric without having to worry about how long it will last once it is finished.

A cover stitch serger looks similar to a regular serger. Although it only has one looper and it doesn’t have a blade. This makes it easier to set up than an overlocker or serger which has multiple threads.

What does a cover stitch serger do?

A cover stitch serger can not only create perfectly professional finished rolled hems and edges it can also attach lace, elastic, and other trims with ease. Once you have mastered how to use a cover stitch serger they can also help when attaching bindings.

Features of a cover stitch serger

Coverstitch machines can work with one, two, or three needles. When learning how to use these machines start with one needle, you will still be able to create a range of hems, chain stitches, and decorative stitches before moving on to using two needles.

You may never need to buy any attachments for your machine but you will not regret buying a clear foot. Other attachments that you can purchase include a binder foot, cording foot, gathering foot, a pin tucking bar, a feller, and a belt looping folder.

What’s the difference between an overlock vs a cover stitch serger machine?

Overlock and cover stitch serger machines serve a very similar purpose. Both machines are intended to cover and protect the edges of fabric. How these machines do this is quite different though. The main differences between the two machines are the types of stitches that they sew. An overlock sewing machine sews variants of the overlock stitch. This stitch is not very stretchy, and once it’s broken easily unravels. This makes this stitch not very good for use with highly stretchable fabrics like cotton jersey, lycra, or spandex. However, this machine is great for sewing the edges of fabric and making sure they are encased in thread. Unlike the cover stitch machine, the overlock machine comes with a cutting knife to neatly trim your fabric’s edges before they are sewn.

In contrast, the cover stitch machine primarily sews the coverstitch. This stitch is very stretchy and great for sewing cotton knits and other stretchy fabrics. This machine often does not come with a cutting knife to trim the fabric as it sews. Because of this, it can be used to sew the cover stitch in the middle of your sewing project, it is not restricted to just sewing the edges of fabric.

Check out our handy table to compare each machine’s traits.

Overlocker/Serger MachineCover stitch Machine
Finished and protects the edges of cut fabric.Finishes and protects the edges of the fabric by creating a rolled hem
Uses between three to eight spools of thread, called thread cones.Normally uses one spool of thread but can use up to three needles
Cut’s the fabric as it encases the edges.Does not trim the fabric as it sews.
On average sews 1000 to 2000 stitches per minute, depending on modelOn average sews around 1000 stitches per minute.

Why not just use a sewing machine?

One question about getting a serger is why not just use a standard sewing machine instead. It’s true, you can sew the edges of your fabric with an ordinary sewing machine and encase and protect the fabric edges. However, using a serger gives a more professional finish to a sewn project. Have you ever sewn a zigzag stitch over a loose weave and had it unravel a bit as you finish the edges? This fraying doesn’t ever really go away. With a serger, the pressure on the edge of the fabric combined with the cutting knife prevents this slight edge fraying.

Another advantage that a serger has over a regular sewing machine is the sewing speed. Sergers sew at a rapid 1,000 stitches per minute or higher. Compare this to the average sewing speed of a basic sewing machine – around 600 stitches per minute. This quicker stitching speed means that you can finish the edges and complete your projects faster. Your typical sewing machine just can’t sew the edges as fast as a serger.

Then, for the folks with specialized sewing machines like an embroidery machine or quilting machine, these machines may or may not be able to sew, let alone do a zigzag stitch. In this case, you would definitely want a specialized edge treatment machine, either an overlock serger or a cover stitch machine.

For more comparison of the serger vs a sewing machine, check out our post — Serger vs Sewing Machine – which do I need? [Review and Compare]

Should I get a cover stitch machine or an overlocker?

While both finishing machines have many similarities it is important to choose the best machine that best fits your needs. These are frequently two different machines that serve similar but different purposes. Each machine helps to finish or hide the edge of your fabric to stop it from fraying. Depending on stitch, you can determine if the seam and stitches will be seen on the right side of the finished garment or project.

An overlocker sewing machine generally only performs the overlocking stitch, which is perfect for completing garment seams quickly and efficiently but if you need to be able to create rolled hems, and decorative stitches then investing in a cover stitch serger may be the most ideal machine.

If you are wanting to create completely professional and high-quality garments and products then investing in both machines may be your answer. Being able to overlock and professionally hem your items will thoroughly uplevel your sewing.

Should you consider a Serger and Coverstitch combo model?

If you are struggling for space or have a limited budget you can invest in a combination machine that is both an overlocker/serger and a cover stitch serger. This will mean you will be able to perform any stitch you need to create beautiful and professional garments and projects.

One compromise of purchasing a combination machine is that you will need to reconfigure the machine every time you want to switch between overlocker and cover stitch serger, however, this only takes a short time and will become second nature after frequent use.

In Summary

In this post, we discussed all of the differences between the overlock vs serger machines, and how they are different names for the same machine. We also talked about the coverstitch machine, a different type of serger that can sew a coverstitch. After reading this post, you should have a clear idea of which type of machine will be best choice for your sewing projects – a serger / overlock machine or a coverstitch machine.

Related Posts

Looking for a machine that can do the overlock and cover stitch? Check out Best Serger with Coverstitch [Review and Compare]
Think you just want an overlock machine instead? Check out the Best Brother Sergers for Sale

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