How to Use a Serger: A Comprehensive Guide to the Singer ProFinish
I used to think that sergers were super expensive machines that I'd never be able to afford. But then I snagged a cheap Singer ProFinish serger, and I don't know how I ever lived without it. Sometimes it feels like I use my serger more than my sewing machine. It's a worthwhile investment that will save you time, energy, and frustrating when sewing. Plus, your clothes will last longer because the edges are all professionally finished. I've had my serger for over a year now, and I'm still thrilled with it.
My Favorite Serger Features
Finished Edges on Fabric
Sergers have a blade that cuts the edge of your fabric, and they also have a set of loopers/needles that wrap 2-4 threads around the edge of your fabric as you go. This keeps your raw fabric edges from unraveling.
I recently bought a bunch of silk sari scraps. I got some beautiful fabric, but I wanted to wash it all before using it. However, the scraps were small enough that unless I finished the raw edges, they would have unraveled quite a bit in the wash, making some of the smaller pieces unusable.
With my serger, finishing the raw edges on all of this fabric was a breeze, and none of it unraveled in the washing machine! This is one of my favorite uses for my serger. We all know it's a best practice to wash your fabric before using it, but without a serger, it can be a pain to figure out how to keep the raw edges from unraveling. As I've written about previously, you can use your sewing machine to finish edges, but it takes a lot longer and doesn't work as well as a serger.
You can also use your serger to finish the inside seams of your clothes/projects. Here you can see I'm finishing the inside seams of a skirt.
And here are a couple of shots of what those finished seams look like. Both of these are three-thread overlock stitches. I use the tension settings recommended in my manual, which works on nearly every fabric I've tried.
Rolled hems are one of my favorite things to do on my serger. I can't remember the last time I put a regular hem on something! It's so quick and easy to do a rolled hem. I like to use a three-thread stitch for this, and I use the settings recommended in the manual for my serger. Sometimes you have to play around with the tension a little bit, but the default settings work for most fabrics.
On this circle skirt, I put a contrasting black rolled hem on the bottom.
On this skirt, I opted for a rolled hem with rainbow Maxi-lock thread.
And on this dress, I opted for a rolled hem that closely matched the color of the fabric.
Working with Knit & Stretch Fabrics
Sergers shine when working with knits--this is one of the main reasons I wanted a serger! You can sew knits with a sewing machine, but sergers give a much better finish. They don't distort the fabric, the needle doesn't skip stitches, and the loopy stitches allow knits to stretch a bit without breaking.
In a previous post, I wrote about how to make your own leggings. I did this project almost entirely with my serger.
I created a yoga waistband by serging this piece of fabric.
And I finished the cuffs using the free arm on my serger.
So where can you get your very own serger?
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a percentage if you make a purchase using these links. This won’t cost anything extra to you. I only link to things I like and use, and the proceeds help me to run this blog. Thank you for supporting me!
- Singer ProFinish Serger I got mine for around $200. Watch for sales and daily deals on this. If you want to pay a little less, the Singer Stylist Serger looks nearly identical to the ProFinish. There's some speculation on Pattern Review that the two machines are the exactly the same but have different names. Sewing machine companies have been known to do this.
- Serger needles (size 2022): these are the needles recommended for the Singer ProFinish.
- Sewing Machine Oil with Zoomspout: I like this one because the tip is flexible and extendable, making it easy to reach anywhere you need to.
- Mini vacuum attachments: sergers generate a lot of cloth dust from cutting your fabric, so you want to clean them regularly. These attachments make it super easy to keep your serger clean. See my post on how to use them.
- Maxi-lock thread: Most stores charge about $4 for the 3000 yd spool of Maxi-lock thread, but Wawak only charges $2.49, and it's frequently on sale for around $2. It's the cheapest place I've found to get good-quality thread.
- Serger thread tray and bin: these are really helpful for storing those big spools of thread.
- Replacement blade: Sewing Parts Online has an awesome feature where you can look up your make and model of sewing machine to find all compatible parts. Oddly, the manual for my Singer ProFinish 14CG754 does not tell you which replacement blade to use, but Sewing Parts Online indicates that this one is correct. I bought a replacement blade, but I haven't had to install it yet. It looks to be the correct size.
- Replacement bulb: it's always good to have an extra on hand.
- Extra presser feet: you can get some of these on Amazon, but I won't link to them here. I've had bad luck buying "compatible" serger feet from Amazon only to find that they don't fit correctly. Sewing Parts Online is a little more expensive, but it's worth it to get presser feet that work. See also this youtube video series on serger presser feet from Sewing Parts Online.
Singer ProFinish Serger Out of the Box
Right out of the box, this serger comes threaded and ready to go. It also comes with a dvd that shows you all of its features and walks you, step-by-step, through the threading process. Some reviewers on Amazon have complained about the complexity of threading this machine, but if you carefully study the thread paths when you get it, watch the dvd, and go through the process a couple of times, you'll be all set. It's not that bad once you get the hang of it.
Here the main door panel is open, and you can see that there's a decal showing you the thread paths and threading order. This is really helpful if you need a reminder.
Here's a close-up of the upper and lower looper thread paths. The only difficult one is the yellow one (the lower looper). You need to make sure it goes around the back of the looper protrusion and catches on a little notch that's difficult to see. You'll get a feel for it, though, and you'll know if it's in that notch. You can also use a flashlight to illuminate this area while you're threading the machine.
The needle thread paths (blue and green) are relatively simple.
You can use the tweezers included with the machine to thread the needles or a needle threader. I like this needle threader, which also helps you insert needles.
Figuring Out Your Settings
I've posted before about creating a stitch book for my sewing machine. I have a bunch of stitch samples for my serger, but I have yet to organize them into a book. When you first get your serger, it's a great idea to test out all of the stitches to see what your machine can do, and to determine which stitches/settings you like best. The manual will give you an overview of the best settings for different stitches and types of fabric.
You can change the thread without completely unthreading your machine, but I prefer to manually thread and re-thread because it helps me remember how to do it.
You might be thinking: don't you need a lot of thread for a serger? Four new cones in a matching color for each project? I mostly use neutral colors, such as gray, black, and white in my serger. These go with nearly everything, and especially for internal seams, it doesn't matter if the thread perfectly matches your fabric. For rolled hems, I tend to use coordinating colors, but even then, you don't always need four cones of your matching color. The upper looper thread shows up the most, so you can often get away with just changing that out and keeping your needle(s) and lower looper in a neutral color. This is all of my serger thread, so I haven't spent a ton of money on thread:
Are You Thinking of Getting a Serger?
Do you already have a serger? What do you like/dislike about your serger? Let me know in the comments!