It’s best to go look at your available choices, try some different models with different features, and decide what you like. The list of manufactures above still stands.
A few things to keep in mind when test driving a serger:
- How easy is it to thread?
Sergers are usually harder to thread than sewing machines, so you want to find out before you buy just how hard it is and if you can live with it. Have the dealer unthread and re-thread the machine for you and then do the same (trust us, dealers have an awful lot of practice with the machines and can make the whole process look much more painless than it actually is until you got the same amount of experience). Also, many times, you have to re-thread the machine to change from say, four-thread mock-safety stitch to two- or three-thread overlock. What if you buy one of the funky new designs with self-threading, you may ask? Make sure that it will auto-thread the threads you’d like to use — many sergers can’t auto-thread wooly nylon or very thick or very thin threads and now the mechanism for auto-threading is right between you and the loopers, making the process even harder. For further considerations regarding auto-threading, also see the section below entitled, “Does it have a free-arm?”
- How thorough is the manual?
Some manuals are very helpful and complete, but we heard of people on the newsgroup complaining that their manual didn’t mention threading the machine — just casually told them to tie the new threads to the old ones and pull them through — and while that works most of the time, if one of the threads breaks you’ll have to begin from scratch.
- What is differential feed and should I have it?
The short answer is you probably want differential feed and it usually doesn’t add enough to price to avoid it. Sergers with differential feed have two sets of feed dogs, one right behind the other; the feed dogs can work separately so they either gather the fabric (extremely useful for easing in fullness) or stretch it slightly, producing several interesting effects (such as self-ruffling edges), and helps when you are sewing knits or very light fabrics that tend to misbehave.
- What about tension control?
Sergers often use the thread tension to produce different stitches, so for example, the difference between flat-lock and overlock three-thread stitch is often merely how the tension is set. Some designs have auto-tension, which makes it much easier to use, but that’s often twice the price of a standard serger — so make sure that there’s actually something there (a computer, for example) controlling the tensions as opposed to just a LCD telling you to manually adjust the tensions yourself.
- What about specialty stitches?
You often want to do things like rolled hems or, the latest craze in the industry, cover-hem stitches. Some designs make it absolutely easy to do it by, say, just flicking a switch. A lot of sergers, however, make you change the throat plate, which can be more than 20 steps. The thought of stopping one’s sewing, removing screws and changing coverplates just makes your authors give up on the idea — if you have the feature, it should be not only useful, but used. Your mileage may vary.
- Does it have a free-arm?
It seems silly to suggest checking that, but a lot of sergers don’t ofter one. Your authors happen to find a free-arm very useful for finishing tight spots in garments. The problem seems to be that some designs trade a free-arm for some other feature (frequently auto-threading) and you have to balance the advantages and disadvantages of one feature over the other — in our opinion, one threads a serger rather infrequently compared to the number of times you need a free-arm. On the other hand, if you intend to use the serger entirely to finish edges of pieces before sewing (there are people who do this) you may not care. On the other hand (the other hand? That makes three…) there are people who use the serger strictly for the application of decorative threads and want to change the threads often to match every different garment. If that’s your goal, you might consider features that help you to thread the serger more quickly to be more important than a free-arm.