Sewing and Serging Machines

Sewing and Serging Machines
Before the mid 1700’s, all sewing was done by hand with needle and thread, or bone and sinew. It took nearly another century for Elias Howe to produce the first practical sewing machine; a mechanical apparatus that used a needle and thread to join material to make clothing via a hand-crank.

However, it was Isaac Singer who built the first commercially marketed sewing machine in the mid 1800’s that combined his and the previous mechanized improvements of many others. Many of the foot-powered (treadle) sewing machines of the era are still in functional use around the world today.

Today’s sewing machine (whether mechanical/electronic or computerized) is one of the best time-saving innovations for the modern world. In its many original forms, it revolutionized the textile industry in the late 1800’s and continues to be at the forefront of contemporary innovation. Even the venerable Mahatma Gandhi called the sewing machine “one of the few useful things ever invented.”

Most all sewing machines whether vintage or modern can sew decorative, straight and zig zag stitches. Of course, the more elaborate and various types of options a sewing machine model will have can determine its price. Yet, a basic straight stitch (of various lengths) and a zig zag stitch (of various widths and lengths) can accomplish most any sewing task including buttonholes, gathering, mending, hemming, stretch stitching (multi-step zig zag) and topstitching.

A time-saving sewing-like device, generally known as a serger, sometimes called an overlock machine, gives us the equivalent of a movie’s special effects as it not only sews a seam, but trims the seam allowance and overcasts a thread edge all in one step and at an astonishing speed too. Instead of a bobbin and a single needle, the serger uses two cutting blades, mechanisms called loopers, multiple threads (usually 3, 4 or 5) and one or two needles. The serger can create beautifully finished seams and hems on all types of fabrics from the lightest of sheers to the sturdiest denims, from delicate laces to the loftiest of fleeces.

A serger can take you beyond simple seam finishing into the realm of decorative and creative stitching and embellishment. It can also gather and generate shirring, create a narrow rolled hem edge as seen on table linens and as a sheer fabric edge treatment, produce pintucking and cording, as well as apply beading, sequins, and elastics on swimwear and athletic wear.

A serger, as versatile as it can be, has the potential to reduce your sewing time, however it does NOT replace the traditional sewing machine. A serger, unlike a sewing machine, is not capable of some sewing tasks, for example making stitched buttonholes, inserting zippers or finishing enclosed seams.

If you have sewn for years quite happily without a serger, or if you are new to sewing, you might wonder if a serger is really all that necessary. A sewing machine can imitate many of the serger’s versatile stitches, even some sewing machine’s array of presser feet can imitate to some extent the serger’s crochet-type overlocking stitch however, the serger will be able to produce a seam with the same professional clean-cut edging seen in many of today’s ready wear clothing. It can sew much faster (about 1,700 stitches per minute) than a traditional sewing machine. A serger’s loopers have large eyes that can take wooly, metallic and decorative threads for enhanced decorative sewing treatments. A serger can be a time-saver when sewing long runs of even straight stitching as when making drapery, curtain, or bed linens.

These two icons of the sewer’s world – sewing machine and serger - are trusty companions, each a complement of the other, each prized for their versatility, flexibility and portability.


Sew happy, sew inspired.





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This content was written by Cheryl Ellex. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Cheryl Ellex for details.