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Learning, Sharing, and Teaching => Ask a Mustachian => Topic started by: Cressida on July 04, 2014, 07:50:34 PM

Title: Sewing machines/sergers
Post by: Cressida on July 04, 2014, 07:50:34 PM
Hi all,

I have a sewing machine but am not that great a sewer. I recently signed up for a sewing class and so far it's great - I'm hoping to make more things around the house and even clothing if I get ambitious.

Here's my question. In the class we've been using sergers sometimes, and I used one for the first time and was immediately drooling. I would LOVE to acquire one of these, but, oh so pricey. There are a few listed on Craigslist where I am. Has anyone had a bad/good experience with Craigslist, eBay, etc. buying sergers or sewing machines in general? Any tips for what to look for or what to avoid?

Thanks so much!
Title: Re: Sewing machines/sergers
Post by: TheAndes on July 04, 2014, 08:12:04 PM
I have bought and sold a lot of things on Craiglist, and I have mostly good things to say about it from the standpoint of a buyer (selling is a bit harder- people are flakes). As far as sergers go, they can be absolute hell if you get one that has the tension off, or a dull blade, so absolutely test drive first. Make sure you are clear on how to thread the particular machine before you leave with it. I would avoid ebay because you cannot (usually) test an item first. I have 2 sergers (one which I will list on CL as soon I can verify it is in good working order), but am dying for one of those fancy self threading ones- the only problem is they are like $1500 and cannot find one used! I'd rather just go through the agony of threading the machine myself. Good luck on your search!
Title: Re: Sewing machines/sergers
Post by: Señora Savings on July 04, 2014, 09:51:19 PM
I second Craiglist and trying before you buy.  Try threading it and sewing on it.  The world is overflowing with people who have unused sewing machines (and probably sergers) a nice one will show up in your area.  You might consider arriving with thread and a printout of the specific sergers instructions; I wouldn't expect someone selling a serger to know how it works.

I sew some of my own cloths and do not own a serger.  The big negative of a serger is there's no going back if you make a mistake.  This is a bigger problem sewing on your own than in a class.  I typically use French seams for a finished look.   The advantage of a serger is speed, but, in my experience, crafters have more finished crafts than they have need for.
Title: Re: Sewing machines/sergers
Post by: deborah on July 04, 2014, 10:45:43 PM
Firstly, why do you want a serger? What does it do that makes you drool, and (more importantly) will you be doing that more than a couple of times a year (or enough to warrant the cost and space that a serger will take)?

Most sergers are sitting in homes gathering dust rather than churning out stitches. I suspect that you could come to an arrangement with the shop where you do classes so that you could use it for an hour every so often for $5 a pop, and you would come out in front. I cannot think of more than one serger owner I know who uses her serger enough to justify the price.

However, if you really want a serger, I would buy a second hand one from your local sewing shop - the one where you do your lessons and has staff who will help you whenever you have problems with it. Sergers are fiddly things to thread, and most people have a hard time remembering how theirs works (especially as they don't use it very often). Paying a few dollars more so that you can always get help is (to my mind) worth the price. If your sewing shop doesn't have helpful staff, don't buy one from them. Helpful staff mean that you will actually use it.
Title: Re: Sewing machines/sergers
Post by: BFGirl on July 05, 2014, 06:38:08 AM
You may be able to get an attachment for your sewing machine that you can use like a serger. I think I have one for mine, but have never used it.
Title: Re: Sewing machines/sergers
Post by: La Bibliotecaria Feroz on July 05, 2014, 08:27:32 AM
My mother has one that is approximately a million years old because it has been used only a few times a year. So handy those few times, though! Seems like it would be a good thing to buy used if you know how to test one and what to look for.
Title: Re: Sewing machines/sergers
Post by: Zaga on July 05, 2014, 09:17:13 AM
I got mine second hand from a sewing shop, and have never regretted the purchase.  Some people have to have the newest best thing, and will trade in a perfectly good 1 year old machine to get a new one, and I was lucky enough to run into a perfectly maintained, very nice quality serger for about 1/4 the cost of when it was new.

Another idea, my best friend found a deal online, I think it was, where she got a sewing machine/serger matched set.  Not amazing machines, but more than adequate for the amount of sewing that she does.
Title: Re: Sewing machines/sergers
Post by: shelivesthedream on July 05, 2014, 11:01:12 AM
Where I live, you can get a sewing machine service for £40-£75. This means that you could buy a decent old machine and have it done up (much like buying a second-hand bike and having someone fix it). However, while most parts are pretty reasonable, if you get a very odd make or have to bad luck to break a very tricky part, repair costs could be as much as buying a new one.

In terms of sewing machines, I'd advise against buying one of the electric ones with the little display - there is more to go wrong and the maintenance is less easy. I've considered upgrading on eBay myself (still looking as I want a particular model), but would only buy one from there if described as in full working order/recently serviced because most people selling them have inherited them or whatever and don't know anything about what might be wrong. Bernina is a very good brand, but any of the common ones (Bernina, Janome, Singer...) will be alright if you're not doing a lot of heavy sewing.

Sergers (we call them overlockers) are a different kettle of fish. They can be a nightmare to thread, often requiring tweezers - I was taught to never EVER unthread one and always to cut the old threads just above the reels and tie the new threads on and winch them through by hand. If the tension is off it simply won't work and the tension wheels can get warped easily. In all seriousness, unless you are a very committed sewer (or do a lot of stretchwear!), I would not bother. You will spend more time cursing the stupid thing that unthreads the needle every few inches and just won't stay in than you will sewing happily with it. You can zig-zag the edges of fabric for the same effect or just fold the seam allowance in half and sew it like that.

If you STILL want one, then definitely get one with a four-thread option (it means you can overlock things together, not just do the seam allowances), practice threading it multiple times before you hand over the cash, and Toyota and Bernina are the best makes.
Title: Re: Sewing machines/sergers
Post by: MelodysMustache on July 05, 2014, 03:16:17 PM
Sergers are not really necessary.  My late MIL was an expert sewer and made the most beautiful clothes.  She had a high quality sewing machine only.  I sewed clothes for a number of years and never used a serger.  I completely understand the desire to have one, but it is not required.
Title: Re: Sewing machines/sergers
Post by: Snow White on July 05, 2014, 05:20:40 PM
I concur that a serger isn't necessary and I will argue that it takes up space and requires that you buy a LOT more thread than a standard sewing machine.  Today I made a set of pillowcases to match a quilt that I finished last week and I first straight stitched the seams and then went back and zigzagged the seam edges. A serger would have done both at the same time but it took me maybe 20 minutes longer to do it without a serger.  A good friend sews on a 60+ year old sewing machine that is as basic as it comes and she makes fabulous things. 

If you MUST have a serger I would buy a used one from a reputable local dealer so you can get training and repairs.  Sergers are notoriously finicky and I wouldn't dream of buying one on craigslist. IMHO it is better to focus on refining your new sewing skills instead of buying equipment that you may or may not use.  Good luck with your classes!
Title: Re: Sewing machines/sergers
Post by: socaso on July 05, 2014, 07:29:38 PM
Since you say you are new to sewing I think you should give this a pass right now. Sergers are very difficult to thread, collect lint like crazy, and if you don't have impeccable control you can easily make a ruinous mistake. I have been sewing for over 20 years and I didn't get a serger for the first 10 years. I had access to one through my mother and I can tell you they tend to have long lives. My mom is still stitching away on hers and she bought that before I even started sewing so well over 20 years ago. I recommend you buy a new one. People frequently make threading mistakes that can seriously damage a machine and you don't want to deal with the repercussions of someone else's folly.

At this stage in your sewing hobby you need to be setting sewing challenges for yourself such as making ever more complicated garments and sewing for other people. You probably don't even have a lot of insight into what your dream sewing machine would be. You can get so much milage out of a basic model that does straight stitching and zigzag stitching. Start tucking away a little money in a serger fund and after you've been at it for a couple of years and have confidence that this is a long time hobby for you then you can buy a serger. And when you first sew knits on your very own serger you will weep for joy!
Title: Re: Sewing machines/sergers
Post by: StarryC on July 05, 2014, 10:33:44 PM
I'm another "wait" on the serger.    It does make things quicker and easier, but it isn't necessary.  You also might look into a "side cutter" attachment which can do sort of the same thing.  Also, a "narrow hem" foot.  Feet/attachments are cheap. 

If you keep the hobby up for 12 months, then I'd say go for it. 
Title: Re: Sewing machines/sergers
Post by: Cressida on July 06, 2014, 03:50:12 PM
Thanks everyone for the advice. I should say, I'm not a novice sewer - I've been quilting (that is, patchwork) for several years. When I said I wasn't that great a sewer, I meant that I pretty much sew straight stitches in straight lines and that's about it. The class I'm taking is a beginner class, but I'm still learning a lot because we're making bags and skirts and other things that I don't have experience with.

My sewing machine is actually reasonably fancy (I bought it, before Mustachianism, thinking I would do free-motion quilting, which turns out I suck at). So it does have a variety of overlock and overcast stitches. But compared to the serger, they look terrible and take forever. That's why I'd like to have one, in a perfect world.

I think I'll wait for now, and see if I can make my regular machine work for me.