I often get emails from new sewers asking for advice on buying a serger. I've done posts about sergers before, but I've never done one that specifically addresses buying your first serger. So here it is:
First off, this article is intended for novice sewers who have never purchased a serger and have very basic sewing skills. Advanced sewers have completely different needs so this article probably wont be applicable.
There are too many brands for me to go down the list and do an in-depth review of each one - besides, I've never used half of them. What I can do is give you some advice that will help out with the basics of the first-time buying process.
I tend to over-simplify things, but the way I see it you have two options. You can either buy a new serger or a used one.
Let's start with buying a new serger. For your first serger I think it's a good idea to start off with a cheaper machine. Yes, I said it. Buy a CHEAP machine to start. Have you ever searched for sergers on Craigslist or Ebay? You know all those high-end machines you see on those sites for half price? They all say, "perfect condition, only used once." Those people didn't start out with cheap machines. The truth is, most people don't turn out to be awesome sewers right away and they're not willing to practice. Be honest with yourself. If you're just starting out do you really need a $2000 machine? If you don't like it you're gonna have to sell it at a huge loss, whereas if you buy a $200 machine you can probably resell it for $150 (a very small loss) if you don't like it.
What kind of CHEAP machine should you get?
Get a Sears machine. Don't get me wrong, Sears machines aren't very good, BUT if you pay the extra $50 for the maintenance agreement you can take it in anytime for repairs and tune-ups. I will warn you: the guys who service these things are not very good at what they do so you'll have to take it in three or four times for each repair. But it's free. The Sears machine will cost you about $200 - the same as a Target or Joanns machine. But you don't get the maintenance agreement on the Target or Joanns machine.
What about all those other $200-$400 machines, should I buy one of those?
No. The Sears warranty is invaluable. The bells and whistles on the Super-EZ-Stitch-2000 might look cool, but when they break you're sure going to hate paying an average of $75-150 to get it fixed. As far as cheap machines go, it's Sears or nothing. Think about it this way: when you get that new machine home you're going to want to play with all the fun settings, and there's a good chance you'll mess them all up. If you bought the Target or Joanns machine - forget about it. It's done. The thing will sit in the closet until you pay someone to adjust all the settings or you throw it out. With the Sears machine (if you buy the maintenance agreement) you just take it in and tell them it isn't sewing properly. They'll reset everything for free and even replace parts if needed.
But I found this really neat-o machine on Ebay and the description says it's the same as a $2000 machine, but since it's made by a sister company they're selling for $199 - and it's new in the box: should I get it?
Okay, sure. Ebay sellers are usually the most honest people in the world. Just kidding. I'm telling you - stick with Sears for your first machine. If you get the maintenance agreement you'll get your money's worth out of it. Quit trying to find a better deal and just go with a Sears machine.
What do you think about used machines?
I think you can probably score a great deal on a used machine at an estate sale. Don't be afraid to haggle on the price. But, before you go shopping, get to know the name brands because, at an estate sale or on Craigslist, you should NOT buy a cheap-o machine. You can find a high quality name brand one for the same price as the crappy one. But, since you're getting such a good price I think you should invest a few dollars and take it into a local repair shop for oiling and adjusting.
Should I get a machine with all kinds of options? More is better, right?
To start out I think it's best to go with a more basic machine. You gotta walk before you can run. Keep it simple, learn how to use the basic features really well, then worry about the advanced options later. Superfluous features add to the cost and they add to the list of things that could go wrong. Remember, you're just starting out, be logical.
Do I need a 4 or a 5 thread serger?
You really only need a 4 thread machine. The 5th thread is an added option that most novices wont need. A 4 thread machine will serve as a great starting point for most beginners.
I didn't read the article, I just skipped to the conclusion. What's your conclusion?
Don't buy a new expensive machine. If you're buying new start out with a Sears machine, but be sure to buy the maintenance agreement. If you're buying used, don't buy a cheap machine, go with a good one. But be sure to get it serviced. Start out with a simpler 4 thread machine. You don't need an elaborate 5 thread right away.