7 Differences between sewing machine and overlock machine

Many people normally ask to know the difference between a sewing machine and an overlock machine. These two machines complement each other and do almost the same thing but a closer look will make you see the difference.  A sewing machine and an overlock machine are almost very similar but there are differences between them.

Are you planning to venture into the world of sewing? If yes, then there is a lot you need to comprehend first before you proceed. For instance, it is very important to know the difference between a sewing machine and an overlock machine. An overlock machine is a completely different equipment from a sewing machine in-terms of functionality.

A newbie in the world of sewing would think that the two machines are (sewing machine and an overlock machine) are one and the same thing but that’s actually not the case. Before you end up buying a sewing machine thinking that it is an overlock machine, it would be wise to start by differentiating the two.

Overlock machines and sewing machines are different. Some functions performed by overlock machines can also be done by sewing machines. Your sewing machine can also do somethings that your overlock machine cannot do. However, to have an excellent team of machines in your knitting projects, it is advisable to have an overlock machine and a sewing machine.

These two machines almost have the same features in-terms of construction and that’s why people sometime make costly mistakes of buying a sewing machine thinking that it is an overlock machine or the other way round.

To make it easy for you next time you go shopping for one of these machines, this guide looks at the differences between a sewing machine and an overlock machine.

Before looking at the differences between these machines, let’s start by comprehending what these machines are and what they do. By doing this, you’d be able to know if it’s worth investing in these machines.

What is an overlocker sewing machine?

This machine is also known as a serger. It is a special sewing machine. A serger specializes in knitting edges of a cloth to give neat and professional finish.

An overlock machine works by joining cloth edges using an overlock stitch to give professionally done edges. An overlock machine can take up to 8 cones of threads all at once to prevent fraying by looping the thread around the edge.Unlike overlock machines, sewing machines can only take up to 2 cones of thread at once which therefore means they are slower than overlock machines.

Overlock machines have loopers. These loopers loop the thread on the edge of the fabric which then prevents fraying. Overlock machines also have a blade. This blade works by trimming as the overlock machine stitches. These machines make knitting easy and quick especially for individuals with lots of knitting work. For a nice rolled hem, it is advisable to use an overlock machine over a sewing machine.

Because an overlock can take multiple cones of thread all at the same time, they make a durable and more professional seam than sewing machines.

Overlock machines are faster than sewing machines when encasing raw edges and trimming seam allowance. Their standard speed is normally 1700 stitches/minute.

There is also a difference between a serger and a sewing machine in-terms of functionality. While an overlock machine specializes in seaming and edging, some sewing machines come with a sewing and an overlock function to make them work like sergers.

What does an overlocker sewing machine do?

In general, sergers are designed to do a lot of things that sewing machines cannot do.

A serger can do more in one step than an ordinary sewing machine because the latter cannot trim, overcast and sew all in one step.

For sewing machines, there is usually a wide variety of functions to be performed compared to sergers. While overlock machines are specialized in edging and seaming using overlocks, sewing machines can do more including decorative stitching and also creating button holes, sewing zippers and more.

Before we look at the differences, let’s look at similarities between these machines.

As we said earlier, a serger can actually do a lot of things than a sewing machine. For instance, a serger:

  • Can do neat piping
  • Can do fabric gathering
  • Can do a narrow hem

Some of the strengths of a serger include doing professional and neat finishes. However, it cannot replace a sewing machine in all sewing projects.

For instance when sewing, you’ll still need a sewing machine to do topstitching, zippers, buttonholes and facings.

If you are thinking or planning to buy a serger, there are some few things you need to keep in mind.

  • If it’s your first attempt in the world of sewing, you need to get a sewing machine first and learn its basics before you add a serger.
  • To make your projects easier and faster especially when doing a lot of knitting, you’ll need to add a serger.
  • To have finished edges and professional work it would be wise to add a serger.

Depending on the quality of overlocks you need, you can either go for a sewing machine or an overlock. A sewing machine can as well do quality edges and most people usually get contented with its quality of work.

Differences between a sewing machine and overlock machine

  • The speed of an overlock machine is faster than an ordinary sewing machine. An overlock machine can produce neat and professional work about half the time it would take a sewing machine.
  • The neck of a sewing machine is typically shorter than the neck of an overlock machine.
  • Sewing machines can only use up to 2 cones of thread at once while an overlock machine takes 3-8 cones of threads.
  • An overlock machine only allows one side serging (left side) while a sewing machine allows sewing your cloth from any side.
  • Sergers can do simultaneous work of reducing excess seam and binding fabrics. When it comes to sewing machines, you’ll first have to sew your cloth after cutting it.
  • Sewing machines tend to be more flexible than overlock as they allow any side sewing.
  • An overlock machine and a sewing machine can both do decorative stitching, but an overlock machine make some decorative stitching techniques look easier and simpler.

These are the main differences between these two machines. Hopefully, you’ll now be able decide which of the two to buy. But if you look closely, you’ll be able to notice that these machines almost do the same thing even though one looks more specialized than the other.

If you are wondering if you need these machines to do your knitting projects, one thing you need to know is that it would depend on what you need to do. You can do many projects using a sewing machine but if you need professional and neat finishes, you’ll have to get yourself an overlock machine.

If you are new in the world of sewing, it would be wise to start with a sewing machine as you gain experience and add a serger at a time when you’ll see its need.

When to use an overlock machine over a sewing machine

If your work entails a lot of knitting, it would be wise to buy an overlock machine because it is faster compared to a sewing machine. To complete projects that entail edging, hemming and seaming faster, the best machine would be a serger.

For instance, it would take a short time using an overlock machine in hemming pants compared to using a sewing machine.

Overlock machines are easier, quicker and are always the best when eliminating unnecessary fabric that sewing machines can’t eliminate.

An overlock machine has a better stitch, durable and stronger compared to a sewing machine.

A project that entails hemming pants would require using an overlock machine instead of a sewing machine. If you were to use a sewing machine, you’ll have to use a scissor to cut the bottom of the pant fast. After this, you’ll then have to zigzag it so as to prevent fraying then fold the seam allowance and iron it before folding it again.

If you were to do the same pant project using an overlock machine, all you’ll do is to serge the pants bottom, fold once and then topstitch it and you’re done.

When to use a sewing machine instead of an Overlock machine

A sewing machine is always the best when zipping, topstitching, creating decorative stitches and making buttonholes.

These functions cannot be performed by an overlock machine. These days, there are some sewing machines that come with additional features for overcasting and seaming edges. If you cannot afford an overlock machine, the best thing to do would be to buy a sewing machine capable of seaming and edging.

Such sewing machines come with an inbuilt attachment that enables them to do same function as an overlock machine. However one thing to note is that the quality of stitching by a sewing machine cannot match that of an overlock machine.

An overlock machine is always the best option for individuals with a lot of knitting work. Sewing machines on the other hand can produce good stitch quality that many people like.

These two machines make a great team if used together. They both have their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to knitting. While it’s recommended that starters in the sewing world begin by using a sewing machine as they gain necessary experience, those who have a lot of knitting work are required to add an overlock machine so as to complete their projects faster.

When planning to buy an overlock machine or a sewing machine, our expectations usually vary. There are different overlock machines and sewing machines in the market these days. Some sewing machines are more advanced than others. For instance some sewing machines support one cone of thread only while others can support up to 2.

It is important to decide what suits your needs and something that will help you complete your projects just the way you want them completed.

Do you really need an overlock machine to do your sewing?

When sewing, an overlock machine is not a required machine. You can instead use a sewing machine especially if not looking for quality stitching.

Overlock machines do make life easier these days when it comes to stitching due to their high speed and quality of work. This is the best machine that would make the inside of your items look like they are manufactured.

So as you plan to buy a sewing machine or an overlock machine, just make sure that you buy a machine that will have your work done just perfectly.



I'm Jessica Flores, a professional fashion designer and an expert seamstress. Crafting has always been a deep-seated passion of mine, one that has flourished and evolved over the years. I've dedicated considerable time to both studying and practicing in the realm of fashion and sewing, amassing a wealth of experience and skills. It brings me great joy to share these insights and experiences with you all, hoping to inspire and foster a similar passion for the art of sewing.