What is a coverstitch machine? Some people call them coverstitch sergers, but that’s a misnomer. It’s not a serger at all, but the two types of machines share a few features.
The truth is, a coverstitch machine is a specialized piece of equipment available for very specific sewing tasks. Before you buy one, you need to ensure that you require such a specialized machine.
What Is a Coverstitch Machine?
It’s easy to mistake a coverstitch machine for a serger. They both sew with multiple needles and threads, and some models look a lot alike on the outside, but they’re different within.
A serger’s main function is creating overlocked seams. This kind of sewing machine works strictly on the edges of seams and fabric.
A coverstitcher, on the other hand, doesn’t sew on fabric edges. Its main job is topstitching.
There is a bit of overlap in function. For example, both types of machines can hem garments. But even when they do perform the same kinds of tasks, the two machines perform them differently. And the results look quite different, too.
Serger vs. Coverstitch Machine: Similarities
There are some similarities, both in features and functions, so it’s understandable that one might mistake one for the other.
Multiple needles and threads
Both machines use multiple needles and multiple threads. As a result, both are capable of producing strong, stretchy, stress-bearing seams.
A regular sewing machine uses a needle-guided top thread and a bottom thread that comes from a bobbin.
But overlockers and coverstitchers don’t have a bobbin. Instead, they have loopers. Looper threads interact with needle threads to create each machine’s stitches.
You can see loopers in action below.
A regular sewing machine has one set of feed dogs, which guide the fabric under the needle and through the machine.
Sergers and coverstitch sergers have two sets of feed dogs.
The differential feed mechanism allows you to adjust each set of feed dogs’ speed relative to the other.
Adjusting the relative feed dog speed creates different stretching or compression amounts in the fabric while you’re sewing. That’s particularly helpful when you’re working with knits and stretchy fabrics.
Serger vs. Coverstitch Machine: Differences
How can two such similar-looking pieces of equipment be so different?
Most modern sergers have two needles. But most coverstitch machines have three needles.
A serger has two loopers that loop thread around the fabric edges, but a coverstitch machine has one looper.
Plus, the looper of a coverstitch machine doesn’t overcast. Instead, it creates a chain stitch on the wrong side of the fabric.
No cutting knife
A serger has a knife, sometimes two, which trims the fabric edges while you sew.
Because a coverstitch machine is a topstitching tool rather than an edging tool, you won’t need to trim your seam edges.
So, a coverstitch machine has no cutting blade.
A coverstitch machine sews on top of the fabric rather than on the edges. That means you will often need more room on the right side of the needles to accommodate fabric. Not only that, but a coverstitch machine has more workspace to the right of the needles.
A coverstitch machine can make a chain stitch, but a serger can’t. Keep in mind; a chain stitch is the key ingredient of a coverstitch. And you can use a chain stitch for basting, making seams, and for decoration.
What Can You Do with a Coverstitch Machine?
Although there is some overlap between sergers, coverstitchers, and regular sewing machines, they’re not interchangeable.
A cover stitch machine can do a lot of things that neither a serger nor a regular sewing machine can do. And even when the different machines can do the same task, they each do it a bit differently.
A cover stitch consists of two or three straight sewing lines on the right side of the fabric, connected by a chain stitch on the back.
You can use topstitching for hemming, attaching collars, and decorations.
You can use both a serger and a coverstitch machine for hemming, but the hems are a bit different.
A coverstitch machine makes a hem by topstitching over the right side of the fabric with the raw edge turned up against the wrong side.
The right side of the article will show one or more lines of straight stitching. On the reverse, the connecting chain stitches will bind off the raw fabric edge.
Working with knits and stretchy fabrics
It can be difficult to create flat, even seams and hems with knit and stretchy fabrics. This type of fabric is prone to bunching and puckering around the stitches, and the resulting seams can be wavy or warped.
Adjusting the differential feed can help you prevent bunching and puckering. And if you want to gather or stretch your fabric — for example, if you’re making ruffles — then the differential feed can help you do that, too.
You can do decorative sewing with a coverstitch machine, a serger, or a regular sewing machine. But each type of machine will create different decorations using different techniques.
You won’t use a coverstitcher for embroidery stitches, decorative edgings, or making your own lace. However, you can use it to:
- Make a decorative chain stitch
- Create ruffles
- Make pleats
- Create decorative parallel stitching rows
The chain stitch is one of the things that makes a coverstitch machine what it is.
In fact, a chain stitch is an essential part of a cover stitch, but you can use it by itself, much like a straight stitch. You can use a chain stitch alone to:
- Baste seams
- Make construction seams
- Decorate the top of fabric
What Can’t a Coverstitch Machine Do?
No tool can do it all, though some come close. Here are a few things you won’t be doing with a coverstitcher.
A serger sews one or two parallel lines of straight stitches then casts thread around the seam edges to seal them.
Coverstitch machines do not overcast, and they cannot produce overlock stitches.
Coverstitch machines sew on top of the fabric, not on the edges. So, you won’t make lettuce edges with your coverstitch machine.
Making your own lace
It’s really easy to make a lace edge trim using your serger.
But because a coverstitch machine doesn’t sew on fabric edges, you can’t use it for this purpose.
Do You Need a Coverstitch Machine?
If you’re a hobbyist or general home sewist, probably not.
It’s always fun to buy new equipment, but coverstitchers can be on the pricey side. And the truth is that you can often perform the same tasks with a regular sewing machine.
But there are circumstances under which a cover stitch machine can be exactly the right thing, including:
- If you have a small business making garments or housewares
- You sew primarily with knits
- You have money, space in your shop, and a burning desire to learn a new technology
How to Choose a Coverstitch Machine
If you’ve decided that a cover stitch machine is in your future, here are a few things to look for.
Number of threads
Most coverstitch machines sew with two, three, and four threads, and some can sew with five or more. If you intend to work primarily with heavy fabrics, look for a machine that can sew with four or more threads.
Differential feed range
The differential feed range means the range of stretch and compression that your differential feed mechanism can deliver.
Most cover stitch machines and sergers have a differential feed range of 0.5 to 2.25. Some, however, have a greater range than that.
The larger the range, the more control you’ll have overstretch and compression.
Automatic tension adjustment
Adjusting the tension of the different threads is one way in which you can create different stitches. It sounds straightforward but can be complicated until you get used to it.
Some machines have automatic tension adjustment that takes the guesswork out of making the stitches you want to make.
Automatic tension release
Some users find it difficult to remove their work from a coverstitch machine when their stitching is complete. And automatic tension release makes it easy.
You’re only going to find this feature on premium machines, but it’s still worth mentioning.
Threading sergers is a royal pain in the neck. Threading a cover stitch machine is slightly easier, as it has half the number of loopers.
But there’s still a learning curve.
Machines with air threading thread themselves using a clever combination of tubes and compressed air.
And if you’ve ever torn your hair out trying to thread loopers, we don’t have to tell you the value of a self-threading machine.
A coverstitch machine is primarily for hemming. But hemming includes small work like cuffs. You might also want to topstitch collars.
A free arm machine allows you to remove part of the machine’s base to access a smaller, circular workspace essential for this type of work.
But what if you want a larger workspace?
A coverstitch machine is like a serger in some places and like a regular sewing machine in other places.
One of those places is the throat space.
Because a coverstitcher has no cutting blade, it can accommodate fabric on the needle’s right side. Look for as much space in this area as you can get.
Manufacturers like to include packages of accessories that can help you get the most out of your sewing machine. Here are a few of our must-haves.
Unless you have a self-threading machine, a pair of tweezers is a lifesaver.
Even though a coverstitch machine has only one looper, the path the thread will take to get through that looper is tricky.
What’s more, the thread guides may be difficult to access. Threading tweezers can make it a lot easier.
Some coverstitch machines use special machine needles. Others may be able to use regular sewing machine needles.
For machines that need special needles, manufacturers will often include a few extras in the accessories package.
Thread cones have a lot of thread — thousands of yards instead of hundreds. And they can come unwound very easily.
Thread nets, or spool savers, hold the thread in place when you’re not sewing and can save you money as well as aggravation.
Most people use cone thread with their coverstitch machines rather than spool thread. Yard for yard, it’s cheaper.
But some people still prefer spool thread. So a coverstitch machine’s thread stand can accommodate both spool and cone thread.
The spool pins are thin enough for spools. Of course, this means that they’re too thin to hold thread cones securely.
Cone adapters are inexpensive and easy to find. Still, it’s always a nice touch when a manufacturer includes a few with purchase.
What About Serger/Coverstitch Combos?
Sergers and coverstitchers are two different tools for two different kinds of sewing.
But what if you need both?
Most of us don’t have an unlimited equipment budget. And very few of us have unlimited space in our sewing rooms.
In these cases, a serger/coverstitch combo can provide a happy medium.
A combo machine (also called a coverlocker or hybrid machine) combines a coverstitcher and an overlocker elements.
The exact specifications can vary between models, but in general, hybrid machines include:
- Differential feed
- A cutting blade
- Chain stitching capability
- Overlocking capabilities
- Separate modes for overlocking and coverstitching
Hybrids come at a variety of price points, and the available features can vary widely. It’s important to research features and specs before you start shopping.
Are You Ready to Buy a Coverstitch Machine?
It’s wise to think hard about any large equipment purchase. But now you know what to look for.
Is there a coverstitch machine in your future? Tell us about your machine in the comments!