July 4, 2014 at 1:00 am

Handmade

Serger a handy tool for those who sew

Velda Kirby, right, helps student Vickie Nesom of Grosse Pointe thread her machine as Elfreda Joy, left, works on a sample piece during a 'Serger Basics' class in Dearborn. (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)

Do I need a serger? It’s a question I’ve asked myself over and over, wondering if the amount of sewing I do warrants such an investment. The more I consider sewing garments, the more I tend to think maybe it’s time to make that purchase, despite having been told by other individuals who sew that I can finish off those raw edges with a simple zigzag stitch.

However, still a bit uncertain, I decided to pose the question, “Who needs a serger?,” to local sewing expert Velda Kirby of Mio, who teaches a number of serger classes at the Material Girls in Dearborn.

Her immediate response: “Anybody that’s a crafter, or anyone making garments, especially garment sewers. It gives you a more professional finish inside. A serger does some things better than a sewing machine. I use my serger a lot when I’m doing evening wear. I use the rolled edge instead of French seams because it creates a nearly invisible seam in a sheer fabric, and it also does a great rolled edge for the hem at the bottom of an evening dress.”

OK, so I definitely need a serger, but how much should one spend on their first serger? Are the ones that sell for less than $200 worth bringing home? “Prices range anywhere from a couple hundred up into the thousands,” Kirby says. “There’s a serger for everybody and everybody’s budget. While Baby Lock is my preference, it’s not affordable for everyone. It just depends on how much you want to spend.”

Kirby, who’s been sewing professionally since 1983, also stresses the importance of doing a test “drive” before making your purchase. “Be sure you actually sit down and try a machine, unless you’re in a setting where you can’t. And, you should look at a lot of different brands, in a lot of price points,” she says. “It’s like driving a car — sometimes you like driving one better than the other.”

As someone who’s owned about a dozen sergers as needed equipment for the “small manufacturing” clothing business she once ran, Kirby says, “There are varying levels of sergers, but my preference is always going to be Baby Lock. (It) has a self-threading system that makes using the serger much more pleasant. You push a button and it will thread the lower and upper loopers. It also has a thread delivery system instead. That means there are no tension dials, so you don’t have four tension dials to adjust like you do on other sergers, which means you’re not adjusting it for (different) fabric. It also means I can take Pearl Crown, a heavy-weight decorative (cone) thread, and put it in my serger and I don’t have to adjust anything.”

So, just how much are those serger cones of thread? “There’s a wide range of prices for thread. You can go online and buy it, and you can also use spools of thread. Cone thread doesn’t come in a lot of colors,” Kirby says.

If, like me, you now feel you need a serger, and personal instructions for learning how to use your new sewing companion, then consider taking one of Kirby’s monthly “Serger Basics” classes at the Material Girls. “It’s easier to have someone actually show you how to use a serger because there are so many things a serger can do,” Kirby explains. For more details, contact Kirby at www.VeldaKirbyFacebook.com or visit the Material Girls’ website at materialgirl quilt.com.

(Please see my latest blog post at detroitnews.com/crafts for a review of the book “Serge It! 24 Fun & Fresh Projects to Sew with Your Serger” (Lark/$19.95) by Jenny Doh and Cynthia Shaffer.)

Detroit News Staff Writer Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150 or jbrown@detroitnews.com.

Sample of a 4 Thread Overlock stitch. (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)