Book Reviews: Sergers

Although I have been sewing a lot since Thanksgiving, it has been mostly gift sewing, so I won’t be posting pictures until after the holidays.  So I apologize for the excessive number of book and skating posts of late, but I hope to have at least one more finished object (aside from gift sewing) to post before the end of the year.  In any case, as I may have rambled, bragged, and gone on about, I now have a serger.  And, as such, I also have gotten a few serger books that have been quite helpful in figuring out what’s what and when and where and why it is used.  The first book I am going to review is Successful Serging: From Setup to Simple and Specialty Stitches by Beth Baumgartel.

Successful Serging is actually a wire bound book, which is great because it easily lays flat when you want to use it as reference, but it also has a soft cover over the wires, so they stay neat and tidy without mangling any other books on the shelf.  The book starts by discussing what a serger is, what it does, how it forms stitches, and why it is good to have one in addition to a regular sewing machine.  It goes on to discuss thread and threading, tension, and the best uses for the various types of serger thread.  The book then discusses the types of stitches a serger can make, and their best applications.  It gives practical advice for dealing with corners and curves and how best to operate the machine.  The book also discusses cleaver ways to use the serger in garment construction (various types of hems, etc.), as well as how to do some decorative trims and “heirloom serging.”  Finally, it discusses problem fabrics and how to deal with them, as well as potential troubleshooting in the back.

The images in this book are in color, although most of the useful images are drawn diagrams, with the photographs being mostly for decoration.  I actually like this, as I find the diagrams easy to see and understand.  Also, the writing in this book is fairly basic and simplified, while still having enough detail to be useful.  I would say that this book is an excellent resource, especially for a new serger owner.  While it can’t replace the necessity of having the serger’s manual at hand, this book can provide ideas and advice about how to best use the serger to full advantage.  I feel that it is rather comprehensive without being too full of information as to be overwhelming.  All in all it is an excellent book and I highly recommend it.

The second book I want to review is Serger Secrets: High Fashion Techniques for Creating Great-Looking Clothes by Mary Griffin, Pam Hastings, Agnes Mercik, Linda Lee Vivian, and Barbara Weiland.

Serger Secrets is broken into four main sections: (1) information about the mechanics of sergers, proper needles, thread, how to deal with thread tension, and stitch variations, (2) garment gallery showing how various serger techniques can be used in practice, (3) technique guide with step-by-step instructions, and (4) troubleshooting tips. All of the images in this book are color photographs, which can be helpful for seeing visual comparisons between different types of serger thread or seeing how a technique looks in a finished design.  While I may have to point out that some of their example garments may not be the most inspiring to look at, they do do an excellent job of highlighting the desired techniques.

With this book I think what comes through most clearly is the enthusiasm that the authors have for the creative use of a serger.  I think the reader of the book will definitely feel encouraged to find new and interesting uses for their serger.  To me the first section of the book felt a bit cluttered – too much information laid out in a less than logical manner.  The writing itself was quite comprehensible and informative, but the page layout did feel a bit crowded at times.  However, I do very much appreciate the photographic comparisons of various stitches and various threads.  This section of the book is quite helpful in deciding which threads and stitch functions are most appropriate for various sewing and designs.  The second section of the book (garment gallery) is fine, but I did not find the designs particularly inspiring myself.  I actually thought the third section (step-by-step techniques) were more inspiring in terms of ideas for incorporating the serger into my own designs.  I thought the techniques section (which covers everything from simple overcasting and serging a seam to using the serger to install zippers and creating new fabric with heirloom techniques) was quite exhaustive and I think it will be an excellent resource.  It did, however, leave me wishing I had a coverstitch machine, which wasn’t in the original serger budget, but definitely something I must consider for the future.  Overall this book is an excellent resource, and I would highly recommend it as well.

As far as comparison between these two books, I would say at this point I favor Successful Serging over Serger Secrets.  I find that the first book has a cleaner layout with easier to read instructions, and is more to the point.  For some reason I found the layout in Secrets a bit more confusing, perhaps due to the density of information on each page.  However, I will say that as I learn to use my serger I expect that Serger Secrets will become the more useful book as it contains more techniques and step-by-step instructions than Sucessful Serging.  In general I would say Successful Serging is the perfect book to get as a first time serger owner/user.  Its clarity and layout make it very easy to use as a reference.  I would recommend Serger Secrets to someone who has used a serger for a while and wants to expand their knowledge of techniques.  Overall both of the books are very helpful and I am glad to have both of them in my sewing reference library.  As with any serger, the official manual is the most important piece of literature, but both of these books help the seamstress move beyond basic operation to get the most of the machine.  I highly recommend both of them, although I don’t think it is necessary to own both books as many of the basics and some of the techniques are covered in both books.  Really, I think it depends of preference of the reader.  If you want a book to help ease the initial confusion associated with owning a serger, with simple, clear instructions and a few suggested techniques to get you started, Successful Serging is for you.  On the other hand, if you prefer photographs to diagrams, want more detailed instructions and challenging techniques then you would probably be best served with Serger Secrets.

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