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What Is the Difference Between an Overlock and Coverstitch Machine?

Callum MacPherson / October 06, 2023

A common question we hear time and time again is ‘What is the difference between an overlocker and a coverstitch machine?’. To the untrained eye, both machines can appear almost identical in appearance and function, but their uses and features are vastly different.
Read more as we discuss what overlock and coverstitch machines are, what they do, and what the key differences are between the two. We also look at the pros and cons of overlock vs coverstitch for those unsure which machines may be best for them, or how they can enhance at-home sewing machine projects.


Overlock vs Coverstitch Sewing Machines

What Is an Overlock Machine?

An overlock/serger machine is a specialised sewing machine, capable of producing professional finishes on sewing projects or garments, similar to the finish you would see on ready-to-wear garments.
Overlockers work by locking in the raw edges of the fabric, using a blade to trim excess fabric, and cutting seam allowance, ideal for use with our PFAFF magnetic seam guide. Using up to five threads and two loopers, the overlock will then create its iconic overcast stitches. This type of finish helps to prevent the seams from fraying and creates long-lasting, durable seams.
Typically, an overlocker will have between three and five threads, depending on the model. The number of threads used depends on the finish you are hoping to achieve.

  • A three-threaded overlock is capable of creating simple, yet sturdy seams.
  • A four-threaded overlock is ideal for creating stretchy seams.
  • A five-threaded overlock creates robust seams for increased security.


Serger vs overlocker, what are the differences?

The terms overlocker and serger often go hand in hand, both seemingly interchangeable as they reference the same machine. However, there are two notable differences between the two.
  • ‘Serger’ is a popular term for an overlock machine in North America, while in European countries, the term ‘overlock’ is favoured.
  • While overlock machines can come with up to five threads, a serger can have up to eight threads, increasing its range and versatility.

What are the benefits of an overlock machine?

  • It simultaneously trims fabric and creates sturdy, long-lasting edges for a variety of materials.
  • Its multiple thread and needle options allow for greater versatility and creativity.

What are the disadvantages of an overlock machine?

  • An overlocker with multiple threads and needles can make the machine more complex to operate.

What can you make with an overlocker?

An overlocker is predominantly used to finish knit garments, but can be used to finish a variety of materials, including cotton, silk, leather, and even denim.
It can be ideal for gathers and ruffles, home décor projects, stretchy knits, and finishing sheer fabrics such as sheer, chiffon, and silks, which can be tricky. An overlock can also achieve seam techniques such as pin tucks and flatlock seams, and create decorative edges. As the looper eyes are larger than the eyes of regular sewing machine needles, they can accommodate more decorative thread.


What is a coverstitch machine?

A coverstitch is another specialised sewing machine, creating professional quality, smart hems, typically found on garments. It can be identified by its double-row topstitch, and serger-like chain stitch on the back. This type of stitch allows for flexibility and manoeuvrability without breaking the stitches.
Depending on the number of needles you use on a coverstitch machine will affect the number of seam rows you will achieve. Each number of needles has its own purpose.
  • One needle coverstitches are ideal for creating simpler stitches on thinner fabrics.
  • Two needles will produce a classic double-row coverstitch, found on most mass-produced garments like t-shirts, and tops.
  • Three needles will create a more complex, yet sturdier coverstitch, perfect for thicker fabrics and hems that may come under more stress.
A coverstitch does not have a blade to trim excess fabric, but its range of more advanced stitches creates an altogether more versatile machine.

What are the benefits of a coverstitch?

  • Creates professional-looking finishes.
  • It has fewer thread and needle options making it a simpler machine to operate.

What are the disadvantages of a coverstitch?

  • A coverstitch can only be used for hemming and creating decorative stitches, limiting its use.
  • It requires a specific coverstitch thread to avoid tension issues which may cause the needle to break.

What can you make with a coverstitch machine?

As a coverstitch comes with more advanced stitches, it is ideal for projects that include decorative features such as garments and home décor, as well as any projects using stretchy fabrics such as activewear, lingerie, and swimwear.
It is also ideal for attaching elasticated material, knitwear, cuffs, neckbands, and other trims for garments.


So, what are the main differences between an overlock vs a coverstitch machine?

  • Overlockers make chain-like stitches that look very similar on both sides, while a coverstitch produces a straight row of stitches on one side, and a chain-like stitch on the other.
  • The main function of an overlocker is to trim excess seam allowance while sewing a run of neat stitches. A coverstitch is predominantly for hemming finishes garment edges, and creating decorative finishes.
  • An overlocker can use up to three or four needles, while a coverstitch can only use up to three needles.

What are the similarities between a coverstitch vs a serger?

  • Both are used for specific purposes that cannot be performed by a general sewing machine.
  • Both specialised machines use multiple threads, typically using three or four threads at a time.
  • Both commonly use two needles.
  • Both an overlock vs a coverstitch have loopers that go back and forth on the inside of the machine, making the chain of stitches.


Whether you’re looking to expand your repertoire of sewing projects with a specialised sewing machine, or can’t decide whether an overlock or coverstitch machine is best for you, having an understanding of the differences between an overlock and coverstitch machine and their key functions should help make a choice that little bit easier. Our range of Bernina and PFAFF overlockers and coverstitch machines provide a breadth of uses, with prices to suit all budgets.

Just beginning your journey with an overlocker or coverstitch? Our fantastic workshops and training sessions are ideal for giving you a confidence boost in your own knowledge and skills. Check out our overlock machine training with teas, coffees, and free machine rental included!