I know that a serger can be a difficult item to justify buying. I mean, yeah, it just finishes edges. And if you were just starting out learning to sew I wouldn't recommend buying one. Often I get along without it. But if you're going to be selling anything on etsy or giving things as gifts it's a GREAT item to have. Plus the feeling of putting on a homemade garment without a whole bunch of stringies hanging off the inside is immeasurable.
But also, if you are in a hurry, having a serger can save oodles of time. For instance, one Christmas I had the family over but didn't have enough placemats. In just under 20 minutes I cut rectangles out of scrap fabric and serged a 'rolled hem' over the edges in a contrasting color. They looked like I had bought them in a store.
Here are a few tips I would recommend for those of you thinking of buying a serger.
1. If you can afford to, get a serger with 5 threads. This will make a chain stitch and coverstitch. A chain stitch will exclude a lot of your sewing machine usage. It's basically a long stitch next to your overlocking threads. If you ever used a serger you know that you must sew your pieces together and then serge the edges. Otherwise your seams open a bit and show all your overlocking threads. And that's no good.
A coverstitch is what is seen in the hems. Mostly knits. It's basically what looks like two parallel lines on the top sides but underneath is an overlocked stitch. Instead of overlocking the edges and then going back and hemming the fabric, the overlock stitch will do this all at once, at the same time. Neato.
2. DON'T exclude buying a used or off-brand one. I bought mine off Craigslist. It was brand new in the box and only $150. I think I got a good deal. Although it didn't come with a cover stitch feature which I probably would have made a priority if I would have known better. But if you have a little more $$$$ to spend I would recommend searching Craigslist or ebay for a used newer model Babylock serger with all the best features for waaaay cheaper than retail.
3. Get at least four threads.
4. Don't give up on threading your machine. I won't paint any illusions for you. It's a b**ch to thread a serger. Whenever my thread snaps I feel like crying. Fingers don't seem to fit in the tiny spaces you must fit the threads through. It's always helpful to have a DVD that comes with your serger. If you bought a used serger that didn't come with a DVD I recommend searching youtube for a video on how to thread a serger. Maybe use the keywords of your serger's brand.
5. Now for those of you lucky enough to justify spending a lot of money or just plain rich I recommend getting a serger with an automatic jet stream threader. Babylock makes sergers that do this. That way you don't have to ever worry about the whole threading debacle. I've never seen one in person but from what I've read one touch of a lever and the thread is jet-aired through the tubular loopers. Also the thread tension automatically adjusts itself so you don't have to worry about choosing the correct tension. Like a dream.
My two cents on serging. Hope it helps some of you who might have been in the dark about purchasing one!