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Sergercore: The DIY Sewing Trend That Margiela and Shein Have in Common

Photo: Courtesy of Rhi Dancey

A trend without a name has, for the past few years, spread throughout the fashion industry: exposed, decorative seams sewn on a machine called a serger (also known as an overlock machine), a style I’ve been calling “sergercore.” You are probably wearing serged seams right now: Turn your T-shirt inside out and look for two straight lines of stitching with an interlocking wiggle of thread between them. Sergercore puts these seams on the outside of the garment or uses them to finish a hem without hiding it behind a fold. (The technique is a cousin of the lettuce hem, which involves serging a stretch fabric with settings adjusted to create a ruffle.)

Once you start looking for sergercore, it’s everywhere: from a Shein motif to a Café Forgot hallmark, often with little chains of thread left untrimmed. In 2018, Baserange began making tees with serged seams snaking down their front, tracing the paths of rivers in scribbles of colorful thread. There are precedents — for example, Ganni prairie dresses trimmed in contrasting black serging — but I date the the trend’s current iteration, characterized by bright, contrasting colors, patchworking, and a self-consciously DIY affect, to around 2018, when the brand Yard666Sale began selling tops made out of patterned socks stitched together with a serger, like a chaotic scene-kid take on quilting. Another factor was the popularization and dissemination online of the aesthetic signifiers of independent fashion, in particular by the boutique Café Forgot, which carried designers like Merritt Meacham, the creator of a distinctive snap-sleeved cardigan with serged hems; Helena Manzano; and Nicole Van Vuuren, at the vanguard of the serged-together patchwork mesh tee.

Like many trends before it, sergercore is the product of designers getting creative within material limits. The overlock machine was invented by the Merrow Machine Company in Connecticut in the late-19th century, designed to speed up the process of finishing the raw edges of knit blouses, socks, sweaters, gloves, and underwear, which previously had to be done by hand. The machine’s use was primarily industrial until the mid-century, according to Dr. Preeti Arya, a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, when rationing and wartime production practices created a demand for home versions of factory machines. Baby Lock and Juki — two popular contemporary manufacturers — launched their first miniature at-home sergers in 1968 and 1978, respectively.

Although serging is a quick and utilitarian way to put together a garment, the machine is still something of a specialty item. Sergers are known for having a steep learning curve — they can be finicky and jam prone and are complicated to thread — and they have fewer applications than a traditional sewing machine. Still, many emerging designers are choosing sergers over more broadly practical tools. Rhi Dancey, founder of the eponymous brand, began making lingerie and loungewear from her one-bedroom apartment at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, sewing on a serger she’d bought while studying menswear in college that was set up on her kitchen countertop. (She used a zigzag machine for sewing elastic.) Even after renting a studio space and hiring workers to help expand production, she says, the sergers are still essential. “I just find it so much easier to use,” she says. “With a serger, I was able to translate what I had in my head into a garment a lot quicker.”

This ease of translation, I think, accounts for the style’s popularity among designers, and it creates the sense among consumers that sergercore garments are uniquely whimsical, innovative, and plain fun. You can’t make a traditionally finished gown or suit using only a serger, but once you get comfortable with the machine, you can actualize a zany idea for a T-shirt in no time. “It gives people with no practice a lot of freedom,” says Arya. “It goes fast, and you don’t have to worry about perfection.”

Photo: Retailer

This Merritt Meacham top — an exemplar of the recent cardigans-hanging-by-a-thread trend — has hems finished with serged stitching.

Photo: Retailer

Baserange’s Pam bra features an asymmetrical line of neon-green serging.

Photo: Retailer

Designer Helena Manzano brings a higher level of technical precision to her serged garments, which she refers to as a “3-D stripe.”

$60 for 4
Photo: Retailer

The serged hem adds a contrasting color to an airbrush-patterned textile.

This sheer bra top from Kits has contrasting serged seams and hems.

Photo: Retailer

This on-sale MM6 dress features exposed serged seams at the sides and back.

Photo: Retailer

This crazy-quilt bag by sergercore innovator Luna del Pinal is made of serged-together fabric scraps. [Editor’s note: The price is an estimated conversion of euros to U.S. dollars.]

Photo: Retailer

Eliza Faulkner’s most recent collection uses narrow lines of serging to trace the edges of a kerchief.

Dancey produces limited-edition tees with digital prints designed by artists; this one is by painter Louisa Haban. [Editor’s note: The price is an estimated conversion of pounds to U.S. dollars.]

Photo: Retailer

Australian brand Maroske Peech, recently featured on Euphoria, makes this lettuce-edge “butterfly” blouse-and-skirt set in several colors. [Editor’s note: The price at Maroske Peech is an estimated conversion of AUD to USD. Maroske Peech has a wider size range in stock but ships from Australia.]

Photo: Retailer

The evening gown of sergercore.

Juki makes an industry-favorite serger, and this home model has rave reviews.

Photo: Retailer

This less-expensive serger is a great beginner machine and comes with a color-coded threading guide.

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The DIY Sewing Trend That Margiela and Shein Have in Common