Understanding Differential Feed on a Serger: Mastering the Art of Finishing

Have you ever wondered how professional sewists achieve those perfectly finished edges on their garments? The secret lies in understanding the differential feed feature of a serger. Often regarded as a complex mechanism, differential feed is actually a powerful tool that can transform your sewing projects. In this article, we will delve the world of differential feed, demystifying its functions and possibilities. By the end, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge to unlock the true potential of your serger.

What is Differential Feed?

At its core, differential feed refers to the ability of a serger to independently control the movement of its two sets of feed dogs. These feed dogs work in tandem to transport the fabric through the machine, ensuring the stitches are formed evenly. Differential feed allows you to adjust the feeding ratio between the front and back feed dogs, giving you control over the fabric’s handling. This feature proves invaluable when working with different types of fabrics, knits, or challenging materials.

How Does Differential Feed Work?

The differential feed system operates by adjusting the speed of the front and back feed dogs relative to each other. When the two feed dogs move at an equal pace, the fabric is fed through smoothly and evenly. However, by altering the ratio between them, you can create unique effects and overcome common sewing challenges.

The two main settings associated with differential feed are the stitch length and the differential ratio. The stitch length determines the distance between each stitch, while the differential ratio controls the ratio between the front and back feed dogs’ movement.

The Versatility of Differential Feed

Achieving Perfectly Rolled Hems

One of the most remarkable applications of the differential feed feature is the ability to create beautifully rolled hems. By adjusting the differential ratio to a lower value (such as 0.7), the front feed dog moves slightly faster than the back feed dog. This causes the fabric to be slightly stretched, resulting in a neatly rolled edge. This technique is particularly effective for lightweight fabrics such as chiffon or silk, providing a professional finish to your garments or home decor projects.

Taming Knits and Stretch Fabrics

Working with stretchy fabrics can be challenging due to their tendency to pucker or stretch unevenly during the sewing process. However, with differential feed, conquering knits becomes a breeze. By setting a higher differential ratio (1.2 to 1.5), the back feed dog moves faster than the front feed dog, allowing the fabric to be gathered slightly. This helps prevent the fabric from stretching or curling, resulting in smooth, even stitches. Whether you’re sewing activewear, swimwear, or comfortable loungewear, the differential feed on your serger will be your loyal companion.

Managing Troublesome Fabrics

Differential feed also proves invaluable when working with fabrics that tend to slip, slide, or fray easily. For example, delicate fabrics like satin or lace can be challenging to sew without the proper adjustments. By slightly increasing the differential ratio, the back feed dog can exert more control over the fabric, minimizing fraying and keeping the layers aligned.


As we’ve explored the world of differential feed, it’s clear that this feature is an indispensable tool for achieving professional finishes and overcoming common sewing challenges. By understanding and leveraging the differential feed capabilities of your serger, you can establish yourself as a master of the craft.

Remember, experimentation is key! By adjusting the differential ratio and stitch length, you can unleash an array of possibilities. So go ahead, take your sewing projects to new heights by harnessing the power of differential feed!

“Differential feed is the secret ingredient that separates amateur finishes from professional mastery.” 

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only. Always refer to your serger’s manual and undertake appropriate testing and adjustments to ensure optimal results.

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