Sewing machine woes: Return and loan

This, for posterity and my non FB audience, is a rewrite of a bunch of short FB posts on progression of my sewing machine dramas. I hope I’ve caught all the necessary tense changes:

I woke up the morning after this post thinking that clunky feed dog thing was a deal breaker if it couldn’t be fixed. Sproingy clunk every time I touched the knee lever, which is every few seconds of sewing. So I called the shop and told them so. They said to bring it in so they can look at it. I felt better for having got to that point.

Then there was a weekend, during which I thought I’d better check carefully to get the best understanding of the problem I could manage.

So very glad I checked before going back to the sewing machine shop. The knee lever on my old machine *does* drop the feed dogs! I’d never noticed this in all those years! However it does so much more smoothly and quietly than the new machine, and doesn’t grab and shift the work.

A careful comparison of the two machines exposed this: Two main differences were pissing me off.
1. that the feed dogs on the 570 drop with a loud, spring like reverb, whereas the old one is almost silent.
2. the new one drops the feed dogs almost instantly on pushing the lever while the old one lowers them gradually, silently and recoverably for about half the range of lever movement. Only if one pushes past half way do the dogs drop fully and have to spring back when stitching resumes. which means one can partially lift the foot, swivel the work and resume without the feed dogs intefering with fabric position. Yup, got it.

On the following Monday I took the 570 back to the shop: “There is nothing wrong with it, they all do that, no one else has complained, we sell a lot of these, there is no adjustment or fix because it’s not broken”. I was just about in tears after this conversation. I raised the possibility of a return, which they brushed off. I asked them to check two things with Bernina for me.
1. Whether there was any way to adjust the knee lever action on the feed dogs, including deactivating it.
2. If there is a needle plate available for this machine with metric seam markings at the front.
While they did this, I left the machine in the shop. I knew that if I took it with me, I might not have had the nerve to go back. Then I went and visited some friends for a couple of hours.

The answer to both questions was no. Argh. After some angst ridden thought, I decided I’d be miserable if I tried to live with it. I can’t live with such an expensive machine that makes unexpected loud sproingy noises when I use it the way I prefer to, which is supposedly a perfectly fine and recommended way to use it. So back to the shop, and returned it, as in, got my money back. Their tone had changed when I went back, polite and agreed promptly to the return. I do wonder how much of that was due to my (somewhat imposing and male) friend coming with me as back up. Regardless of whether his presence changed their behaviour, I’m grateful to him for the emotional support.

Gah, I didn’t mean, want or expect this to be such a saga. I was relieved but sad, confused and needing to start again with the search. I’m distressed that the obvious option of buying a current model Bernina is off the table.

Replacing my 1230 seems to be a truly difficult task, so putting a bit more effort into trying to keep it going is reasonable. The current state of play is that it’s with a third and recommended fixit man to see what magic he can manage. He had a nice simple theory, which would be so good if that is all the problem. Fingers crossed.

Then, a week later, my longest friend gave me even more reasons to love her. This is her machine, very kindly lent to me. I’d forgotten she even had a Bernina. It turns out to be a 1030, a mechanical version of mine, including the same knee lever action…. and wonder of wonders, it has a stepping motor!!!! AWOOGA, AWOOGA. I want one if I can possibly get one!!. Pity it’s a 30yr old machine. One might come up for sale? Maybe? There are a couple of features lacking, but it’s mechanical nature means it should last many more years. The electronic nature of mine means it will die eventually, even if it can be improved in the short term.


So far the borrowed machine has made a pair of jeans and is partway through a silk velvet jacket. The sewing action is a bit different to what I’m used to, but it works well.

Then another friend said that her sewing machine mechanic has a 1030 that he is working on prior to selling it. On the other side of the country, but still. Fingers very crossed!!

Updatery: It turns out that the 1030 is not fully mechanical. It does have a circuit board. So it’s not as age proof as I had hoped. I had been told that stepping motor and fully mechanical were if not totally mutually exclusive, then close to it. So I’m not completely surprised.

bernina 1030 circuit board


Almost Jeans Untwisted

I was really pleased with the last pair of almost jeans, except for the twist in the leg seams. I made pattern alterations pretty much immediately, then lost time to sewing machine dramas and a trip away. I got a pair cut out a few weeks back, but didn’t have a machine to sew them up on, hmm, I haven’t told that story here yet. Now I’ve got a very welcome borrowed machine, I’ve finally got these assembled.

Obligatory pockets shot


I have managed to banish the leg twist, yay! The pattern pieces look strange, but they work on my curvy, short legged self. Minor argh moment that I didn’t take a pic of the pattern, maybe later. Here are a few small pics of the new troosers on. Of course I hate the pics, but I do like the troosers.

. . .

Note for fit assessment that this is woven denim with no elastane. I’m not totally happy with the fly, either sewing or fit. I am pleased though that I managed to shorten a metal toothed zipper. One can just rip off the unwanted teeth with pliers it seems.

Next step is to have a go at altering the pattern to a proper jeans cut. I have a few other things to make first though.

Fiber to garment


I’ve done a little drop spindle spinning in years past, but I’d not made my spinning into any finished thing. I first tried the spinning over 20years ago. Then had another go about 10years ago, some chocolate brown alpaca that time. I still have a little of that yarn. I picked it up again a couple of years ago, spinning prepared wool top this time. I decided to spin as much as I could during a week long event in January that event. I took a handful of each type of wool fiber I had, with the intention of alternating types to stave off boredom. This is what I had at the end of the event. I’d spun everything I took, plus a little wool from a friend’s sheep.


I did some more at the next event in April, and ended up with 7 balls of yarn in varying sizes.


I had originally thought to make socks, but I didn’t think I had enough yarn. So I made a hat instead. I have some yarn left, so I could probably have managed socks. I do like the hat though so I’m still pleased.


The dun coloured fibre is three lots of corriedale wool. Easy to spin but quite coarse and prickly. The coloured and white fibre is all merino, fine and soft. I spun some plain corriedale singles, some alternating merino and corriedale in a particular colour order, but random amounts. Then I plied the two together. The rib band is just merino though to minimise prickle on my forehead. I like how it came out and I’m delighted to have spun, designed and knitted a thing.


First Sewings on the Bernina 570

After getting her set up in the table*, I did some basic stitching and then a few experiments with fancy stuff. Fittingly for a Swiss made machine, the fabric is from a Swiss “national costume” outfit bought for me when a child. Of course the fancy stuff would have worked better with some kind of stabiliser layer. The stitching itself was ok, and that leafy pattern might well get used, but the operation felt clunky, which depressed and upset me.


I had a bit of a flail, then decided to work on a shirt the next day. That is a familiar task and mostly straight stitching. It would just give me time with the machine to get more of a feel. I knew I could cut and make a basic shirt in a day. Turns out I can do this in a long day, even with an unfamiliar machine and with stupidly sewing one sleeve to the body inside out and having to fix that. I cut this before 9am this morning and sewed the buttons on after dinner. I even took the opportunity of such a plain shirt to rejig the neckline so it is smaller but not too small. This is a lovely yarn dyed cotton check with a pleasingly rustic weave that I got recently in an Albury opshop. There was barely enough to cut the shirt so yoke and cuff linings had to be pieced.


I forgot to sew a label to the inner yoke at the right stage, so I put one on the left sleeve placket for fun. I will say the new machine makes nice buttonholes. This is the bog standard basic one, sewn with navy blue Gutermann cotton.


My big complaint was that the machine felt clunky and awkward, especially on raising the presser foot. An audible clunky click and the work was often jerked out of place. It took me ages to work out that this was connected with the fact that I had been using the knee lift for the presser foot from the get go. I’m used to this from the old machine and vastly prefer using it over having to raise the presser foot by hand.  Eventually I figured out that the knee lever not only raises the presser foot, but lowers the feed dogs as well. It’s the feed dogs that cause the audible clunk and jerk of the work. If one only uses the hand operated presser foot lever, things remain quiet and peaceful. Argh. I’ll be complaining about this and requesting a fix!

Other things I don’t like thus far:
-It’s going to take me a while to learn how to drive the selection screen. I keep getting stuck just on how to get back to basics. The home icon doesn’t take one to the home screen and there is no back button.
-Setting changes are slower to assess than the button and dial system that I’m used to. Even allowing for the fact that I’m not used to the screen interface, there is no pictorial indication of stitch length, just a number on the screen. Somehow, turning the dial and reading a number isn’t as quickly comprehended as having a visible position on a scale.
-Max speed feels sloooowwww.  Similar to my old machine I suppose but I think I’ve been anticipating an increase in speed. I wanna go faster dammit. Maybe I need to keep an eye open for a quality industrial straight stitcher, and figure out where I would put one if I get one.
-The most visible seam width markings on the needle plate are *%$&$ imperial!!! I want metric and it’s a ruddy Swiss machine dammit!
-They have yet again changed the foot design so I have to shell out to replace the special feet I use. This has to be deliberate. Angry making it is at least.

Things I do like:
-It might sound petty, but I love the aesthetics of the overall design. Shiny and businesslike.
-It runs well (as long as one is not using my beloved knee lifter)
-there are a lot of cool buttonhole options I’m looking forward to trying
-The great Bernina front loading, easy clean and oil bobbin race.
-Lots of useful stuff for plain stitching. Adaptive tension (copes with a very wide range of fabric weights), easy upper tension dial. Good power for thick fabrics or many layers. Foot pressure adjustment (new to me).


*I’m proud of myself that I took the time to make up the right sized blocks of wood to put the new sewing machine at the correct height in the table. The old one sat on a book for 20+yrs. Prompted partly by the presser foot knee lift lever sitting at a different height on the new machine. The table is from a ~60’s Singer that had a knee lever instead of a foot pedal. It has a drop down section for the machine and an appropriate hole for the lever. See previous post for a picture.



Sewing machine woes: purchase with some regret

This post is a couple of days late. I’ve been too mentally and emotionally exhausted to write. I’ve been suffering considerably from not having a functional sewing machine in the place there should be one. Pathetic maybe, but this is a really big thing for me. My house was wrong, my world was wrong, so I’ve been pushing hard to fix that!

I went out on Tuesday to a shop that sells both domestic and industrial machines. This seems to be a rare combination. Most place sell only one or the other. I wanted their input on whether anything existed in the borderlands between. I also wanted to have a look at the domestic Juki machines, also a rare thing locally.

I did learn a bunch of things. According to these people:

The machine I really want doesn’t exist. Wahhh. Ideally I want a machine that does basic dressmaking functions. as listed previously, with a stepping motor and all the good needle control things that come with that, solidly built and faster than a standard domestic. Nup. Apparently nobody builds such a thing. If you know differently, for goodness sake, please speak up. What is available are domestic machines with all the features I want, plus a bunch I don’t, but all slow. Or, industrial machines, well built and really fast but with basically only one function per machine. Botheration.

They gave a different diagnosis for the 1230 fix. They say it’s the stepping motor that needs replacing. I think that makes sense, but I reckon there is a good chance that the stitch panel circuit board indicated by the other fixit people needs doing too. Both are quoted in the $700+ range. Weep.

The Juki domestic machines seem really good. The also have all metal innards for strength and longevity. They run really nicely and are significantly cheaper than the Berninas. They have a drop in bobbin though. I really like the front loading, easy clean Bernina bobbin race. Also, despite not liking having a screen at all, to get the quality of machine I want, one has to have that. Given that, I much preferred the Bernina version. I will also say, these people had no hesitation at all in letting me at the machines. Hurrah.

Basically, I found myself unable to step away from Bernina quality and familiarity. This shop had a 570 model on special. $2999, down from $3800. It has a wider space right of the needle than the 350, and most of the exciting buttonhole options that I had liked on the 720. I lost my nerve and bought one.

Here she is straight out of the box:


The new 570 and 24yr old 1230 side by side. Sniff. I mourn the degradation of my faithful worker:


So there is now a good machine back where there should be one even if I don’t know how to drive her yet:


Stand by for the initial testing report. In the meantime, the crowded and eclectic picture above makes me think of this 🙂

Sewing machine woes: Bernina demos

Boring for most people I’m sure. I need to journal my thoughts somewhere though and a few might like to follow along.

I’ve been reading sewing machine spec lists all weekend. Somewhat informative but doesn’t tell one everthing. Today it was time to go look at a few actual machines. I started with what I know- Bernina.

I had hoped to have a sew, but they only offered to demonstrate. I’d insist on a sew if I get closer to meaning to buy. These are not proper full reviews. Just me capturing observations and thoughts in my search for a solution to my sewing machine woes.

Bernina 350 (AU$2000-2200) 350 link
This is the cheapest model that has the knee lifter for the presser foot. Incidentally, the suite of features is a pretty close match for my sick 1230. So it’s fairly familiar, but I’d have to relearn how to select the functions. Mine has just buttons, this has a screen also. It didn’t sound as smooth as mine but did have a similar and tolerable working sound with familiar low pitch. I’d say this is a possibility. Doesn’t give me very much extra but I wouldn’t lose much either.

Bernina 720 (~AU$4800) 720 link
To spend this much I’d have to be so very convinced. For this it turns out I am not. I wanted to see it because it has a new bobbin hook mechanism, supposedly quiet. I didn’t find it quiet. The working noise has a high pitch that would drive me crazy. That alone says I’m really unlikely to get this one. It is a considerably larger machine than I’m used to, with a larger space to the right of the needle. That part would be great. It also has many, many features. Some of these I would be pleased to have, but learning how to select what I wanted would take considerable time to learn.

There is a 5 series range in between these, but the price feels prohibitive for machines that seem to be increasing in complexity rather than quality? They are a little larger than the 3 series though.

The lady struggled with the auto threader on both machines, only made it work about 1 go in 4. That by itself doesn’t bother me. I have no issue with threading. I did ask about the circuit boards, to be told that the modern ones are small and easy to swap out. So that sounds like an improvement, as long as new boards are available.

Next I mean to go see some Jukis, and maybe an industrial Bernina. After that we will see.


Sewing machine trouble

I’m not sewing or posting, partly because I’ve been away for a few days and partly because my beloved 24yr old Bernina 1230 is sick with an intermittent fault. $720 quoted to hopefully effect a fix. The 1100 and 1200 series machines are known to have circuit board issues as they age. Mine has three boards apparently and the quote is only to replace one of them.

There are a bunch of options, some dependant on knowledge I don’t yet have. My brain has been spinning, making me feel ill and confused so I’m trying to capture thoughts here.

I’m starting to think the prognosis is not clear enough to spend the money on the 1230 fix attempt. So I might retrieve it. I could use it while I consider other options and retire it to back up status when I work out which way to go on a new machine. I was thinking lots of other options, but this seems to be where I’m landing. See, writing things down helps.

What I want is a quality plain sewing machine. I’m uninterested in embroidery or quilting functions.

I’ve been a Bernina fan for many years, mostly learned to sew on Mum’s 830, a renowned classic mechanical machine. I could try to buy one of those. There are a couple for sale right now. I think though that for me it would make a great backup machine, but I want more from my main workhorse. Just using Nan’s little mechanical Elna for a few minutes showed that having to spin the flywheel to position the needle causes complaint from my dodgy arm. “Stepping motor” functions are only available in electronic machines. So despite the risk of future circuit board problems, I think I do want an electronic. If an electronic, I suppose it’s probably better to buy new or near new to maximise the life.

Wish list (basically reproducing what I use now):
Quality, strong, reliable machine
Easy to use and clean
Smooth operation and good stitch formation
Reliable (adaptive?) tension that will cope with a variety of fabric weights.
Straight stitch
Zig zag
Buttonhole (auto and semi auto)
Needle position alterable left to right
One touch reverse that doesn’t interfere with other stitch settings
Knee lifter for presser foot
Needle up/down selection (this and the next are only available in electronic machines)
Tap stitch and half stitch via foot pedal
Seam width markings on throat plate
Twin needle capability
Feet for primary functions: plain, zipper, buttonhole, edgestitch, hemming
Plain business like design. No stupid pastels.

Nice to have improvements:
Thread cutting with the work in place
Differential feed
Faster machine
(I might think of more later)

New Bernina replacement?
I thought this might be the go, but the cheapest domestic machine with a presser foot knee lift is $3800rrp. Grrr (edit, the 350 has this at $2200). If I could live without that (but I’m so used to it, I’d miss it lots), there is a machine for $1300, or $1900 (either mechanical or electronic at this price point). I’m unconvinced. I’d certainly need to try them. Mum bought a new Bernina a few years ago but has never liked it.

Other brands? Juki?
Possibly an industrial?

There is a shop out east that sells both domestic and industrial machines. I think I’ll go talk to them on Monday before I decide on either repair or buying an 830. Which means I should try to let the churning thoughts go for the rest of the weekend.