The last time I posted about how much I love my Bernina, I got this question: what should I look for when shopping for one?
It is tricky to know where to start when the options (and price points) are so vast. Bernina offers everything from the cute little Bernette line to full size machines, from a totally mechanical model to enormous pieces of advanced technology that can do everything but make you a cup of tea.
To help navigate the terrain, I took a visit to Modern Domestic, a fantastic sewing studio, fabric shop, and Bernina dealer here in Portland. I followed around my friend Meredith, who seems to know just about all there is to know about each and every model. This is one of the ways Bernina stands apart from a lot of other companies. Their sales folks really know their stuff.
I’d like to talk about the machines I saw in a little more detail another day, because there were some impressive options. But today, I just want to help you with the basic question of where to start.
Start at the bottom
The first thing you should know is that the models build on each other. So the features that are included in the lower and less expensive models will be included in the higher models.
Meredith walked me through the machines starting at the lowest model number and price point and moving up, explaining all of the features added along the way. I found this incredibly enlightening, because it forces you to ask “would I want / need / use that feature?” You’ll encounter features you’d never thought of but might find very useful.
If you don’t know where to start, I’d recommend starting at the bottom and asking your dealer to give you a walkthrough just like this. You’ll learn a lot.
Questions to ask yourself (and your dealer):
So based on Meredith’s experience talking to hundreds of customers, and my own notes on the major differences I noticed between models, I came up with this list of questions to ask yourself before you fall in love with a particular machine.
- What kind of things do you like to sew? If you’re into quilting, you may want some of the extra features and accessories built specifically for quilters. If you do a lot of garment sewing, you may want certain specialty stitches, buttonholes, and a freehand system.
- What would you like to sew in the future? Are there types of sewing you might do in the future? Or do you plan to do more of one particular kind of sewing? What about machine embroidery?
- How often do you sew? If you sew constantly, it will probably be worth it to invest in a machine with more capabilities. If it’s a once in a while activity, or you just want to make curtains and hem pants occasionally, a bare bones machine could be just fine.
- Are you new to sewing, or more experienced? This is an interesting question because, as Meredith pointed out, beginners may appreciate more automation with their machines. She likened it to a car transmission. If you’re just learning, it’s much easier to focus on just driving if you don’t have to worry about switching gears.
- What features do you like about the machine you currently have? What do you dislike? If you’re like I was before buying my first Bernina, this could actually be a little tricky. Back then, a machine was a machine to me. It worked or it didn’t. But I knew I didn’t like the horrid noises it would make, or the fact that the handwheel would sometimes fly off for no reason.
- How do you feel about the size of your current machine? Would you like something more compact on your sewing table? Or do you need more room for large projects?
Nifty features to consider
Based on all the machines Meredith showed me, I noted a long list of possible features you might think about before walking into a dealer. This is the kind of list I wished I’d had to help me decide on my model, so hopefully it helps you too.
It may not be exhaustive, but should cover many of the differentiating features. Check off what you want, what might be “nice to haves”, then talk to a dealer about your dream machine. I ordered these generally going from the most common features up to the most specialized ones.
- Computerized (vs. mechanical)
- Simple to use (without extraneous features)
- Automatic buttonhole
- Decorative stitches (decide which ones are important to you)
- Memory function (so it will remember your stitch settings)
- Quilting feet, like the walking foot and 1/4 inch foot. These come with some machines.
- Freehand system for less reaching
- Fancy buttonholes, like the keyhole buttonhole
- Mirror image functions (so you can flip a stitch to go the other way)
- Full shank foot (as opposed to just snap-on feet. Highly recommended!)
- Compact size (some machines are 3/4 size, others are full size)
- Knot tie feature
- Advanced foot control (lets you raise and lower the needle with your foot!)
- Extra wide stitch width
- Touch screen
- Embroidery capabilities (some come with the embroidery module, with others you can add it on)
- Automatic thread cutter
- 9 hook oscillating bobbin (which can hold up to 100 yards of thread)
- Extended arm
- Automatic needle lowering (you start to sew, and the needle lowers automatically)
- Dual feed (great for slippery fabrics)
- Large screen
- Stitch designer (you can actually draw your own stitches on the touch screen!)
- Shape designer (you can design shapes as well!)
(In this photo, Meredith has just drawn a stitch with her finger on the touch screen of the Bernina 880, and on the left, you can see the stitch previewed in repeat. Amazing!)
If you have a Bernina, please chime in! Are there features a new owner might not think about but you can no longer live without? Other questions she should consider before purchase?