Thursday, 30 October 2014

Bernina foundation course and not fabric shopping in London

For my 60th birthday my husband bought me a Bernina 750 QE. We were in the Bernina shop hoping to buy a second hand mechanical machine for him to sew leather when the 750  was being demonstrated to another customer. That customer's husband and mine were both wowed. I'm not meaning I didn't like it, just that I was 'happy enough' with my Brother 350SE even though it had been giving me a few problems. The Bernina was so quiet and sewed through thick seams (including leather) beautifully. I liked it very much but didn't feel I needed it. I was delighted to be its proud new owner, though!

I had a (vintage) Viking Husqvarna which had been in storage for many years. It didn’t perform well when brought out of storage when I started to dressmake last year and was condemned when taken for service, to a Viking (and Brother) agent. I intended to buy a Viking to replace it, so I could use the extensive range of feet I had for the other but was sold on a Brother 350SE, which had a lot of spec for the money and felt really nice. I bought the Brother and the agent later sold me an ex-demo Viking HQ100 to use as my class machine; the dealer is a quilter but started to bring in a dressmaker once per month to run a class.

I didn't ever really get on with the Viking and had quite a few problems with it including needing a new stitch plate; it was also very unstable in its settings particularly if I dared to move it. And it was my travel machine!   I finally gave it to my daughter who wants to sew cushions and curtains.

My main machine was the Brother, which I liked at first, particularly as it had a lot of bells and whistles like automatic threader and thread cutter, which I hadn’t seen before but gradually I found it wasn't giving me the stitch quality I was looking for. I did have a few issues with a broken thread cutter, the machine eating the fabric in a totally unnecessary way and, worst of all, just really not coping with thicker seams. My husband had found me a few times cursing the machine and had to rescue my gobbled fabric more than once. he also repaired the broken thread cutter following discussion with the company. It didn't use the Viking feet, of course, so I had to buy additional feet eg invisible zipper foot. I had thought some of the problems were my inexperience but gradually it began to dawn on me it wasn't. I now have a spare Brother!

Also in use was an Elna 5ProDC overlocker, though I never did use all its features.
It was slightly troublesome to use as to change stitches it could involve changing both the foot and the stitch plate, which I didn't find easy.
I didn't ever use the looper converter. I bought it many years ago and got it serviced when I put it back into use after long term festering in a closet. It works well mechanically but, unfortunately, the LCD display (only used as an onscreen manual to guide towards the correct stitch set up) has become faulty and I have been totally unable to find a way to replace or repair it. I've had it in for further work but no joy. Nothing from UK, US or Europe. When we couldn’t get anywhere, my husband took it to pieces to see if he could find any obvious and fixable cause. It is certainly acceptable as a spare machine. I don’t imagine I could sell it.

I decided to replace the overlocker with a modern 4 stitch machine;  I did consider a coverlocker (I had been looking at a Pfaff) but heard some persuasive arguments which made me decide against this.

I felt that it would be good to have sewing machines which could interchange feet, which I hadn't had before. The 750 is a huge machine with a large throat area so clearly could not be taken to classes. Rather than take the Brother, I decided to go for a smaller Bernina 350PE in order to use the same feet.

So around my birthday, I became the owner of a Bernina 750QE, a 350PE as my class machine and eventually an 1150 MDA overlocker. I'd better keep going with sewing!

This week I attended the Bernina sewing school in London. The courses are free because of the purchase of the appropriate Bernina but, of course, travel and accommodation could really add to that. En route to London, I stayed with my oldest daughter and saw my grandchildren, whom I don't see that often, so that was lovely. In London, I stayed for 2 nights in my daughter's flat though she was out of town for much of the time. I travelled by train rather than driving as that’s less stressful.

On Monday, I had a day's class on the 350PE. This is a foundation course but was actually pretty helpful. There were four of us in the class, all 350 owners though the class could cover the 380 as well. The tutor, Hannah, demonstrated a technique and then we practiced it and produced a sample for our folder, which also included course notes. Each of the ladies had a particular problem they brought with them to solve but a common problem was using the needle threader. I was able to use it before the class; Hannah made it look very easy but I'm still not very good at it.

The techniques were fairly basic. How to clean and lubricate the machine. How to fill a bobbin. How to thread. Showing that changes in width and length etc can be made while actually stitching. Although I had read the manual, I hadn't tried everything out and hadn't touched my buttonholer. I hadn't used the stitch balancing dial previously so appreciated seeing how that was used. I hadn't  really used the decorative stitches and enjoyed trying them. The use of tear away stabiliser while doing satin stitch was a revelation! We also did edge seaming, gathering, basting, buttonholes, buttons, blind hemming etc. Then at the end, we did a mock hand stitch embroidery using nylon filament as the top thread. I loved the effect.

On day 1 I had a number of travel nightmares, which I won't relive here! I should say this wasn't due to Londoners, whom I found helpful. More to do with works, unexpected route changes and the fact that I didn't realise you could no longer buy a bus ticket on a bus and couldn't find a vendor - in the morning I got very lost and ended up taking a taxi, so I hadn't been aware of the problem until later in the day, when I wasn't allowed on the bus I'd been waiting for.

Tuesday was a 3 hour class, starting after lunch, on the overlocker. I decided against fabric shopping or trying to fit in too much in the morning before the class. Eventually, I decided to visit the fields of ceramic poppies in the Tower of London moat as they'll only be there for a little more time. There will be 888,246 of them by 11 November when the last one is 'planted'. Travelling was uneventful. The day was gorgeous and warm. I had a beautiful walk along the Thames to the Tower and looked at the poppies. Moving and beautiful. Then I relaxed over a coffee and the paper before travelling in the direction of my class. I had a lovely lunch in an interesting cafe close to the class. I arrived relaxed and ready to learn.

The tutor was Rebecca, who had a different style to Hannah. The overall pattern was similar, with a description of a technique which we’d then practice. The biggest difference was that we were all much less accomplished. Of the 4 of us, one hadn't even taken her machine out of the box. The other two had never threaded the machine. I had threaded as I now always start from scratch feeling I get fewer problems that way but hadn't used my machine much, really, and not for other than a pretty basic stitch. I discovered that part of my threading process was faulty - I wonder how much difference that has made. I’ve been happy with my stitches. I did an online serger course some time ago. The tutor made an error in threading, too (same machine as mine) - I recognised that at the time but didn't realise I hadn't fully corrected. I put two of my threads through the same section, when they had adjacent but separate sections - the online tutor missed that section out altogether.

Everything took longer than the equivalent on the sewing machine. Threading took a while. Then of course balancing the stitches. We used thread colours to match the colours on the machine so that made it easier. Although this is recommended, I've never had those particular colours together. I'd read about but never used the upper looper converter. I found swapping between techniques easier than I imagined. It was extremely useful to have a tutor to critique the stitch balance and explain how to correct. Some of this I found counterintuitive. I think I would have managed some of my makes more easily had I had the benefit of this class! One fabric I've used, which caused me great problems, was a highly stretchy Lycra viscose knit. Now I know how to handle it! Previously, I knew about, but hadn't used, adjustments on foot pressure, differential feed and MTC. Amazing! I was keen to learn how to use the overlocker to attach seam stabiliser or elastic and this was covered so I was more than pleased. I’m adjusting the waist on one of my winter street dresses so will use this technique which will speed things up enormously. Rebecca didn’t get a chance to cover cleaning and lubrication, unfortunately. Surprisingly, the threader on the serger is much easier to use than that on the sewing machines.

Day 3 was another 5 hour class, on the 710/750. The tutor was again Rebecca and again she explained something which we then practiced. There wasn’t much demo. There weren’t enough 750s to go around, so I was using a 710 which is very similar. I moved over to the 750 for a couple of steps which were different.

I thought I might have an issue with threading my 750QE as my stitches were less even than on the 350. I couldn't  see one of the steps clearly enough to know whether I was doing it okay. Rather than contact the dealer, I decided to wait until the class. I fairly quickly found that I had indeed got the threading wrong. I’m hoping that correcting that will solve my stitch unevenness.

We didn’t get time to cover everything in the folder but I still have the notes. Importantly, the 750 has a 9mm stitch width whereas the 350 has a 5.5 mm stich width. To ensure that needles don't break when you're not using the special feet, but just the standard feet, there is a safety setting and I found that useful as I hadn't been able to find it again after it having being demonstrated originally. We started with practical stitches, quick reverse button uses, securing stitches, width and length adjustment memory and automatic sequence stitches. We then moved on to embroidery stitches, satin stitches and open embroidery stitches  and the use of pattern end, mirror image and elongation. Then we covered using the memory. Like the class on the 350, we then covered gathering, basting (but on the 750 there is a specific basting stitch which makes it so much easier!), blind hem and buttonholes. We then moved on to the use of the BSR (Bernina Stitch Regulator) in free hand stitching. At present, this isn’t something I plan to use but never say never!! Maybe, a little bit of quilting at the bottom of a jacket? Importantly, we then moved on to cleaning and oiling and I learned how to properly clean the stitch cutter. Mine had played up a couple of times and I hadn’t cleaned it effectively, I learned.

There were things which we didn’t cover. Some of these were things in the folder that we didn’t have time for. Others weren’t listed but were on my personal wish list - the use of the Dual Feed, for example. This was labelled a ‘foundation course’ and most of the ladies I met asked about a follow on, which unfortunately doesn’t exist. The manuals for the 350 and 750 are very good and the 750 has extensive on board info; there are also videos available on the Bernina website (as well as software updates which I hadn’t even considered), so I won’t be stuck. Also, I can approach my dealer with any queries. The manual for the overlocker is hard going! The reality is much easier than the description. Again, I can go to my dealer if there is any problem. The dealer is based about 15 miles away, in the city I go to for my college evening classes so I’m in that city regularly and would just need to go a bit earlier.

Although I was pretty tired tonight, as I didn’t get home until nearly midnight last night, I decided to try out stitching before and after making the change to the threading on my 750 - an apparently minor difference in threading (thread behind a small wire or not) - I had found the instruction ambiguous. I did feel there was a difference, though not massive. My stitch cutter played up. However, the machine needed cleaned and oiled so I did that. I found a couple of bits of thread blocking the thread cutter movement. I found that my machine needed oil. I hadn’t realised that it was necessary to fill a little reservoir quite so much. I need to replace the needle now, before I try the test again but my screwdriver needle isn’t where it should be! This reminds me that my ‘sewing room’ desperately needs cleared up.

Overall, I’ve had a very tiring but useful few days.


  1. You've had quite a week. I'm afraid I hate buying new machines, so am amazed at your stamina in learning all the new bits and pieces. Good luck with the next project :)

    1. I think the effort is already worth it! When I look back (and cringe) at some of my earlier makes, I realise that my today machines would really have helped. I made a kilt shirt for my husband using my original and now late Viking Husqvarna and had huge difficulty finding appropriate metal rings with backs (well I never did find them) and now I can do a buttonhole the right shape so they're not needed. A number of other things I struggled with are now straightforward. Of course, my skill level and knowledge level have increased, too. My next project is a jacket, using the same pattern as the recent jacket I made, with a couple of modifications


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