Hi everyone! Today’s machines often have wonderful features that can advance our sewing and quilting in ways we may have wished for but may not even be aware we already have such features. Some of these machines, even the mid-level ones, require actual study, testing, and practice to bring the full capacity of what is available to owners of such machines. Such study, practice, and testing can result in wonderful pieces that can enhance our lives dramatically.
Now I retired at the beginning of 2012 to work mostly full time as a fabric artist/art quilter. Sew my nicely outfitted studio is a great joy to me. Remember as you read this, that I started with a basic machine I purchased from a hardware store and sewed on my kitchen table for years, but worked my way up over the decades. I am currently 76, have been sewing since I was about five, and plan on sewing as long as I am physically able, which may be many years from now. I know of a quilter who makes baby quilts for charities on her domestic machine and she is over 100!
I traded up for my Bernina 880 plus about three years ago and recently concluded there were things my machines would do that I did not know how to use sufficiently. Sew, over the past year plus I have spent a good part of my studio time in studying and testing the ins and outs of my sewing machines. Now I am a long time sewer, tailor, and quilter. I was a professional clothing designer/maker in my mid twenties to mid thirties, and have owned high tech machines for years. At first consideration, you might think I would not need to do this. I have had quite a few machines and worked my way up over the years to my current fleet with trade ins, sales, and so forth and now I have a great fleet, each of which have their own uses in my sewing life with a wide range of machine complexity.
NOTE: I will be talking about Bernina machines, since that is what I have, but I do know that other major brands have similar things available today. You need to look in your manual, check out available online videos, and consult your dealers to find these.
My Bernina 880 plus, one of the top of the line machines they have, has the reputation for being “finicky”. I disagree with this assessment though I understand it. I find it extraordinarily useful and easy to use now that I have spent the time to learn how. Does it require careful threading? Well yes, it does, especially the bobbin, but once practiced and learned it is not difficult. Do you have a multitude of things available so you have to sometimes look things up? Absolutely, but Bernina also has a lot of tools available to help with that built into the machine. Do you have to clean it and oil it carefully and on a regular basis? Yes, you do. Does it have many many feet that aid in doing things that require some learning? It does, and the more you can get the more you can do or more refined your results will be. And, in fact, Bernina has a book for that The Big Book of Feet. It also has many videos on YouTube available to show the use of these feet.
Why just this week I learned how to transfer stitches I found in the Bernina design software for in-the-hoop embroidery to be placed and used in the sewing side of the machine! I added a handful of additional stitches that look like hand embroidery. I plan on adding a lot more.
I very recently completed making a machine-embroidered central focus part of a new show quilt. I worked for about six weeks designing and digitizing the centerpiece of my current project and it took me a week and a couple of days to embroider it. I ended up with an interconnecting design that required six jumbo hoopings that had to work together to meet at all the right places. I was a lot nervous that they would not match when I started out, but they did!!!! All the embroidery is wonderful and the handful of in-the-hoop appliques also came out wonderfully. I concluded from this that the Bernina 880 plus (the only Bernina that uses the entirety of the jumbo hoop) and the pin point placement that it has is a great advance for high-end in-the-hoop embroidery. So the middle section is ready to piece in and I think it is wonderful. It is on black silk dupioni and I used 40 weight trilobal polyester for the embroidery. There will be beads and buttons on the finished quilt.
I also have a Bernina Q20 longarm machine set up as a sitdown quilting machine. I could put that on a frame, but I do not want to. I learned to free motion quilt on my Bernina 830, which I traded for the 880 plus, and I enjoy it. Plus I enjoy sitting down to quilt (I am, after-all, getting a little creaky now that I am in my mid 70s). Besides, I seldom make a quilt larter than 60″ wide or so. This machine is really a simple one designed for primarily being maintained by the owner. It is powerful and can use all the free motion Bernina feet available (so I can share them between the machines), domestic sewing machine needles (also shareable within the fleet) so you have many types for needles for various threads, and it will accept many types of quality threads. I use it for free motion embroidery as well as quilting so the thread acceptance is really important to me. I have an astonishingly large collection of quilting rulers…they just appeared in my storage drawers somehow LOL. I can’t imagine how. I think they must have had babies because the collection really grew over the past six years I have owned this machine. LOL Using rulers at this machine is a pleasure. I love this machine. It has two features that are particularly wonderful…a double built in stitch regulator, and an additional pinpoint laser light attachment that shows just where the needle will come down. It’s stitch quality is beautiful.
And I have a little Bernina 350 that is a basic machine and not too heavy. If I were just starting out and making mostly clothing, or looking for a machine to take to college with me, this little machine would be a very good option. I have used it for travel, but I also find it has exceptional value as a piecing machine with solid stitching and a smaller 5.5 mm width that makes it easier to sew more accurate quarter inch seams than my big wide 9 mm 880 plus. I also have several attachments I use exclusively on this machine…like a needle punch attachment that is remarkably wonderful for a fabric artist, and I don’t worry about the roving messing up its easy to clean bobbin area or my big machine. I also have a walking foot that came with it. These make it great for sewing and quilting retreats, or sewing in one’s hotel room when attending a conference, or just taking along on a vacation. I once used it to make a fast quilt for a member of my family that had unexpected surgery when my big machine was out for service. It was a lap quilt, and I would not have wanted to make a big quilt in it, but it did a great job with the lap quilt size.
Additionally, I have a basic Baby Lock serger my daughter in law gave me. It does everything I need in the way of serging and completes my studio nicely. It not only serges edges and makes wonderful seams for stretch knit items, but since I purchased all of the four additional feet for it there is much more it will do. For example, it enables me to quickly make covered cords for pillows, bags, and other things. After watching some videos on serging on YouTube, I am sure Ineed to spend more time learning what I can do with it. It does not do a cover stitch, but if I use a double needle in either of my domestic machines that will take the place of a cover stitch.
Sew have fun in your studio and study your machine whatever level it is. Do some testing and make some samples. A stitch library of all the stitches it will make is a great idea and very helpful.