Friday, August 27, 2010

Bernina 930: The last sewing machine I will ever buy

I just purchased a Bernina Record 930 and am so excited that I can hardly think of anything else.

Until yesterday, I'd been sewing on a computerized Brother cs-6000 that I bought new (reconditioned) 3 years ago for $140. The Brother was okay for lightweight fabrics, but could not handle anything remotely heavy duty. It struggled with medium-weight linen and deerskin and cotton twill. Denim or cowhide were unthinkable. It often was unable to sew through the layers of pleats in the ring slings that I make. I've had to use my 1940s-era White Rotary machine when my Brother failed. The White is a powerhouse (I found it for $13 at an antique store, and it came with all the original accessories and carrying case), but it only does a straight stitch.
My Brother has seized up inexplicably several times over the past three years. Then yesterday, it refused to sew at all. After just one stitch the thread would snarl and tangle and the machine would shut down, refusing to move another stitch. I cleaned the machine and could see nothing at all obstructing the gears, yet the machine would not sew. I took it to our local sewing machine repair shop, only to find that the starting fee for a tuneup was $60. I didn't want to spend lots of money repairing a mediocre machine, so I decided to look for a new machine.

I wanted something mechanical and all metal. No computerization or complicated electronics. Something that could do, at minimum, straight stitch, zigzag, and a few decorative stitches. I wanted a machine that could handle heavy cowhide or denim without a hiccup. I wanted a machine that people raved about and that they were using decades years later without a single problem. I browsed two furniture consignment stores in town. Both had old sewing machines with cabinets for around $50, but one only did a straight stitch and the other only straight and zigzag.

I hopped on Craigslist and found numerous old Singers, starting at $10 and up. Then I saw an estate sale listing a Bernina Record 930 and my rader started beeping. I read several reviews of the 930 and became convinced that this was the machine meant for me. I inquired about the price and blinked a few times at the response. Let's just say that it cost the equivalent of what I earn sewing 20 slings. That's a lot of sewing.

Okay, so I guess I'll let you know the price: $500. Yikes! For a machine that was made from 1982-89, they still command a very high price. I did a nationwide search on Craigslist and found that the Bernina 930 usually sells between $600-1,000. And that's just for the machine and basic accessories. The one I was looking at had the machine, all original accessories, original owner's manual, Bernina sewing guide, a walking foot, a cut & edge foot, carrying case, wood sewing cabinet with lifting mechanism, and (unknown to me until I purchased it) at least $100 of sewing supplies. The only thing missing was the knee lift mechanism, which allows you to raise and lower the presser foot hands-free.

I headed out as soon as Eric was done with work and made the hour-long drive, hoping that no one else had bought it yet. Luck was with me. It was an estate sale for a woman who'd died. Judging from her house and belongings and sewing room in particular, she was meticulous and had very good taste. I almost bought some of her stylish 1940s-era hats and furs and nightgowns, but resisted the temptation...except for 2 pairs of cotton gloves that I just couldn't pass up.

It sews beautifully and has all the features I could ever need. Yet it's all mechanical, which means that (unlikely) repairs will be simple and easy. It purrs along like a...like a...well I don't know cars well, but if I did, I'd compare it to some high-performance sports car that is less about show and more about the essentials: craftsmanship, durability, extreme precision, and above all, power.

So here she is, in all of her vintage 1980s glory.
 The machine folds down into the cabinet, and the tops fold up over the hole.
 Walking foot and Cut 'n Sew foot (precursor to a serger)
Original manual and book showing advanced sewing techniques with a Bernina
All the presser feet, plus cleaning & maintenance tools
A lifetime worth of sewing machine needles, bobbins, and Olfa blades.
Drawers full of thimbles, tailor's chalk, marking pencils, pins & pincushions, rulers, seam rippers, and various other handy sewing notions. I even found a pair of Gingher featherweight thread snips that I can wear around my neck when I'm sewing! No more searching for my scissors (which are usually on the other side of the room) when I need to snip threads.
More quilting, embroidery, upholstery, and hand sewing needles than I could ever hope to use.
Sewing Susan needles: pure vintage.

29 comments:

  1. Nice find. I compare this to Eric finding his perfect Foosball table. Congrats!

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  2. If I was the family of the lady who owned it, I would be so glad that something that obviously meaningful and such a part of my my mothers life had gone to someone who will really appreciate it.

    You know what? It might be fun to find out a litte bit about what the lady sewed on it and who she was and write a littel blurb about it. Then you could add to the story of the machine. Then, when it is time for you (or the machine) to move on, then you can pass on both the stories. Besides, I loved it when my grandmother told me the story of how, as a newlywed, she bought her 'new' sewing machine from an old lady, who told her all about the things that had she had done. My kids have the story from that old lady (via my grandmother, mother and me).

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  3. Lisa in Canada8/27/10, 8:39 PM

    Incredible find, Rixa!! I hope it brings you hours and hours of peace and joy!

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  4. Wow, what an amazing find! I am drooooling and drooling!

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  5. I'm jealous. You got an amazing deal and a wonderful machine. Once you go Bernina, you'll never go back!

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  6. How to not commit the 10th commandment?

    Happy for you to have found such a treasure! You didn't just buy, you invested!

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  7. You are so right on with this! I purchased a vintage Bernina two years ago from Craigslist for $150 and it is nothing short of amazing. I am not an experienced seamstress, completely self-taught and it makes my projects look so professional. Such a workhorse. I have maintained it meticulously in hopes of making an heirloom for my grandchildren one day!

    Congrats and enjoy!

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  8. Wow, that is a SCREAMING good deal on a Bernina! I paid close to that for my Kenmore, which is a nice machine, but it's no Bernina! Happy sewing! :)

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  9. What a fabulous find!!!

    I need a new machine myself... Off to add a Bernina 930 to my Craigslist RSS feed!!

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  10. What a jewel!!! You have really lucked out! Enjoy!

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  11. BARGAIN!!!!!

    You will never regret it. I recommend reading the manual thoroughly and having a try at everything possible with it.

    I wish you generations of joy.

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  13. Did you try putting a new needle in the older machine? My mom says the number one thing she sees in all the machines that she fixes is a defective or old needle. Starts snarling everything up even when they are new occasionally. Sometimes just putting a different needle in does the trick and saves you a ton of money for someone else doing a tune up. Congrats on the new one. My mom has five and loves them all for different reasons. I am definitely hoping to get one some day...

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  14. Oh lucky you, i am so jealous!!
    A beauty in itself, and with all that gear that came with it, just WOW!
    Just found your blog, surfing for self-empowered birthgiving inspiration. Think i´m sticking around for a while :-D

    /Laura in Sweden

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  15. I bought my Bernina 930 brand-new back in early 1985, and still use it to this day. It cost me about $1500 new, which I earned sewing bags for a company for their salespeople's demo equipment. Then I started buying every attachment and foot I could earn, so I have the ruffler and blindhemmer and lots of good stuff that I still use. I used it at one time to go through 8 layers of herculon for a slipcover (remember that stuff? it was tough to sew!)... it probably could have handled more layers, but I couldn't fit any more under the foot! It was and is that powerful a machine. I took a machine embroidery class at the store where I bought it and learned to use it for tasks of that nature--I made a lot of initialed towels as gifts for a while. :-) To this day, the only "repair" it has ever needed has been a good cleaning and oiling when it sits for a while (when I don't have the time to sew). I would not trade it for one of today's computerized machines for anything. It's a great machine, and I hope yours works for you as well as mine has for me!

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  16. I keep trying to convince my mother to give me her 830. I remember her opening peices of the cabinet christmas morning 1977 or 1978 and her confusion over it all until it became clear what she was getting. Here it is 33 or 34 years later and I swear there is not a better machine out there. I have priced one often on ebay and know full well it is worth the money....somehow braces and soccer and other distractions get in the way. Such a great post! thanks for sharing.

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  17. Congratulations on such a GREAT find!! Looking at your pictures made me feel like you had been in MY sewing room!! hahaha!! I have that EXACT cabinet and Bernina 930 Record that I bought in August, 1985. That cabinet came with the sewing machine as a promotion and I still use mine today. I recently bought a used Brother Innovis 2500D for doing computerized machine embroidery, and it sews beautifully, but I don't think it will last as long as my Bernina. For my day-to-day sewing, I still use my Bernina and I too still have all the accessories. HAPPY SEWING!! P.S. Do you know how to lower the machine in the cabinet so the feed dog is level with the cabinet?? If not, I can help you.

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  18. Sarah,

    I don't know how to lower the machine and would love to know how! Please email me to get in touch (stand.deliver at gmail.com)

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  19. Wow, that was an amazing find! My grandmother passed her 930 down to me a few years back, and we are inseparable! The only thing I have trouble with is knits...wish that machine had adjustable feed dogs.

    I can't help but be a twinge jealous, between the cabinet and the walking foot! Hope you enjoy it for many years to come. The fuse recently blew on mine, I think, so I was trying to look up a schematic drawing for parts and found you. Love your blog and bookmarked immediately! Thanks...

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    1. I just ran across this blog checking out info on my Bernina 930. I purchased mine new and agree that there isn't a finer 'workhorse' on the market. I just purchased an embroidery machine and considered selling my 930, but changed my mind and keeping it. To help with knits, change your needle, use a microtex needle or a jersey needle. Sews like a charm.

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  20. My grandmother-in-law gave me her 930 a few years ago. It sat in the back of the closet unused because I was using my mother-in-law's vintage Kenmore and thought it did a good job. I am a novice when it comes to sewing and was afraid to sew much because anything I sewed always looked "very homemade". When the Kenmore seized, I was in the middle of sewing curtains, so I had to use the Bernina. I love this machine! It makes me look like I know was I am doing! I can not say enough about how amazing it is. Now I can not stop sewing!

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  21. Great find and great deal. I just paid $400 for a used 830 on Craigslist after my 20 year old $100 Kenmore bit the dust. I went to the Bernina dealer in my neighborhood and lusted after the newest all mechanical heavy duty Bernina that costs $1200. Went home and googled and learned about the old Records. There were 3 for sale on Craigslist. 2 from a dealer at $800 and then one from the private seller. I love the way it sews, like a Mercedes vs a lawnmower. There are tons of videos on youtube that will tell you what all the presserfeet can do.

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    1. I have owned this model machine since1989. I sew a lot. Make about everything. It can be heavy duty denimn or thin fabric. I am a former home Econ instructor. I have dealt with many machines. This is undoubtedly the very best. I had one small repair, but that was my fault. There is absolutely nothing to compare it to.

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    2. I purchased a 930 used from a dealer when it was one year old. It had been traded in for a newer model machine. I paid between $900 and $1000 dollars. It is still going strong. My daughters also love this machine. Last year I got a call from my brother asking if I knew anything about Bernina machines. He was looking at a 930 in a resale shop. He bought it for me for $30 ! It has the carrying case and is in good condition. It is just missing the foot control pedal which will cost me several times what the machine did! It sure feels good to find out that machines like my 20+year old one are selling on eBay for more than I paid originally.

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  22. Thank you for the review...I'm looking at buying one on Craigslist. :)

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  23. enjoyed reading your post! I just got a 830 record bernina. no feet however.
    How are your enjoying your bernina?

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  24. I really like it. I've had to get it serviced once because the needle stop up mechanism got out of whack. But it sews beautifully and handles anything I've thrown at it.

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  25. I am going to make you jealous. I stopped at an estate sale about a month ago and bought the same machine with 14 attachments and a lot of needles etc. Plus a parsons sewing cabinet for 30.00 the only thing wrong with it is the foot pedal is broken but it has the knee lever so I can find a foot pedal later.

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    1. I'm totally jealous!!! What an amazing price.

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