Some months ago, I started thinking that it might be time to get a new sewing machine. At the quilting retreat I went to in April, I cruised the room to see what my friends were using, and I even tried out a few machines. The machine I use for most sewing is an older Bernina, and I didn't realize until I sat down at my friend Pat's Pfaff Creative Expressions machine how far sewing machines have come in recent years. That got me thinking, and I set out on a research mission.
Gosh, the internet gives us so much access to information. An overwhelming amount, actually. Between manufacturer's websites, and blogs with folks raving (or complaining) about their machines, and yahoo groups where machine owners collect to share information and tips and problems, one can explore the subject for a long time! I finally decided the thing to do was to go out and test some machines.
So off I went to a few dealers in my area, to explore the major brands and see how they felt. It's also amazing to me how different machines can feel, too. I guess it's like test driving cars -- on paper they can sound quite similar, but you have to feel them to decide what feels right for you. I tried Janomes and Pfaffs and Husqvarna Vikings.
At an area Bernina dealer, I couldn't help looking at the newest of the Bernina lines, the 830 and 820. They're made, I guess, to be the machines that'll do most everything. They have a huge throat (12"), an extra large bobbin, one has embroidery capacity but both have tons of built-in stitches... and when the saleswoman invited me to give it a try, I sat down knowing I'd never in a million years buy a machine in that price range.
It's like test driving a Lexus when you're shopping for a midpriced minivan. Right off, I set myself up for difficult comparisons in later shopping. Yes, I loved the Berninas. No question.
But I kept looking, and kept researching, and kept weighing pros and cons, and kept assessing what machines seemed to have which ongoing issues. As I started following the discussions on various yahoo groups, I was reminded that there is no one perfect machine.
And then an opportunity came out of left field at me. I encountered a woman in the midwest, a total novice sewer, who was selling her Bernina 830. Her husband had bought it for her to encourage a new interest in sewing, not realizing that this "computer that sews" is complex enough that it daunts the most experienced seamstresses and quilters. The woman, Kay, was wildly overwhelmed and was discovering that she didn't enjoy trying to use it because it was too complicated. She didn't like her local dealer and was unable to get help from them to her satisfaction. So, in disgust, she put it up for sale at less than half of the retail price.
The short story is that she and I exchanged a lot of emails (with me thinking "this is just too good to be true") and we built in various contingencies for what happened if I identified any undisclosed problems once the machine arrived in California. After much discussing and nail biting (and a phone call to a friend of a friend who has one of these 830s who told me I'd be insane not to jump on this opportunity), I bought the machine. Hugely exciting, but risky. And, upon delivery, I did learn that there was an issue with the machine that needed fixing. Aack. Kay and I worked that out, I took the machine to my local dealer (Cal Sewing and Vac in San Rafael) where Sharon the Bernina expert and the rest of the staff were welcoming and incredibly helpful and totally willing to advise and help me even though I hadn't bought the machine from them. The issue with the machine was an odd one which required a trip back to the factory (more nail biting and wondering whether I'd done the right thing) -- but the machine is home, has been cleansed and restored by the fairies at the Bernina Factory Spa, and has been thoroughly tested by Sharon, who assures me that it passed all of the most difficult sewing issues with flying colors.
So here is the new addition to my tiny studio:
I've been sewing on it this week and I am loving loving loving it. It threads the needle for me! It has a huge bobbin, holding almost twice as much thread as the typical bobbin, and the machine tells me when it is running low. It lets me customize all sorts of settings. The 830 will also embroider, which I've not tried yet -- not something I would have sought were I buying this directly from a store, but I'm thinking it'll be wonderful to have the option to explore some machine embroidery.
So the risky purchase has a happy ending and now sitting down to sew feels like a new adventure. I feel the urge to make a BIG quilt just to take advantage of that big space on the machine. I know from what I've read that it'll take me some time to learn this intricacies of this thing, but I'm armed with a thick manual, links to great tutorials online, and my guru Sharon. Let the sewing begin!