a birthday for my Berninas, plus how I found both of my machines for under $1000

A little over a year ago I faced a pricey reality with my sewing: If I wanted to sew the things I wanted to sew, I’d need a new machine. For a little over three years I’d been sewing on a little Singer Brilliance that Josh bought me for Christmas the first year we were married. It was a great starter machine. It had all the stitches I’d need as a beginner, and if I didn’t get along with sewing then we wouldn’t be out of a fortune. But that machine was not made to last, at least not the way I needed it to.

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When the The Colette Guide to Sewing Knits came out last spring along with their two debut knit patterns, I was over-the-moon about it. Knits, which had previously seemed so foreign and out-of-my-league, were actually accessible, and I had great patterns to get me started. But sewing them on my Singer was not working. For the first time my sewing machine was limiting what I could do rather than empowering my creativity. So it was time for an upgrade.

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I knew that I wanted a Bernina. My mom has sewn on Berninas for as long as I can remember, and my serger is a secondhand 30-year-old Bernette. I know there are plenty of quality machines out there that aren’t Berninas, but I had my heart set on this brand. I also knew that affording a new Bernina was not a likely option for us. So then I started scouring Craigslist. (Because the thing about Berninas is that they are so well made that a decades-old machine can purr like new.) After a couple of weeks of dedicated searching, I found a listing for a Bernina Artista 180 for only $600. That model usually sold secondhand for twice that, so I was dubious. But after reaching out to the seller, I learned that the discounted price factored in the lack of embroidery module. And since I cared more about using the regular sewing features rather than the embroidery components, I pounced. (Since then my aunt has found a replacement embroidery module for me!)

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Later that week I drove 30 miles south to a little suburban house, where a woman in her 60s named Lyda answered the door with her husband. She led me downstairs to her sewing room, which had garden-level windows looking out onto her beautifully landscaped backyard. She had two or three machines already and had the Artista out and waiting for me to test drive. Over the next while I tested out various presser feet on various fabrics and let her walk me through the machine. I loved hearing her talk about her machine; her love for and attachment to this little Bernina were evident. I didn’t try to barter her on price, but wrote a check then and there and packed up the machine, extension table, presser feet, and manuals, and put them in my car.

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I love this little machine. It’s perfect. It’s the ideal companion to my 30-year-old serger (bought secondhand for $350 from a local Bernina dealer), and I haven’t had a single problem with either. They’re both due for cleanings and tune-ups, but with regular care, I’m confident that these secondhand machines will last me for a long, long time. And there’s something I love about machines that used to belong to someone else. Maybe I’m being overly nostalgic or sentimental, but I like thinking about all of the women (and men, maybe) who have sewn on these very machines, of all the things they’ve made, and of how I’m part of an inclusive, supportive heritage and community of sewing.

So happy birthday, little Berninas of mine. You both are worthy, wonderful, and surprisingly affordable investments.

***If you’re looking to invest in a nice sewing machine, don’t underestimate secondhand! Berninas really are such great quality that as long as they’re serviced/tuned-up regularly, they will last you forever. Maybe even literally. I’ve never once regretted buying secondhand machines over brand new.

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