Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Bernina 820 - after 2 months

I thought it was about time for a bit of a summary of the new machine after a few months. In three months, I've managed well over million stitches. Have I mentioned that I love the stitch counter? It automatically counts each up-and-down of the needle, and (will) remind me after 3m that I'm due for a service. I love it from a purely useless perspective; I've always counted and kept track of things just out of interest. I also love that there's an in-built clock (I'd love it even more if it had a timer function).

A lot of this will probably seem like complaints - it's just that the things which aren't right are those which stand out most - I want to say upfront that it's a great machine, and I am really pleased I bought it!

I've written this over the course of a few days, to make it as comprehensive as possible. It'll be long, and probably not of huge interest to anyone who doesn't have a similar machine, or plans to buy a Bernina, but it's here for documentation purposes.

For piecing, it sews beautifully - smooth and even, and easy to maintain an even seam allowance. I would prefer the be able to set the 1/4in foot (37D) (and the needle) to the right to allow better contact with the feed dogs, to improve sewing over seams, but the dual-feed (which used to be a Pfaff specialty) mostly takes care of that - as long as you have a D foot on.

I wish more of the feet had a thread slot - they sew well, but it's frustrating to have to thread the top thread through the gap in the foot so often. I also found the basic full-width foot that came with it; 1D (irritatingly, 1C has a thread slot, but 1D doesn't, and I'm not foregoing the dual feed) has zero visibility in front of the needle. Especially when I'm sewing bindings on, I want the wider foot (I use it as a seam allownce guide) but need to be able to see my marked mitre line for perfect corners. I bought both the 34D (clear foot) and 20D (open front foot), and prefer the clear foot.

As well as the in-built dual feed (the little 'foot' that can be lowered from behind the needle) my 820 came with a walking foot, though I'm not sure if this is standard, or a bonus through my dealer. This is a separate foot, and come with 3 choices of sole plates. I've only used it with the quilt-in-the-ditch one, for quilting. It works well, although I'm not sure whether it's really any better than the dual-feed - I only use that because the 'normal' quilt-in-the-ditch foot that came with the machine is not a dual-feed foot, and I don't want to quilt without one or the other. I'm actually curious as to why the machine comes with ANY C (non-dual-feed-compatible) feet, when there's an equivalent D foot available.

Another little quibble is the needle positioning - I wish it had more options. My Pfaff had something like 30 positions, and I could get the perfect spot for my bindings. Unless I'm mistaken and there's a way to further refine it, the 820 only has 11 - and none are quite right for my binding. I'm still working out how to address this.

I find the needle threader only seems to actually thread the needle about half the time, regardless of the thread type and thickness.

Moving onto free motion quilting - the whole reason for buying the 820. It quilts well. I find it easy to adjust accurately the bobbin tension and the stitch balance, but I also find these are temperamental. Not only do they needs fiddling for every thread combination, but sometimes different settings are required for the same combinations. I suspect these will be particular to individual machines, and I'm trying to chart what works for mine, with my usual batting, and the different threads I like to use. I also find the foot hover height adjustment terrific.

I still love the shaped, removable arm extension. The button positioning I mentioned being a problem at first is becoming less of a problem as I get used to which is which. I do wish there was a 'permanent' reverse there too, though. I find the needle threader is inconsistent, but have discovered that the machine threading function works more consistently if I pause after putting the thread through the first part while the machine whirrs for a while and apparently 'prepares' itself to receive the thread.

I'm getting used to the fact that while my Pfaff coped best with BottomLine, this one generally prefers heavier threads. This is neither good nor bad in comparison - I want to be able to use both! I had a lot of trouble with BottomLine (a 60wt poly, which was designed for bobbins, but is excellent for dense quilting, and for avoiding unsightly thread build-up where there's extensive travelling, as well as background fill - I use it a LOT!) a few weeks ago; it kept skipping stitches going backwards (always a small risk, but this was unacceptable). I took in to my terrific dealer, and luckily the mahcine performed exactly the same for him. He agreed it needed a fix, and did it that afternoon. I'm not exactly sure what he did, but it was a definite improvement, although I'm seeing a few skips again. I think partly the 820 sucks up a lot of oil - although I have been working it pretty hard recently - but it also responds amazingly well to a drop of oil in the bobbin channel!

I also find I'm getting a few thread nests on the back, and haven't solved this entirely satisfactorily. They're only wren nests (small, sometimes tiny), not the pterodactyl nests one friend mentioned, but enough to annoy me. I have found that regular oil and the right thread tension/balance helps - but again, those last two seem to fluctuate a bit. I also think that it's worse when the bobbin is low - showing <8% - but I'm still testing this theory.

However, being able to quilt with 40wt threads, such as Superior's Rainbows and King Tut, again is a dream. I'd barely been able to use that part of my thread stash with the Pfaff; it just wasn't worth the fight.

I'd like to be able to try an extra thread stand off to the right of my machine, but that'd mean digging a hole through the wall to accommodate it!

The bobbin-winder is easy to use and has some handy features, but having been used to Pfaffs, where you can fill the bobbin through the needle if you wish, I have perhaps high expectations. Filling the bobbin without unthreading the main thread is only possible if a) you're using a different thread for the bobbin, or b) you have more than one spool of the same thread.

I used to break several needles quilting every quilt, but haven't broken a single one on the 820 yet - which is how it should be! Needles add up pretty quickly, so I'm glad to be saving that extra expense -and annoyance!

I tried out the BSR, but am now certain it's not for me. I feel more comfortable and get better results controlling the speed for myself. But please don't read this as criticism of the BSR - if it's a feature you specifically want, then I think it'll be great! I also find the BSR unit gets int the way of visibility when moving towards it, while the open-toe free motion foot (24) offers an almost totally unimpeded view, and is definitely my favourite. However, the needle doesn't go down exactly in the centre of the part-circle, and it's taking me a while to learn to reliably predict just where the needle will drop - often I want it exactly on an existing line of stitching, and fractions of millimetres count!

What else? The bigger bobbins are great, as is the bobbin level indicator. But personally, I'd rather the warnings start at 10% and go down to 2%, than start at 20% and then sit at 'under 8%' with no further detail. 8% is still a lot of thread on these, especially if it's 60wt!

I can say without doubt that a good dealer makes a big difference. A couple of times I've rung them with questions, and they understand the 8 series so well, that they've been able to talk me through the solution on the spot. Nothing is too much trouble for them, and they obviously know the machines inside-out. It's definitely worth driving an extra 5-10km to the dealer on the other side of the CBD.

It has been a step learning curve, and I'm still learning. I figured that out with my last machine - I need to take the time to get used to it. I'm very happy with the 820, but not in love with it yet. Hopefully that will happen with time and familiarity.


Pip said...

Thanks for your thoughts on the Bernina 820, I'm considering buying one sometime next year, so it's good to hear what other users are saying about it.

Jackie Sorich said...

Thank you so much for the comprehensive explanations of functions,success and frustrations. This is a huge help. My Pfaff is in the shop ( it is an old wonderful machine) however, I am checking new machines and it is more difficult than buying a car. Your details help me with issues to consider and questions to ask myself as well as the dealer. Your work is lovely by the way. Best Wishes from a fan in California.

Oops-Lah said...

I've just "stumbled" across your blog and love what I've seen so far. Will definitely come back and read more later. I read your synopsis about your Bernina 820. As I'm own the same machine, it was a very interesting read. I have had similar issues with my machine, but all in all like you, I like it. I've just had my machine services and I told the agent about the threader, which can be a bit temperamental at times. He showed me how to get rid of lint which seems to collect just behind the threader with a "puff" of canned air. He thinks that should take care of it.

The Vegetarian Hunter said...

I'm looking at this machine now that they are becoming more affordable. Do you still have yours and how do you feel about it now? I have a Phaff Performance 2058, and I have to say, I love that machine. But it's throat space is frustrating and I quilt all my projects on there.
I'd love to hear what you think of your machine now and if you think it's worth trading up for.

The Vegetarian Hunter said...

I'm looking at this machine now that they are becoming more affordable. Do you still have yours and how do you feel about it now? I have a Phaff Performance 2058, and I have to say, I love that machine. But it's throat space is frustrating and I quilt all my projects on there.
I'd love to hear what you think of your machine now and if you think it's worth trading up for.

helloally said...

thanks so much for this info!! my elna died after 20odd years of loads of sewing poor thing ..and ive been looking for a new machine but have realised that a lot has changed over that time and the reviews on elna are not that great... so im on the lookout for a new machine .. my daughter has a pfaff mid to top range and i must confess i didnt like it although my love of the old elna could have been an influence .. a friend has a brother who loves it .. so I'm quite torn .. really appreciate the detailed info ..thank u so much :)