Viking Designer 1 in Orange Lingerie Studio

The Search for a Sewing Machine

With any craft, it helps to have the best tool for the task at hand. Tools perfectly suited to the job make your work easier and help you complete tasks more efficiently. Recently I started questioning if I had the best sewing machine for my work and started searching for a new one.

To provide some context, I grew up sewing on mechanical Kenmore machines. In fact, my childhood machine which I still own and occasionally use is pictured below, immediately followed by my second machine, a graduation gift that is no longer with me. When I bought my first machine for myself in 2003, I wanted to have the latest technology and every option available so I bought the then top of the line Husqvarna Viking Designer 1 (pictured above). Over the years, I learned a few things that formed the basis for my latest machine search.


First, I don’t need every available sewing machine feature. I used the embroidery capabilities of my Viking exactly once: the instructional class for the machine. I never touched it again. I prefer hand embroidery. I am also not particularly interested in machine quilting. The reality is that I sew garments, lingerie in particular. I am also a minimalist at heart and only want what I need and use. This lesson alone helped narrow my search considerably.

Second, the user interface for a machine makes a difference to me. My Viking has multiple menus and lots of stitch options. To access stitches and make any adjustments I have to use the touch screen. Since the time to complete a sewing project is motion driven, this is a time waster since I change stitches and needle positions frequently. I knew I wanted a faster way to access stitches and make adjustments without having to go through menus or touch screen motions.

Third, I frequently stop my machine with the needle down to check my stitching or pivot. I needed to continue to have the ability to do this hands free via a tap on the foot pedal or even a knee lever.

Finally, though I have always wanted an industrial machine, the reality is that they are not a good fit for me. Because bra making uses several different stitches, I would need an industrial machine for each stitch type and there is not enough pure straight stitching through just fabric to justify a standard straight stitch machine. Industrials also fall down on my requirement to be portable, which is important given how many times I have moved over the years.

What really pushed me to buy a new machine was my search for better results with silk charmeuse, especially when sewn on the bias. It just seemed like it took a lot of work to get good results on my Viking. I really wanted to find out if there was a better tool for the job.

After researching and testing the machines I was most interested in (an entire process unto itself!), I was set on getting a Pfaff since I really like their IDT feed system. Also since Viking makes Pfaffs, I was also comfortable with how they sew. However, like the Vikings, the Pfaffs have a screen based menu user interface, one of my biggest issues with my current machine. This ruled out a machine that felt comfortable and handled fabric very well.

Back in April at a Susan Khalje couture sewing class I tried out Leisa’s Bernina Aurora 430. While I did not really connect with it, given all the raves about Berninas from Leisa, Sarah and the others in the class I decided to give them another try.

Armed with a bag of fabric samples from my studio, I tested Bernina machines on silk chiffon, silk charmeuse, silk charmeuse on the bias, lace, tricot, silk organza and more. No matter which fabric I tried, I got great looking seams and I liked the fabric handling as well. There is definitely a difference in the fabric feed versus my Viking.

I will skip my least favorite part of the process – getting the best price – to the happy ending. I purchased the Bernina 530! It may not be as pretty as my Viking but it really suits me and my sewing and I am having a lot of fun with it!

What machines are you using in your sewing room? Please share!

14 replies
  1. Wendy Hull
    Wendy Hull says:

    Glad you found the right one for you! Wow you certainly tried out all options! Have fun with it 🙂

  2. maddie
    maddie says:

    Congratulations Norma! You are such a good seamstress and did you’re homework.

    Because I sew at the studio and at home, I have many machines. At the studio is my Juki DDL 5500, my Singer Featherweight and a 1970s zigzag machine. At home, I have a cheap-oh Singer, which I’ll be replacing soon (that’s why I was asking you about your machine testing). Even though the machines vary greatly in price, all work fine except for my cheap-o Singer. It works, yes, but ask it to do a zigzag stitch… no way!

    • Norma
      Norma says:

      Maddie – I love the Featherweight. I have been wanting one of those. Good luck on the search for your Singer replacement!

  3. Jennifer b
    Jennifer b says:

    So nice! My Bernina Aurora 430 was one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. I’ve used it almost every day for 6 years with no issues – just a perfect machine that transitions from denim to chiffon with no problems.
    You’re going to love it!

  4. docksjö
    docksjö says:

    I have a bernina 530 to, for the same reason basically that I have had a lot of problems sewing silk with other machines, I got it almost a year a ago it was a wedding gift (our anniversary is tomorrow midsummer’s day) but I got to choose the model. My grandmother saw the need after seeing me hand sew my wedding dress since the old machine eat the fabric and completely ruined it. I’m very happy with the new machine and it have not yet fail me. Silk crepe, voile, batiste, canvas, lace have all worked just fine this far and taken my sewing to a new level.
    It’s wonderful to work with something that doesn’t fight with you.

  5. sarah
    sarah says:

    Thanks for the shout-out! Our li’l Creative Performance wants to find a forever home. And I’m glad that you found a machine that works for you, even if it is a Voldemort!! Heh.

  6. Grace
    Grace says:

    I also grew up using a mechanical Kenmore. I love that machine but I recently upgraded to a Bernina 350 PE. My main reason for the upgrade is that the Kenmore and my Elna couldn’t handle double needle stitching through knits due to flagging of the fabric. I tested out a double needle on some ponte on the store models and the Berninas handled it like a dream. The one thing I didn’t realize before I bought the machine is that it doesn’t have a 3 step zig-zag which I would love for lingerie sewing. Instead it has a similar stitch that takes 3 steps zig and 4th stitch forward before zagging back over. Does the 530 have a 3 step zig-zag? Which stitches will you be using the most for lingerie?

    • Norma
      Norma says:

      Hi Grace – Nice to hear from someone else who started out with a Kenmore! I do use the 3-step zigzag stitch a lot for lingerie. It really helps keep elastics secure and flat. The 530 does have the 3-step zigzag. On the 350 PE you could try the serpentine stitch you described or a standard zigzag stitch. Just sew up a couple of swatches to see which works best.

  7. Karen
    Karen says:

    I have the Bernina 530 and absolutely love it! I sewed on a Pfaff prior. The Bernina stitch quality is superb, nothing like it. I also treated myself to the additional walking foot, which works so well with knits and fine fabrics. Have fun!

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