Sewing Machine Review: Bernina 380

As the 1 year anniversary of getting my own sewing machine approaches, I want to write a review for the Bernina 380 to help any others who are making up their minds about buying one.

The Bernina 380

First, a bit of background about my experiences with sewing machines. I've been sewing since I was very young, mostly by hand but when I did start to use a machine in high school it was my mom's Bernina Activa 130. In college, I used my roommates vintage Singer (from the 60's), a basic modern Singer, a miniature travel machine, the mechanical Bernina 1008.

When deciding on a sewing machine, I went and tested out a bunch of them by bringing scraps of my usual fabrics in all thicknesses and layers and I also asked about sales, as there was no way I wanted to pay full price for any machine when I could wait for a sale. Here's the reasoning why I picked the machine I did:

Why a Bernina:
  • If you sew regularly (at least an hour a week), you need the reliability of a machine with solid metal insides, which many modern machines don't have. Also, in my case, I make some money off of commissions and the knowledge that my machine will last for years and years with heavy use is awesome.
  • Quality of stitches - compared to many modern inexpensive machines, the stitches are always consistent even at high speeds.
  • The warranty - Extremely generous! (2 year warranty on electrical, 5 year warranty on boards, 20 year warranty on parts). All you have to do is make sure it's serviced by a certified Bernina technician.
  • Free classes - Even though I have been sewing for years, taken classes, and worked in a costume shop, the woman who taught the free class that came with my machine was extremely knowledgeable and taught me specific tips and techniques to use for the machine.
  • Free 1 year checkup - A $100 value!
  • Free help! - At the GStreet I bought my machine at, the Bernina specialist is happy to answer questions on the phone or in person at the store. She even helped me troubleshoot a problem I was having my first month.
  • Left handed machine- I am left handed and Berninas still have the presser foot lever is on the left hand side of the machine. Many of the modern machines and other companies try to move it closer to the center/right side, which is awkward for me to use.
  • Many different feet options - I have the choice of over 70 different feet, including the awesome ruffler and hemmer foot.

In the end, certain features really sold me on the Bernina 300 line (although I really considered the 200 line and the 1008). The entire 300 line:
  • Small sized machines - As a recent graduate with only an internship, I had no idea where I was going next, so a smaller, portable machine appealed to me.
  • The stitches and monograms - I really liked the mechanical 1008, but I knew the ability for decorative stitches and monograms would be useful for hobby sewing, even if not my usual clothing/costume commissions.
  • Extra features - The higher end of the 200 line was no longer available in my area (except used) and if I was going to pay that much, I wanted to have the full warranty.
  • Within my price limit - All of these machines ranged from $700-1400, not on sale. And there was an excellent sale going on at GStreet for these machines.
  • Autopilot! (as a friend of mine calls it) - these machines sew by themselves in straight lines with minimal guidance and with a speed adjusting slide. This means I can sew decorative stitches with no worry about consistency.

What sold me on the 380:
  • The free hand system - While I was skeptical in the store of why I'd need it, it was invaluable while working on the Tree of Gondor coat and I'm sure will be on many other projects.
  • Top of the line - My dad recommended I get the highest grade machine I could afford so that I could grow into it over many years. He's usually right about these sorts of things.
  • Tonnes of stitches - 20 practical stitches, 12 patchwork stitches, 4 buttonholes, 79 decorative stitches, 2 alphabets. It's pretty neat.
  • Luggage quality carrier - A really nice padded, rolling case that fits the machine and all my accessories. Another plus for a travelling student.
  • Lots of feet - The 380 came with most of the feet I wanted, besides specialty feet like the ruffler and hemmer.
  • Geared for general sewing - Unlike the 350 Patchwork Edition, which had many features geared towards quilters, the 380 had more features/stitches geared towards general sewing.

Review of Performance:

As a seamstress/costumer, the Bernina 380 is almost perfect for me. It's a smaller machine, but as a travelling student I don't need a large complicated one that does embroidery right now. Also, the smaller throat on the machine hasn't been a problem. It can power through many layers of thick fabric (corsets and heavy upholstery) and it also sews thin fabrics well (such as sheers and light cotton) with just some tension adjustments. One of the criticisms I read about the 300 series is there is no physical adjustment for presser foot pressure but it seems to adjust well on its own and I've had no problems with it so far. However, I don't really quilt though fiddly layers and I don't usually work with extremely thin fabrics, so I don't know about how it would work with those consistently. Also, on average I sew 3 hours a week but if I have a costuming deadline or commission, I have been known to sew over 10 hours a week. And my sewing machine works just the same as it did when I first bought it.

So, if you're in the same situation as I am: a travelling student who needs a reliable, all purpose machine, then a Bernina 380 is an excellent choice.