The Bernina Beast (790 Plus)

There is a new member of the family that I have yet to have the pleasure of introducing you all to yet… My new Bernina 790 Plus. (Complete with embroidery module because the thing wasn’t monstrously huge enough without it).

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Everything about this machine is ridiculous. It weighs in at a lithe 14.7 kg, the machine alone is over half a metre long without the extension table and has a full colour touchscreen just so it can show you offensive videos of exactly what you’re doing wrong and need to fix. Overall though, it is a ridiculously, ridiculously nice machine with a ridiculous number of features and gimmicks.

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I hadn’t intended to come home with an order for a 790… I really adored my 350 PE but I’d been seeing some very aggressive sales for the Tula Pink version of the 570 QE and it had started to pique my curiosity for what having an embroidery machine, not such a sewing machine, would be like. As I tend to be enthusiasm-rich and time-poor, the idea of something I could do ‘quick and easy’ projects with and still have the fun of the designing and planning part of the embroidery. Plus, too much time in Bernina shops has obviously worked as subliminal advertising for how cool embroidered leather and custom patches could look…

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When I’d bought my 350, I had tried some of the fancier 4 series machines and was sorely tempted, but left the 3 represented the best technology for the price I could afford at the time. One thing that definitely had caught my eye about them was the Bernina Stitch Regulator, a fancy foot (that can have multiple soles) that automatically adjusts the stitch length to the speed at which you move the fabric. If you’re an experienced free motion quilter and have the control to do this manually, it’s a pointless indulgence, but if you’re not it’s one of those quality of life improvements that immediately makes a huge difference to the stitch quality. On paper, it could be a terrible idea, but obviously a great deal of thought, testing and design has gone into it, and while its not infallible, it really makes a noticeable difference.

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Why did I end up with the 7 series and not one of the gorgeously decorate 5 series machines? It was something of a matter of luck and timing. It turned out that there was a regional, and not well advertised, discount going for the 7 and 8 series machines that made them suddenly very competitive with the 570… I’d already mentally committed to an embroidery machine and associated expense, so it was a case of working out whether the ‘higher end’ machines were really worth the extra investment.

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Bernina knows best!

The bigger the series number, the bigger the machine with Bernina. Not ideal if you’re after something portable to take to classes, but I’d argue that while I could cart my 350 around with me, it was already heavy enough that it was unenjoyable. The 8 series has an extra 2 inches of throat space for the quilters and the option for the largest area embroidery hoops… However, embroidery machines are magic and you can adjust and reposition mid-design if you need to cover a larger area than the hoop space allows.

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Build-in Advice Library

If you’re looking for the ‘right model for you’ then there is a comparison tool on the Bernina website which I honestly don’t find that helpful. The problem is that it does not define some of its oddly specific terms like ‘decorative sideways motion stitches’ and even seems to imply that the 8 series does not come with the embroidery module, which is all rather confusing. From looking at this alone, the differences between the 5, 7 and 8 series are relatively superficial, mainly being physical machine size, some creature comforts like fully automatic threading on the 8 series and numbers of stitches. (If you’re looking at older machines apparently there’s some very confusing history on this… The 5 series used to not have the dual feed system that the 7/8s have always had but now does? Keep an eye out if you’re looking for used machines!)

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The glorious thing about the fanciest Bernina’s though is that you don’t care how many built in stitches you have. See something you want? Just make your own. My mind was blown about how straightforward it is to design your own decorative stitches and the interface for putting together your own embroidery designs is relatively straightforward too. With a bit of work, you can find the Bernina Simulator for models, so you can explore what is possible on the machine from your home computer. This was one disadvantage of the 5 series for me is that the decorative stitch creator isn’t included. Some digging around perhaps suggests though that there is a workaround for the non-7/8 series models where stitches can still be designed on the computer, take a look here.

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Of course, all the fancy tech in the world isn’t worth much if the machine doesn’t do what machines do most – straight stitching. I tried three machines, the 590, 790 and 880 and while I couldn’t feel much of a difference between the 7 and 8 series, what really surprised me was how much of an upgrade regular stitching felt in comparison to the 350. Maybe the souped-up motor helps? (There is a rather interesting article on the Bernina motors here.) Either way, it was a ‘didn’t know what I missing’ until I tried it moment.

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Given with the sale prices there wasn’t much between the 5 and 7 series and then, to some extent the 880, it seemed that the few extra features of the 7/8 series perhaps made them the more obvious choice. However, there were conspiratorial whisperings from the staff about perhaps the 8 series not being such a well-tested and troubleshot machine and the small number of additional features made me decide perhaps it was not worth gambling extra money for a potentially less reliable machine.

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Sometimes these deciding on machines is hard because there isn’t really a ‘right’ choice. Even the basic 5 series would have been something of an overindulgence, though would have given me the chance to try some machine embroidery. The 790 Plus was something of a ridiculous overindulgence but it’s a machine I can grow into and I hope will mean no upgrade necessary ever. While I’m not sure it’s always true in the realms of sewing machines, where with a skilled operator can find manual workarounds for everything, it’s true that the right and well-made tech can make things easier and I’m all for that.

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It was a sad farewell to the 350, which had mercifully retained nearly all of its value as a trade-in, but I think it was love at first stitch with the 790… All the old feet I have for my 5.5 mm 350 can still be used with the 9 mm 790 and I’ve not found any issues so far. Getting the boxes home was an experience – the packaging for the machine and embroidery module is truly colossal. It has now been bought a desk of its own (an Ikea Bekant with adjustable legs that seems to survive without any knocking during embroidery) and has been happily monogramming away.

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You can see a ‘quick attempt’ at making a design on the machine and letting it embroider away here. Surprisingly easy, quick and effective. It’s a bit bewildering with the million menus and options and possibilities but I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in and find all the possibilities. I want to finally get over my fear of making clothes too – it has been a long time since the pyjama saga!

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