The Free Motion Quilting Project: A New...Old...But New Machine

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A New...Old...But New Machine

Reading the title of this post, you might think I've finally taken one stitch too many and have gone utterly insane.

But in truth I really have just purchased a new, old, but new machine!

Yesterday I drove to a quilters house in Hollis, NC and bought a Bernina 1230, which is technically a "new" machine to me.

But it's also an old machine because it was built sometime between 1989 and 1998.

But it's ALSO a NEW machine because it has hardly been used!

When G. emailed me about this machine, she was really asking for advice as to whether she should sell it and get a bigger, quilting oriented machine. She already had the exact same model and came by this machine via a friend.

I instantly went on the alert because I've been waiting patiently for one of these awesome older Berninas to walk across my path again.

Allow me to digress for a moment into a bit of my sewing history:

Once upon a time, I was a newly married woman and starting a new job sewing garments for a living. The brother machine I was using at the time gave out after just one week of hard sewing.

I obviously needed a machine that could take the heat of high speed, high intensity sewing. So I went to my local Bernina dealer, at that time in Asheville, NC.

And what should I find waiting for me? A gorgeous, used, Bernina 1130.

This was my first introduction to this amazing line of machines. I played on the 1130 for more than an hour. No, I didn't need all the fancy stitches. No, I didn't need all the bells and whistles, but golly I fell in love with that machine!

But...I couldn't afford it. I had exactly $400 in my pocket thanks to a college refund check and the price on the 1130 was $675.

Looking back I realize what an unbelievable deal it was. That machine was complete with all the feet, knee lifter, the works. On ebay these regularly go for over $1000.

But I couldn't swing it. Josh and I refused to go into debt for ANY expense, even our wedding, so going into debt for a sewing machine seemed like a silly thing in comparison.

I walked out of that store and went to the local Viking dealership which advertised a machine for $300. Truthfully I was very satisfied with the Viking Prelude 340 I left the store with, but in the back of my mind I never, ever, forgot about that Bernina 1130.

As the years have gone by, I've kept an eye on these machines. Not just 1130s, but 1230s, 1630s and pretty much any other machines in that early computerized line. Pretty much ALL of these machines are golden. They've kept their looks and their awesome stitch quality which means their value is actually increasing as these machines get harder to find.

Every couple of months I'd check Ebay auctions looking for one, but I've never found the "right" machine.

Because it was such luck to run across that 1130 in that quilt shop, I always felt I'd get another lucky break and the machine that was meant to me mine would wander across my path.

And as luck would have it - one did just this week!

What's totally unbelievable is that this machine is ALMOST new. Every piece is here, even the original advertising books and print out guides:

It honestly feels like running across a mint condition tea set that was previously owned by Queen Elizabeth, with ALL the pieces, nothing scratched or chipped. It feels like this machine left the store and came home with me, despite the fact that it's probably more than 20 years old!

What I love the most about this machine is its stitch quality. Every stitch is - literally - perfect. As I said on facebook this morning - Truly nothing pieces like a Bernina.

Now you might be wondering about quilting. Yes, I most definitely can free motion quilt on this machine. Berninas have one of the best feet designed for free motion quilting - the open toe embroidery foot.

You might think the quilting ability of this machine is limited by the small space between the needle and the motor of the machine. This area is called the harp space and in the 1230, this space is around 6 - 7 inches (I haven't actually measured it yet).

But I don't think this is a limitation to quilting. For the last two weeks I've been quilting on a very small Janome HD 1000 with a 6.5 inch harp space and I haven't found this space to be terribly detrimental to quilting.

I believe the biggest reason it hasn't been a challenge to quilt on the Janome HD 1000 is because it's on a level surface with the table surface. It's much easier to move the quilt in general because I'm not pushing and pulling the quilt over the edges of the machine bed.

So I will definitely quilt on the Bernina 1230, but mostly plan to use this machine for piecing and applique. I always have two machines set up these days - one for piecing quilts and one for quilting. This way two projects can be going at a time and I'm not constantly having to switch out machines.

Now you might be wondering about my Janome Horizon 7700 - have we had a falling out?

Absolutely not, though it's hard to love a machine deeply when it's broken!

The catch spring on my Janome Horizon broke a few weeks ago and it turns out the whole tension unit in the machine has to be changed in order to fix this little bit of metal.

It's not all bad though. Since I have to drive all the way to Greensboro to get it fixed, we might as well have a workshop while we're at it!

I'll be teaching at Ye Olde Forest Quilt Shop on February 18th from 10 am - 3 pm. Give the store a call to sign up for the class and I'll see you next month!

I'm off to shut up and quilt on this new, old, new machine!



  1. OH! You lucky girl! Glad you are having fun with your New, old, new machine!!

  2. Congrats and what a great find and I can understand why you would want it! I have a Bernina also and absolutely love how it pieces and free motion quilts:)

  3. I bought an 1130 Bernina when it first came out around 1986 somewhere. I still have it and love it as much as the day I bought it. I have had the mother board replaced once, not bad for all the joy it has brought me. Enjoy your new toy.

  4. Hi, just had to comment. I have a Bernina 1230, since new, about 92. Its real workhorse machine, was only serviced last year for the first time... why so long, well basically I rang and asked and was quizzed, any problems, does it run fine, stitch fine etc etc, yes, well no need to service it then, its designed to run and run,it purrs along. It only got serviced because the plastic ring which holds the bobbin case, lost a grommit and had to be replaced. I'm the free machine embroiderer who drops by here, because I use the quilting patterns to machine on paper!! My dear 1230 doesn't mind what I shove through it!!! Enjoy

  5. Love your New/Old Machine! I'm curious about your statement that Janome's are better for quilting? Are you referring to FMQ or walking foot?

    I currently have a Bernina 440QE, I love it, but learned to FMQ on an older Bernina (maybe an 1130 or 1230) I don't remember. I bought it new and basically ran it to death after 15+ years. Anyway, I don't use the stitch regulator on my 440 since I learned to quilt without it. I just can't get used to the thing :)

    I'm considering getting a 2nd machine (will never give up on Bernina) but was just curious about your Janome statement.

    I'm enjoying the ideas and inspiration on your site....Happy Sewing!

  6. I just purchased an open toe embroidery foot and I've been dying to use it, but I won't until I finish some of the piecing I've started. Glad you found an "old, new machine." :)

  7. Carolyn J - Honestly it's just my personal opinion! I feel that quilting on the Janome Horizon is just so easy and effortless. The QBH foot that comes with the machine is very well designed and can be adjusted right on the foot for any level of pressure, and if you want to quilt with a walking foot the even feed system is right there and much easier to use than a traditional walking foot.

    This is just my opinion though! It's certainly not a scientific study!



  8. !230 is my machine, Bernina is what my husband's mother had, and after I wore out 2 other machines he said any amount was worth Bernina. I have been sewing happily ever since ~

  9. Glad you are happy with your Bernina. But have you ever considered getting an industrial machine? There are so many advantages to an industrial machine over a home machine. For one the feet are better and cheaper. The stitch is really great and the ease of sewing on anything is incredible, not to mention the speed. I feel like I am sewing on a toy when I have to use my home machine. That said the Horizon in its table is a dream for free motion.

  10. reteraCongrats, Leah! Never know where our paths will lead us. I have a Bernina 1080 from 1993 as my back-up plus the Bernina 640E (w/embroidery component) since Christmas 2010. Love them BOTH! Think you can't do better!

  11. Congratulations! Those are wonderful machines, it's true. I wouldn't trade anything for my Viking 500 that sews like a top after all these years, but I do have a Bernie 153 QE for backup when I take the Viking in for cleaning. It was a situation similar to yours - hardly ever used and the woman decided she didn't want it when she had other machines. Since I had the money at that moment, I decided that was a good way to spend it.

    I have to say kudos to you and Josh for staying out of debt from the start. A house, a car, an education - those are the only things I'll go into debt for now, but we weren't smart enough way back then to have that philosophy. Stick to it!

  12. Good things come to those who wait! Glad you got what you wanted! And now you probably appreciate it even more!!

  13. I love my 1130! I bought a Janome 6600 last year for the bigger harp space, but I still love my Bernina 1130 more

  14. G'day. I have a Bernina Activa 240 and even though the space is small for quilting, it can be done. My machine is only a couple of years old and I use it all the time. The only complaint I have with it, is the bobbin department. I find that sometimes when cleaning the hook race, that the whole thing falls out and it's fiddly to get it back in and line it up. That area is just a bit small to get my fingers into. But, it is fantastic for sewing etc and the open toe foot is really great. Take care. Liz...

  15. I had a similar experience when my Mum gave me her Pffaf 1475. She'd had it in her cupboard for 15 years without using it after only using it for 6 months! (She won a fancy Brother embroidery machine and was using that instead) Now I use it all the time and love it to bits.

  16. I got a Bernina too, same day and all! Mine's a tad newer tho! ;) In love with it... :) Have fun!

  17. Congrats on your new to you machine! I bought an older Bernina that had barely been used, and it's been an awesome workhorse for me :-) Enjoy!

  18. Isn't the Janome 7700 just came out? I too first wanted to purchase the Bernina back in 2008 but could not afford it. I ended up purchasing the Janome 6500. Its my only work horse - I hope to get a needle plate soon for my mum's old Singer which will be my standby machine and for garment sewing. I need that 5/8-inch seam allowance.

  19. Very nice, Leah :) Quality tools make all the difference :) I found a new-to-me 1130 at a tag sale last summer that needed a bit of TLC, and now purrs like a kitten. I switch my machines out, so currently this one is my piecing machine :) For FMQ, nothing beats my Horizon - which also sews a beautiful straight stitch.
    You are quite a woman - be sure to add patient and financially savvy to your list of talents :)
    Happy sewing :)

  20. Ah, the thrill of the hunt, followed by the success of finding what you want....enjoy!

  21. I got an 1130 this past summer for under $300. Its actually still packed up due to having to house some unexpected company. But I am almost ready to re-redo my sewing room and now I can't wait to try it!

  22. What a find, I am still exploring my "new" 1230, and the Jackie Dodson book certainly pushes you beyond a straight stitch. The book refers to the 1130, but the machines are essentially the same.
    Last week I renovated two armchairs and sewed the jacquard covers with the 1230. Piece of cake - no problems with tension or the thickness of the material.
    This morning I practiced FMQ without any problems (apart from the usual operator ones).
    You will love the machine, unlike her fancy computerised cousins, she's solid, dependable, non- temperamental, easy to use and just wants to sew.

  23. OMG, same thing happened to me Saturday! Must be the solar flare?

    This makes TWO 1230's, the only thing in the world better than one 1230!

  24. Hi Leah,
    Love your story about the 'one that got away'. I, too, am on a quest for the perfect machine. I wish they made more good mechanical models to choose from. Don't need the bells and whistles. I am now plugging away on a White 1717 that I bought 21 years ago. It is pretty unreliable when it comes to tension, but I feel like it is an old, familiar friend.

    I love your blog entries and videos!

  25. I have the 1230 and am trying to do some free-motion quilting with the same foot. Unfortunately my top thread keeps breaking. Would you have any setting recommendations?

  26. Raquel - I haven't actually used the 1230 for free motion quilting, but I would try dropping the feed dogs (older berninas generally work good with the feed dogs down) and use a spool stand for your thread. This will get the thread feeding into the machine smoother and it will likely stop shredding so badly.

  27. Wow, here I am, a girl far from home, and run across a post that is very close to home. I'm in Seattle, and on Craigslist a Bernina 1230 is posted for $750. Is there anyone here that can give me some feed back on what price range these machines sell for? It looks like they are rather old, but reliable. One post I read said never to pay over $500.00 for older electrical machines due to the fact that parts can be hard to come by.

    Looking forward to some input. In the meantime, I'm off to a Seattle quilt shop to hunt.


  28. Hi Melanie - I would agree with the thing you heard about price, except for this particular machine. Berninas are very well represented with dealers and while the parts aren't cheap, the replacements do work and the machine will easily last another 30 years. If you can get a 1230 for $750, I'd go for it!


  29. I was searching for info on mid arms and came across your post on them... and then saw the photo for this post at the bottom of the page and instantly recognized the machine. That's what I sew on and have for over 30 yrs.

    The only prob I've ever had with it was a couple of years ago... and it turned out that I had worn out a gear. I'll never forget the service tech's face when he came out of the shop, looked at me, and said: "You sew a lot." Uh, yes.... *lol*

    The shop I had purchased the 1230 from is still in business and did the repair very reasonably.

    My 1230 is humming along like a top and I won't part from it.

  30. Heeeelp! I got a Bernina 1130 for free yesterday, just got this old baby (a Bernina 1130) from an old lady, and i was very excited to have it! It was just working fine the first time that i open it and turn it on, and now everything is on, but the pedal seams to do not send the signal to start, so it's on but it's not sewing. I don't know what it could be or what i need to do, help!!

    1. You might need a new foot pedal for that machine. The wires can sometimes go bad and cause issues with the pedals. I had an older Record 830 with a foot pedal that would heat up and cut off. Very annoying!

      Just go to a local Bernina dealer and they should be able to order a new foot for you no problem!

    2. If it was working and now isn't, I'd suggest you look at the bobbin winder. When that's pushed across it disengages the needle, so you might have caught it. Been there, done that. So check everything is positioned where it should be, plugs and leads fully pushed in. Then go to dealer/repair shop.

  31. I'm trying to find out what the difference is between the 1130 and 1230, can anybody tell me? Is one newer than the other, is there a difference in performance / functions? Thanks Louise

  32. I am trying to find out what the difference is between a Bernina 1130 and 1230? And a Bernina record 1230? Is one older than another, are there different functionalities? Can anybody shed some light?

    1. I have both machines and there are a few small differences. The 1130 has a fewer number of decorative stitches and a slightly darker color to the front of the machine. Other than that, it's the same size and shape, compatible with the same feet, and has most of the same functions.


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