Sunday, 21 August 2011

Bernina 380 Review

Ooooh look at my shiney new toy! Actually it's a business investment for taking to my new classes! I decided that I don't want to pack up my Aurora 440 three or more times a week so this gorgeous little machine will be my portable companion while the Aurora can stay snug in its' cabinet ready for me to use between classes. I thought I would do a proper write up of it's features as it's difficult to find reviews of machines out there on the internet.

So what do you get for your money? This model comes with a sturdy cover which allows the carry handle to be used through the space in the top:
There are roomy pockets at either end for the foot pedal and power cord, and a large pocket with cover flap on the back for the table, accessory case, manual and hands free lever:
The zipped accessory case is a nice sturdy container for the machine feet and accessories:

This model is supplied with 7 feet: Bernina numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 8, and also the new walking foot:
This version has three interchangeable sole plates including the new one with a centre guide to make it easier to stitch in the ditch. The 380 is not sold as a patchwork edition and doesn't come with a patchwork foot or a darning foot but it takes the same feet as the Aurora so I can use the ones I already have.
There is also a sturdy plastic card with a guide to all the stitches which can be slotted onto the handle for referral while sewing.

The sewing table slides onto the free arm and clicks into place. There is a release button to press when removing it. The table has markings for the centre needle position and measurements either side as well as a ruler in inches and centimetres. The needleplate also has markings for commonly used measurements in inches and a diagonal guide line.
The table feels strong, joins smoothly onto the arm of the machine and has a clear window so you can see door to the bobbin case below. It is slightly sloping towards the front. The bright machine light  illuminates the work area brilliantly. For a quilter the space available to the right of the needle is an important consideration. This model measures 6¼” wide and 4½” high. For comparison the Aurora 440 is 7½” wide by 4½” high - so really not a huge difference! I often hear quilters say that it's impossible to quilt bed quilts on a normal domestic machine - rubbish! I have quilted quite large quilts measuring up to 90" on mine and many other professional quilters use ordinary machines. Here's a picture of about 36" of quilt sandwich in the harp of the 380 and there's plenty more space so I don't think I would have a problem with getting to the centre of a 90" quilt.
While I'm talking facts and figures how does the 380 compare in weight? The machine itself weighs 18lbs compared to 22lbs for the Aurora 440. With the case and all the accessories the 380 weighs 23lbs compared to the Aurora at 29lbs.  Again it doesn't sound much of a difference but actually the 380 does feel much easier to lift and carry partly because it is that bit smaller and in its carry case you can carry it closer to your body. The overall machine sizes are: Bernina 380 - 14½” wide and 6" deep, Aurora 440 - 16" wide by 7" deep

So onto the actual sewing! This baby stitches beautifully. It's quiet and the foot pedal gives the smooth and precise control which is so important for free motion quilting. I've tried out a range of the built in stitches which are chosen from the control panel on the right hand side:

To call up one of the stitches on the reference card simply press the hash sign and key in the stitch number. The display shows the current stitch number, length width and needle position. Of course every stitch can be adjusted in lenght and width and can also be reflected using the button on the right below the screen:
Pressing the middle button will make the machine stop automatically at the end of the stitch repeat. The 380 also has a programmable memory which allows you to choose a sequence of  up to 30 different stitches. I use that for stitching wording and for using a combination of 2 or more stitches. Here are a couple of samples of stitch patterns I've been playing with.
I am really pleased with the stitch quality - particularly the satin stitch which is just as good as on the 440. The 380 also comes with an automatic buttonhole foot (number 3)and once you have stitched one buttonhole it will remember the size and stitch as many as you need at exactly the same length! I do sometimes make clothes so this is so useful.

Other highlights include the efficient needle threader, bobbin winder, a second thread spool pin which folds up from the side and the ability to operate the machine with the stop/start button and a speed controller rather than the foot pedal. I love the hands free 'knee lifter' which I find invaluable for precise control when turning corners or stitching around tight curves in applique work.

I have to confess to one disappointment. The sliding speed controller on my Aurora 440 can be used to limit the speed when using the foot pedal and when using the start/stop button. On the 380 this only works with the start/stop button and not the foot pedal. Having said that, it's not a big issue as I find the foot pedal control so smooth and I can keep a constant speed easily without the speed limiter. I just think it would be useful for those new to sewing machines.

So overall I'm very, very pleased with the 380 and it does look so beautiful! OK it's not a light machine but it is more portable and considering the travelling and work it will be doing I had to have a very strong and reliable machine. A friend who used to be in the trade recently told me that often people who buy very lightweight machines later complain about them moving across the table while they are sewing! One huge advantage of buying it from the shop in Leeds is that once the guarantee runs out I can pay a reasonable annual fee which includes servicing as often as needed, all parts and labour costs for any repairs needed plus monthly club meetings.

Oh, one last thing, the bottom line. Take a deep breath and sit down! The Bernina 380 currently costs a  cool £1095. Yeah, not in everybody's price range, I know. I'm fortunate to be able to invest in it and I do expect it to give me good service for a long time.

Which sewing machine do you use and what features do you think are essential for patchwork and quilting? One or two of my new students don't have a sewing machine yet so any recommendation you have would be very useful.


  1. Oh I'm green with envy.It looks a fantastic machine and I'm sure it will serve you well! A needle threader, knee lifter and walking foot thrown in, wow! Can't wait to see it in action!

  2. That looks like a great machine, but expensive.

    For me, stitch quality is the main thing, with easy adjustment, needle threader (helpful to those of us getting old!) and fairly light as beginners will probably only have one machine, which they'll use at home and take to workshops, would be the important things to consider.

  3. I too have a lighter weight travel machine. It gets almost as much use as my other machine so I have always felt it was a great investment. It has its own special spot in the car so I can sew at unexpected opportunities. I chose one of the same brand as my main machine so I could reasonably assume that a project started on one could be finished on the other with seam allowances being equal.

  4. That`s machine looks fantastic.

  5. Looks like a lovely machine! I have used a Bernina and found the stitch quality excellent. But I am a Janome fan! I love my 6600P which has an acufeed system so you don't need a walking foot. It also has the start stop button which I really like - I never use the foot pedal! It is in the same price range as your new baby at £895 but is very heavy. A good machine for beginners is the Janome Gem which is lightweight and includes the quilting feet as a free extra at the moment. This was selling for £350 at the Festival of Quilts

  6. Looks like a great machine. I have never owned a Bernina. They seem pricier than other machines, but I have friends who swear by them.

  7. I have this machine. It is my first & I love it! If I was going to spend the money, I wanted to be sure I got a good one. It is definately a machine I can grow into.

  8. I have owned a Bernina 800 Sport for nearly 30 years. I decided it was time to buy a new machine that had more features. After looking at several machines and speaking with several people, I decided on a Jacome 3160. What a horrible mistake! I brought the machine home and practiced the stitches like I had done in the store. The stitches seemed sloppy and not very precise. I then pulled out my Bernina 800 and stitched right next to the stitches made with the Jacome. I asked my unsuspecting husband to compare the stitches and hands down the Bernina won. I took the Jacome back to the store and will never again sway away from my Beloved Bernina. I am now a proud owner of a Bernina 380.

  9. Thank you for this great review. Thats wat I wanted to know. I have a 440QE to.Need one for ateliier.

  10. Hmmm... I just sold my Artista 200/730E so I could buy a 750QE, which I'm LOVING, but since it's so much bigger than my old Artisa and weighs THIRTY pounds I've been thinking about getting a smaller machine for portability to classes, for vacations, or costume meetings at my kids' school (they do a musical every year). I want to share feet with my other Bernina, and I'd mostly use the new machine for straight stitch piecing patchwork or maybe a quick mending task when my main machine was set up for embroidery or I was in the middle of quilting with it. I've been looking at the 350QE or PE (forget what they call it exactly) or the Activa 215. Are you still lo ing your 380? Would you recommend it? Also, do you feel like the 5 mm mahine really gives you better piecing than your 9 mm? I have heard that from others. Thanks!

  11. Hi, I recently purchased the Bernina 380 and I am curious about how you created the satin heart stitch. Thank you!