Bernina 440 – My favorite “feature”

When I was twelve and I asked my mom to teach me to sew, one of the first lessons was how to use her Riccar sewing machine. It was a pretty high-end model, built to last, and as far as I know, still runs great. The only thing I specifically remember from that lesson was my mother’s stern admonition: “Never, NEVER, turn the hand wheel backwards.” She threatened me with death if I did it, and demonstrated how to turn the handwheel properly. She meant that the handwheel on the machine should never be turned away from me as I was seated at the machine, and she explained that that would cause the threads to tangle and possibly break the machine.

Many years later, I was quite surprised by how many people I saw doing just that in classes, and wondering why the threads were all jammed up and they couldn’t get the fabric out of the machine. I guess they missed that part of the lesson? More recently, I’ve (carefully) risked my mother’s wrath by turning the handwheel on my Pfaff backwards just one half of a complete turn, to get the needle to come back up without completing the stitch if I’ve taken just that one stitch too many (or the stitch landed in the wrong place) when I’m machine quilting. (Theoretically my mother wouldn’t care anymore, since it’s not her costly machine I’d be breaking, but do me a favor and keep my malefaction between you and me!)

One half of a complete rotation of the handwheel doesn’t seem to damage the machine, but frequently it will tangle the threads, so sometimes the technique works and other times it doesn’t. If it works, I’ve saved myself taking out a whole line of machine quilting because there’s one wrong stitch at the end. If it doesn’t, sometimes I can keep stitching (and ignore the little jig of the misplaced stitch or try to work it into the design somehow) and other times the threads are so tangled that stopping and restarting is the only option. It’s a 50-50 chance with the Pfaff.

With the Bernina 440 however, it’s a sure thing, and you know me, I’m all about a sure thing. I don’t know whether this function is really considered a “feature,” but it’s value added for me either way. When my friend Nadine and I realized that we’d purchased the same machine within weeks of each other, we chatted a bit about it and she shared this feature with me. I think that the reason this works on the Bernina and not on the Pfaff is because the bobbin assembly functions completely differently, though I’ve not been able to confirm this with the dealer since he’s German and mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut, especially with technical jargon like this.

Bobbin assembly hook variations, Pfaff and Bernina

My theory as to why this works on my Bernina every time but not on my Pfaff machines is this: The Pfaff machines I have now and have had in the past (models 955, 1475, 7550, 2124, and a 2054/56), have all had rotary hook assemblies for the bobbin (shown at left, above). The top thread is caught by the hook, and the hook makes a complete 360 degree rotation over and over again to make the stitches. The Bernina 440 has an oscillating hook (shown at right), which only goes back and forth to make the stitches, not around and around like the rotary hook. The stitch on the Bernina 440 is actually completed later in the stitch cycle than it is on the Pfaff, which is why it’s possible to “undo” a stitch by turning the handwheel backwards just a bit until the needle comes back out of the fabric, and then you can put the needle back down into the fabric and continue on.

So why is this such a big deal? Think about free motion machine quilting for a sec. Whenever you pause to reposition your hands or turn a corner, or even when you’re just starting with a new line of quilting, that first stitch you take is very likely to be too short, too long, or in the wrong place entirely. Even after all these years of machine quilting, I still have issues with that first stitch being just right. This “feature” on the Bernina 440 has saved my butt countless times at those “wonky first stitch” moments. I’ve relied on it at other times when trying to get the needle in just the right spot for whatever reason. I can see this being useful for other types of detailed sewing as well, like machine appliqué, top stitching, etc.

All of that being said, I must add this disclaimer: This works for me on my machines. Check your manual or ask your dealer what type of hook your machine has if you don’t know for sure. Try it at your own risk, or ask your dealer about it before you do it. I can’t take responsibility for repairs if it doesn’t work and causes some issues with your machine! If you do try it out, let me know how it goes, and if you think it’s useful!