What It’s Like to Own a Five-Figure Sewing Machine

Bernina 790 Plus
This 790 Plus Bernina sewing machine was mine for a few months

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to sew with a sewing machine that costs five figures? I recently had the opportunity to test-drive the Bernina 790 Plus (retail $12,499) for the past several months, and, not surprisingly, I’m in love with this machine.

[Before I tell you what I liked about the 790 Plus, let me fill you in on how I came to possess it for a few months. Back in August we launched the McCall’s Fashion Embroidery Collection, a set of really cute vintage images from our archives that were turned into downloadable machine embroidery designs by Embroidery Online. I realized that we didn’t have any finished embroidery samples to show, and none of us at McCall’s had access to a sewing machine that does embroidery. So we reached out to our friends at Bernina and asked if they could help us out. Through their dealer Sew Right Sewing Machines in Queens, NY, I was able to get my hands on this gorgeous machine as a loaner for a few months.]

Ok, what I thought about the Bernina 790 Plus: 

1. The Sewing Part of This Machine

The 790 Plus did beautiful stitching, each and every time. I never had to flip the fabric over to make sure the tension was ok—it always was. So this one passed the stitch test with flying colors.

Other things I really liked about the  sewing features of the 790 Plus:

  • The gazillions of decorative stitches that you actually want to use. Sure, most machines these days come with several decorative stitches and alphabets. But this model has 1,700+ stitch  patterns and they’re really stylish too. I made an Isabel Marant-style jacket using one of the stitches.

    Bernina 790 Plus
    My in-progress jacket with decorative stitching done with the 790 Plus
  • The strong lamp that really lights up your stitching and work area. I don’t have the best overhead lighting in my sewing area, and task lights help but don’t provide as much light as I’d like. The first time I turned on this machine and the light came on, I practically sang. Hallelujah I can see what I’m sewing!
  • The automatic thread cutting feature. This is so cool! You press a button when you’re done stitching, and it snips the threads and raises the presser foot. I did not know how much time I was spending snipping threads (and looking for the scissors to snip the threads).
  • Using a button to raise and lower the presser foot. No more reaching around the back to grab a lever. Just push a button right at the front of the machine and up and down it goes. I found I was sewing better, because it was so easy to stop and reposition the fabric.
  • The Eco button. Press this button and your machine goes into energy-saving sleep mode…but when you press it again it wakes up and everything is set just where you left off. I loved that I could be in the middle of sewing and have to leave to go eat dinner or run an errand, but that the Eco button allowed me to so easily resume sewing when I was ready.
  • The “can’t [expletive] this machine up because it won’t let you” feature. This being a loanerBernina 790 Plusmachine, I was worried that I’d do something wrong and possibly mess it up. You really can’t do that with the 790 Plus. If it senses you’ve done something incorrect, like have the wrong stitch plate in place, the user interface [screen] will tell you to stop and fix it. Plus, the start/stop button will turn from green to red, indicating you need to reassess the situation before proceeding further. 
  • The bobbins that come with this machine are HUGE and hold a lot of thread. So nice to stitch longer without having to stop and wind a fresh bobbin.

 

Bernina 790 Plus
The 790 Plus with the embroidery attachment in place

2. The Embroidery Part of This Machine

Though I got a quick intro to embroidering with the 790 Plus from Maryanne at Sew Right when I first picked up the machine, I was a complete newbie at machine embroidering. Knowing I only had this machine for a short time, I really plunged headfirst into this craft. 

Again, here is where the 790 Plus’s “we won’t let you screw up this machine no matter how hard you try” feature was invaluable. I really put this machine through its paces as I blundered my way through learning how to successfully machine embroider on a variety of fabrics. I found that when the machine is in embroidery mode the user interface plays a key role in guiding all your steps and decisions. Any time the machine stopped unexpectedly, the user interface showed me on the screen where the malfunction was occurring  so I could fix it right away. (Any malfunctions were 100 percent user error; I admit I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning.)

But I was quickly able to grasp basic machine embroidery—and I got so hooked on it! I’d find cool monograms and embroidery designs on the internet, and then I’d download them and save them on a USB drive. Pop the drive into the 790 Plus, find the designs and start embroidering right away. It was easy to size the designs up or down, and to combine designs. Plus, the 790 Plus comes with a nice library of designs and alphabets.

Bernina 790 Plus
A lingerie bag I sewed and embroidered for my niece.

A big shoutout to the team at Bernina who wrote the manual that comes with this machine. It’s well illustrated and clearly written, and I used it A LOT. Love a good manual.

Bottom line: As standalone components, I give top marks to both the sewing and the embroidery systems of this machine. Whether you’re sewing or embroidering, you’ll find the smooth stitching that’s the hallmark of all Bernina machines. With the 790 Plus, you get one incredibly functional machine that sews AND embroiders, plus is packed with features like ample on-screen support and automatic thread cutting at the end of a seam. If you are serious about sewing and embroidering, I highly recommend you visit a Bernina dealer and test-drive this machine.

I’m sad I have to say goodbye to this loaner machine, but using it for the past several months has proven to me that, if you’re someone who sews as much as I do [serious hobbyist, 10-15 hours per week], owning the best machine you can afford is well worth the expense. Sitting down to sew or embroider with a top-of-the-line machine like the 790 Plus is akin to driving a luxury car—you really can just sit back and enjoy the stitch. 

Bernina 790 Plus
Look at all the feet that come with the 790 Plus. You get this cute display case too.
Bernina 790 Plus
Monogramming my own labels with the 790 Plus
Bernina 790 Plus
Getting ready to sew a monogram.

We’ve been sewing since 1863.

14 comments
  1. Thanks for the afternoon delight – I can go back to the phone now and when I phase out of the conference all I will pretend I, too, get a shot at a month with a luxury automobile.

  2. I just purchase a Husqvarna Viking Ruby embroidery machine. I was a mere $5,500 but it has many of the options you mentioned. I have just recently started sewing with it and it is a dream and I had other Husqvarna Viking machines. You are correct that having a luxury sewing machine does make it much easier to create beautiful pieces.

  3. I LOVE your jacket in progress! I could just never seeing myself spending that kind of money on a machine and finding the room for a whole new level of sewing supplies. I am, however, in love with my Pfaff machine which I thought was terribly expensive a few years ago, at $2400. It has been worth every penny, it has auto thread snip, auto pressure foot down by touching the foot pedal, auto tension adjust, and probably more that doesn’t come to mind at the moment. It’s made lots of bras and swimsuits out of really difficult fabrics, no problems! Even a little embroidery capability, all I need. Great article, though! I enjoyed it.

  4. All the features you mention is on my Elna 780 ($3000) EXCEPT the embroidery 🙂 I do believe however I could buy an embroidery exclusive machine for likely $1000 and I’d still be a lot less than almost $13,000 (I’m assuming that’s USD?). I’m glad to read you had a lot of fun with it but to be frank that is a LOT of money for a sewing machine 🙂

  5. Sounds amazing. So, are you going to upgrade your sewing machine? I am saving for a Bernina, but unfortunately this one is out of my price range.

  6. Sounds like a great machine. Has everything a sewer would need and want. Great investment.

  7. Dear Meg, You do indeed have a dream job!, and got a loaner machine … what a bonus to be use such a machine. Several years ago I was able to purchase a Baby lock symphony and it is a dream to sew with. Many bells and whistles that make any sewing project smoother, such as thread snip, separate bobbin winder, needle threader, it will even let me adjust the sewing speed. It does not do the embroidery work, but may-be my next machine will. I enjoy the McCall’s blog and seeing your job up close. (wish I could work with you for a week) Keep sharing with me Meg, I just love the look into your world.

  8. I think for that kind of crazy money you can get not one but TWO brand new industrials that will do what you need 1000x better. My Juki comes with most of those features as standard (except all the fancy stitches & whatnot) and it cost me $2000aud second-hand. If you needed an overlocker you could get an industrial one of those too and it would still be less that $12,000 total.
    I think once you get to a certain price point you gotta decide if you want to stay with domestic and pay more for things that you will likely be using less, or with an industrial it gets you the things you really need at the best quality possible. If you are not embroidering *constantly* I don’t see the value in these machines at all.
    That said, it’s great you got a chance to test it out!

  9. Personally, I find machine embroidery to be cheap-looking. However, I do have some advice for anyone who is interested in this type of machine. Every year the companies that manufacture these machines bring out a NEW model and at that time a lot of folks with older machines trade theirs in. Consequently, the dealers have “previously loved” machines that do essentially the same thing for a LOT less, plus most reputable dealers will offer a minimum of a 6 month warranty and will let you test it before you buy it (in store, of course).

  10. My parents live near the store you borrowed the machine from. I think I need to go there, just to look at it in person, and dream of owning it! Unfortunately, it’s price tag is a bit steep for me. My Pfaff was $650, and for now, it will just have to do. Thanks for the article.

  11. Full marks to Meg for giving this machine back! I have a Pfaff Creative 2 which is combination sewing/embroidery and has some of the wonderful features you mention above (foot down/up/pivot at touch of button or pedal, auto tie-off/thread snips etc). Price is around a third of the top range models but, by golly, I’d get the ‘Porsche’ if I could!!
    I have tried the Husqvarna Epic and also seen the Pfaff Icon which are Bernina’s 790 Plus equivalents and I know people who have them and they are in LOVE!
    I sew over 5 hours a day so I would make very good use of that baby!
    As a dressmaker, I never really thought I would be that ‘into’ embroidery but now I have it, I too, am addicted!
    I was impressed with the idea that I can be even MORE creative by making my own lace, wonderful purses in the hoop, Christmas stockings, personalised towels, baby bibs, EVERYTHING!
    I love the big colour screen on this Bernina which would make everything so simple. Mine is a very tiny black and white one, so I have to keep my wits about me as the design is too small to see clearly. Fortunately the machine is clever enough to know what it’s doing!
    And to all those people who say ‘You can get an industrial cheaper’ and ‘Get a separate embroidery machine’, honestly, until you’ve tried one of these machines, you have no idea!
    I hope you enjoyed your sewing Heaven, Meg! (I’m a teensy bit jealous!)

    1. I agree with you Anne. You don’t know what you don’t know. I have a Viking Topaz which seems to have a lot of the same features. I thought the Husqvarna Epic was closer to $16K, but maybe I’m wrong. Viking runs specials where you can trade in ‘any’ sewing machine and get $5000 off. I was so excited to finally be able to get a Viking and then I learned there was so much more out there. I got a Bernina demo at a dealer that sells both Bernina and Husqvarna Viking and I was surprised to learn that the Bernina and Pfaff may be superior in quality.

      I do think that hand embroidery and hand quilting is the best…. if you have the time. Some people have multiple machines. I have heard that some still rave about the Singer 301 circa 1050’s. I have read that some have made beautiful pieces with old machines they love.

      Yes it is super expensive so it depends on what you want. Keeping in mind that it is a business out to make money, I won’t say never. It depends on how much further I decide to go with my craft.

  12. I have a Bernina Artista 200E and love it. Machine embroidery is so much fun, particularly when you have the software for designing, too!!! I really can’t imagine paying 12K for this, though.

  13. I too, have a 12,000.00 machine. Mine is a Babylock and it is so loved. My husband, Robert Moore, purchased it and a top of the line Babylock serger. He loves me so, I’m so lucky!

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