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.

M7547 Sew-Along: Darts and Pockets (steps 1-13)

McCall's M7547 Sew-Along

Welcome to Week 4 of the McCall’s M7547 sew-along. If you’re keeping pace with us you should have made a muslin and cut out your fashion fabric by now. If you aren’t sewing along in real-time, no worries! We’ll leave these posts up indefinitely.

Since so many of you have told us you want more video tutorials, here’s a straightforward video I made that explains how to do all the steps this week, from the darts in the beginning through adding the pockets in step 13. (Excuse the low production values!)

Sewing darts on the back pockets. Making darts on midweight woven fabrics is pretty easy to do. First, mark on the wrong side of your fabric where your dart begins and ends. In wovens that don’t fray I like to make little snips outside the seamline to mark where the dart legs start. These make it easier to line up the dart legs.

Stitch your dart as you normally do. When I get about .5″ away from the dart point, I reduce my stitch length to about 1, stitching right off the fabric. Tie a knot in the threads to secure your stitches. The small stitches near the dart point create a secure dart that holds up to stress.

McCall's M7547 Sew-Along
Back dart in M7547 pants pattern. My fabric is a stretch cotton twill I found in the garment district.

Stitching the pockets. First, pockets are a personal design choice. You can add them or omit them; either way these pants/overalls will still look good. I’m not crazy about back pockets on me, so I only made the cargo-style pockets for the front.

For these cargo pockets you’re going to make a narrow hem at the curved upper edge, where your hand slips in the pocket. Turn under 5/8″ here and press. Then fold under the seam allowance and press so you have a narrow hem. Stitch.

Next, turn under the seam allowance on remaining pocket edges, except for the little part at the top that will be enclosed by the waistband. To guarantee that I’m pressing under exactly 5/8″, I stitch just a hair to the right of the 5/8″ seamline, creating a stitching line that becomes my pressing line. I used to turn and press under using a seam gauge to measure, but that’s time-consuming and harder to maintain a consistent 5/8″ accuracy.

McCall's M7547 Sew-Along
Miter the corners to get a sharp point here. Fold in the corner at the point where the seamlines intersect; press. Then turn in seamlines and press again.

McCall's M7547 Sew-Along

Pin your pockets in place matching the symbols at the upper edge near the waist. In the video I show you how to do this and how to make sure both the left side and the right side of your pants are mirror images.

Edgestitch the pockets in place, then topstitch about 1/4″or less away from the edgestitching. Baste the upper edge of the pocket in place.
McCall's M7547 Sew-Along


Note: In step 10 we tell you to trim away the right front mock fly extension. Do this if you plan to sew a mock fly. Since I’m omitting the mock fly in my version, after I took the above photo I trimmed the extension on both front pieces.

Next week on the sew-along: My co-host Amanda will walk you through steps 14-24. Don’t forget to join our Facebook Group for the sew-along! And readers, when I tell you that these M7547 pants are one of my most favorite things I’ve sewn recently, it is NO LIE. Love these pants and am already obsessing about making another pair.

Sewing La La Land: Dreamy Dresses, Sewing Tips

La La Land costume
La La Land sketch by Mary Zophres; photo from Lionsgate. (via Hollywood Reporter)

Have you seen the movie La La Land yet? In the movie Emma Stone wears a series of “retro realistic” dresses that look like you could buy them off the rack at Bloomingdale’s. (A deliberate choice, according to costume designer Mary Zophres.) But at the same time, the dresses are memorable—you find yourself thinking about the colors and the way they float as Emma dances in them.

You won’t be able to find these La La Land dresses in stores, but you can make very similar versions yourself! In today’s blog post we pair Emma’s dresses with possible patterns, and give you some sewing tips from Marcy Tilton for working with lightweight fabrics such as chiffon and georgette. Read on!

Blue dress from La La Land: Sew the look with McCall's M7281

To make your version of this party dress, here made up in a brilliant blue, use McCall’s M7281. For the bodice and skirt lining, where you need a more stable fabric, use crepe or a lightweight satin with a soft drape. For the overbodice and skirt use a floaty chiffon that will accentuate your very best dance moves.

La La Land green dress: Sew the look with Butterick B6380

With its sweetheart neckline this emerald green, date-night dress has a slightly retro feel to it. Butterick’s B6380 by Gertie is a pretty good match, especially if you convert the sleeves to a cap or flutter sleeve. Go for lightweight crepe de chines that puddle into soft folds.

La La Land yellow dress: Sew the look with McCall's M7500

This is the yellow dress you’ve probably seen in images for the movie; it’s when Emma and Ryan first dance together. McCall’s pattern (M7500) has the basic shape of the yellow dress, with the square neckline and full skirt. We’d use the tucked bodice from View D, and we’d alter the sleeves from View C or D so they’re cap sleeves. For fabrics, try a silk crepe or georgette with a delicate floral print.

Ready to sew your own La La Land dress? Here are some tips from Marcy Tilton, Vogue Patterns designer and sewing expert, on working with tricky fabrics like chiffon and georgette:Vogue Patterns designer Marcy Tilton

  • Cut sheer fabrics such as crepe and georgette using a smooth paper:
    • Lay down a layer of paper* on the cutting table, and trim the ends so they are straight (at right angles to the opposite edge). This assures that you can line up the grain of the fabric with the edges of the paper.  
    • Tear or pull a thread on the cross grain of your fabric at either cut edge to assure the grain is straight. This is key.
    • Place the fabric on top of the paper, smoothing so the grain is straight. Align the selvedge and cut edges with the paper. This assures that the grain is straight on the pattern pieces.
    • Pin the pattern through all layers and cut through all layers. The bottom paper layer keeps the soft fabric from shifting as you cut and allows you to move and mark the pieces without distorting. 
  • Buy at least a quarter yard extra to allow for shrinkage and so you have extra to test with. 
  • Test fabric scraps for needle size and stitch length. 
    • Use a small (#10/11) sharp needle, fine polyester or silk thread and short stitch length (2.0-1.5 mm).
  • Pre-treat fabric by dipping in lukewarm water and air drying. Roll in a clean towel to remove excess water. Do not put in the dryer. Steam press after pre-shrinking.
  • After sewing, hand launder and air dry. Crepe weave fabrics are created with highly twisted yarns that will shrink, sometimes just with steam, so pre-treating is essential even if you plan to dry clean. In that case, give the yardage a good steam press before cutting. 
  • Use French seams whenever possible, making them as narrow as possible. 
  • If you are going to use a serger you will have to test stitch width, length and thread weight. You want something that is thin, light and nearly invisible. 
  • Cut with a rotary cutter or scissors (in this case override the ‘rule’ about cutting paper with your special fabric tools.)
  • Mark with tailor tacks, or fine dots using a dressmaker pencil.
  • If the fabric looks the same on both sides, mark the wrong sides with stick-on label dots.
  • Plot the order of construction carefully. Leave the fabric pinned flat on the table until you are ready to sew them. Hanging/moving can sometimes cause stretching or distorting.
  • Stay-stitch front and back neck edges first thing.

* Suitable smooth papers are: surgical exam table paper, brown kraft paper or tracing paper.