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.