Learning to use my Bernina B480


The new 4 series are Bernina’s top sewing-only machines. I am pleased with the facilities on this 480 machine.
But I think Bernina is very wrong to say the 4 series are suitable for beginners.
There are so many options, it is a very ’sensitive’ machine. It needs to be threaded exactly correctly. All the settings need to be just right for it to do what you expect, and often you have to find out what those are for yourself. I’m an experienced sewist and I have not found the 480 quick and easy to learn.

I have used a Bernina 330 for years so I know Bernina basics (I love my 330 but wanted more decorative stitches and more buttonholes). I have a Bernina 500E (embroidery-only machine, also difficult to learn) so know something about this screen and bobbin.
And I know the sources of support.
There are Bernina video tutorials for the new 4 series (click tutorials tab). But some of them skip through a quick demo with little explanation – I suspect only an experienced sewist can follow what is going on.

The very good and much more detailed Sewing Mastery videos for the Bernina 710 show the previous version of this screen and software. Many useful tips which apply here too.

Videos issued since I wrote this post (so now learning to use this machine is easier !)

In mid-2019 the wonderful Sara at Sewing Mastery started filming videos about the Bernina 480. Perhaps I should have waited 6 months and then I would have been able to learn how to use this machine with much less pain !

This single video from Cottage Quilting is about the new 5 series, but the 480 has many of the same features.

There is now (2020) a 2-hour video from Material Girls Quilt Boutique showing how to use a Bernina sewing machine, including the 480.
Bernina Sewing Mastery 1

I really needed all my experience when I first had this machine, to sort out what was going wrong and why. The first few days I was reduced to tears and thinking I had a lemon several times by all the problems. Okay it all turned out to be user error, but it was not a happy time. Not the best introduction to what was supposed to be a special treat. . .

Whoever writes Bernina manuals does not think the way I do. I read manuals, but this one doesn’t mention much of what happens. The threading guidance is clear.
The new Bernina workbook is sometimes more helpful.
Typical problem – the workbook frequently tells you to use the transition arrow/window, but the word ’transition’ does not appear in the manual – the same function gets several names there.
I’m glad I’ve got pdfs of both manual and workbook for quick ‘finds’ as the index is not much use.
The ? button on the machine is also good, so long as you’re not too flustered to remember to use it ! It’s the only source for meanings of the Sewing Consultant icons.

My guess is the manual was written by engineers, the workbook by teachers (who know user needs), the engineers have higher status in the company and are in head office so their opinions have precedence, and the two groups don’t communicate very much.

I also guess Bernina assume the old support model of customer working closely with dealer to learn how to use a machine, and working with a personal teacher to learn how to sew. But here in UK most Berninas are bought online, and most sewing teachers wouldn’t know how to use this machine. (My dealer offers free lessons, but they’re several 100 miles away in the middle of nowhere, and I haven’t got a car.)

I do now know :
– I need to make many exploratory samples, to find how to get the machine to do something before doing any process ‘for real’.
– it saves me much hassle if I go through the workbook exercise the first time I do something. I can still end up puzzled, but not as much as if I try to work out for myself what to do. . . Often the results seem random, but that usually turns out to be because some function I hadn’t realised is important is not switched on or off as it should be.

The manual/ workbook/on-screen tutorial instructions are not complete, and you need to try things out to fill the gaps. I make notes, and sometimes have had to try several times before I found what works.
I like detailed written instructions when I’m learning, and what’s provided was not enough for me. I don’t know how a ‘jump in and have a go’ learner would get on with this machine, I got thoroughly confused when I tried things that way !

Yes it’s good to have so many options on this machine. But many options make for a complex machine, and choosing between the options is also complex. It would have been good to have better help with learning to do that.

After 6 weeks of using this machine I am gaining confidence.
And the sewing is not a problem ! I have sewn 8 layers of cotton batting, also one layer of rayon challis, both without difficulty.

I haven’t yet explored or mastered all the options, but I think the 480 has excellent modern-style facilities for an experienced sewist :
– 5 presser feet supplied – general 1C, overlock 2A, buttonhole slider 3A, zipper 4, blind stitch 5 : mine also included a walking foot 50.
– presser foot pressure control, ‘free hand’ knee lift for presser foot, foot pedal control of needle, big front-loading bobbin.
– securing stitches, thread cutter (some choice about how those are used, I found the defaults confusing, and now just press the buttons when I need them),
– classic Bernina rotary knobs for changing stitch length and width while stitching,
– 9 buttonholes, 2 eyelets, proper bartacks – on-screen measure of button size, adjustable buttonhole width, density, slit width.
– 9mm width decorative stitches (5.5mm on the 435, 475), about 250 of them, and 3 western alphabets with lower case – which can all be combined (a challenge to learn),
– pictorial colour touch screen for stitch editing and combining (edits include mirroring, number of repeats, lengthening with stitch density maintained), screen shows each sub-stitch in a stitch pattern, in real size – during stitching the screen shows the current needle position in the stitch pattern,
– automatic adjustment of top tension with stitch type.
– personal memories, plus usb socket for external storage.
– on-board support : brief written operating instructions, sewing consultant suggests stitch choices and settings to use for main fabric groups, ‘eco’ standby mode, choice of display styles, servicing information.
– optional extras :
. . . many other presser feet as both 5.5mm and 9mm feet can be used (if the foot hasn’t got the top ’sensor’ the machine automatically defaults to narrower stitches, and if you try to sew a wider stitch the screen shows an animation of the needle hitting the foot !),
. . . BSR for free-motion sewing,
. . . gold (high tension) and red (thick thread) bobbin cases for special techniques.
And the stitch quality is a treat.

Now I know how to learn to use this machine, I am enjoying what it can do. You need to be determined to keep trying, if you want to find how to use this machine to its full potential. But it repays putting the work in.

But beginners won’t know enough to know what a machine ‘should’ do, or how to recover when things go wrong. I think this will be a ‘machine too far’ for most, and they would be very much better off with one of the Bernina 3 series machines. Those may not have all the fancy facilities but they do everything needed for general sewing of garments, home dec and crafts. With one of those, a new sewist can get confident with sewing basics. Learning to sew is difficult enough without having to try to understand a complex machine at the same time.

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Links available August 2019

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2 Comments on “Learning to use my Bernina B480”

  1. Cherry Robinson Says:

    I have had my high-end Bernina just over a year now, and have gone through many of the frustrations and issues that you mention. I’m pushing 70 and have sewn for myself and other people all my life, so I have plenty of experience on different machines.
    I think people have to realize this is not only a beautifully engineered sewing machine, but also a computer with a complex software program, subject to all the normal computer issues.
    I live in the US, so unlike you I have a competent dealer I can call when necessary.
    I shall be calling today as the computer screen has frozen again, and a simple on/off hasn’t fixed it. Hopefully she can walk me through the steps to reset it while on the phone.
    I would counsel anyone buying such a machine NOT to trade in their old one. You definitely need a backup, and sometimes all you want to do is sew something simple without all the choices.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Good points Cherry, Thanks. I’ve been sewing for 75 years, the first 30 using a hand cranked machine 😀 but I have quite a bit of experience with modern computerised machines. I do like what this machine can do, but I do think the instructions could be very much better, and I do think it’s irresponsible to say this would be a good machine for beginners.

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