Archive for the ‘sewing technique’ category

Learning to use my Bernina B480

August 5, 2019


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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Books I have 2 copies of

December 4, 2017

I moved about 2 years ago, and for many reasons have not yet unpacked my many books.

Of course it has been a good excuse to buy some sewing books that I didn’t already have ! I’ve also felt the need to have access to several sewing books that I already owned.
I prefer print versions of reference books, but for a second copy have been getting Kindle versions where available.

I’ve found it interesting to pull together a list of what I already have, hidden in a pile of boxes, and felt a need to look at so got another copy. They turn out to be mostly simple books with a generous spirit. And I’ve mentioned a few videos which supplement the books.

Basic but not usually for complete beginners – I’m relieved to find I haven’t felt a need to refer to books that tell me how to use my machine, tools, and patterns 😀 And, although I do a lot of work on muslins, I haven’t bought any repeat copies of (or new) books on fit – these days I know enough to do-it-myself by ‘reading the wrinkles’. Though no doubt I will be continuing my fitting ‘rescue fantasy’ by trying yet more video classes on pant fit. . .

My choices make it obvious my main focus is not couture technique but simple techniques for sewing and pattern altering – though they do need to give quality results. Simple garments with much potential for variation. And I know, from my pleasure in my collection of 19c sewing books, that I have an almost infinite capacity for reading multiple instructions for the same technique.

Most of these books and classes include full size patterns, or have simple instructions for making your own. Most not for complete beginners – you do need to know a surprising amount to follow even the simplest garment sewing instructions. Although many of the books are simple, this isn’t a post on learning to sew.

The easiest of all, for both sewing and pattern alterations
See how much you can do by playing with the simplest of patterns.

Wiener & Rosenberg – Illustrated hassle-free make your own clothes book (don’t know how I got a kindle version, it doesn’t seem to be available now – perhaps too many people thought it’s in the boho spirit of the book to pirate copies). Draw simple patterns direct onto fabric.

Sonya Philip of 100 Acts of Sewing – video not book – shirt and pants classes at Creative Bug. The same sort of vision as the hassle-free book but with paper patterns (pdfs).

More sewing skills

Bolsover – Sewing machine basics (I do love the tunic pattern). Home dec and clothes, paper patterns. Does start with getting to know your machine, sewing straight lines, turning corners. . .

Aoi Koda – 12 lessons – all clothes (original in Japanese, now out of print – second copy in French). I love the very visual instructions in Japanese pattern books – a little easier to understand when annotated in a familiar language ! Overlapping traceable paper patterns.

Beyond beginner sewing, techniques only

The great Vogue Sewing Book – I already had the 1984 ‘new’ edition – bought when it first came out and was hugely expensive, to celebrate getting a new job ! Now I also have the 3rd. edition metric version.

Last Christmas I got the Threads magazine archive on DVD.

Simple pattern making

Cal Patch – Design It Yourself clothes (kindle version). Draft your own patterns. The book is not very visual and has minimal sewing instructions.
I prefer her Creative Bug classes.

Both sewing and simple pattern making / alterations, advanced beginner to intermediate techniques

Kerstin Martensson – Easy Sewing the Kwik Sew way.
Paper patterns not overlapping but on both sides of paper so need tracing. Not to worry, they’re multi-style patterns so would need tracing anyway.
Pattern proportions not very current, but easy replace with others such as : tee, blouse, skirt, pants.

Alison Smith – Dressmaking (2012).
2nd copy is the shorter edition (19 of the 32 styles in the big book) – Dressmaking step by step (2015). Classic styles, and the big book has them in drab fabrics, but the photo instructions are excellent. Download patterns.

Wiener & Rosenberg – Son of hassle free sewing. Draft your own patterns.

Looking at this list makes me feel happy.
I do know this is my taste. I’m not suggesting everyone should have these books ready to hand. But it can be an interesting exercise – what are the books or technique sites that you like to have easy access to ?

😀 Hurrah for sewing in all its forms 😀

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Links available December 2017

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Pant/ trouser sewalongs

November 9, 2013

Love the extra support from following a sew along ?
I like following detailed instructions with lots of illustrations and demos the first time I do something. I also like instructions from a friendly encouraging voice, even if written !

This is the last of my sewalong series, links to the others are listed on this page.
And no, I’m not planning to post on sewalongs for dresses or blouses 😀

If (like me !) you only ever wear one style of pants, here’s a couple of styling ideas :

If you wear casual pants, but want to get away from jeans, YouLookFab has a post full of suggestions.

Once you’ve got a good basic pants pattern, here’s a Craftsy class about altering a pants pattern to make many other pant styles.

I have a couple of posts with ideas on pant fit :
Pant patterns and body shape
Fabric wedges below the waist

In this post, I’ve put the sewalongs in 4 groups :
– pants/ trousers, in 2 sections – on written tutorials and videos/ DVDs,
– jeans,
– sweat pants,
– elastic waist pants – not mentioned here, there are links to several sewalongs in my post on making pyjamas.

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Written tutorials with photos

Colette Clover


tissue pattern with side seam zip

Sewaholic Thurlow


tissue pattern
sew along from Ladybird (scroll down for links)

Burda Style 07/2010/ 127 vintage style pants


download pattern
sewalong by A Fashionable Stitch

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DVDs and on-line videos (not free)

Sandra Betzina
pattern Vogue 2948 is oop but supplied with class


Craftsy class (associated class on fitting pants)

The Sewing Guru
Ladies trousers with no pockets, invisible zip, faced waist.
The Sewing Guru course tells you how to draft your own facing pattern so you could adapt Butterick 5391, which is also used in The Sewing Guru skirt course.


sewalong on-line videos in Collection 10

The Sewing Guru
Men’s trousers with slant pockets, fly zip, waistband.


pattern Vogue 2836, also used by The Sewing Guru in his courses on men’s jackets.
sewalong on-line videos in Collection 5.

The pattern they mention is oop.
Their current pants pattern, McCall’s 6567, has more difficult pockets.


There’s also a Palmer-Pletsch chinos pattern, McCall’s 6361 (includes skirt).


‘Pants for Real People – Sewing Techniques’ DVD (also a DVD on pants fit)

Those instructions suggest specific patterns, though they can be used with many other patterns.
These 2 are more general, just suggested style elements :

eSewing Workshop
self drafted pattern
sewalong – online videos, can be used with other patterns

You Can Make It
pattern : pants with side pockets, fly zip, fell and welt seams.
sewalong : teaching DVD. These DVDs are cumulative not stand-alone. Level 5 assumes you know the skills taught in Levels 1 to 4.
Level 5 DVD (scroll down page for information)

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Kwik Sew 3504 men’s jeans


sewalong by Male Pattern Boldness (free online written instructions with photos and discussion)

Palmer-Pletsch McCall’s 5894 misses jeans



2 sewalongs for this pattern :

‘Jeans for Real People’ DVD

The Sewing Guru
this is the current version of the jeans pattern used in his
Collection 12 (online videos)

Pattern Review class from Jennifer Stern
Blueprints to Blue Jeans
uses her own jeans pattern.
Includes videos, fitting, styling, sewing.

There are 2 Craftsy courses on making jeans, not linked to specific patterns.

Kenneth King Reverse engineer your favorite jeans

Angela Wolf Sewing Designer jeans
recommended patterns listed in class

I don’t usually mention ‘chat and encouragement’ boards, but there’s a huge amount of useful information about sewing jeans in this one :
Pattern Review Jeans Tips and Tricks

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Sweat pants

Hot Patterns Fast and Fabulous tailored trackpants


tissue pattern (use drapey fabrics, knits not necessary)
YouTube demo

Silhouette patterns 3400 3-piece yoga pants


tissue pattern
free webcast

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Whew there are a lot of these. Any of them right for you ?

Many thanks to all the people who post the free sewalongs – those do represent a huge amount of generosity and work. Isn’t the internet marvellous !

Hope you enjoy these 😀

No guarantee of completeness or quality. This is another use of the internet which is happily growing.

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Links and patterns available November 2013

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Shirt sewalongs

October 19, 2013

Many people feel making a shirt is a step too far beyond sewing a top or blouse.
But there’s a good variety of support available, so it can be worth going for !

These are sew alongs which give detailed extra guidance to supplement the shirt pattern instructions.
I’ve chosen to focus on ones which include a band collar. (The word ‘shirt’ is a bit ambiguous, and there are many shirt patterns which don’t have a 2-piece collar.)
Some of the sewalongs also include a classic ‘tower / steeple’ shirt sleeve placket.

The free written tutorials are linked to specific patterns.
But most of the on-line videos and DVDs are not pattern specific, though they make pattern recommendations.

The classic shirt has such standard features that the Big 4 pattern companies all have several basic shirt patterns for women.

Kwik Sew are particularly known for their men’s shirt patterns.
This is Kwik Sew 3883.


As usual, I haven’t read or watched through all of these sewalongs, let alone worked through them – so no guarantee about quality !

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On-line free written tutorials with photos

Wiksten Tova


This isn’t a shirt, but it has a collar band, so I’ve included it here.
Easier than making a two piece collar – perhaps a good starter piece ?!

pattern download

sewalong from verykerryberry.

Grainline Archer


(Those back gathers are optional !)

pattern download

days 1-5
days 6-14

There’s even a ‘chat and encouragement’ group at Pattern Review, for people who promised to sew one of these a month for a year !

Colette Patterns Negroni for men



Oh, this pattern doesn’t actually include a collar stand, ah well. . .

sew along from Peter Lappin of Male Pattern Boldness
page 1 of posts
page 2 of posts

This pattern was one of the challenges in the Super Online Sewing Match.
Here are the Entries, which all show creative options (one of them added a collar band, which is what confused me !).

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On-line videos (not free)


The Classic Tailored shirt class by Pam Howard

Suggested patterns for men and women in Lesson 2

class here

eSewing Workshop

They use their own pattern draft for the shirt, but you could use many other patterns.

bodice drafting
sleeve drafting

Shirt Sewing sewalong

The Sewing Guru

the Gent’s shirt video collection
Collection 9

[There isn’t much open access information at The Sewing Guru site, but you can sign on free for 2 days and have a look round. It’s easy to cancel from a PayPal account. Tailor’s methods.]

Instructions also apply to making a woman’s shirt.

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The latest version of the Palmer-Pletsch unisex shirt pattern is McCall’s 6613, with sleeve, hem, pocket options.


sewalong in ‘Learning to Sew a Shirt or Blouse‘ DVD

You Can Make It

Level 6 of their sewing course.
The course is cumulative, Level 6 is not stand-alone, it assumes you know all the skills taught in previous levels.

sewalong : Level 6 teaching DVD (scroll down).

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Would you like this sort of extra help with the instructions while you make any of these patterns 😀

Feel more confident that You Can Indeed Make A Shirt 😀

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Patterns and links available October 2013

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