Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Bernina 770QE: My new Sometimes Friend

This big girl has been sitting in my sewing studio now for 6 months.  I call her Clementine, because her shoes are number 9, referring to the 9 millimeter presser foot, but more about that later. 

The old Activa work horse
After debating and equivocating for months and months, and finally slashing out $5000 to buy the 770Quilter's Edition, without the embroidery unit, I must say, I am underwhelmed.  I've had a Bernina Activa 145 for 15 years, and cannot say enough good things about that straight-forward, little work horse of a machine.  "Little" being the operative word.  When Bernina came out with the larger machines a while back, I lusted after one.  Originally I longed to own an 820 or 830, but before I could summon the courage to spend that kind of dough, Bernina dumped them because they turned out to be troublesome lemons. The company then came out with a second series of 7s--including the 770QE and 790.  I think Bernina worked out some of the bugs that plagued the 8-series, including the flawed hook system, but my 770QE is still a temperamental beast.

Initially, it takes a lot of exploring to discover all the things this machine will do.  There are literally hundreds of adjustments and setting--if you can find them--and having once found them, if you can get back to home base to actually sew.  Being a big computer with a tiny screen, functions are buried in multiple layers of programming, and not always in an intuitive way.  And like a computer, you can get weird "fatal error" messages in the middle of a routine operation.  The manual that comes with the machine is skimpy, and the on-line Bernina videos are not overly helpful, though they have lots of cute pictures of cats rolling around on quilts.  Fortunately, there is a Yahoo Group of 770QE owners.  Their email is  Members share lots of good information and coach each other through problem solving various issues.

What I like
  • The wide harp area--not as big as some brands, but still very good.
  • The bright LED lights (which can be dimmed if you are working on shiny fabrics.)
  • EVERYTHING is adjustable, if you can just figure out the screen and how many layers in the feature is.  With time I've learned where the main things I need are located.
  • The thread cutter. It works well on my machine, but not on the machines of several of the 770QE yahoo group members and other 770 owners I know.
  • A separate motor for bobbin winding--though mine doesn't work properly.  It puts in loose areas as it winds that end up producing big loops on the backside of a seam as I sew. The winding speed is adjustable, but no matter what speed I choose, the bobbin does not wind on consistantly.  It also winds the thread on in a cone instead of a stacked cylinder unless I guide the thread with my fingers. 
  • The hands-free knee lifter, which has been a part of Bernina machines for decades, is great.
  • The HUGE bobbins.  They make me almost forget I have a bobbin.
  • The two big nobs to the right of the blue screen (top photo).  They are for adjusting the width  and length of stitches, and make changes to either easy, and instantly visible on the screen.  (Note:  The large round silver thing on the far right is a suction cup magnet that I got from Leah Day) 
Finally tore the useless little doors off this  hard to use box.
What I don't like
  • Lack of serious documentation.
  • The small, flimsy slide-on table.  I thought it would break just from resting my hands on it.  I bought an acrylic Sew Steady 18"x24" table (pictured above), which I like a lot.  It sits on it's own legs, and being clear, it doesn't have to be removed every time I change a bobbin.
  • That Barbie's-Little-Sewing-Case thing that holds the feet and other small stuff related to the machine.  Yeesh.  It's super tippy and the design hasn't changed in years. 
What I am Ambivalent about
  • The 9mm wide presser foot.  True, you can zigzag a seam the width of a sidewalk, but so far I don't really see an advantage to it.  Also, when sewing really narrow seams, which I do in some of my constructions, the feed dogs are too far apart to feed the fabric evenly, so I revert to my old Activa.  (Glad I didn't sell it!)
  • The button that allows you to sew without using a foot control.  Really?  Whose cockamamie idea was that?
  • The "dual feed" that is supposed to be like a built in walking foot, but so far, in my usage anyway, doesn't quite make the grade. 
  • The BSR, (Bernina Stitch Regulator) that comes with the quilter's edition.  It's nice, but another piece of fussy tack with a big learning curve (and big price tag if you purchase it separately--$1100.). I've free-motion quilted for years without one, and thought I'd love the BSR, but turns out I only just barely like it, the way you like, oh say a new mouse pad.  
So I continue to work on becoming friends with my new companion.  It would help if she wouldn't crash and go completely blank right in the middle of a project, or freeze up for no apparent reason with a picture of grinding gears on the screen, or continually tell me the bobbin is empty when it is completely full--situations that are usually cured by turning off the machine for a few minutes, and then turning it back on, where upon she sews happily away for another 10 or 15 minutes before the next crisis. 


  1. Interesting take on the 770. I have a 790. Truly overspent on my sewing machines! I got a little carried away! Not because it's particular to Bernina but I said to myself if not now them when? I I tried other brands but the Bernina and checked much more boxes for me. Though I really like the brother 3000 Dreamweaver no embroidery which I have to admit would probably suit me better except some of the features I really didn't like. not so much the baby locks really like. I had a Janome 7700 if they would make a machine that can go over and intersecting seams without sitting in place that was my biggest gripe on that one.
    Bought into embroidery and all that and have not had time to any of it. My machine has the larger screen but I also had a 750 (a lemon)
    And didn't find it too small.
    My machine is pretty great not any of the problems you mention except for the thread cutter which has been replaced and still doesn't work. But you never know when these computer machines are acting up! It is true that it's challenging to sew thin fabrics on any 9mm machine. A straight stitch or a 5.5 MM plate help that quite a bit but better yet is to just do it on the old machine I have a 635 also which is so easy to sell on. I won't be selling that machine ever. Things I really love about this machine are the super large Bobbin the stitch by stitch thread tension control, the true basting stitch which I use all the time, the ability to change the inner space of the buttonhole the infinite stitch with control and stitch width control unlike other machines which have set settings. I feel that the manual is sufficient that with all of the videos that are online I haven't had to call my dealer with a question yet. The only thing I like about the BSR is that you can move the fabric under the needle to activate the needle in mode two and not use your foot pedal. It gives great control and also is less tiring. think it really helps in long sits of free motion selwung otherwise I think it's totally unnecessary I really like that feature but could live without this Very expensive gadget.
    Of course I love Bernina feet, who doesn't?
    The dual feed works really well and I like the option of having the general walking foot for thicker that Fabrics. I'm fine with the extension table I think it's good. It's easy enough to use I find it pretty straightforward not that different from my 635 in the menus and I guess I've gotten used to though so it's not much of a learning curve. Altogether I think I like my 790 a lot except for that darn thread cutter problem I'd be 89% satisfied with the machine.
    I have the stitch designer which I also really like. But the Brither has it and you can draw right on the screen. However it is more limited in other ways.
    Altogether the 790 offers everything I could possibly want and then a lot more. Stability and realizability are the top priority me and I think Bernina is lacking in that area with the large body machines.

  2. No advantage to the 9 mm stitch width? That's what enables you to have nearly 300 decorative stitches on your machine, including alphabets. But yes, that capability comes at a price. I wish the 5.5 mm Bernina 720 was available in the United States. But honestly, I would still have chosen the 9 mm for myself. I had an Artista before and although I use those wide decorative stitches only rarely, when I use them for bobbin work with embroidery floss in the bobbin they are spectacular. I would miss not being able to do that anymore!

  3. Hi
    I have recently purchased a Bernina 770QE and am feeling a degree of 'buyers remorse' due to the highly complex nature of the machine. I also have been having issues with the machine saying the bobbin is empty when it is not. Already it has been in for repair for this but they said nothing wrong. It seems to be highly sensitive and due to a busy work life I have sat down to use it only 3 times - twice with issues and that is upsetting when you have just paid so much for a new machine. When I first got it in October 2017 I immediately finished free motion stipple quilting a large quilt with the BSR foot and it was fantastic. I had trialled this foot and didn't think it was for me as I am an experienced free motion quilter but I loved it. It was just a case of getting used to it and now I love that all my stitches are even without any stress from me - much less tiring. The large size of the throat made handling a large quilt a breeze. I also like the dual feed. I find it as effective as my old walking foot so far. So that's two pluses. But I want a machine that I can just sit down and use. Both other times it has played up - telling me the bobbin is empty when it is not. I am experimenting with cleaning the sensor when this happens to see if that is the issue and also you can turn this feature off - however you should not have to turn off features to make a machine work! I followed the link to the support group but it did not work - I would really like to be in touch with others with this machine. I am planning to compile the most useful video links on my blog as much as a quick reference for me of the best videos I find: Nice to have a bit of a moan to someone who might be interested! Hope your machine is working better for you.

    1. Sheryl,
      I've edited this post to include the email address for the Bernina Yahoo Group. I still get emails from the group, so I know they are active. I have come to peace with the finicky nature of my 770QE, largely because I pretty much do the same repetative tasks--straight stitching for piecing and using the BSR for free motion quilting-- and have figured out how to troubleshoot issues that crop up. I'm looking forward to your videos. I think the ones Bernina made were pretty poor. They had no narration, just the visual, and they covered the most basic threading the needle. Anyway, I hope you get some time to sit down with your 770QE and make some videos!

    2. There are over 100 well done videos on youtube by heirloom creations. This woman takes each feature individually and does a short video on it. This way you can look for exactly the information you need or you could watch them in order. She also does videos for other machines and brands. I highly recomend.

  4. To all those annoyed by error messages saying the bobbin is empty, when that is clearly not the case....have you checked that the white plastic bobbin cover is closed? If not - that’s the answer!
    Now, can anyone help me with the error message Error #1010 Maindrive sync Failed!
    This appeared after a routine cleaning/oiling of the hook.
    Many thanks

  5. I'm in the decision process looking at a 770. I've been a happy Janome user for years but I'd really like to try a Bernina for quilting, the YouTube videos the 7 series are so quiet! It's a lot of money for a sewing machine and a hobby sewer so this is a big decision and one I don't want to regret. I love my Janome dealer because if I decide a new machine is not working for me, I can bring it back and trade, no loss, within 30 days but that's the dealership policy. I've not heard any Bernina users say their dealers offer that.

  6. Thank our so much for sharing your frustrations about the 770QE. I thought it was just me. My bernina repair person says the machine is fine, having it multiple times. I am experising the same issue, but have not learned how to clean a sensor so will have look up this group on yahoo. I have had serveral machines in the past 30 years working my way up the ladder to the 770 and it was a BIG gulp to shuck out that much cash and I go from loving the machine to making me want to cry, This would be a horrible machine for someone who didn’t know their way around a sewing machine. Far to fussy for a newbie.

  7. I feel so let down. I paid a pretty price for the 770QE and like others, have used it minimal times, only piecing or small quilt as you go baby quilts. I prefer my old Janome 6500 or my Singer Featherweight. Right now the ole gal is telling me the bobbin is empty every couple of inches of sewing. So frustrated. Their videos are horrid. Is there a fix for this?

  8. When I view youtube videos of this machine, it purrs like a kitten. My new 770 sounds clucky, especially when picking up speed. It’s still very new so it cannot be lack of oil. I made sure it is clean and the needle is new. It sews fine, but the noise bothers me. Any ideas?

  9. I have a brand new 770QE and am very interested to read your comments. I absolutely agree regarding having to delve into the menus to find the adjustments you need. To me, it is not at all intuitive. I don't know why Bernina persists with the tiny screens on their computerised models. They're plenty big enough to accommodate a large screen! I'm experienced at FMQ and so far don't like the BSR. I will take lessons on that, and see if my opinion alters. I also agree regarding the manual. It is large and comprehensive, but a lot of the illustrations are too small and the illustrations too poor quality to see the detail of whatever it is you are trying to get advice on. Also, it is not set out in logical order especially regarding setting up for embroidery (I bought the embroidery unit too - both items on a generous sale price). I'm coming from a middle level Husqvarna with embroidery unit. The screen on that is a dream - everything up front and you can lock it to avoid accidentally touching it and changing the settings. The selling point for the Bernina was the space for quilting (my Husky had 10" too, but 1" less height in the harp), and the reputation of the brand. I'm not as impressed by the quality of the build as I thought I would be. The presser feet in particular seem poorly machined and the hook that clips them on is so stiff I can barely move it. I had been looking forward to the quick change feet process. Husky does it better, apart from the feet that need to be screwed on (walking foot, spring motion FMQ foot). I don't regret the purchase so far but have not used it enough yet to get the full experience. One other disappointment - I wanted to hem some jeans and was expecting the Bernina to walk over the seams - as advertised - but it didn't. It stalled. I have to say, though, in its defence that the stitch quality for straight stitch is lovely.