Friday, October 4, 2013

Bernina Sport 801 - Purchase, Find, or Rescue? Emotional up and down.

There are three ways sewing machines are acquired (according to me).  Purchase, Find, and Rescue. If you are into vintage sewing machines, you know what I'm talking about.  This one was a FIND and a RESCUE all in one. 

I've always been very curious about old Bernina machines, like Record 830 or even 730.  Their going market price kept me from getting wanting  pursuing one. It was just not too long ago that I learned there were also Minimatics and Sports. Now, those made sense to me both in the going price (a bit lower), and the size (I can't house any more full-size machine in my house, but portable smaller-ish machines??........ sure)

Stumbled upon this CUTIE!!!! (Note: this is her "Before" photo. No spa treatment has been given yet.)
You know, I wasn't even looking for one.  Of all places, she was on the shelf with a mountain of microwaves, at the Goodwill Outlet store.  The final place these unsold items are given one last chance before they hit the dump.  I immediately grabbed her, plugged her in to confirm that the motor was alive and the needle bar moved.  That's good enough for me. It had the power cord/foot pedal, and the extension table.  No bobbin case, thread spool pins/stand were missing, and no other accessories. (but that's ok. My Bernina 1230's feet and bobbin case probably fit.)

This was the first time I saw a Bernina Sport in person, and I was immediately attracted to its compact design, portability with the handle, and the red accent color. Just super cute. Perfect. I've been thinking that I could use a real good,  reliable take-along machine that had at least straight and zig-zag stitches.

There was no price on it. I asked the store clerk, and she said, "TWO NINETY NINE". Right. I didn't think she was asking for two hundred ninety-nine dollars, as you might see on ebay as a real bargain.  But just in case, I double check. "Two DOLLARS and ninety-nine CENTS?"  She nods.

It was cosmetically in a bit rough shape. Had ding here and there (probably got bruised getting thrown in from one place to another), the hand wheel had what looks like some teeth marks or maybe it got badly scraped against something hard while being moved.

But everything moved, so of course I took it home. Upon getting home, I noticed that the buttonholer knob was missing. Well, it's ok. I can try to find a replacement, or I don't need it to do buttonholes.  I'll use other machines for that.

Love at first sight. I was already dreaming about taking her on a trip, maybe a week in Hawaii, or a weekend getaway to Orcas Island, and get really inspired to sew something on vacation. <3

Anyway, I couldn't wait. As soon as I got home, I borrowed the bobbin case and the bobbin from my other Bernina (she's a 1230), and test sewed.  She sewed fine! I tested straight and zigzag for just a bit.  She was a dusty little thing. I cleaned her inside and out.

Ooo, look at those metal cams.  And the fuzz to be cleaned.

Her hand wheel was a little sticky. So, I opened her up and jiggled the hand wheel a bit more.
 OMG! What are those???  Layers and layers of threads! How did this ever happen, and how did the sewer not notice that this happened?  It had multiple colors of threads, so it didn't just happen one time. Then again, I remembered reading somewhere that this is a common sight on older sewing machines needing "repair". 
She was finally all cleaned up and oiled. The moment I've been waiting for! I want to test all her stitches!

Ooops, this above photo was still one of the "before" pictures.  (I really cleaned her up. Really.)

Her tension was perfect, I didn't have to adjust a thing for the straight stitch.  Beautiful, and I love the sound of the motor. It hums and purrs very sweetly.

Now let's test other stitches!  --- This is when the tragedy happened.  With this type of strong, reliable, metal, and Bernina sewing machine, I wasn't expecting much trouble. BUUUUUUUUUT!  I encountered a few issues. (dang. super sad)

1) While the straight stitch is beautiful, cannot zig-zag with stitch width wider than 2. The needle hits something in the bobbin case/shuttle area.

2) All other stitches, #3 ~ #7, it sews for the first 2 minutes or so, then WHAM! The same thing happens as above. The needle hits bobbin case/shuttle.

3) Needle position -- is supposed to be set to the middle, but if I do that, for zig-zag, the needle will hit the needle plate on the right.  I had to set the needle to the far left position to get it to sew zig-zag up to the width 2.

4) Furthermore, the extension table that was with this machine actually didn't fit. A little research resulted that the table actually is for 801, not for Sport 801. How in the world this machine ended up with a wrong table??

Well, what do I do now.  I can clean, oil, and make minor adjustments, replace broken parts if it's visible, easy to get to and easy to disassemble/assemble.  But that's all.  I'm not a sewing machine mechanic. I can't repair a machine : (

Do I:

a) Take it to my neighborhood Bernina shop, and have them fix it, no matter how much it costs, now that I've fallen in love with it?  Um, that sounds just too crazy.  Can't do 'love is blind'.

b) No, silly. The repair will cost at least $200. (My wild guess. For just plain maintenance servicing, they charge $165 per machine) If I really, really want, look for a good working condition one which I can probably get for around $300?  Sell the foot control (omg, these are going for over $100 on ebay. Really?!) and the table so I can fund my good machine PURCHASE. Give or keep this machine as parts machine.

b) Continue to fiddle with it, seek help in the various sewing machine related Yahoo groups I belong to, maybe I will figure out what to do to make it work right ?? After all, I only paid $3. Take it apart, there is not much to lose here.

c) Give up on the idea that $3 will give me a completely functional vintage Bernina. Work with what I've got. Enjoy the straight stitch, and narrow zig-zag stitches, be satisfied with these, expect nothing more from this one.

What should I do?!

Also, one funky thing.  The speed of this sewing machine.  As soon as I step on the foot control (even with the slower setting -- I found a switch on the foot controller for faster and slower), it takes off! No first gear, second gear, just turbo at once. I can't start slow. Is this a normal behavior of Bernina Sport 801? After all, the name, "Sport"..... Anyone out there, Bernina Sport 801 users?

What do I do now.  I want this machine to work.  Currently, she sits cute under my sewing desk, waiting for her treatment plans to be determined.  So sad : (  She sure is cute and strong.


  1. Well, I think I would at least go talk to the sewing machine repair people. They might have a spare handwheel, and the right bed, and just think, if for $200 they could make it like new again, wouldn't that abe worth it? What can you buy new for $200? I'm sure you could even find the right extension table and handwheel on ebay. You could sell the one that doesn't fit on ebay. I think it is worth an opinion anyway. If you decide not to fix it, you could sell the machine as 'for parts' and get way more than you have invested in it. We have bought and sold junk machines for parts, or pieced it out and got more than we could have as it stands by itself. It sure is cute though!

    1. Yes, I think I will eventually go talk to the Bernina shop as there is one in my neighborhood. There is also an independent sewing machine tech - a bit of a drive but not too far - whom I may want to talk to. Visualizing beautiful and healthy Sport 801........

  2. Hi! I happened across your blog after Google searching "Bernina 801 Sport". I recently "adopted" an 801 Sport and have been trying to find as much info as possible about it. I have the same issue with the foot control speed. It does a few slow chugs, and then zoom! The shop I took it into said that's fairly common for this machine, so I guess it's just a quirk.

    1. Congratulations on your recent adoption! Sporty little thing, isn't she?! On the Yahoo Group, BerninaThirtySomethings, someone was asking the same question, but the answers were hard to interpret -- I guess for some it's fairly normal to have a super fast machine. Currently, I'm a bit afraid of her for the speed and the needle position being a bit off sometimes just keeps on breaking needles because I can't go slow to even see if the position is held up or off. I did talk to the Bernina shop in my neighborhood. I think I'll eventually take her to the shop. It turned out they charge a reasonable flat fee for any service and if they can't fix the problem, they won't charge! The fee is too expensive for just cleaning, but a bargain for repair. I think we have a great Bernina shop here. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to hear from you again on your progress report in getting to know your newly adopted 801 Sport!

    2. Thanks! Yes, it's a fun machine to sew on - I wish I had a table for it though. Maybe some day I'll stumble upon one at the GoodWill :)

      What shop do you take her to? I am from Seattle and moving back there in a few months time. Will have to hunt out all the great sewing places, but recommendations would be great!

    3. Bernina NW in Northgate. I haven't taken my machine there yet, but I've gone there to buy accessories and talked to folks there before. I think that's the place I trust with my machines and I will certainly take mine in when it's time. You will have to let me know when you move back here!

    4. Great! Thanks for the advice :) I will let you know when I get back to town for sure!

  3. Hi, I have just found your blog and wondered how you got on with getting your machine repaired.
    I have just bought a 32 year old Bernina 830 nd had a similar problem with the zigzag - needles were bending and then breaking! I found a video on YouTube showing that the lever that switches between the pattern stitches and the straight/zigzag can get stiff without use. Once it is cleaned with surgical spirit and has a drop of oil, it can be worked back and forth until it engages with a clunk.
    Now my machine zigzags like a dream. However, the needle position knob doesn't work - that's my next challenge.
    Good luck.

    1. Wow, that's great. Thanks for the tip. I will have to try it. I put this machine on hold, feeling discouraged -- "tabled" it and haven't done anything about it since I got it all cleaned up and posted about it on my blog. Would you mind sharing the youtube url with me? By the way, congratulations on your 830. That's one machine I'd love to have, one of these days!

  4. Hi, I have the same machine. I bought it originally and have owned it ever since. It's been boxed up for years because I later bought another Bernina Virtuosa 160. The 160 had to go into the shop and so I unearthed my 801 and now it has the speed problem. It's a wonderful little machine, heavy though but worth it's weight. I'm considering getting an off brand of foot pedal to save some $ since it's really my 2nd machine. I remember as a young child my mom bought her first Bernina, I think it was the 830 and from seeing her work that thing to death, which really isn't possible I knew someday I too would have to own a Bernina.
    Good luck with your 801 and great job on the find!

    1. Thanks for your comment. I've recently learned that the speed issue is probably the capacitor. I haven't tried to remove them, but it sounds fairly simple. I'll report back once I had the chance to cut the capacitor and just remove it. It isn't needed for the function of the sewing machine. I found this issue discussed on the Yahoo Bernina group. I also found this comment on a site called, and I quote;
      "My wife has a Bernina 807 minimatic, over 40 years old. One day it ran at maximum speed by itself. I took the foot pedal apart and the capacitor was burned out, it smelled like burned sugar LOL. This capacitor is only there to stop interference with other components like tvs etc. Make sure pedal is not plugged in and just cut the wires holding the capacitor at both ends (Wires usually black in color). Get some heatshrink over ends of cut wire and carefully heat with lighter, this will insulate ends to stop shorts. Put cover back on and off you go, just as good as new."

      Here is a Featherweight capacitor issue site, but you could see the pictures.

      I hope you get to enjoy your 801 again!

  5. I am looking for Bernina Sport 801 and 802's for my child's middle school in Maryland. They currently have 29 and are looking to buy 5 more, as their sewing class is very popular. If anyone knows of one that is for sale, please consider emailing me. Thanks!