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Bernina Nova (Bernina 900)

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I've had my eyes out for a Bernina Nova for several years now! These are not very common machines -- not very many were sold and they weren't on the market for a very long time (made between 1982 and 1985), so the supply is fairly limited.

When you see one, you see why they're in high demand nowadays -- they're cute! They've got that "Singer Featherweight" thing going for them -- they're simply cute little beasts! The neat wraparound case (you'll see it in a second) is almost as appealling as the machine itself. That handle is pretty cool, too.

I've seen these in a few different color schemes. There's beige machine and red controls (most common), beige machine with yellow or orange controls (less common), and a really weird looking lime greenish model. You either love or hate the green one -- I'm not too much in favor of it ... but it is really uncommon, so that helps make it more attractive I guess.

At 15 pounds, this machine is easily portable. Not too many stitches to get in the way -- straight, zig, a blanket looking stitch, blindhem, plus a couple of decorative stitches. Standard Bernina mechanical 5 step buttonhole.
The "wrap around" case is one of the neat features of the Nova. I've seen them sold without the cases, but you'll be more satisfied if you hold out for a machine with a case.

The machine handle sticks out the top of the case and acts as a carring handle. I like this a lot. The handle does not fold down when not in use -- it's always up.

Note the orange "latch" on the side -- we'll see it a little closer later on, but be aware that this part is commonly lost or missing. It's not attached to the case -- instead, it's pretty much a "bungie" cord type thing that connects two posts. Be sure you get one -- or just substitute a short bungie cord or piece of elastic.
Pull off one of the bungie ends to open the case. The front pulls open very easily -- note the storage slots on the inside front of the case. Don't try to open the back part of the case yet! There's a secret latch you need to loosen!

Note the air pressure foot pedal. This is my first experience with one -- it takes a little getting used to, but is quite nice once you do so.

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Okay, go ahead and pull the back part of the case open. Now try to remove the case from the machine -- but not too hard! Feels like it's stuck somewhere around the handwheel, right?

Here's why. There's a little locking latch you need to shift first. I'm pointing to it right here. Just push up on the lever to unlock the case.

Once you do so, you can remove the case from the machine. Note there is an alignment post and hold right near the handwheel, so you'll have to pull "out" in this direction.
The inside front door of the case has a number of slots for attachments and such. I've hung some of the feet in the slots. The post are for bobbins and such -- I'm not sure what the rest of the slots do.

The feet fit fairly snuggly. They probably won't slip out and click around the inside of the case.
The back door of the case has some storage as well. There's a slot for the table attachment (The Nova is a free arm machine, but you can attach the table bed to make it a flat bed machine).

There's also a drawer for needles, screwdrivers, etc. I dumped a load of bobbins in there rather than attach them to the post on the front.
This is a very simple mechanical machine -- it's selling point was that it was a lightweight portable Bernina that sewed like a Bernina. It doesn't try to have the same stitch assortment as an 830 or a 930. You'll find the usual suspects here (zig, straight, blind-hem, 5 step buttonhole, a blankety type stitch, and a couple of embellishment stitches).

The left-most knob control stitch width. The flat dial just above it control needle position. The upper right knob is the stitch selector. Bottom right knob is the stitch length. The slider bar to its right handles reverse feed. There's a button below this to drop the feed dogs. There's also a tension adjustment dial all the way to the top left of the machine.

You can find all the control instructions in the Bernina Nova Instruction Manual here. Curiously, the instructions don't include threading directions! Threading isn't hard -- just note that you'll pass through the tension disks all the way to the left, then go down and back up to right to get to the takeup lever. This is a little different from most Berninas of this era -- more like what you'd see on a Viking if the same age.
No surprises here ... pretty standard bobbin works. In fact, I wanted to use some black thread for a project. I already had black thread loaded on my Bernina 930, so I just swapped out the bobbin/bobbin case with the Nova. They both use the same bobbin case.
Another view of the tower controls. Again, stitch selector on the top, stitch length adjusting knob below that.

To the right of the stitch length knob is the reverse sewing control. Some machines have a button right here -- this machine uses a lever instead. Curiously, you pull the lever down to reverse, not up like you might expect.

You can see the drop feed control button towards the bottom.
View from the handwheel side.

You can see the bobbin winding mechanism on top of the machine. I didn't try using this -- I pretty much use my Sidewinder for all my bobbin winding now.

If you look all the way to the base at the bottom, you'll see the receptacle for the foot pedal. It only attaches one way, so you don't have to worry if you've got it angled properly.
A view from the rear. Note the power cord wound around the provided handles. I like that touch.

No switches -- in fact, there's no off-on switch! At least, I never found one and the manual doesn't mention one. When you plug it in, the machine's live! I guess this makes sense for a light-feature, light-weight portable machine. There is a power switch for the light, though.

The power cord is permanently attached to the machine -- again, a big plus. That means I don't have to worry about losing the power cord.


The Nova uses an interesting foot pedal -- it's an air pump type pedal. I found it very responsive and easy to use.

The foot pedal cord attaches to the receptacle on the handwheel side of the machine. When detached, the cord winds around the foot pedal for storage -- another nice touch.

I did notice one thing when I sewed with this machine. It sounds like an internal combustion engine or maybe a steam engine! Not that it's loud -- just that it sounds like each sewing stroke is a different phase on a pump and there's a "chuff" at each switching point! I don't know if this is normal or not. In any case, it wasn't loud enough to be distracting or annoying -- just that it wasn't super quiet like my 930.

The more I think about it, the more I'm thinking this machine is using a steppinng motor to drive the needle bar rather than rotating gears and arms. That would explain the "chuff" sound -- it would also explain the brief "pause" the needle seemed to have when it transitions from up to down motion.
Here's a "gotcha" to be aware of. Go back and take a peek at the picture with the case closed (the second picture). Note the two orange circles on the left of the case.

The case does not have a permanently attached locking latch. Instead it has these two rubber caps. They're attached to each other by a thin piece of orange rubber.

The caps are not permanently attached to the case -- they come off (in fact, they're supposed to come off.) Anything that comes off can be lost -- and these quite often are missing when you find a Nova and case for sale!
To "lock" the case closed, you stretch the rubber caps over two metal posts. These posts are on the side of the case. One is on the front part of the case, the other is on the back part of the case.

Slip one rubber cap over a post -- then stretch the rubber band to slip the other cap over the other post.
Once you've slipped a rubber cap over each post, the case is "locked".

I feel this detachable rubber latch is a design mistake -- while it's not something that can break off, it's something that can be easily lost (and often is).

Not too big a deal, though. The rubber caps are really just a rubber bungie. If the rubber latch is lost, then you can make do with a short rubber bungie, a strong rubber band, or you can whip up something decorative with a strong piece of elastic.
And that's pretty much the Nova! Again, this machine was designed for a special purpose -- to be a capable lightweight portable machine. Certain sacrifices were made to achieve this -- no off/on switch, few stitches, possibly some internal electronics.

But -- the benefits seemed to have made it worthwhile. The machine is light -- storage is usable and convenient. Best of all, the machine is cute -- something you'd like to bring to a sewing class and have everyone see (and envy!).

Again, these machines are hard to find - there aren't a lot of them out there. Pricing isn't as bad as you might spend on an 830, but they're usually not cheap, either!

It's great to have Bernina quality -- but it's even better to look good at the same time!
Here's a quick project I knocked together with the Nova -- a fleece ear warmer/head band.

It's Cold in south Texas this week! When it does turn cold, everyone has to try to remember where their cold weather gear is -- I mean, it may have been several years since you last used it! I was going for a walk, couldn't find my ear warmers, and froze my ears on the walk.

Decided I needed to solve the problem when I got back home. Didn't want to run to the store, so I whipped up a couple of these from some fleece scraps I had laying around.

To see this project completed with the Bernina Nova, click on Fleece Ear Warmer/Headband.

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