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Viking 990 SLE

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This machine's getting a little out of my comfort zone of completely mechanical machines -- but it is a real sweety! This computer controlled machine was Viking's top of the line effort from 1986 through 1989. This particular model is a Limited Edition that was produced for a particular person -- there's a plaque on the front noting this!

Computer controlled means some good things! This machine offers 100 stitches when using the two double sided cassettes included with the machine. It offers a programmable memory and six buttonholes. You've got two alphabets and needle up/down settings. Stitch width and length goes up to 6 mm (that's about 1/4 of an inch!).

One neat feature of the 990 is its optional use of "Stitch Advisors". You can press buttons noting the type of fabric and type of stitching you want and the machine will select the proper stitch width and length; it'll also advise you with presser foot you should use and will automatically set the proper upper thread tension!

Look for Viking 990 Sewing machines here!
I found machine dirt-cheap on Ebay -- but it did need one tiny repair (of course, the seller didn't note that fact!) The plate holding the feed dogs had a tiny crack -- what this meant was that sometimes one of the feed dogs would "bend" down a bit so that only one dog was feeding!

The part was cheaply replaced and the machine was running like new. I've pushed a couple of garments through it so far -- the one step buttonholes and programmable memory are very nice. You can program in sequences of decorative stitches, then replay/repeat them automatically as long as you want. Same-size buttonholes! Very nice, very nice!

My most important task so far though, was pretty simple. I wanted to embellish some cloth diapers!

I've got my first grandson -- and he goes through tons of "spit up cloths". My daughter-in-law uses cloth diapers instead of towels ... so I thought I'd put some decorative stitches down the sides of some cloth diapers for her.
This was a pretty easy task for the Viking 990. By the way, there is a plain 990 version -- it suffered from occasional alignment problems. Viking fixed that with the 990S version. This particular model is a 990S - Limited Edition.

While you can select about 10 commonly used stitches from the main control buttons, you can choose tons of decorative stitches by swapping in "cassettes". These really aren't tape cassettes -- they're more like really large thumb drives. There are no movable parts inside the plastic cassette.

The 990 comes with two double-sided cassettes. This yields about 100 stitches, including two alphabets (block and cursive), plus a number of decorative and embroidery building block stitches. Viking publishes a number of books noting how to create "pictogram" embroidery -- which is their method of combining stitch elements to create pictures.

I selected a "choo choo train" series of stitches, plus I spelled out his name (Gavin) and I also used some "vine leaf" stitches for some of my embellishments. You can reverse stitches to build more interesting sequences -- for instance, I can alternate my leaves from right to left.

Important Safety Tip!!! Be sure and use presser foot "C", not the normal use presser foot! When you do embellishment, satin stitches, or even buttonholes, the thread on the stitch can grow kind of thick. When the feed dogs drag this thick thread "bump" to the presser foot, it can catch and hang up on the presser foot. Worst cases, it'll jam and cause you needle and bobbin woes.

Presser foot "C" has a cutaway on the bottom of the foot that lets this thread bump pass without problems -- be sure and use it!
The stitch cassette slips right into the slot -- press it firmly down and in and it clicks seated.

There are buttons along each row of stitches. To select the "third" stitch on the fourth row, press the fourth button three time. There are lights above and to the sides of the rows so you can confirm which stitch you're selecting.

When you use "Memory", you select a stitch, then press a button to lock it in memory. You can then pick another stitch, then lock it in memory. You can easily "reverse" a stitch. You can also note that a certain stitch "stops" the sequence. When you do, the machine will automatically stop and lock off the thread when it reaches that stitch.

When using the alphabet cassettes, you can combine up to 52 letters and spaces in memory. After loading memory, just press down on the foot pedal to stitch all elements stored in memory!

If you've noted a stopping point in your memory sequence, the machine will stop automatically after the last stitch. Just raise your foot and press down on the foot pedal again to start sewing the sequence all over again. If you haven't noted a stopping point, the stitch sequence will keep repeating for as long as you hold the foot pedal down.
This is a free arm machine -- but like many, it comes with a storage case that doubles as a sewing table. You can flip up the covers to reveal the storage.

The rear storage bin has a special slot that will hold your spare stitch cassette.

To reveal the free arm, just slide the case to the left. This also reveals the bobbin door -- as does opening up the front storage cover.
Standard looking tower side -- the bobbin winder is at the bottom. I haven't used the winder -- I find it more convenient to use my Wright Sidewinder instead.

Note that I have cassette "One" loaded -- this cassette is used for the "Sewing Advisor". Select the fabric type and stitch type and the machine will respond with the proper stitch settings, the proper foot, and will automatically set the upper thread tensions (all of this can be overridden)! As far as I can tell, this works just fine -- I've sewed light, medium, and heavy fabrics and have had no issues.

The off/on switch and the feed drop drop buttons are just to the left of the "Viking 990 SLE" label underneath the cassette.

The brass plaque underneath the cassette is a label noting this machine was a "Special Limited Edition" made especially for a customer -- not the person I bought it from, so this is at least a third-hand machine!

Threading was very simple and easy to figure out. I basically followed the usual suspects. I didn't worry about tension since I was using the Sewing Advisor to set it for me.

You can also view this threading and bobbin winding diagram. It's a diagram for a Viking 940, not a 990, but there's no difference in the threading.
The buttons across the top of the machine control some of the more common functions. The left-most button kicks into reverse feed mode -- however, when you're in memory programming mode, it's the button to push that locks each stitch in memory.

To it's right are the stitch width and length controls; the red LED light tells you the width and length in millimeters.

The next four buttons handle memory mode. The "P" kicks you into Memory Mode (I guess "P" stands for "Programming" -- I'd have preferred "M" for Memory. Maybe "Memory" starts with a "P" in Swedish?) The diamond left of the "P" reverses the current stitch, the "target" to the right of the "P" notes the end of a sequence.

The "arrow" looking button left of the diamond is actually a double-needle -- it notes that the stitch is limited to double-needle functions.

To the right of the four memory buttons are two buttons selecting common stitches -- standard buttonhole and button attaching, double-needle/straight/zig/etc etc. The two buttons are "right" and "left" buttons -- as you press them, you'll move right or left among the different common stitch selections. An LED lights up to show you the currently selected option.
Let's push some fabric through -- or at least, a diaper! I tried both soft white Gerber diapers and colored Gerber Premium diapers. I preferred the white diapers because they're softer.

I'm not doing anything fancy on this one -- just using some multi-colored thread and a satin stitch to do a colored bar down each side of the diaper. I used a stitch width of 5 MM and a stitch length of .4MM. Nothing special about these settings -- I just experimented until I found a combination that looked good.

The machine sewed smoothly and fed smoothly. I didn't need to do any pivoting or fancy feeding for this simple task, but I did have to do some pivotting on earlier garments.

When doing so, the needle down function was great. Basically, the needle always stops in the up position. For needle down, just press the foot pedal again quickly. The needle will move one position at a time -- ie, press it quickly again to bring it back up again. This makes it easy to select needle down when you have to pivot a seam.

I kind of like the always needle up thing -- that way, I don't have to worry beforehand whether I want needle up or needle down. I can always dynamically select the proper needle position by kicking the foot pedal.

This is an electronic foot pedal -- press it lightly and you'll sew slow, press it more to sew faster. Regardless of the speed, the motor has full penetrating power all the time.
The completed effort -- a diaper with an embellishment down each side. Again, we're not going to use these as diapers, we're going to use them as burp cloths! I don't know if embellishing would be a good idea if the diapers were to be used for their original purpose!

In summary, I'm very pleased with my Viking 990 SLE! It sews smoothly and powerfully; I find the computer and memory controls rather intuitive. It's much easier to "program" than my wife's Bernina -- not as much button pushing.

Although my "burp cloth" task is rather trivial, I have pushed some shirts and boxer shorts through this machine and have been pleased with the results. This was a top of the line machine back in the late 1980's -- and it shows it.

When you consider that you can often find 990's for quite interesting prices -- less than $200 and sometimes way less than that -- this reliable European machine offers much much more than a brand-new Asian import from Walmart at the same price level! All in all, I give myself an "A" for this one!

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