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Bernina 125 and Boxer Shorts

This was my first “vintage” sewing machine … a 1953 Bernina 125 Golden Jubilae (that’s how they spell it!).

This machine was the first automatic free-arm zigzag machine — you didn’t need any attachments, just adjust the stitch width (the top knob on the right-hand side of the machine). It was introduced in 1943.

The lever below the stitch width controls stitch length (including reverse); the knob at the bottom sets you to stitching or darning mode. The squarish shaped thing is a “medallion” noting Bernina’s Golden Jubilee (and that’s why this is a “Golden Jubilae” edition!)

This machine uses a knee control rather than a foot pedal. It took me a little getting used to (especially since my other Bernina uses a knee control for needle down!) The machine itself is smaller than the Bernina 530 Record that is also described. This model was made until 1957.

The medallion notes the 60th anniversary of the Bernina company.

Also note the “re-use” of numbers — Bernina also made an Artista 125, which is definately not this same model!

When you pop open the front to oil the machine, you’ll note it looks very different from other machines of the same time period. To me, it looks a little simpler; it seems like the motions tend to be more compact.

By the way, this is a very easy machine to oil — all the oil locations are clued by “red” dots. Whereever you see a red dot, you know to apply a drop of oil!

Let’s take a look at the bobbin — pop open the bobbin latch and you see the familiar Bernina bobbin setup.

BTW, I have no idea why my photo’s came out so fuzzy — I think my battery charge was low.

The bobbin gate latch opens up just like the latch on my Virtuoso 150. I found it curious that my 530 Record does not have this gate latch arrangement.Once you open the gate latch, you can remove the bobbin race. I like to clean around in there and also place a small drop of oil behind the race.

The bobbin winder is on the right-hand side of the machine. It does not stop automatically when the bobbin is full, so you have to keep an eye on it.

Note the knee control sticking out the side of the machine (left side in this picture, although it’s actually the front of the machine). You have to press the knee control to get things rolling!

While we’ve got everything open, go ahead and pop open the throat plate and clean around in there. This machine was very clean when I first opened it up.

Let’s replace the bobbin and bobbin case (replace them just like any other Bernina model) and we’ll take a look at our project.

I’m going to make a pair of boxer shorts. I bought this “Mad Cat Scientist” fabric from eQuilter a while back. I originally planned a pair of boxer shorts, but perhaps a pair of pajama pants might do better?

I actually have a cat who looks like this. He’s a Persian, his name is Donovan, and his IQ is about a 3 and a half.

Nope — I only bought a yard and a half of fabric. That’ll still give me a nice pair of boxers, plus a good bit of scraps for the “Quilt One Day” project.

I’ve been trying to use free online patterns for these projects — but really, with JoAnn’s and Hancock’s selling patterns for 99 cents at least once a month, it’s tough to find a better deal.

I’ve found free boxer patterns, but none I liked better than this one (McCalls 8934). My daughter uses it (in a smaller size) for shorts, I like the boxers, and if I make the legs a little longer, they make great PJ’s.

One day, I’m going to make a pair of peasant-type pants for a Renaissance costume. I just need to add some ties around the legs and add a drawstring at the waist.

I’m going to use an elastic waist this time. I’m also not going to use pockets — this means I’ll only cut out four pieces of fabric (two fronts (left and right) and two backs (left and right)).

I originally cut this pattern for short legs — since then, I’ve decided I like the legs a little longer. I’ll cut the pattern normally, but I’m going to add an extra 4 and a half inches to the leg length.

The 4 and a half was no great scientific compromise — it was just as far as I could cut without repositioning my rotary cutting board!

Here’s one side cut out with the extra 4 and a half inches. I’m also doing something else different from the pattern cutting layout.

The piece layout in the pattern ends up with the designs reversed on the left and right sides. This would mean some Mad Cat Scientists would be on their heads, others would be on their feet.

I rearranged the pattern pieces so that all cats face the same direction.

You should decide if you want the design to look upright when you look down at it — or if you want it to look upright when others look at you.

Once you’ve got the pieces cut out, we’ll assemble them … one side at a time.

First, pin a front and a back together, wrong sides inside — be sure and use two left sides or two right sides! Yep, we’re going to use a French Seam again!

I pin the top sides together, then work down towards the bottom. If there’s a length mismatch, I like that to be at the bottom.


I’m using about a 3/8 inch seam allowance. This works out good for me on this particular pattern.

The pattern has a 5/8 inch seam allowance, plus it’s a tad big on me. Using a 3/8 allowance (which gets doubled when I French seam) makes it work out just fine.

I generally begin sewing all the way down the hip side of the boxers.

Another by the way — you’ve probably noticed my tendency to use French Seams. I really do have a serger — I just don’t use it that much!

Whenever I can use a French Seam, I tend to do so. It just looks and feels so much cleaner!


Back to the boxers … here’s the garment after sewing down the hip side.

Now it’s time to pin it up and sew along the inside leg … just below the crotch.

When I flatten out the fabric prior to pinning, you can see the back piece is wider than the front piece. This is because … well, because there’s a little more “rounding” in the back side than on the front side!

In my case, there’s a little more rounding than usual, too!

Match up the top crotch corners of the front and back pieces and pin down to the bottom of the leg.

It’s a little tough to see, but I’ve got a slight length mismatch when I get to the bottom — once piece is a tiny bit longer than the other.

Not a big deal — my 4 and a half inches was not all that precise. This extra length will go away when I get to hemming the bottom anyway.

Let’s sew it up — sew along the inside leg. Use the same seam allowance as before.

Be sure and “lock in” your stitches at the beginning and end of the stitches. Sew forward a stitch or two, the reverse for a stitch or two, then continue forward. Do the same thing when you reach the end of your seam line.

Once you’ve sewed both sides, trim your threads, then trim away the extra seam allowance. Try to leave about 1/8 inch of fabric outside your seam lines.

When we reverse the shorts (turn inside out), we’ll stitch along this line to make the French Seam.

By the way, since this is a zig-zag machine, I thought you’d like to see a sample of the straight stitch. The straight stitch is just a zig-zag of zero width.

It’s not a bad straight stitch, but I’ve been a little spoiled by the Singer 221 and 301. It’s not quite as good as these straight-stitch only machines.

Okay, let’s get to the French Seamery! Turn everything inside out, then stitch along the seam line to enclose the raw edge.

I was able to get a pretty consistent 1/8″ edge when I trimmed, so I’m using only about a 1/4″ seam allowance. This’ll still let me completely enclose the 1/8″ raw edge.

As always, be careful to pinch the edges as flat as you can. If you let the seam “puff”, your French Seams won’t lie flat.

Build your French Seam along both sides — hip side and crotch side. Here’s my attempt with finished seams.

Note how one side is longer than the other — the backside is wider (because my backside is wider!). I wanted to stick some prop in the leg so you could see how the sides differed. My camera was the perfect size, so I put the camera inside the pant leg, then reached for the camera to take a picture, then …

Oh well, time to look for another prop! This container of toothpicks worked pretty good … although I have no idea why I had toothpicks in my sewing room.

Here’s a closer look at the stitch length lever — in the middle is a zero length, move up for longer lengths, move down for reverse stitching.

Anyway, at this point, you’ve finished seaming the outsides of one side of your boxers.

Repeat the entire process with your remaining two pieces of fabric to construct the other side of your boxers.

Once you’ve finished the second side, you now have a right side and a left side. It’s time to join the sides.

We’re going to join the sides by pinning along the “J” shaped curve above the crotch side.

Now you’ll see one reason I like this pattern. Because it has a fake fly, it’s very easy to tell the front from the back! I start off by pinning the front sides of the right and left pieces together. Assemble with the right sides of the fabric on the outside!

Pin all the way along this “J” curve from belly button to backbone to join the right and left halves!

Once pinned, begin sewing along the curve. I generally start right above the fake fly. You’ll have to reposition the fabric to make the 90 degree turns at the top of the fake fly. Be sure and stop with the needle down to make it easy to pivot your fabric! The 125 does not have an automatic needle down, so you may have to use your handwheel.

I’m still using about a 3/8″ seam allowance when I join the two sides.

There’s a lot of fabric here — and some curves as well. This means a lot of fabric bunching. Be careful to keep your path clear underneath the needle — otherwise you may end up sewing things together that you didn’t intend to!

Once you’ve sewn a straight line (belly button to backbone) to join the two sides, trim the extra fabric to about 1/8″ to get ready for your French Seam.

Turn the piece inside out, then begin sewing along the same belly-button to backbone line to make your French Seam. Use about 1/4″ seam allowance and you should enclose the raw edge.

Be sure and invert your fake fly as well when you turn the boxer’s inside out!

Here’s a quick Bernina test — we’re approaching the very middle of the seam at the bottom of the shorts. This is where the edges of all four pieces join. With the French Seams already built, this means we’ll be sewing through about 16 layers of fabric at this one point!

The Bernina didn’t even notice it — it sewed right along without a hitch. Didn’t even have to “work” it past the hump — it plowed right through!

And here’s our assembled garment — both right and left sides are joined and we’ve placed a French Seam at the join.

Again, note how the back side is wider than the front side.

This particular pattern has one trick left — we have to finish “faking” the fake fly.

Lay the fly along one side of the garment. Now, sew along the seam of the fake fly. This will leave it “open” on the front of the garment — although there will be no place to go because of what we’re doing right now.

Once you finish, turn the garment back rightside out to view the fly. It’ll look like it can open … but it really can’t.

You may be able to see my stitch line here — it actually goes around the “neck” of this partially decapitated cat!

You may need to right click on this image and select “View Image” to see a larger picture in order to see the seams.

All these images are 640 by 480 — although they’re reduced by half for this page. You can always right click and view to see an image at it’s original size.

Almost done — we’re coming along the home stretch now!

Let’s hem the bottoms of both legs. You can fold over about a 1/4 inch hem, then fold it over again and sew it in place.

I’m too lazy to do all that folding, so I’ll fold it 1/4 inch, then sew it in place, then …

… then fold it again by 1/4, then sew that in place to finish it.

However you like to do it, go ahead and hem both legs.

Just a quick view to let you know how handy the free arm is. I really like being able to “tuck” garments around the arm. This makes arms, waists, and legs really easy.As you sew your hem on the bottom, you’ll come up to a French Seam. Try and lay the seam so that it doesn’t twist when it hits the bottom hem.

And here’s the shorts with hemmed legs.

Now it’s time for the waist!

I’m going to stray from the pattern directions a little bit right here. First, I’m going to turn over and sew about 1/4 inch hem along the waistline.

Next, I’m going to fold that over and sew a 1 inch hem along the waistline. This is because I want to build a “casing” so I can insert some elastic.

Since I want to insert some elastic in this casing, I’m not going to sew all around the waistline — I’m going to leave about 1 inch open.

I guess I should use pins and a ruler to ensure a constant 1 inch hem — but I’m just eyeballing and using my finger joint instead. Seems to work good enough.Okay, I’ve come almost all the way around the waist. I’m stopping about 1 inch before the stitch lines meet. This is where I’m going to insert the elastic.

But first, another stray from the pattern directions. I don’t like it when elastic rides up against the top edge of a garment.

I prefer to sew a small seam so that the edge contains just air — seems to keep it a little more comfortable. The elastic will therefore lie along this seam line — in fact, I’ll have two seam lines to form the casing for the elastic.

Here’s my finished casing — I’ve left about a 1/2 inch wide casing. Since I’m using 3/8″ elastic, this’ll make an easy fit.

I’ve used different width elastics — 3/8, 1/2, and 5/8. I haven’t really noticed a comfort difference yet.

If you’re using a wider elastic — or if you want to leave a longer and puffier top, then cut your fabric a little “taller” initially. Just leave a little more fabric on the top of the “fly” when you first cut.

Here’s how I’m going to insert the elastic. I don’t know what this thing is called — but I’m sticking elastic in one end, then I’m going to insert it into the 1 inch opening in the casing, then work it all the way around the waist and back outside the same 1 inch opening.

It’ll tend to get stuck at the French Seams. When this happens, “roll” the casing along the seams to create a wider opening.

Be careful not to let the elastic pull free — I use a safety pin to keep it in place. Also, try not to let the elastic “twist” once it gets inside the casing.

Hooray! I’ve made it all the way around without the elastic popping loose. There must be a better way to do this!

I’ve seen directions that suggest attaching a safety pin to the end of the elastic, then working that through the casing. Maybe I’m doing something wrong, but that always seems about 10 times as hard as what I’ve done previously.

How do you know how much elastic to use? Well, you can try the garment on as you adjust the elastic. Or, you can test the elastic around your waist first to find a comfortable length (it’ll be shorter than your waist — you’ll want it to stretch). I then cut it at that length and feed it through the waist.

Tack the two ends of the elastic together. You can do this by hand sewing, or slip it under the presser foot and give it a whack.

After I do this, I like to rearrange and run a line or two of zigzag stitches along the overlap of the elastic. I like to use about a 1 inch overlap.

Once you’ve sewn the ends of the elastic together, give them a “stretch” so that they disappear inside the one inch opening in the waistband casing. Then, sew that one inch opening closed.

And that’s it — here’s our completed boxer shorts!

I wanted to show you why I hate using UPS to ship anything breakable. If it can be dropped, UPS will drop it. Here’s where my handwheel used to go before UPS got involved. I ended up with a handful of shattered Bakelite.

I’m not saying UPS has broken every machine I’ve received from them, but every broken machine I’ve ever received has been shipped by UPS.

I’ve actually had the best luck with the US Postal Service! Surprised me, but what happens is that instead of delivering the machine, they leave a “package pickup” notice for me to collect it at the local post office substation. That’s okay with me — that way I know it won’t get dropped or mishandled by the local delivery person.

Here’s what the handwheel should look like. This is the handwheel on my Record 530. I think they’re even the same size.

I’m not going to find this part at a sewing shop — but I’m keeping my eyes out for a “parts” machine.

Problem is that the prices on these old Bernina’s are heading upwards. I’ve seen broken parts machines go for nearly $200!

Almost forgot — well, actually I did forget … to turn on the light! Here’s what things look like when you remember to turn the light on. Uses a standard screw in sewing machine light bulb.

Which brings us back to our Bernina 125 with a folded up knee controller.

What do I think about the machine? Well, I like that it’s smaller than the 530. It only does straight and zigzag … but I don’t use the fancy stitches that much anyway. It’s over 50 years old and still sews strong. Good straight stitch — not as good as a 301, but still plenty good enough.

It’s easy to sew on — which makes it fun. I’m glad I bought this one before the prices got too crazy — but if you see one at a good price, you may be glad if you grab it!