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Bernina 530 and a Holiday Pillow with French Seams

Here’s another Ebay find — a Bernina Record 530 with knee control (instead of foot pedal). This is a mechanical machine and it also has nine decorative stitches, plus straight stitch and zigzag. Haven’t looked inside, but I suspect a camstack that delivers these stitches.

All metal gears and there are two belts inside. This machine should last about … oh, forever! Bernina made this model between 1953 and 1962; in 1962 they replaced the 530 with the 730..

You don’t see a lot of 530’s. One turns up on Ebay every month or so; they seem to go for between $100 and $200.

This machine’s pretty dirty — I’ve cleaned it up and oiled it, but I think I’m going to send it in for a real cleaning. I took it partly apart, then decided I didn’t want to go any further without a maintenance manual! BTW, you can find the instruction manual┬áhere!

I’ve unfolded the knee control (remember, this does power, not needle up/down!) to expose the bobbin latch. If you flick it open, you see a very familiar Bernina-looking bobbin assembly. It looks almost identical to the bobbin case on my Virtuoso 150 (and it very well may be).

The bobbin removes exactly like a Bernina bobbin — and it loads the same way, as well. I’m not going to go through the bobbin loading since it’s no different from any other Bernina bobbin loading (as far as I know).

You can see some brown discoloration on parts of the machine — it looks like this is just old oil. Although the bobbin area was pretty lint-free, I don’t think this machine has been very well maintained. When I removed the gear cover, it was pretty filthy inside.

I’ll get that taken care of — this machine is too nice not to take care of. It’s a Bernina, the Swiss engineering is peerless, and it’s powerful enough to sew through … well, anything I’m ever going to want to sew through.

It is a little weighty (cast iron means it’ll last — it also means it’s heavy!); I’d call it transportable, not portable. I do have a nice case for it.

This is a nice feature — while this 530 is a free-arm machine, it does come with a Bernina extension table.

You slide the table on from the left side of the machine, then tighten a little lever on the bottom of the extension table to set it in place.

And here’s the locked in extension table. Makes a nice sewing platform!

I’m used to free arm machines, so I’m going to remove the extension table for the remainder of the project. However, the extension does add to the versatility of the machine.

Just wanted to show you a quick peek at the controls. The top knob controls stitch width — set it to “0” for straight stitch, set it to a higher number for zig-zag.

The up/down bar in the middle handles stitch length — move it past the middle for reverse feed, move it further from the middle for longer stitches.

The knob on the bottom has two settings — a zig-zag and a “darning” patch. I haven’t moved it from zig-zag, but I suspect the “darning” setting may disable the feed dogs.

The little metal thing at the bottom right is where the knee control lever attaches after you unfold it.

Here’s a closer view of the stitch width control. Here’s it set to zero width for a straight stitch.

There are two “stop” levers directly underneath this knob at the 4:00 o’clock and 7:00 o’clock positions. I haven’t used them, but I suspect you can set them to easily switch back and forth between two consistent settings.


Here’re two more controls on the top of the machine. The bar to the left lets you select one of nine different ornamentive stich patterns.

The bar on the right lets you elect to sew with an ornamentive stitch OR a straight stitch/zig-zag. In other words, if you don’t set it to ornamentive, then you can’t use an ornamentive stitch.

I’m going to leave things set to straight/zig-zag for this project. Maybe after I get the machine serviced, I’ll come back with a demonstration of the ornamentive stitches!

Let’s get on to our pillow! I like to use decorative pillows for different holidays. However, I didn’t want to store a ton of different decorative pillows while I waited for the approprite holiday to roll around! So, I decided to make removable pillow tops. This way, I can have tops for Christmas, Valentine’s, New Year’s, St. Patty’s, etc, etc, and just insert the pillows when the appropriate holiday comes.

I have 8 “blank” pillows — 14″ pillows that I got from JoAnn’s and Hancock’s (I like the Hancock’s a little better; JoAnn’s are too “fluffy”)

You’ll need 1 yard of decorative fabric for the tops of four pillows; I use 1 yard of complimentary colored broadcloth for the back. Here’re I’m using my St. Patrick’s fabric top with a green back.

To start, cut four 15 inch squares from your decorative fabric. This is extremely easy to do with a rotary cutter. The scraps go into the “quilt one day” bag.

Here’s the trick that’ll make your pillows look “square”. Starting a couple of inches from the end, cut a small curving section out. You’ll want to have it about 1/2 inch at the large end.

If you don’t do this, your corners will be “pointy” and will stick out when you insert the pillow. If you round the corners first, though, your corners will come out almost square. I don’t understand the geometry involved, I just know it works!

Go ahead and trim all four corners of your top fabric. If you’re doing all four pillows at once, then you’ll trim 16 corners!

Let’s cut the fabric for the back of our pillows. Remember, we cut 15 inch squares for the top — but we’re now going to cut 18 inch by 15 inch rectangles for the back!

The extra length will let us use two overlapping pieces for the back — this is how’ll we’ll insert and remove the pillow!

Once you’ve got your rectangles cut, cut them in two down the 15 inch side.

Rather than cut them in the middle, I like to cut them a little to the side. I might start with an 18 by 15 piece and end up with an 11 by 15 piece and a 7 by 15 piece.

I like to use different sizes so that I don’t get the two back pieces mixed up. It’s easy to match up a short and a long piece!

Now that all the fabric’s cut out, let’s get sewing. Start with one of your back pieces and sew a hem. Here, I folded over about 3/8 inch, then folded it over again. You can press these folds if you want it perfect … or just finger press if you’re comfortable with “good enough”.

Note the needle position — it’s all the way to the right of the foot. I haven’t figured out how to set it to the middle. When you turn the stitch width knob, the needle position changes, but it also sets you into zig-zag mode. I’ll try and figure this one out, but for now I’m just going to shift my fabric position to allow for the right-most needle position.

Note that we’re placing one hem along the 15 inch side of our back pieces. Go ahead and hem both the short and the long back piece.

Here’s one finished back piece — note how you can see another set behind this one. Rotary cutters are really nice! You can cut many, many pieces all at once.

Alright, here’s two back pieces ready to go. I’ve got both a short piece and a matching long piece done. Maybe I should call them “thin” and “wide” insead?

At this point, each back piece has one hemmed side and three raw edges.

Now, let’s attach the back pieces to the front piece. We’re going to use a French Seam, so that means we’re going to match wrong sides together (the good sides will start off on the outside).

I like to start off by pinning the back to the front. Try to match the sides — the corners won’t match exactly because of the curved “trimming” we did to the corners of the front. Match up the 15 inch unhemmed side with the edge of the front fabric. The hemmed side will be towards the middle of the front fabric.

I’m not going to use a lot of pins — just enough to tack the back in place. The reason is that I really want to pin from the front — because I’m going to sew with the front on top.

Since we’re using French Seams, it’s important to sew close to the edge of the fabric. We won’t be able to see the trimmed curved corners of the top piece if we sew with the back on top!

So — I’m using just a few pins to tack the back in place, then I’m going to turn it over and pin it from the front side and then remove the bottom pins. I’m removing the bottom pins because I don’t want to accidentally try and sew through a pin that I can’t see.


Now, position the matching wide piece of rear fabric. Not how the two hemmed pieces will “overlap”.

When I positioned my wide piece so that the unhemmed edge matched the 15 inch side of the front fabric, I had way too much overlap. My fabric might’ve been a little wider than I realized.


So … I shifted the wide side over a couple of inches. This reduced my overlap, but it meant I now have a couple of inches extended past one edge of my front fabric.

This isn’t a problem, because we’re going to trim the edges anyway when we do the French Seam.

That’s one reason I really like French Seams — they not only yield a clean and finished hem, they also give you a little more ability to handle mismatched lengths. Or, you might say they let you get away with being a little sloppy! Oh well, I need all the help I can get!

Remember, I’m only using a few pins to tack the back pieces in place, then I’ll turn the fabric over and …

… pin the whole thing together from the front. Then I’ll remove those few pins from the back.

Be sure and pin the overlap areas very well. If you don’t, it’s possible these overlaps may slip when they go under the presser foot.

Note how I’ve got a few inches of back material extending beyond the front fabric. This is because I adjusted my overlap when I decided I had more than I needed.

Now it’s time to sew. We’ll sew with the decorative piece on top (so we can see the curved areas). Remember, the good sides are on the outside at this point!

Note how I’ve got a few extra pins here because I’ve got an overlap area just underneath. You might want to ensure with your fingers that none of the overlap is slipping.

Sew all down the side — I’m using about a 1/4″ seam allowance. I had intended to use a 3/8″, but didn’t realize the thing about the right-most needle position.

When you get to a corner, stop sewing with the needle in the “down” position. You might have to turn the handwheel to do this. The Bernina 530 does not have an automatic needle down setting.

Raise the presser foot, shift the fabric around the needle by 90 degress, then lower the presser foot and sew along the next side.

Do this until you’ve sewn along all four sides.

Once you’ve finished all four sides, remove the fabric. Here’s what I’ve got at this point – note that I sewed along the front side when I got to the extra back material.

In other words, you should have four seams that make a rough “square” about 15 inches on a side.

I didn’t even bother to trim my extra thread, because the next step is to …

… grab our scissors and trim our seam allowance to about 1/8 of an inch all the way around. This’ll not only trim away our thread, it’ll remove the extra back fabric.

Here’s what it looks like after trimming all sides to a 1/8 inch seam allowance.

Note how the corners aren’t square, they’re curved. This looks screwy right now, but it’ll work out fine at the end.


Now to complete the French Seam. First, turn the pillow inside out. Use your fingers or a point turning tool to make sure the corner seams are completely open. Finger press the edges flat (or iron press if you want them perfect!).

Now, sew all around the edge of your pillow (the pillow is inside out at this point). I’m again using about a 1/4″ seam allowance — this’ll be enough to “capture” and enclose the raw edge inside the French Seam.

Be sure and use the “needle down” trick when you reach the corners — this’ll make it easy to reposition the fabric in order to sew down the next side. Sew all four sides this way.

And here’s what it looks like when you’re done.

Well, it’ll look a little more colorful when you turn it back rightside out again!


More colorful, right? Again, use your fingers or a point turning tool to make sure the corners are completely opened.

At this point, we’re finished sewing and we’re about ready to insert a pillow.

Flip the pillow over so you’re now looking at the bottom. Note the opening where the two bottom pieces overlap.

We’re going to stick a pillow into this overlap.

I like to stick the “tag end” of the pillow in first. I guess I could just remove the tag — but I always seem to tear something when I try to remove the tag. Plus, I guess I’m just programmed by those “Do not remove under penalty of law” things!


Pull open the overlap and insert the pillow. There’ll be room to get your hand in there and make sure the corners don’t get bunched up

I like to start by inserting into the “wide” portion of the back piece. It’s always harder to get the second part of the pillow done … and the short piece is so much easier to do.

Once you’ve got once side of the pillow inserted, fold over the overlap so you can do the remaining side. There will still be enough slack so you can work your hands in and keep the corners from bunching.

You might want to slap the pillow a few times to get it to set just right.


And here’s the finished product! Don’t know if you can tell, but our corners are not sticking out. In fact, we probably could have curved them even a little more than we did.

It’s easy to keep sets of pillow covers for different holidays — and they’re easy to remove and wash, too!

So — how did the Bernina do? Frankly, this nearly 50 year old 530 sewed about as smooth and as solid as my newer Virtuoso 150. I mean, it’s a Bernina, right!

Still, before I push many more yards of fabric through this machine, I really need to take it for a good cleaning. Once that’s done, I expect to get a lot of mileage from this machine!