If you were to start a sewing machine Hall of Fame, the first few inductees might include the Singer 221 Featherweight and perhaps a Singer 201, but… it would definitely include a Bernina 830.
This industry and sewing proven machine has a large and dedicated following… and more and more sewists want to join the 830 club. As a result, even though it was only produced from 1972 through 1977, it’s probably more in demand today than it ever has been.
Prices unfortunately reflect this — there’s not a great supply, but there is a great demand. Expect to pay between $350 and $800 for a good used machine! The Bernina 830 is one of those rare and happy mechanical occurrences where the manufacturer simply got everything right (kind of like a 1957 Chevrolet!). These metal and mechanical marvels purr along as smoothly today as when they first left the dealer showroom.
The manuals are long out of print — although copies are easily found on the Internet. There are online support groups as well (like I said, there’s a dedicated following!)
The 830 is a sturdy mechanical machine — no computers or chips. It offers 21 stitches — with 15 of them being decorative. It has 5 different needle positions and you can vary the stitch width and length up to 4mm. You’ve also got a Five Step Buttonhole; this is the same as a four step buttonhole, with a fifth straight securing stitch down one side of the buttonhole stitching.
Controls manage the stitch length (including reverse), the stitch width, and the stitch selection (straight/zig-zag mode or decorative stitch mode). There’s a dial for the 5 step buttonhole as well as selections to drop the feed dogs and to slip into a “slow speed/high torque” mode for extra punch!
Finally, there’s a socket that accepts Bernina’s presser foot lift arm. Nudge it with your right knee to raise the sewing foot (you can also raise it manually with the standard lift arm behind the sewing head.). To really use the knee lift properly, you should use your left foot for the foot control! This takes a tiny bit of getting-used-to, but is nice once you do so.
The 830 is a free arm machine — although there is a sewing “table” that slides and locks onto the free arm — that uses old style Bernina feet. These are bayonet mount feet that pop on and off incredibly easily (that’s what sold me on my first Bernina). The old style foot is a little shorter than the new style.
Once you join the Bernina family, you’ll find yourself in constant foot acquisition mode! There are dozens and dozens of feet — but you can get by with only a few. Standard feet on an original 830 include Zigzag, Embroidery, Overlock, Blindstitch, Buttonhole, Small Darning, Tailor tacking, Hemmer 4mm, Pintuck (7-groove), Lap Hemmer, Zipper, and the low Shank Adaptor.
Bernina “Old Style” feet are readily available. List price tends to be $20 to $30 per foot; used feet may only be a few dollars on Ebay.
I’ve occasionally had bobbin woes on Bernina models — but never on the 830 series. It simply works all the time.
The Bernina 830 is a simple machine — but there’s something special about being simple. If you’re simple and easy-to-use… then you have to be really, really good! The Bernina 830 passes this test easily — as attested by the legion of fond owners. If you get a chance to start your own Hall of Fame, you couldn’t go wrong by including the Bernina 830 as an early member!