Machine Review: Bernina L220 Cover Stitch

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Thank you so much for your kind comments on my last post! I promise not to post only baby-related things from now on, but I’m sure there will be a burst of very cute tiny clothes soon!

My new machine should help me out with that too, especially since I’ll be using a lot of very soft knit fabrics. It’s a Bernina L220 cover stitch, and it’s a real beauty. A cover stitch machine that doesn’t make me want to pull my hair out? Yes, thank you, I’ll take 3 dozen, please.

I’ve had this machine for a few months now. I am so happy with it! I have used many cover stitch machines over the years, and this is by far my favorite one I’ve come across. Like most cover stitch machines, there aren’t lots of bells and whistles to go along with it. It has a few simple functions which it does well each time I use it, and that makes me a happy camper.

This machine features 3 different needle positions, and can make a 4-thread cover stitch (uses all 3 needles), a wide 3-thread cover stitch, a narrow 3-thread cover stitch and a 2-thread chainstitch. It has easy-to-adjust tension knobs, a differential feed feature and is easy to thread.

With the threading, there is a unique sequence with the lower looper. I was overly confident when I brought the machine home and went ahead and pulled all of the loose threads out of it. It turns out that one section of the lower looper thread really stumped me! The manual illustrations and the diagram on the machine itself had a very odd way of telling you to thread a certain section, so I thought I’d help with that here.

When you reach this arm on the lower looper thread guides, the first thing you must do is pull your thread thru the small hook guide. Then, you will bring the thread back over this guide, and wrap it under the long finger on the machine.



You can then pull your thread under the finger and head for the next hook guide. The illustrations show a dotted line for this part, which wasn’t helpful.



I eventually got it though, and if you’d like to see a video of this, Bernina has a guide for threading this machine on Youtube.

Many cover stitch machines thread their loopers from the right side of the machine. The L220 threads from the left side. There is an easy looper auto-threader that pulls down so that you can thread the entire looper without struggling.



The biggest test for a coverstitch machine is to test it out in different weights and thickness of fabrics to see if it skips stitches. So far, I haven’t found a combination that causes trouble for this machine.

On my last cover stitch, the Brother 2340CV, this was a constant problem. While I was in the middle of stitching, the tension dials would slowly loosen and most of the time I wouldn’t catch it until I turned my work over and saw many places where the looper thread didn’t connect with the needles. It was really frustrating! Using all different types of thread, adjusting the tensions and foot pressure and trying different gauges and types of needles didn’t help either. There were many fists shaken and words spat at that machine!

I pushed this machine really hard around Christmas time. I made my dad a cardigan (out of the same pattern I use for myself) out of an extremely thick knit fleece. It was the kind of fabric that North Face would use on a heavier sweatshirt, and in a few places, this machine had to stitch over SIX layers of that fabric. I was reeeeeaaally nervous. The last thing I wanted to do was make my new machine angry! But nope, she handled it like the pro she is, and barely flinched. I was relieved, because my Brother could never make it over those areas when I sewed my own cardigans.

One awesome feature the helps with this is the presser foot. This foot is made out of three different spring-loaded sections, so it can ride up over bulky seams and not lose foot pressure. I really like to serge down my seam allowances using a cover stitch, so this foot helps ensure a beautiful stitch every time.


Plus, the fabric in that photo? That’s this machine only sewing on three layers. It can really handle a lot!

So, back to the skipped stitch test. Most coverstitch machines have a very hard time creating a flat, non-skipped stitch on a tissue weight knit. My last machine just couldn’t do it. I loosened the tensions a bit, sprayed some starch on the knit, and fed it into the machine. Would you look at that?


It’s the tiniest bit wavy because I didn’t have the edge pressed or pinned and I didn’t hold it flat very well. But I’m still pleased with it!

Here is the stitching on two layers of heavy cotton sweater knit:


And again on three layers of heavy cotton sweater knit:


The last example is where I folded the fabric over on itself and used the foot’s spring-loaded feature to sit half-on, half-off the fabric edge. Still a beautiful stitch! Sorry I didn’t use white thread. I should have switched it out for you!

I don’t have a photo of the chainstitching, but it does a really nice job of that (if you couldn’t have guessed). I most often use the chainstitch for basting together muslins. It’s much quicker to take apart than a basting stitch on a sewing machine.

This machine also has an interesting way of releasing the threads, which I may save for another post. Are any of you curious about the best way to end your cover stitching?

Do you have any questions about this machine?

A Very Small Announcement

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There have been a few goings-on around here that I’ve been quiet about. One in particular that has had most of my my attention has also be sucking up all of my energy and not leaving me with a lot of brain power left to write or sew. It’s hard when that’s how you make your living! But now I that have some energy back, I’ve been able to get a bit of sewing done, starting with a maternity tshirt!

MNeilson-gathers2We’re expecting our first little one in early November! It’s been pretty hard not to say anything, especially with my last post talking about motivation. I knew that this baby was draining a lot of my will to do anything besides nap, but I don’t think I realized just how much early pregnancy was affecting me. I tried to fight against it, but I’d sit at my table and stare at my projects. I had to start all over again! None of the plans that I had for summer sewing were going to work out! I remembered that Megan Nielsen had a line of maternity patterns though, so I bought the Ruched Maternity tshirt and sewed it up with a drapey rayon knit that was in my stash. It felt really good to take a project from start to finish with no adjustments.

MNeilson-shirtI really like that this top will stretch and grow with my belly. All of my tshirts were getting a little short, and I can’t stand wearing short shirts! You will never, I repeat, never find me wearing a crop top (especially now… although that might be hilarious).

MNeilson-gathersI really like that the gathers on the side seam are only on the front part of the shirt. I bought a maternity shirt with gathering on both the front and back bodice and it’s kind of annoying. Can you tell I’m picky about how my clothes fit?!


I used my new Bernina L220 cover stitch machine to hem the shirt and stitch down the neckband. I am sooo in love with this machine! I will give you a full write-up about it very soon. It’s amazing and I want to use it all the time.


I do have some garment sewing plans that involve a few patterns already in my stash. I think the Jamie Christina Mission Maxi will work well in a stretchy fabric and I plan on sewing a Colette Laurel out of a knit as well. The Victory Patterns Chloe dress could work, as long as I add fabric to the center panel and rework it a bit. We’ll see if I get that far!

I am pretty excited to start sewing for this little one soon. I’ve been eyeing lots of beautiful quilting cottons for tiny clothes and of course, a quilt. I think that the Noodlehead Super Tote might make a really cute diaper bag too. There’s so much to do!

What Motivates You To Keep Making?

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It’s a funny thing, motivation. It seems to come and go, depending on the chaos of life, your energy level, your time and maybe even the state of your workspace. I’ve had several weeks here where I feel like I haven’t sewn a single thing, and it’s odd to me. There are a lot of things being juggled right now, but I have plently of time to spend in my studio. Why then, do I come upstairs, look around, and not feel like working on a single one of my projects?

I have quilts, shirts and dresses in the works and an unheard of number of supplies to play with. I can’t seem to find it in me to dive in though. I tried forcing it a little bit, and I finally finished Rob’s shirt from Christmas, just to get it off my table and into our closet. There are overdue baby gifts stacked up, patterns asking to be cut and plenty of fabric that is prewashed and ready to go.


This usually happens to me about once a year, and this year it’s caught me when I have a lot of work I should be doing. I want to find the energy to pick up and get going again, but I can’t always remember how I re-energized myself the year before. What do you do to find inspiration to dive back in to your projects?

This isn’t the same thing for me as feeling overwhelmed with options. I’ve written about that before, and how I think a fabric stash can stifle your creativity. This is about finding the inspiration and energy to get going again after taking a break; to find the joy again in cutting, stitching and sewing until late into the night.


Many times for me, I have to completely step away from working. No computer, limited time on my phone, and no sketching or picking through my fabric bins helps me to miss it. I’ll get an itch in my brain to create something and I make it sit there and simmer. Often times, once I sketch something in a notebook, it disappears from my head. It’s as if my brain lets the idea go once it’s on paper, because now I don’t have to try to remember it, to think of the pocket details or the way the neckline will fall.


I don’t like the lapse though. I feel sluggish and frustrated with myself. I don’t want to take a sewing break, and I don’t want to take a blogging break, but I can’t seem to get myself back in the game. Is it better to force yourself to sew in these situations? Is it the habit of sewing daily something that I need to re-establish?

I picked up a book at the library today that I’m really looking forward to reading. It’s The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. I believe that I saw somewhere that Sarai from Colette Patterns was reading it, and it sounded like an applicable title for what I need right now. I’ll let you know if it gives me any insights into motivation and keeping up creative practices. So far, the first chapter is proving to be right on target.

Even writing this has started up the idea of beginning again…

Tips for Buying a Serger

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One of the most common questions I am asked in my Craftsy class, Beginner Serging, is “What kind of serger should I buy?” It’s a question that doesn’t have a short answer, so I thought I’d share my ideas on the subject here, and get your thoughts as well. I have brands and models of machines that I prefer, but I encourage everyone to form their own opinions and to educate themselves on the available features before making a decision.

I am a firm believer that you should always try out a machine before you buy it. I don’t care if you get it from a store or buy it used off of Craigslist, always try it out first! You may find that you don’t like the way the machine sounds, how it feeds the fabric, or hey, you might discover it doesn’t actually even turn on when the posted ad said it worked fine!


With that said, I also believe it is best to buy a machine from a dealership. I know that you may think that you’re getting a great deal on a machine from Amazon, but what happens if a part breaks? Who will help you to find accessory feet or parts as your machine gets older? A big box store won’t help you out at all if you have a question about your machine. Stumped on threading or need some troubleshooting advice? A good dealer should happily help you and answer your questions, and if you ask, they may also offer a free class to go along with your machine.

Choosing a machine is a personal experience. Everyone likes different machines for different reasons. Try out as many machines as you can before you pick one to take home. Check out multiple brands, go for low-end and high-end, and you’ll see different features and be much happier with the machine you choose in the end. If you are completely stumped with where to start, look at different brand websites to get an idea of the capabilities of various machine models. You can often times download the manuals that go with your favorite models to review the stitches, features and threading paths. Don’t look at too many online reviews. It’s better to form your own opinion right from the start than to look at a certain machine with bias that you haven’t even tried out yet. Just because someone else has had a poor experience with a machine, it doesn’t mean that you will as well.

Bring your own fabric samples into the store and try out as as many different stitches as you can. Will you only ever sew with quilting cotton, or are you maybe into upholstery fabrics with much thicker weaves and threads? It’s important to know if the machine will be able to easily sew the fabrics (and layers) that you intend to sew with. Some machines will jam when 6 layers of denim are run through them, and others will cut through the thickness like butter. A dealer will have swatches for you to serge with, but if the samples aren’t anything like what you’d actually sew, then you don’t know how the machine will put up with your projects once it’s home.


Don’t buy a machine based solely on the price. I understand, completely, that a machine that’s on sale for $100 looks amazing. In fact, if you don’t have a serger and you’ve been wanting one, it may look as tempting as a chocolate cupcake after you’ve sworn off sugar for a week. You might get what you pay for though!

The biggest difference between higher-end machines and lower-end machine is on the inside. The materials used to make the mechanical parts is one of the most important aspects of a sewing machine or serger to consider. Many of the lower-end machines are made with a large percentage of plastic parts. When these parts are put under a lot of stress, or simply wear out, they snap. Most machine technicians will tell you the truth- it can be less expensive to go out and buy the same cheap machine over again than to pay to have someone fix it. A higher-end machine is made with metal parts. The machine should be heavy to lift. It will have drive and power to work thru your fabrics. I often recommend that students who are considering buying a lower-end machine, simply to have a “newer” model, don’t do that if they have an older, all-metal machine. It’s better to have the older machine serviced than to buy an inexpensive model with plastic parts that won’t last for as many years or have as much power.


What stitches are available on the machine and how easy is it to thread? Most machines these days can sew 2, 3, and 4 thread stitches, and some models can sew with 5 or even more threads. There are still models being produced that are 3/4 thread machines though, which means that they only sew with 3 or 4-threads. They cannot make 2-thread stitches, and if you sew with a lot of very delicate fabrics, you may want to have those stitches as an option. Be sure to ask the salesperson to demonstrate the threading of the machine for you, so that you can carefully watch and get a sense of whether you’d be comfortable threading the machine on your own.

If you sew lots of knits, and you want to have the option to create a coverstitch, then you will want to look at models that have this available. My personal choice is to have a separate coverstitch machine. I find that I am able to finish my projects much more quickly if I have my machines all threaded and ready to go, instead of switching a serger back and forth from serging to coverstitching.


Look over the accessories that come with the machine and see if you think anything is missing. I’m not trying to say that parts will be missing from your new machine, but there may be things you wish you had later on. Does the model you chose include a waste catcher, or will your sewing table be a mess? Does it have a nice big lint brush for cleaning out the fuzz? Take a look at the tip of the tweezers too. Some inexpensive pairs won’t hold on to threads because the tips hardly touch. While you’re at the dealer, stock up on needles too. Some serger brands require needle systems that are hard to find online and in fabric stores.

My personal preferences for machine features may be different from yours, but I thought I’d share what I can’t live without. My machine must have a waste catcher, needle threader, differential feed, adjustable tensions, LOTS of power, an easy-to-thread lower looper, any easy-to-read foot pressure knob, retractable stitch finger, at least 2, 3 and 4-thread stitch capabilities, and a cloth plate that opens up so I can clean as much lint out of the machine as possible. Now, that might seem like a huge list to you, but it doesn’t mean your machine has to have all of the features that I look for.

When I got my first serger, I was a very poor college student. I needed to have a serger at my apartment, so that I could still work on my projects when I wasn’t in the studio on campus. I found a White Superlock on Craigslist (yay $100 find!), and scooped it up. It turned out to be an okay machine, but I wasn’t that happy with it. It didn’t have a waste catcher, it didn’t open up easily and I could hardly see the lower looper to thread it. It also didn’t come with any accessories or a manual, so I had to figure it out on my own. I spent a lot of time being angry at that machine! I went thru a few other machines too, until I got my current model, a Bernina 1150MDA. I love my machine. I honestly don’t know that I’ll upgrade until there’s a new model that can make espresso while I sew. It’s very easy to use, quick to thread and I’ve never had any issues with it.


Don’t be scared of your new machine! The absolute best thing that you could do is learn to thread it from scratch. I promise that it’s not nearly as scary as people make it out to be. You learned to thread a sewing machine, and that was kind of scary at first, right? After you understand how the machine works, it’s easy to switch out your threads. The sooner you go for it, the quicker you’ll be a pro. I’m always happy to help you too! Here is a link for $25 off of my Craftsy class, Beginner Serging, if you’d like to come over and learn all about using your new machine. I promise that you’ll wonder why you didn’t buy a serger sooner!

Inspirational Stitching: A Guatemalan Huipil

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My neighbor has a very lovely collection of fiber arts from Central America. I’ve shared a few of her molas here before, and she recently asked me to work on another piece of hers, a huipil from Guatemala.

*You can click on any of photos below to bring up larger images and see more details of this piece.*

Huipil Front- Reallyhandmade.comShe has several of these garments, and although they are all beautiful and obviously made with care, my favorite one by far is this purple number. It is made of four sections of fabric, which have been hand sewn together along the shoulders and the center front and back. It has then been heavily embroidered by hand with a pattern of bright birds, purple rope, metallic thread and large pink flowers. The hole in the center is rather small, but it can just be squeezed over a head.  The neckline is crocheted with a very thick cotton embroidery floss.

Huipil2Huipil’s are usually worn by women in Central Mexico and Central America. They are very loose-fitting tunics that are rectangular in shape and often adorned with embroidery, ribbon, lace and and bits of fabric. They can be short, like this one, or they can go all the way to the floor. Many of them are made with hand woven cloth as well, and this huipil is an example of that, likely having been made by one woman from start to finish.

Huipil3When I think of the time it took to embroider this whole piece, I’m just in awe. Who was the woman who made it? How long did it take her to do it? Did she wear it herself before selling it?

Huipil4It’s interesting to me that some of the embroidery thread appears to have been twisted before being inserted back into the fabric. See the stems on the flower leaves? Did the maker do that to add a bit of texture, or is there another purpose for that technique?

HuipilWholeI carefully sewed up the sides of this huipil so that the owner could wear it to a party. I think it’s lovely that more people will get to see and admire the work that went in to this piece.

So what’s your guess? How many hours do you think it took to embroider this?