Sunday, January 19, 2014

Bernina 550 QE Review

My friends at Dave's Bernina asked me to try out a Bernina 550 QE and share my experience about it.  The edited version of that review was just published in the Daily Herald and can be found here.  Below you will find my first SUPER long draft detailing my time with the machine.  Grab a snack...this might take awhile!

I took my first stitches on a vintage (that’s code word for ancient) Singer machine that my mother had when I was a child.  But when I was 15, she upgraded to a Bernina 1030 and that’s the machine I really learned how to sew on.  And by learn to sew, I mean sewing straight lines on simple projects.  I got my first sewing machine when I was about 27.  It was a basic Brother that was given to me and that’s the machine I did all of my simple sewing on for years.  It was when I got serious about quilting a couple of years ago that I decided to search for a new machine.  After extensive research and machine testing, I decided on the Bernina 380 that I purchased from Dave’s Bernina in Provo.

As I have improved my sewing & quilting skills over the last two years, I was starting to feel antsy to try out a new machine with a few more features.  So I was thrilled when my friends at Dave’s Bernina asked me to try out the Bernina 550 QE for a few weeks & share my experience.  

The Bernina 550QE comes with a nice accessory package which includes eight presser feet, a slide-on extension table, hands free presser foot lift system, carrier bag, seam allowance guide and accessory case.  It also comes with a little bag of goodies to get you started sewing right out of the box.  In this bag you’ll find needles, bobbins, thread, machine oil, a cleaning brush, tools and the most important thing in any sewing kit...a seam ripper!

All of the features that I love about my 380 are included in the 550QE.  One of the most important features for my visually challenged eyes is the needle threader.  If you hate searching for the little tiny eye of the needle, then search no more.  The semi-automatic needle threader will literally change your sewing world.  When I would sew on my old Brother machine, I would usually call it a night if my thread broke or ran out because I simply didn’t want to try to thread that dang needle.  Now it’s a breeze and I can re-thread the needle like a pro!  And if your sewing space has poor lighting, you will definitely benefit from the LED lights that shine down from the undercarriage of the machine.  

The Bernina 550 QE comes with an extensive stitch library that includes 22 standard stitches and 155 decorative stitches.  Included in those decorative stitches are 24 different quilting stitches.  My favorite quilting stitch is the one you use to make it look like the project has been hand quilted which I think is pretty tricky!  Another favorite is the blanket stitch which is perfect for machine applique.  The 550 QE stitch packages also has ten buttonhole, eyelet and button-sew-on stitches and four sewing alphabets.  The alphabets come in handy if you like to personalize your child’s clothes before they go to school, camp or on a mission.  All of the  stitching options found on the 550 QE will accommodate just about any sewing and quilting project you will undertake.

If you do a lot of stopping during your sewing, then you will love the needle stop feature on the 550 QE.  With the push of a button, then needle will always end in the down position every time you stop sewing.  Whether you have to stop a lot to reposition your fabric or you’re too engrossed in episode of Grey’s Anatomy to see what Derrick is up to, you will love the needle stop feature.  I will never buy another sewing machine without this feature.   

This machine is pretty speedy allowing you to sew up to 900 stitches a minute.  If you can keep up with that & still keep your seams straight, then more power to you!  But if you’re more conservative with your sewing speed & don’t want to risk accidentally flooring your foot control resulting in using the seam ripper, then you can adjust your speed on the control panel so that you don’t go over the speed level that’s comfortable for you.  

If you dislike searching for your scissors every time you need to clip a thread, then you will definitely like the three thread cutters included on the 550QE.  There is one by the automatic bobbin winder, one by the bobbin casing under the feed dogs and one near the presser foot for easy thread clipping at the end of each sewing pass.  Having a thread cutter on the machine is another feature I would never go without.  It’s the little things that add up to a big difference for me.

Do you consider yourself to be bobbin challenged?  Whether you hate winding or loading your bobbins, the 550QE takes all the frustration out of bobbin tasks.  The automatic bobbin winder allows you to wind a bobbin without having to babysit it.  It will determine when the bobbin spool is full & automatically shut itself off.  There are two spool pins on this machine so you can keep your needle threaded from one spool of thread while placing another spool of thread on the second spool pin to wind a new bobbin.  This comes in handy when you’re project takes longer than you planned and your bobbin runs out right in the middle of said project.  Let’s just say that this happens to me a lot and the ability to wind a bobbin while keeping my needle threaded is another time saver that I love.

The bobbin case is easy to access and remove so that you can easily change out your bobbin spools.  Once you have a new bobbin loaded & the case is replaced, all you have to do is pull the bobbin thread over the cutter and you’re ready to sew.  With the 550QE, you don’t have to bring the bobbin thread up to the sewing surface.  The machine will do that for you. So if you like easy, then this is easy-peasy!

Another beneficial feature of the 550 QE is the built-in Creative Consultant which is accessible through the LCD display.  This feature allows you to enter the basic information of your project and the Creative Consultant will recommend which combination of needle, presser foot & thread is best for your project.  It will also tell you which stitch patterns will work with the combination it recommends. This is great tool for the beginning sewist or anyone who sneaks time to sew in the middle of the night when the kids are asleep and there’s nobody to call for help!  The Creative Consultant feature will also help even experienced sewists with troubleshooting when there is a problem when the thread forms loops or nests, when there’s a problem with fabric feed or when you just can’t seem to make the needle work right with the fabric you’re using

The 550 QE can keep track of your stitch changes with it’s multiple memory functions.  It will remember the changes you make to stitches during your current sewing session and reset on each new session.  Or you can save all of your stitch settings on the long term memory.  If you’re a creative sewist and like to combine stitches for your projects, you can store up to 100 stitches in combination.  I didn’t really dive into the long term memory functions during my test run but I really liked that the machine remembered my stitch changes during each of my sewing sessions.  This made for fast stitch changes since the machine remembered my adjustments.

One feature that I found by accident is the continuous reverse option.  I was backstitching on a zipper and  didn’t really think too much about the beep that I heard as I finished a few more stitches.  When I released the reverse button and pressed down on the foot control to sew, I
quickly discovered that I was sewing in reverse.  It took me a minute to figure out that when you depress the quick reverse button, it will lock into continuous reverse.  So if you like to do things a little differently, try sewing an entire project in reverse!  Or you can just press the reverse button again until you hear the magic beep & sew in a forward motion again.   

The 550 QE comes with a Free Hand System that raises and lowers the presser foot without having to use your hands.  Once the lever is inserted into the machine, the lever is easily operated with your knee.  This is a useful tool when working with delicate fabrics that require extra attention from your hands.  I particularly liked using this function when I do machine applique as it allows me to use both hands while pivoting around my applique piece.  

I am a quilter, or at least an aspiring quilter, so I was excited to see that the Bernina Stitch Regulator foot (BSR) comes standard with the 550 QE.  A stitch regulator allows for precision free-motion sewing once the feed dogs are lowered and the fabric is being manually guided.  The BSR is like sewing with a computerized presser foot.  It attaches onto the foot shaft like all presser feet but then you plug it into the machine and it syncs with the LCD display. This allows for the consistent stitch length, regardless of what speed you are manually guiding the fabric.  

A great feature of the BSR is it’s ability to keep up with your speed.  If you’re guiding the fabric slowly, the stitch speed  will slow down with you.  If you are guiding the fabric quickly, it will speed up with you.  But if you happen to go too fast for the BSR, it will beep at you to slow down.  

Last year I took a class on free motion quilting but was so terrified by the look of my stitch work that I never tried it again..  Just imagine a preschooler trying to write their name for the first time with a fat pencil.  That’s what my free motion quilting looked like.  So I was excited to give it another try with the BSR that comes with the 550 QE.  I went to work piecing a quilt top to specifically try out some free motion  quilting.  I have to say that even though my design work needs some improvement (okay, a lot of improvement) my stitches looked really good!  The BSR was easy to use and made free motion quilting my friend again.  The Bernina Stitch Regulator is a feature that any novice free motion quilter should try.

If you’re new to quilting, then one way to get your feet wet is with the walking foot that comes standard with the 550 QE.  The walking foot aids in sewing multiple layers of fabric as it feeds the top & bottom fabrics through the feed dogs evenly.  So it’s ideal to use when doing straight line quilting.  I also found that using the walking foot when sewing on a quilt binding results in no puckers in the binding.  That’s pretty good considering that when you sew on a binding you are sewing through four layers of fabric plus one layer of batting.  If you love minky or cuddle fabrics but are afraid to sew with them because they are shifty, then you should really try it with the walking foot.  It makes sewing these fabrics so much easier.  

If you are a quilter, you will love the throat size on the 550 QE.  It’s 7 ½ “ from the needle to the free arm which is plenty of room to feed a quilt through while machine quilting.  While it may be tricky to do a queen or king sized quilt, it was more than enough for the large throw size quilt I completed.  

One feature that I loved about the 550 QE that wasn’t included in my 380 is the Start/Stop button.  This button is used with the BSR and the sewing computer.  The reason I love this button is that it turns green when everything is set & ready for you to sew.  But if you’ve forgotten something it will turn red & the machine won’t start regardless of how hard you press down on that foot pedal.  Once you troubleshoot everything such as the presser foot, feed dogs and thread to find the problem, it will turn green again when you’re ready to sew.  This little light was very beneficial as I learned to use the BSR and when it was late at night & I wasn’t paying close attention to what I was doing.  It’s amazing how a little red light can save you from making huge mistakes.  

While I’ve had the Bernina 550 QE, I tackled several sewing projects.  I sewed 11 pillowcases, pieced a full quilt top, two thirds of a second quilt top and started a third.  I completely machine quilted (straight line & free motion) a quilt and sewed on two different quilt bindings.  I sewed together & quilted twelve zipper bags and installed all 12 zippers, which is a big deal for me since I only had one zipper under my belt before using this machine! You can see that my list of projects ranged from simple to more advanced and I did them all on the 550 QE.  I think that the the 550 QE has something for every level of sewist.  

Overall, I loved my crazy sewing month while using the Bernina 550 QE.  The only bad part of this experience was packing up the machine to return it to the shop!    

If you’re in the market for a new sewing machine, check out Dave’s Bernina in Provo.  Their showroom has multiple models set up and available to try, including the 550 QE.  The best part about buying a sewing machine from Dave’s Bernina is that you get instructional classes with your purchase so you can learn how to use all the features of your machine.  Their staff is knowledgeable and friendly and able to answer all your questions while you research your purchase.  If you’re unable to attend classes at Dave’s, the Bernina website offers tutorials on the 550 QE that you can access at anytime.  

In addition to instructional classes with every machine purchased, Dave’s Bernina offers several sewing classes from quilts to bags to embroidery to open sew nights.  They also host special events like their recent Pinterest Party and Sewing Retreats.  For a complete list of classes offered, you can visit their website at  

*All images in this post are sourced from Bernina.


  1. That's forvyourvtime to write this summary ...... Now all I need is a good fairy to leave one at my door - chuckle

    1. Let me know when you find a good sewing machine fairy! I'm definitely in need of their fairy dust!

  2. I read your review with much interest. Where I live in France the closest Bernina dealer is 1.5 hours away and they only have a couple of machines so I'll probably wind up buying online so your detailed information is very useful, thank you!

    1. Glad this information was helpful. Let me know what you end up buying and maybe I'll have to journey to France to have a sew day with you!