I'm going to take a break from portables for a bit and talk about one of my all time favorite vintage domestic machines, the Bernina 730 Record. It seems everyone sings praises about the quality of Swiss engineering and the 730 definitely ranks among the top in terms of features, construction and stitch quality.
The 730 is part of the Bernina x30, x40, x50 series machines. The x30s are oscillating hook domestics and the x40 and x50s are rotary hook industrial machines. In general, I prefer rotary hook machines as they run quieter and can achieve much higher top speeds, but this Bernina is both very smooth and very quiet thanks to its rack and pinion system. The modern 1008 uses this same system--a testament to it's efficacy.
When portability is not an issue, I sew almost exclusively on industrials. The Bernina is one of the few domestics I'll use at home for one reason alone: it has a knee lifter! Once you've used a knee lifter, you'll wonder how you've ever sewn without one. That's how convenient it is. As far as I know, all of the Bernina x30 series machines starting with the 730 are knee lift capable. I'm aware of very few domestics (across all brands) that are knee lift capable. In fact the Singer 1200 is the only other vintage domestic that comes to mind.
The 730 Record is built like a tank. With the exception of a few plastic nobs and dials, the exterior of the machine is made entirely of metal. Even later models in the x30 series such as the 830 have partially plastic chassis, like yellowing plastic motor covers and the like. This machine is super accessible. Just flip up the top to access most of its internals.
The 730 comes equipped with 20 utility/decorative stitches and features a zigzag width of up to 4mm. It is not a stretch stitch capable machine. Cams are activated by flipping up a lever. This disengages the straight stitch and zigzag mechanism. The beauty of this setup, allows the straight and zigzag stitches to be timed independently from the cam stack.
The pattern position indicator is a welcome addition. By following the line on the indicator, you can setup perfectly aligned patterns back to back!
Another neat feature is the integrated bobbin winder that stows away under the top lid.
There's also a little switch in the back that controls the max motor speed. This Bernina tops out just north of 1000 stitches per minute. With the speed reduced, it tops out at about 600 spm.
The 730 comes loaded with accessories, including a handy extension table and 3 drawer accessory tray that mounts to the back. All of which packs neatly into a green luggage.
One of the nicest thing of Berninas is their accessory feet. You can see, the machine uses a proprietary system. The feet are absolutely stunning, but also very expensive in comparison to their high shank or low shank counterparts. Thankfully, a fully loaded machine comes with a whole complement of feet. I'm not sure what the exact set included was but these are some of the ones I have: Buttonhole, tailor tack, straight stitch, pin tuck , overcast, rolled hem, cording, darning, free motion, gathering and satin stitch foot plus a darning hoop.
Bernina has gone through several iterations of presser feet systems which are not compatible with one another. All of the vintage x30 series use what is called Bernina Old-Style presser feet. Please note that these feet are not interchangeable with the modern New-Style presser feet as they not only have capped zigzag width of about 4.5mm but the mounting profile has changed.
Here's a nifty cabinet made just for the 730 Record. It has a custom wooden cutout to create a flat working surface.
Up until this point, I have sung nothing but praises for the 730. Unfortunately, there are two major drawbacks, the x30 series is cursed with the presence of two internal nylon gears: a nylon cam gear and a nylon vertical shaft gear. Of the two, the cam gear is more often than not, cracked. Depending on the severity of the crack, the gear may need replacement. Thankfully, replacement cam gears are readily available for about $30-40 on eBay. The vertical shaft gear cracks less often but is a much bigger repair job. I'll do a step by step cam gear replacement tutorial in a future post.
Below I've included a picture of a cracked cam gear on the left and a freshly replaced cam gear on the right.
Two other minor annoyances mar this otherwise perfect design: the lack of adjustable presser foot pressure without the use of a screwdriver and the feed dog arrangement. The machine feeds well enough, but I prefer the four feeddog arrangement of the Elna Lotus where there is a central feed in front of the needle hole. That extra feed dog improves handling when sewing near the edge of fabric and also in reverse.
- Sturdy metal construction*
- Forward facing oscillating hook
- Free arm
- Knee lift
- Feeddog drop
- Adjustable stitch width up to 4mm
- Adjustable needle position
- Internal cam stack with 20 utility and decorative patterns
- 4 step buttonhole
- Reverse capable
- Extra fine stitch length regulator
- Two speed motor
- Takes proprietary Bernina old-style presser feet
*Nylon gears aside.
And there you have it! To summarize, the Bernina 730 Record is one of the most finely constructed and fully featured vintage domestic sewing machines available. If you are in the market for one, be sure to check to see if the nylon gears are intact and if not, have them replaced. If everything checks out, this machine will serve you well for years to come.