When I took Ray White's sewing machine repair course, I tried to ask the Elna man himself what his favorite machine was. While I don't think he wanted to bias the class by singling out one machine, he did speak very highly of the Elna Carina. I was intrigued. I had never seen a Carina, nor was I able to observe one being worked on in the classroom, so I made a mental note to keep an eye out for one of these and see for myself what all the hype is about.
My search proved to be difficult as Carinas are quite scarce in my area. And after a year or so, I totally forgot about it. You can imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon this parts machine! Funny how sometimes things magically appear once you've stopped looking for them. The Elna Carina Electronic Duplex is an interesting machine no doubt. This 80s era machine is loaded with unique and sometimes contraversial features that may or may not fit into your sewing workflow.
The Carina boasts a high speed, top loading, rotary hook that Elna has refined over generations of machines. This is one of the smoothest yet and is capable of attaining speeds in excess of 1200 stitches per minute! Like all Elnas, this machine features a bobbin case with a marked tension dial that can be easily adjusted. I took the photo below before disassembly--you can see that the tension finger is not aligned correctly with the adjustment screw.
Elna makes some of the best feed dogs available on vintage machines. The Carina uses a four diamond textured feed configuration that handles equally well in forward and reverse. It's just a shame this machine doesn't have matching forward and reverse stitch lengths and no feed dog drop to boot!
As far as chronology goes, the Carina was released in 1982, two years after the Stella Air Electronic and is essentially an update of the Elna Air Electronic. While not as light and portable as the Stella, the Carina is still very easy to transport due to its integrated handle. Unfortunately, the handle is mounted to the machine and not the lid. In order to access the top, one must first unscrew two screws on top, raise the lid as far as will go to gain access to a c clamp to release the handle before removing the lid. Not difficult, but not terribly convenient either. Like most Elnas of this era, there is a decent amount of plastic to be found internally--not as much as the Stella, but each of the external knobs rely on plastic cams to adjust settings like stitch width, stitch length, and stitch selection.
The Carina owes a lot of its heritage to the Elna 62C, using Elna Discs to expand its already impressive list of built in utility stitches. If you thought that the Singer Rocketeer had a lot of cams, Elna has got that beat hands down and has been the king of cams since the release of Supermatic back in the early 50s. Elna has produced well over 50 different Elna Discs spanning single and double cams for stretch stitches!
An impressive amount of design went into color coding each of the dials--making clear the numerous available operations available. The controls are divided into colored sections. White functions are universal operations and include varying stitch length and width, reverse as well as a right needle position. Blue functions are buttonhole settings, green is for built in functional stitches while orange is for external cams (Elna Discs).
The left most dial controls the stitch. A handy orange dot marks the current selection. The 11 o'clock position activates the Elna Discs which are loaded from the top of the machine. The central column ejects loaded cams when depressed. The Carina takes both single and double cams. Single cams drive the machine in one direction only but just like a regular zigzag, can be made to go in reverse manually. Double cams, on the other hand form stretch stitches, meaning that they drive the machine in both forward and reverse. Double cams are essentially two single cams stacked into one. The first cam controls the stitch width while the second operates the forward and reverse!
The central dial controls stitch width. The zero, 3 and 4 stitch widths are marked in both green and orange as both cams and built in stitches will most often be used with these settings. The blue functions are all part of the 5 step buttonhole and are used by selecting the buttonhole stitch on the aforementioned left most dial.
Step 1: Zigzags the left side of the buttonhole at width 2.
Step 2: Zigzags the bottom of the buttonhole at width 4.
Step 3: Zigzags up the right side of the buttonhole at width 2.
Step 4: Zigzags the top the buttonhole at width 4.
Step 5: Moves the needle to the left and stitches in place at width 0.
The needle left position is actually the 5th step in creating a buttonhole. If you ever decide to use the needle left position, proceed as if you were going to make a buttonhole and skip to step 5!
The right most dial controls the stitch length. The white numbers indicate forward stitch length while the successive white lines on the opposite side indicate reverse stitch length. As per the color code, the green area shows the recommended lengths for satin stitches and is used most often in conjunction with the built in stitches. The orange section is for stretch stitches and used with the cams. When stretch is activated, the dial above the the stitch length regulator is used to elongate the stitch. For buttonholes, use the blue setting and ensure the blue dot is centered on the stretch stitch elongation dial.
For added convenience, the Carina uses a spring loaded reverse lever. Too bad it doesn't feature a matching forward and reverse stitch length!
The button next to the reverse activates the duplex feature which turns the Carina into an odd double decker style free arm machine! It's an interesting configuration and I'm pleased to report the machine remains remarkably stable despite the added height. The free arm of a usable size--substantially less wide than the Stella's free arm.
This domestic speed demon is powered by a 1 amp motor. To tame it, this air electronic is equipped with a nifty max speed slider adjustable from very slow (tortoise) to very fast (hare). Additionally, machine power and light are powered independently.
Pressing the button just below the speed slider makes a single stitch. This is perhaps my biggest beef with this machine. The Carinas introduced something called the Lift-matic system which is basically a fancy name for needle up. From what I understand, earlier models do not feature a needle down by tapping the foot pedal. What this means is that this machine will always end its stitch with the needle in the up position! Madness!!!
While I can certainly see why some people may prefer ending in a needle up position, if I had to choose, I would really prefer it to end in a needle down position to easily turn corners and what not. I knew this would be a deal breaker for me, and while I considered removing the needle positioning system altogether, I ended up re-rigging this Carina to end with the needle down. See the video below. I'll do a write up on this procedure in a future article.
With this change, the machine sews like a charm. If you're accustomed to modern needle positioning systems, this one will definitely feel a bit antiquated in comparison. This is because the needle positioner operates at a fixed speed, so if you're sewing at top speed and suddenly stop just passed the needle down position, the machine will take an extra stitch (at a snails pace) to end in what it thinks is the down position. You can see this happening in the video above.
Threading is a little different on this machine as the upper tension is mounted on top. Just remember the golden rule of threading: Tension before take-up!
The machine comes loaded with other niceties, like its twin telescoping thread spools, a lightweight air foot controller and a spiffy bobbin winder clutch. Unlike normal clutches you unscrew, this plastic wonder locks and unlocks by pushing a button. An ingenious little spring mechanism then re-engages the clutch with a slight twist! The downside to this is that its got loads of parts, and when I disassembled this one to retune the needle positioner, I made a rookie mistake and lost a tiny spring. Not a big deal as I was able to replace it by cutting another spring down to size, but just be aware that the clutch mechanism on these Carinas are way more complicated than your typical vintage machine.
- High speed rotary hook
- Duplex free arm
- Powerful 1 amp motor
- Motor speed control
- 3 needle positions
- Lift-matic needle positioner
- Single stitch without foot pedal
- Takes Single and Double Elna Discs
- Non-matching reverse
- 5 step buttonhole
- 7 practical stitches, including stretch
- 4 grippy feed dogs
- Compact air foot control
- Accepts low shank feet
My impressions so far? Overall, the Elna Carina is a superb machine. The build quality is excellent, and despite the introduction of more plastic on the knobs and dials, the machine feels robust and definitely not cheap. It is a remarkably stable and quiet machine despite its high speed. No doubt I wouldn't use the Carina at all had I left it in the stock needle up configuration. But I find that I rather like the machine with the adjusted needle down position.
If you had to choose, would you prefer needle up or needle down?