Me and my Bernina: A Swiss love affair

girl sewing

THE chances of my being interviewed for a Proust Questionnaire–those Q&As so popular in trendy magazines wherein the celebrity being profiled dishes on their likes and dislikes, favorite quotes, the contents of their handbag and most tellingly, their most prized possession–are small to nil, yet I can’t help but ponder what my responses might be if asked.

This reflection never lasts very long because other than remembering my favorite movie (To Kill a Mockingbird) on other questions I largely go blank. I console myself by saying I’m too busy living life to keep mental notes on it…and frankly, opinions are so changeable…but I admit it nags at me a little.

The other day though, I had a bit of an ‘aha’ moment when I realized there is one thing at least that, if not quite my most prized possession, is certainly my most hardwearing, longstanding and loyal one (if inanimate objects can be considered loyal). That would be my Bernina 1005 sewing machine, the most basic model available in December 1988 when my husband bought it for me as a present for our first Christmas–and our first one in Switzerland–together.

sewing pattern

Sewing is a family affair

Sewing runs in my family, my maternal grandmother having been a self-taught seamstress who made almost all of her four daughters’ clothing including my mother’s beautifully tailored ‘going away’ suit after her marriage. The sewing genes passed down through my mother and then my older sisters, all of whom had their turn at my mother’s sensitive but sturdy little Necchi, housed in its own wood sewing cabinet, that is still in use today at my sister Virginia’s Vancouver home.

Needless to say, what my older sisters did I was also going to master and I took up the needle at age 11, making a simple, A-line polyester tennis dress with only five simple turn-in seams and a hem to its name.

I gradually took on more complicated patterns and learned about the selvage, the bias, the grain, inter/facing and buttonholing and became well acquainted with fabrics both in yards and metres, as well as with the pattern making houses of the day (Butterick, McCall, Vogue and one from Germany called Burda that became more familiar to me later on).

So my very own Bernina became a very welcome addition to the household back in December 1988 and has remained my steadfast little workhorse ever since through thick (size 12) and thin (size 8), through job changes (corporate: tailored suits, to freelancer: casual-chic outfits) and household upheavals: Basel, London, Geneva, Zurich, and Vaud (cushions, curtains, throws, bedspreads, more clothes).

jacket sewing project

Sewing through thick and thin

It has empowered me through the ups of expat life (social and professional get-togethers) and sustained me through its downs (separation from family and loneliness). I’ve pushed it much too hard out of urgency, frustration and fatigue and have justifiably earned in return miles of broken thread, shattered needles, and exhausting hours of angry stitch ripping.

I’ve spent months at a time hunched over it during “a sewing phase’ and months away from it when it only came out to hem a skirt or slacks or to take in (or out) a waistline. It hasn’t judged me and still puts up with my fits of pique. It’s asked very little of me (two tune-ups in 25 years) and returned more than its initial cost many times over. If that constancy and reliability doesn’t make it deserving of a place on my Proust Questionnaire, then what would?

sewing fabric

Where to find supplies for sewers, knitters, quilt-makers, etc: fabric, patterns, wool and notions

For a list of sewing and needlecraft suppliers, please read my post “Finding Sewing and Needle Craft Supplies, Patterns, & Fabrics in Shops and Online in Swiss Romandy“.

Featured image is an original illustration: “Crafty Sewing Girl” by Togataki.

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