The History of the Bernina sewing machine

BERNINA was founded in 1893 in Steckborn, Switzerland, and is named after Piz Bernina, the highest mountain in the Eastern Alps. The founder, Karl Friedrich Gegauf invented the world’s first hemstitch sewing machine.

By 1900, more than 70 people were employed, and the hemstitch sewing machine was being sold abroad.

In 1928, the sons of the original founder took over the business, and the inventions of Fritz Gegauf still influence sewing machine technology today

In 1932 the first household machines were produced, and the fact that we have two of these early machines in full working order is testament to their quality.

1938 saw the introduction of the zigzag

In 1945 the free-arm zigzag arrived, and by 1963 BERNINA had produced one million of these machines.

The next big innovation was in 1954 when BERNINA introduced the first machine with a patented clip-on presser foot and a semi-automatic buttonhole sewing function.

In 1963, with Fritz Gegauf’s daughter, Odette Ueltschi in charge, BERNINA introduce the first machine with a patented, knee-activated presser foot lifter. This Free Hand System (FHS) is still an important feature of almost every BERNINA.

By 1971 BERNINA had created a sewing machine with electric foot control, and the BERNINA 830 became BERNINA’s best seller for eleven years.

1986 saw the introduction of computers to sewing machine technology, and in the mid-80s BERNINA produced the 1130, the first computerized sewing machine with fully automatic one-step buttonholing and stitch pattern memory.

By the late 1980s BERNINA had established itself as a firm favourite amongst quilters in the US, and the Bernette range is introduced.

By the 1990s computer technology had transformed sewing machines, and BERNINA’s 1630 model featured over 400 stitch patterns. 1998 saw the first true sewing computer – the Artista 180.

The 21st century saw new innovations come thick and fast – things that no-one had even imagined just a few years earlier were now a reality, easily accessible by domestic sewers.  The Activa 145 had software for customized settings, and scanned images could be converted into embroidery patterns.

In 2002 BERNINA introduced the world’s first sewing computer with a Microsoft Windows operating system. This machine also featured a CD-ROM drive, LCD display and memory functions for stitch combinations and embroidery designs.

Advances in innovation and technology see the BERNINA Stitch Regulator (BSR) for uniform stitch lengths in free-motion stitching. This technology earns BERNINA the “Best Innovator” award from A.T. Kearney in 2004, and sees Aurora 440 QE become the quilters’ choice.

Features such as utility and decorative stitch programs, built-in embroidery software, and even a touchscreen indicate the speed of technological advancement.

In 2009 the BERNINA 830 was born, with so many new innovations that 15 new patent applications were filed.

In 2011 a new logo was introduced, and along with it the 5 Series (BERNINA 530, 550 QE and 580).

2012 heralded the arrival of the 7 series, and the BERNINA 9 Hook (B 9 Hook).  This was also the year that the BERNINA DesignWorks Software Suite was introduced.

In 2013 the BERNINA Embroidery Software 7 and the BERNINA 880 were unveiled, and in 2014, the first multi-needle Embroidery machine, the BERNINA E 16.

BERNINA are constantly working towards new ideas and innovatons and we’re expecting many more advances in sewing machines in the future.


This is just a brief summary of their history from the BERNINA website,  and the full story can be found here. BERNINA have also established themselves as leading manufactures of overlockers, and of course, design software.
If you are interested in owning a BERNINA, or need upgrades, accessories, help or advice, then please contact Quilt Direct. We stock a full range of BERNINA machines and accessories | 01822 810877 |