I have spent the last six months using the Bernina Aurora 440 QE so I feel as though I know it very well. The main reason you would choose this machine over other models in its class is the Bernina Stitch Regulator (BSR), that senses how quickly you move the fabric when free-motion quilting and keeps your stitches consistently the same size.
The Bernina Stitch Regulator
My first test drive of the BSR was at a quilt show. I found that I could go too fast for this feature using my usual free-motion movements. At that time, I thought this feature would be good for someone who wasn’t very skilled at free-motion or was just learning. I wasn’t sure I’d really use it myself. I was wrong. Since then I’ve realized that this is the feature I’ll miss the most when I return the machine to Bernina.
I’ve spent lots of time working in both modes of operation of the BSR and have it down pat now. BSR1 keeps the machine running all the time and BSR2 only runs the machine when the fabric is moving. After extensive play, I realized that each of these options handles a different kind of machine quilting.
BSR1, with its constant running, works best for stipple quilting or patterns that have curvy lines and no rapid change of directions. BSR2 is great for doing more elaborate designs (like leaves and other shapes with points or corners) or echo quilting, because it gives you a moment to pause and change directions.
The BSR feature alone would make me buy this machine! There is a three-page chapter dedicated to learning to use the BSR functions. If you don’t read any more of the manual, definitely read this so you get the most out of this feature.
My Favorite Things
The Aurora 440 has so many great features that I can’t cover them all in one review. I have saved the embroidery features for the next issue. I will tell you all my favorite things that set this machine apart from others I’ve tested.
I love the Cool Fluorescent Light. It wraps around the needle end of the machine, lighting the entire bed with a bright, white light. I have never used any other brand of machine where I can see so well without auxiliary lighting.
The Snap-on Extension Table is transparent, with a clear area right over the bobbin case so you can see what you are doing without having to bend over to look under the Extension Table. The Extension Table snaps into place so there are no legs to get in the way on your sewing or craft table. Bernina strengthened the table with a honeycomb design so legs aren’t necessary. The table is easy to put on and take off and stores in very little space with no disassembly.
The 2-inch by 3-inch black and white screen is packed with information like the command center on the Star Ship Enterprise. I can see how I have everything set with a quick glance. I can see both numerically and graphically how long and wide I have set the stitch. When I first started using the Aurora 440, the constant flashing of the graphic setting distracted me, but I don’t even notice it any more unless I’m looking at those settings.
I can see graphically where my needle position is set. This is a separate setting on the Bernina, unlike other manufacturers, and not a feature of the stitch width. This gives you extra control over your needle position for stitches that have width settings. The screen shows whether the feed dogs are up or down, how much pressure is on the presser foot, the number of the correct foot to use for the selected stitch, and the needle position up/down setting. There are stitch memories to store stitch sequences too.
There is one feature that I haven’t seen on a sewing machine before, but that I have on my car. There is a little oilcan icon that lights up when the machine needs to be cleaned and oiled. And there is an icon of a wrench and screwdriver that lights up when the machine needs to be serviced by the dealer. These are nice features, because I have trouble remembering how much I’ve used the machine and when I did the necessary maintenance on my machines the last time.
I like the accessory cabinet that is a little smaller than the size of a sheet of computer paper and about 2-1/4 inches thick. It holds up to 10 feet hanging like glasses in a glass rack. It holds 5 bobbins in little cubbyholes that come rolling out at the press of a lever. There are slots that hold packages of needles and there are two drawers. This puts everything at my fingertips and easy to find without having to rummage on-machine storage compartments.
The only thing I don’t like about the screen is the way it displays the selected stitch. I’d prefer a stitch number to the graphic technique they use for the stitch designs. I find these clunky squares of light hard to recognize as the same stitch as the ones represented on the stitch card. When I want to find out what stitch I am using, I have to hold in the white button with the # sign on it to see stitch numbers. If I hold down the key again the stitch image appears on the screen again
The good news is that the Aurora keeps all my settings so I don’t have to figure those out, too. If there is a way to set this display to show the numbers, I haven’t found it in the manual anywhere. The display of alphabet characters is much easier to read.
A Push of the Button
The Aurora 440QE has a minimum of buttons, but they do double duty. If you select a feature to use and release the button, it returns to the previous state. If you want to lock in that selection, hold the button a little longer and the function will be set and indicated on the screen. I really like this feature a lot. The numeric buttons on the face of the machine allow you to enter the stitch number you want to use or will select the first 10 stitches.
The Bernina Aurora 440QE comes with all the feet a quilter would need, and they are great feet! These feet are easy to install and remove.
Some manufacturers put a guide edge on the quarter inch foot so you know where to line up the fabric. Bernina does not, so I took a couple of minutes to be sure that the fabric was lined up properly for the quarter inch foot by sewing and measuring the results of different alignments. I got excellent results every time as long as I used that alignment position.
Look Ma, No Hands
I use the FHS, Bernina’s Free Hands System or knee lifter, when I’m chain piecing or machine quilting with the walking foot and need to change directions. It’s like having an extra hand to help when you are moving your fabric.
I used the darning foot for manual free-motion stitching (without the BSR engaged) and found it worked easily, giving me good results. I did a commission table runner this way. The customer was very pleased with the look of the stipple quilting I did. I used the walking foot on the table runner too. The Bernina Walking Foot is larger than most others and gives you two soles for the foot. One sole is closed for working with fabric that needs more control. The other sole is open-toed so you can see your work more easily. I used the closed toe for stitch in a ditch and the open toe for sewing on binding.
Let Me Count the Ways
There are so many other features of this machine that I really like. The Aurora 440QE has lots of nice stitches for quilters, including three hand-look quilting stitches and a variety of decorative stitches for machine appliqué. The bobbin case has a finger through which you run the thread for extra tension to make the satin stitches look more rounded and filled out.
There is a tie-off knot and a speed control slide so you can set the maximum speed of the machine when the foot pedal is pressed all the way down. A Start/Stop button works in conjunction with the speed button but the foot pedal must be unplugged for the Start/Stop button to work.
The needle threader works very well, first time, every time. The Aurora has both horizontal and vertical spool pins. The vertical one rotates up for use and down and out of the way for transporting the machine.
The Bernina manuals are probably the best sewing machine manuals available. I learned a lot reading about the stitches. I not only learned how to set the machine for the stitch but I learned how and why I’d want to use a particular stitch. The manual is full of handy tips, too.
I could go on and on listing all the things I like, but you will have to go try this machine at your Bernina dealer to see all the wonderful things it does. During the six months I’ve been using this machine I’ve tried it all — not just a test, but in actual use. I’ve done piecing, machine appliqué, machine quilting, embroidery, home decorative sewing, and mending. Throughout, the Aurora 440QE performed flawlessly.
I’ve been trying to prepare myself for returning this machine to Bernina. I didn’t realize how much I really liked it until I started writing this review and I had time to reflect on all I’ve done. Its return will leave a hole in my sewing room not easily filled. Even without the optional embroidery module, the Bernina Aurora 440 QE is a great machine for quilters and well worth the investment.
However, you will no longer find the Bernina Aurora in your local store, but you can still find it on ebay. If you are looking for a new sewing machine you might want to consider reading my reviews of quilting machines here or if an embroidery machine is what you are after you might want to check out the Brother SE400, which I review here.