Posted by: Debra Kolkka | January 2, 2016

My grandfather’s gift

About 50 years ago my grandfather gave me a Bernina sewing machine…in a roundabout way. I think he bought it from some friends returning to Finland. They couldn’t take it with them and he helped them out by buying it.

He gave it to my mother, but she already had a machine she liked, so I got it. I remember the first thing I sewed on it when I was about 13. My mother took me to the fabric shop to buy a pattern and some fabric. It was yellow and orange check (it was the 60s). The pattern was for an empire line dress with puff sleeves.

My mother set me up and told me to just do it. I got stuck on the zip and she helped me with that.

I was off and sewing. I made most of my clothes as a teenager. I would make something on Saturday morning to wear that night. I made clothes for my friends.

Later on I made all my son’s clothes until he went to school and it wasn’t cool to have clothes your mother made. He did relent when he was older and left home and had to buy his own clothes.

Later still I made all the garments I sold in my shop in the Brisbane Arcade. When I closed the shop I returned to just making things for myself and friends.

Just recently I put my retail toe back in the water with my Pop Up shop and the Bernina fired up again.

A couple of weeks ago my sewing machine stopped working. I took it to the repair shop with trepidation. I felt as though I was taking a sick pet to the vet, terrified I was going to be told it would have to be put down. I left it behind with the feeling I had lost my right arm. My Bernina has been with me for most of my life, longer than my youngest brother.

I am happy to report that the Bernina is alive and kicking. The repair man told me that the carbon brushes had disintegrated. He said “That ‘s when I knew the machine had worked hard”.  He assured me that it would outlast me and sews better than most of the new machines on the market. He also said that the only thing my machine and some others have in common is that they are called sewing machines and that in some cases I might as well use a staple gun…obviously a tried and true Bernina man…just what you want to fix an old friend.

I think my grandfather would have been delighted to know how treasured his gift has been.

My Bernina

You can see that it has been well used. It has a few battle scars.



  1. I also had a Bernina just like this for many years. The motor burnt out one day, and I’ve never been as happy with any of the more modern machines I’ve had. Glad yours was able to be fixed. 🙂

    • I am too. I love my Bernina.

  2. I am also so pleased that good repair people still exist and that he was able to fix your old Bernina.
    I did sew my own clothes as a teenager- I made a ‘Twiggy’ style shift and other nice frocks to wear on the weakend, but then I lost the drive.

    • This man is a treasure. I hope he is still around if my machine needs help again.

  3. And may I remind everyone that your brand Cotton Wool won two major categories and other awards at the RAQ fashion design awards to later become the NRA National Retail Awards for fashion design. Well done Bernina sewing machine. Keep on sewing.

    • The Bernina has been very busy and has done a great job.

  4. I have the same sewing machine…bought it in Bangkok in 1970…made clothes for three daughters…many draperies for many homes. It was a real work horse! Still have it and still love it.

    • Those machines were built to last.

  5. I clicked on this post with trepidation Deb! I’m SO relieved the Bernina lives on! Hooray! Happy New Year my lovely friend!

    • Me too, I would have been most upset if I had to buy another one.

  6. A great story about your machine. I bought myself a machine a few years ago and it just doesn’t work like my mum’s machine that I spent many hours on, creating myself a wardrobe in my 20s. i hope your machine has many more years ahead! Keep sewing!

    • I am busily working on things for my next Pop Up the first week in February. It is so much better now that I am back on my own machine.

  7. Wow .. Beautiful story Debra and so happy the Bernina lives on.
    Hope to visit your pop up store in February.
    Have the best year has I know you will. Xx

    • I look forward to seeing you soon. 2016 is going to be a good one I feel sure.

  8. What a lovely story – I used to have an Elna but was not very talented as you are

    • I also have an old Elna that I use in Italy, it is good too.

  9. Great post…I know the feeling…only with a typewriter that was my Mother’s!

    • I would be lost without my Bernina.

  10. There’s nothing like a gift from a grandparent-thank you for sharing this 🙂

    • My grandfather was a hard working, practical man. He would be very happy that the machine has been so well used.

  11. What a special gift Debra!

    • I am very happy he gave to me.

      • Yes, gifts like that are very special. My grandmother used to do needlework and crocheting with me when I was little. I can’t remember anymore how to do it but I still have all the pillowcases and blankets and doll clothes she made for me. I passed them on to my daughter. Very special gifts indeed.

  12. Love mine too….bought in 1973 and still sewing!

    • The old ones just seem to keep on going…excellent.

  13. What a great friend your Bernina has been over the years. I too use a Bernina but mine is much newer than yours and I certainly hope if outlives me.

    • I know that you do some beautiful things on yours. Sewing is a great pastime.

  14. I have a hole in my undies — can I mail them over for repairs .

    • Now that sounds like a fun job.

  15. It really is amazing how these old machines can be repaired and they go on and on. It’s sad how flimsy the new ones are. Great story and happy sewing!

    • The mechanic was also delighted that this was just a routine repair. I hope they keep parts for many years to come.

  16. As my German Godmother would say Thanks Gods!

    • Lovely! My Finnish grandfather had some wonderful expressions too.

  17. What a delightful story. Thanks for sharing. My mother was also a sewer when I was growing up – ’50s and ’60s – and made all my clothes, including underwear and school uniforms. I particularly hated the underwear and uniforms because they didn’t look exactly the same as the other girls at boarding school. Foolishly, I didn’t learn to sew – I didn’t want to be stuck sewing my own clothes! Now I wish I had so I could pass on the skills to my daughters and granddaughter. I also now appreciate all the hard work my mother put into making my clothes.

    • My mother made all our clothes when we were little, as her mother had done. My mother made my school uniform at high school because I was too small to fit any of the bought ones. She also knitted my jumper as I refused to wear the scratchy ones from the shop.
      I don’t have a daughter to pass my machine on to and my son shows little interest.

  18. When my parents came to visit me in the US they bought me the same Bernina. They paid a fortune for it because the exchange rate between the dollar and the German mark favored the dollar. I have to admit I rarely used it. It is such a shame. Hopefully my niece can use it.

    • That is a pity. I hope you can find someone who will use it.

      • I hope so too

  19. My mum had the exact same machine!

    • I’ll bet she loved it.

  20. I wonder just how many garments that machine has worked through Debra? So good that you still have it and it’s still going strong. My mum’s is similar and has done the same sort of mileage…lots.

    • It would be in the thousands. I have no idea, but 50 years of sewing, about 15 of which were for my shop, would mean a lot of garments.

  21. My neighbor, Cristina, had a similar problem. After trying several repair shops, she found an old man who really knew what he was doing and was able to fix it. She was delighted! It was as if an old friend was critically ill and had made a miraculous recovery. She has another sewing machine… But she prefers the old one!

    • I have used newer machines, but I prefer my Bernina.

  22. My grandfather’s gift sounds like the title of a beautiful book! That’s such a lovely little story….and I love the expression “Thanks Gods”! I have the same Bernina and I remember thinking, when I first got it, that it practically sewed by itself – I even took it home to England with me so I could show my Mum. In just the last few days it has developed a problem and needs servicing so I would love the details of the repair man please.

    • Take it to Bernina Chermside…shop 12/725 Gympie Rd, Chemside. 3359 5255.

      • Many thanks, Deb

  23. I love this story. I have lived my life with a series of sewing machines. I started on an old metal singer of my mother which was great, but when I moved to Italy, with the different electrical system it wasn’t practical. Couldn’t lift the transformer or whatever it’s called…way too heavy. Then had a couple cheap machines, yes, like staples. Now I have my mother-in-laws old Pfaff. A German wonder that, like your Bernina, spent a lifetime making clothes. It thuds along like perfectly good, well-loved mercedes.

    • There is a lot to be said for these old, metal framed sewing machines, much better than the newer plastic ones.

      • Much!! I’m happy yours just needed a little loving maintenance.

  24. I have a Bernina machine that I have had for 20 years. I would never replace it with a newer model

    That was a wonderful gift that your grandfather gave you.

    • I hope I never have to replace mine. I don’t like the new machines I have tried.

  25. Dear Debra As a fellow seamstress, with attachment to La Pieve, I just had to write to you about your Bernina sewing machine. I too am the proud owner of that wonderful sewing machine. No need to add to the praises you already have sung, just wanted to let you know that I feel the same way about mine. In the many years of Bernina history I made all my daughter’s clothes (except school uniforms and have made countless bridal gowns, bridesmaid and wedding clothes etc. to say nothing of all the other clothes, draperies and household “stuff” etc. I am 90 now but my Bernina rarely goes a day without doing a few stitches. Love it!!!!! Next project—wedding veil for my grand daughter in the Spring. We also have attachment to La Pieve so it is fun reading your postings. Keep the news coming.——Mary Simonetti

    Sent from my iPad


    • Thank you for writing Mary. It seems the old Berninas have lots of fans. I am very pleased I learned to sew all those years ago. It is a very useful and enjoyable thing to do. Pieve is one of my favourite villages. I have written about it several times on Bella Bagni di Lucca. I look forward to being back in Italy soon.

  26. What a beautiful and moving blog post, Debra!

    • Thank you. I was very worried that my machine had given up…so glad it will be with me a while longer. Today it made a 2 dresses and 2 pairs of shorts.

  27. I have an old sewing machine too but I don’t think it gets half as much work as yours. Mine weighs a tonne and has had little go wrong with it as well. I know it will outlast me!

    • Mine is fairly heavy, even though it was one of the early portable machines.

  28. Love this post. I too received a sewing machine as a gift at a very young age when my father won $$ on the Melbourne Cup. He promised he’d buy it for me if “Rising Fast” won and he did. (This is dating me haha) I also made my own clothes for years and then when I married in Hawaii and had 3 daughters, I made their clothes, especially Muu Muus. 2016 I think I’m going to get back to sewing.

    • Sewing is a very worthwhile thing to do. I love making things.

  29. Oh dear Debra what a beautiful story/memories… I haven’t known that you are sewing… This is so nice. When I read that Bernina was off, I felt something in my heart, sadly hit me too. But then I learned that it was ok. You can imagine how made me happy too… Seems that he was a great technician… I have one of old one too, from my mom… no one made it to work… I am thinking now, should I take mine to there too 🙂 Thank you dear Debra, one of beautiful posts this was. Love, nia

    • Unfortunately Australia is a long way to come to fix your machine. I hope you can find somebody in Istanbul.

      • ….. 🙂

  30. My mum made all our clothes on her Singer treadle sewing machine. She had a real flair for making beautiful clothes especially “going out” dresses. I had a go at making a few dresses as a teenager but they didn’t seem to look right so I gave up making them myself and just bought clothes on lay-by which made them affordable. I made a navy and white fine stripe shirt dress when I was 16 but couldn’t get the front to sit flat. I still wore it but with a jacket (I think). Both my sisters sew and they are very good seamstresses. Great that you found a repair man for your Bernina. So many things these days are thrown away instead of being fixed. Trouble is the skills are being thrown away too. Thanks for sharing your story. I did hold my breath there for a minute.
    Robyn (back home now)

    • It is wonderful that an old machine can still be fixed. I am delighted that it will go on.
      I hope you had a great trip. We should have a coffee and you can tell me all about it.

      • That would be great. I could meet you any day except 11 January. Maybe somewhere at West End. Avid Reader bookshop has a cafe and their coffee is good plus they have cupcakes! Just let me know when and where,

  31. Oh your post gave me such a smile. My father gave me a sewing machine too…I just sold it when we moved to Florida. I’m glad yours could be repaired.

    • I really hope mine lasts longer than I do.

  32. I am pleased to hear your grandfather’s gift is still going strong. I used to sew when I was a teenager. Now when I come across pictures of me wearing one of my creations my older self cringes. I went back to a sewing class a few years ago but never got back into clothes making.

  33. Gorgeous post Deb! I can’t claim to sew at all but I can understand what an old friend your Bernina must be. a real life heirloom. I would love to know more about your pop up shop. Sounds fabulous!!!

  34. I got to your blog from the Victor’s “Stunning Castles”! I’m so glad I did!! What a wonderful “sewing machine story”! I have 1 “new” Singer sewing machine, a Singer serger, and a terribly expensive Pfaff computerized Serger & Cover-stitch machine (I used the coverstitch for dancewear sewing – my business used to be dance apparel and dance shoes)..really a divine machine, but it isn’t for “routing sewing” unless you’re working with exclusively stretch fabrics. THEN…there is my mother’s Singer “Featherweight” machine. My mother passed away last year at Thanksgiving – but I had her Singer that she used in high school – for MANY years as I moved around the US – living in Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, New York, Florida & North Carolina. I am now back in my hometown of Fargo, North Dakota – my “creativity room” has all four sewing machines, but my current passion is creating jewelry – but the machines (especially my mother’s old black metal Singer) will be waiting for me when I need them!! You never know when a theater or dance group will need costumes! 🙂 I’m off to find your photos of the “Christian church inside the mosque”….I’m not sure I’m on the right track – if you see this, could you give me a hint?? Thanks!

    • Thank you for your sewing machine story, very eventful. The post you are looking for would be in the Spain category. It is about the mosque in Córdoba, a most amazing building.

  35. What a lovely gift, and lovely story. A neighbor of ours taught me to sew when I was 12. She gave me her Martha Washington model and I sewed on it for many years. I still miss it! I hope you and your Bernina enjoy many more productive and creative years together.

  36. […] clothes when he was young (until he decided it was uncool to wear clothes made by his mother).Click here to read more about this […]

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