My Bernina Sewing Machine Factory Tour In Switzerland

bernina factory tour

My family and I traveled to Switzerland for, among other things, a visit to the Bernina sewing machine factory in Steckborn where we were able to take the full factory tour.  I'd like to share this wonderful experience with you all.

The Bernina factory lies on the shores of Lake Constance, just 1.5 hours by car northeast of Zurich.

bernina factory tour

My husband and I lived in Switzerland many years ago when he was in business school and I was learning French, so I feel I know Switzerland quite well and find it very comfortable.

It was July and the Bernina factory is normally closed for visitors then, but since we had come from so far, Matias the Head of the Marketing Department agreed to have someone meet us at the factory.  (It probably also helped that I have a sewing blog with a million readers, but who knows..)

When we arrived, we were greeted by Matthias Fluri himself who is in charge of the Marketing and Sales Support worldwide.  His passion and enthusiasm for his job did not go unnoticed and was quite contagious, frankly.

bernina factory tour

Don't get me wrong, it's not like they started up the whole factory just for us –it is a factory after all and there is always something to do, so some of the workers were still around.  We later learned in the tour that the factory had been in the lovely town of Steckborn since 1893 when it was founded by Karl Friedrich Gegauf the inventor of the hemstitch machine.

bernina factory tour

At that time, the machine could stitch up to 100 stitches per minute which was amazing by the standards of the time.  By 1900 the factory employed 70-80 people.

I wrote an introductory article called: For Fans of Bernina Sewing Machines before my visit, that proved to be very popular with our readers.  Please have a look for some extra background on Bernina.

For Fans of Bernina Sewing Machines

I was anxious to find out why an owner of a Bernina sewing machine will not part willingly with one.  What is it about Bernina that makes it so reliable, efficient and worth a small fortune?  Of course, like anything Swiss, we have to start by understanding the culture.

The Town

bernina factory tour

View from the Church Tower

As we descend on to the small town of Steckborn situated by Lake Constance, it's hardly difficult to spot the factory.  The huge name written on the roof of the building leaves no doubt that you are arriving at the right place.  The town is a typical Germanic town in Switzerland, with its distinctive architectural details, well-marked streets, small cafes and the magnificent quality of life all centered around the lake.

We see tourists on bikes, cars navigating, and street lights changing, all synchronized with a precision well known to a Swiss person.  It is the only place on earth I have heard an announcement and an apology for a train being delayed by a minute or two.  Then to my surprise, the Swiss would ask: is it a minute or is it two?

bernina factory tour

Steckborn Town Hall

bernina factory tour

Steckborn Main Street

The Reception

The first thing that is very hard to miss is the huge model statue of the mighty 830 model as big as a billboard.  Oh!  The things I could make with this machine!

bernina factory tour

 

The entrance of the factory is decorated with an amazing display of old machines.  It's a wonderful museum that tells the story of the evolution of the sewing machine.

Bernina Sewing Machine Factory Tour

Included in the display is the first sewing machine to carry the Bernina logo which is named after one of the highest peaks in the Swiss Alps.

bernina tourbernina tour

Our tour starts at the conference room where there is an impressive display of more modern machines that are available on the market today, including the two new overlockers released in 2016, the L-450 and L-460 models.

bernina tour

Inside The Bernina Sewing Factory

We were told some parts of the factory are off limits and some we were not going to be allowed to take pictures, still, we got to see the “no picture zones” where they were doing all sorts of secret R&D.  Here's what we could take pictures of:

The assembly floor where machines in the 700, 800 and Quilting series are made is impressive.  Antistatic footwear is required to go any further so we stayed behind the line.

Bernina is the only sewing machine company run by the same family since its creation. The company has an apprenticeship program where kids start working and learning in the factory at the age of 16.

Amazingly the company has been able to retain most of the workers all the way until retirement, for some this is their entire working life.

Every worker puts in 40 hours of labor a week and can assemble an entire sewing machine by themselves, then the worker proceeds to sign the machine.

That way if something ever goes wrong (which is pretty rare..), the service center can trace it to the person responsible for the assembly of the machine.

Bernina Sewing Machines factory tour

There are special testing rooms where the machines are worked to exhaustion and monitored in climate controlled chambers until a piece is found faulty, then the design is improved and the process repeats.

Pieces and accessories are tested randomly so if one is found faulty the entire batch is then pulled back and tested.

bernina tour

Another way of testing the machine is to make it run a full work day for years to see what piece brakes then go back and try to make the piece better.

The embroidery machine below has been operating pretty much non-stop since 2011.  It is turned in the morning and is turned off when the last person leaves the room for the day, each and every day.  It has yet to fail.

bernina tour

At the time I took the picture this is how much the machine had worked.

bernina tour

This process makes for a product that is continually improving which is the reason for Bernina's well-known reliability.

I got a glimpse of the climate control chamber this is one of the areas where pictures are not allowed.

Our factory tour continued to over to the marketing and design department where I had the pleasure of meeting the Designers in charge of the Inspiration Magazine.

I would love to dedicate an article solely to them on what a typical workday looks like covering their creative process from sketch to the final photo shoot.

bernina tour

Next is perhaps the best part of the Bernina Sewing machine factory tour, the Creative Center.  There are courses being taught every day taught by experts using nothing but the best equipment.

Aren't Most Sewing Machines Now Made In Asia?

Like all other sewing machine manufacturers, Bernina has faced cost pressures due to high wages and expensive real estate in Switzerland.  Long ago, all other brands from the US and other European countries moved all their manufacturing to places like China and Vietnam, under contract manufacturing arrangements, usually made by a third party.

Bernina did things somewhat differently though.  In 1990, Bernina established a wholly owned manufacturing facility near Chiang Mai in Thailand.  Among Asian countries, Thailand has a reputation for high quality while still maintain reasonable costs.  Bernina sent a management team to build the factory which they fully own and operate, allowing them strict control over product quality.  Swiss staff still manage the Thai factory and the company keeps close ties between the two facilities but with R&D remaining in Switzerland.

Many parts and subcomponents for the 700, 800 and Quilting series machines that are assembled here in Steckborn are made in the Thai factory, so the attention to quality control is constant.

This arrangement seems to have allowed Bernina to maintain their super high reputation for quality while managing costs particularly at the lower end of their product range.

Unlike some other companies we have seen, the Swiss staff seems to fully understand the necessity of having a sister site in Asia to allow the company to remain cost competitive.  This level-headed approach to business was refreshing to see.  It's pretty clear that without the Thai facility, the Swiss facility alone would likely not survive, so it is truly a win-win for everyone, including we Fans of Bernina who so enjoy their machines but need reasonable prices.

What Sets Bernina Apart From The Other Sewing Machines?

The Bernina B-9 Hook for perfect stitching.

bernina tour

Photo Credit Bernina.com

The stitch Regulator, for free motion uniform stitch length.

bernina tour

Photo Credit Bernina.com

Both innovative designs that are best explained in separate articles.

Other things to consider when looking at a Bernina: Cutwork Tool and Software, Paintwork, Crystal Work, 880 Stitch Designer and Color Wheel, and the Designer Plus Embroidery Software that includes Punchwork, Stumpwork, Trapunto and Raised Satin.

As any tour should end, we finished with a walk towards the lake to have our lunch with the magnificent view of Lake Constance and Germany in the distance.

bernina tour

bernina tour

 

Upcoming Visit  To Bernina's Thailand Factory

I was invited to visit and report on the new Bernina factory in Thailand opened in 2015.  I certainly intend to take them up on the offer.  You'll read all about this in the near future.

How To Book A Bernina Sewing Machine Factory Tour

If you are anywhere near Zurich you should consider a visit and the factory tour or better take a class in this amazing facility to learn to take full advantage of the wonderful array of Bernina products.

You need to write or call four weeks before you intend to take the guided tour.  A large group will have a better chance to get in and the cost of the tour is supposed to cost 150 Swiss Francs per group.  They may be willing to waive the fee, particularly if you come with the referral of your Bernina dealer –or you could mention So Sew Easy which might help also ;).

There's additional information on the Bernina site at this LINK and on this guidelines PAGE.

Where's A Good Place To Buy A Bernina?

If, like me, you've been bitten by the Bernina bug and just need to get one for yourself, where' s the best place to buy a Bernina?  If you're lucky enough to have a Bernina dealer near you, you should definitely go there and try out the machine you're thinking about.  Bernina dealers are well supported by the Bernina factory and they will certainly take care of you.  If you're not lucky enough to have a Bernina dealer near you, SewingMachinesPlus.com carries the full Bernina range and offers excellent pricing and free shipping.  Click below to check them out.

Get Your Bernina HERE

A Bernina Challenge For You

Hope you enjoyed our little adventure and got something from it.  Like I did in last Sunday's post about the Carpet Bag I have another challenge for you.

What do you think the lady in the picture sitting at the desk is testing? Please be specific.

bernina tourThe first to comment with the correct answer will get a free pattern from our Pattern Shop.

Until Next Time, Happy Sewing!

 

bernina factory tour

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44 Responses to My Bernina Sewing Machine Factory Tour In Switzerland

  1. Beverly Doeschot says:

    Looks like she is testing the Bernina Stitch Regulator!

  2. Val Podmore says:

    Looking forward to our already booked Bernina Factory Tour in June, and proud owner of the 440, 830, and 570.
    I believe that the lady is testing the BSR foot (Bernina Stitch Regulator) a wonderful addition to the Bernina accessories.

  3. Jane says:

    Yesterday (May 12th, 1978) was the 40th anniversary of the day I brought my Bernina 830 home. It’s had four $200 trips to the shop. Some days I hug it. Thank you so much for the tour! I had just checked in before going to spend the day sewing tops! And skater dresses!!!

  4. Katherine Gouliaev says:

    Brilliant! I am a Bernina fan-girl! I learnt on a 530-2 then bought my first Bernina when I finished university – one of the first computerised machines Activa 140. It moved from Sydney to Canberra to Malaysia then back to Canberra … and then died… My mother then gave me the 530-2, and I subsequently bought a 550QE which I still use and love! I have a Bernina overlocker 800DL. And last year I bought a beautiful original green 114K – a straight stitch machine that still works like a dream.

    The lady looks like she is working on the BSR.

  5. AliceL says:

    I think she is testing the stitch regulator.

  6. Kristine Born says:

    Question: That ironing board in your picture looks fantastic! It looks like their is storage under it? Can you tell me more about that?

    Terrific article. I will look into a Bernina next time I purchase a machine.

  7. Betsy says:

    Loved your report on your factory tour. Would love to read about other sewing related factories- machines, accessories, fabric, needles etc. Great photos too, maybe you can start a second job as a field reporter.

  8. Nancy Pierce-Keeney says:

    I envy your tour. It sounds great. I have an aged 830, an aged 334DS overlock and a becoming aged Virtuosa 153 and wouldn’t trade them for anything. They all run as if new and I sew constantly.

  9. Maggie Hagman says:

    I have a workhorse 440QE and a 700DL serger. Their motto is “Nothing Sews like a Bernina, Nothing”. A very true statement!

    She is doing something related to the Bernina Stitch Regulator (BSR).

  10. SPayne says:

    Interesting article! I believe she is making sure all pieces are in the box for the BSR (Bernina stitch regulator). I purchased a 740 last summer and love it. Still getting use to it.

  11. Margaret Summers says:

    Great article….so if you had a choice of buying any Bernina you wanted, what would you buy?

  12. Paula says:

    It looks like all the pieces of the stitch regulator (book, extra feet) are being put in the tin after the regulator itself is tested. Thanks for a great tour. I just purchased a new Bernina and love it. It was very interesting to know where the name came from.

  13. Angie McGuire says:

    Great article, I believe she is testing the bobbins!

  14. Rhonda Noy - The Sewing Gypsy says:

    What a wonderful read! I was blessed to be on a tour of the Bernina Thailand factory several years ago … it was a dream trip for me! I was blessed to be in the company of other Bernina Dealers from Australia. Simply amazing attention to detail in each and every step of the processes. We saw everything from computer made pieces to handpolishing of them afterwards … workmanship of the highest standard. You will love this tour as well … one day I’d love to get to the Switzerland factory, but in the meantime … your story made me feel I’ve been there already! Thank you!

  15. Aiyana Luttrell says:

    Hi Mayra,
    Thanks for the info. I’ll be going Zurich in August and would love to have a tour of the facility.
    I’ll love to go on August 24th I’ll be taking the train.
    I’ve had my Bernina 40 plus years and only (once) recently had it oiled and cleaned. I just love my machine.
    can you please help me with the contact information so I can email or mail them that I would like to have a tour of the factory on August 24th.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Aiyana, I am not sure if the factory will be open then, unfortunately. Much of Switzerland is on holiday in August. The best I can give you is the phone number 052 762 11 11.
      Try to call at least one month before to see if this is possible. Good Luck!

  16. Erika Kiss-Horton says:

    Maybe pieces and accessories? Very informative, beautiful Country and nice pictures.

  17. Anne Vorley says:

    Fabulous Article. I loved reading about your tour. I am a Bernina Fan. I have always used Bernina from a young age. My mum had a Bernina from me being young, it was green. Their quality is amazing.
    I think the lady is testing the Stitch Regulator

    Here's my pic:

  18. Mary says:

    I’m guessing she is testing for accuracy the stitch lengths?

  19. Kathleen says:

    I think she’s testing the BSR, Bernina Stitch Regulator.

    I love this article…it’s on my bucket list to visit the factory, unfortunately, my husband’s bucket list is for me to traipse around watching him piping, no piping factory, so, no trip!

  20. Janice Jones says:

    A really interesting tour of the Bernina factory. I have a Bernina 770QE and really love it. I brought it for the stitch Regulator, for free motion uniform stitch length. This has helped to improve my confidence to attempt free motion quilting. I think that the lady in the picture is testing the Stitch regulator to make sure that the stitches are all uniform length.

  21. Helen J says:

    A really interesting article, thanks. Is the lady testing a stitch regulator?

  22. Lorraine H Brezeale says:

    I think it’s the stitch regulator. Really enjoyed your article.

  23. Diane Chalmers says:

    Hi, I purchased a B350 Bernina last summer and absolutely love the sewing quality of this machine.

    I think the lady in the picture is testing the Bernina Stitch Regulator. I purchased this with the machine along with the Walking Foot and both work well.
    So I think the answer is : Bernina Stitch Regulator ( BSR) Would love to visit the Bernina Factory in Switzerland. Thanks For Posting.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Yes, you got the answer right but Marit beat you by a few hours. Next time, there will be more coming.

  24. Lenore says:

    I think she is testing pieces and accessories, I’m presuming that is feet that can be be fitted to the Bernina as it looks like she has accessory boxes beside her.

  25. Aniko says:

    Maybe she’s testing the BSR stitch Regulator foot?

  26. Pauline Barron says:

    What a fantastic article, would love to go there!! I have just purchased the L220 cover stitch. I heard that Juki was contracted to make these for Bernina? Nowhere on the machine or in the manual does it say where it was made! I do love Bernina machines and my old Bernette Funlock 006D overlocker is still going like a champ, beautiful stitches and just purrs along. Thanks for this great info.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Pauline, I never heard of Juki making anything for Bernina, but I will inquire with the factory in Thailand.

  27. Marit Olsen says:

    I think she is testing the stitch regulator for free motion quilting 🙂

    What a wonderfull place to visit. 🙂 I live in Norway, so its not too fare from here. 🙂

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      No, it is not, so it is worth a visit:) Please let me know what pattern you would like from our collection. Congratulations!

      • Marit Olsen says:

        Oh, this was fun. Thank you very much. I woud love to have a bag-pattern, if that is possible. Either this one or another. I`ll be very happy . Thank you again 😀 😀 https://so-sew-easy.com/best-of-the-bags-pattern-bundle/

        • Marit Olsen says:

          Sorry, I did not see that it was an expensive pattern I choose, but I will be happy for any bag-pattern, I have sewn for many years so I dont need a beginner-pattern. This is exiting. 🙂

      • Marit Olsen says:

        I dont know how I will get the pattern, is it by E-mail? I haven`t reseeved anything yet. Is there anything I should do?

        • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

          Hi Marit, Yes, please tell me what pattern and I will send it to you by email Kind Regards,

          • Marit Olsen says:

            I told in my first answer, I put a link in the answer, but maby the “Best of bags, Bag Bundle” is moore than one pattern, so then I want the one called “Carry all bag” 🙂

          • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

            Perfect! I will email you the “Carry all bag” thank you for participating!

  28. Anne Wickman says:

    I think maybe the lady is testing the walking foot attachment.

    This was a great article, thanks for sharing…I LOVE my Bernina! I have a 350, so it’s not one of the embroidery machines, but I LOVE IT!! Switzerland looks beautiful. It is comforting to hear that Bernina is not throwing their quality aside in order to keep costs down.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      HI Anne, I am happy you like your Bernina! the 350 is a perfectly great little machine capable of many things. The correct answer to the challenge is in the article. Not a walking foot.

  29. Anne Nitschke says:

    Ich würde sagen ,Das die Dame Nähfüsschen testet. Gruß Anne

  30. Gretchen Thompson says:

    This is fantastic info. I now have to put Switzerland on my bucket list. Thanks so much for sharing. I always wondered where Bernina’s were made. So many people think none are made in Switzerland anymore. How refreshing to hear there is still that sort of quality manufacturing around.

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