by Virginia, who blogs about her sewing projects (dresses!) at A Sewing Life
Love it, hate it, or something in between?
Oh, I certainly love it, but that's no great endorsement, since I seem to love all of my machines. I first got interested in trying out a vintage Necchi when the circuit board on my Bernina 160 failed. I surfed the internet reading various reviews and just happened across a couple of glowing accounts of vintage Necchis on Pattern Review. Their enthusiasm led me to the Vintage Necchis Yahoo Group. After reading along on this group for a couple of months, I had to have one. What they said is true, there is a quality to this massive chunk of Italian machinery that is quite unlike any other sewing machine I had used before.
When did you buy this sewing machine?
Summer of 2008. I had to wait until the fall to actually try it out. Read on...
When was it manufactured?
According to the Vintage Necchis Yahoo Group, this model was manufactured in Italy between 1948 and 1953. The easy-to-spot differences between this model (BU) and its successor, the BU Nova, are the VN (for Vittorio Necchi) logo on the machine bed, and the plain chrome face of the tension assembly. The later model had the newer cartoon-style N logo and a black face on its tension assembly.
The BU is a flat bed machine with an oscillating hook and manual zig zag (which I believe means you select zig zag by shifting the stitch width lever rather than pushing a button). Necchis designated as BC, BCJ or BF are straight stitch only. The BU was manufactured in black or green. It is a very simple, very heavy cast iron machine with no plastic parts whatsoever.
Where did you buy it?
I had been watching eBay for a vintage Necchi for several weeks. This machine was listed by a damaged freight company. As far as I could tell from the very indistinct photo, its spool pins were bent, and the plastic modern case it had been shipped in was cracked, but otherwise things looked okay. It turned out that it came with no power cord or foot pedal, or attachments other than the bobbin case, one bobbin, and the all-purpose presser foot. I had ambitions of resolving the power situation myself, but in the end I took it to a local sewing machine mechanic who was backed up for seven weeks! The replacement foot control he provided is okay, but it does have a tendency to race. Since I sew clothing, I like to go slowly much of the time, and I find that I don't have the control I would like. I've heard of others with similar problems with replacement foot pedals. When the perfect treadle table comes along, I plan to convert this machine to treadle operation.
I don't have a base or a cabinet with hinge pins for it. As a heavy machine that generates some vibration, it could really use the extra stability of one of those.
How much did you pay for it?
I paid $55, plus $30 shipping, which was a good deal, but then I spent around $100 for the mechanic's services and the foot pedal, and $40 for a set of attachments belonging to a BU Mira. My total cost was higher, and my gratification much more delayed, than if I had bought a complete outfit to begin with.
In hindsight, I would not recommend buying a machine over eBay in unknown condition as one of your first vintage sewing machine purchases! A complete setup from a local source or a well-established eBay seller might have been a better way to go. In the year that I've been on the hunt, I've only seen two Necchis in my state (North Carolina). One had a broken part that is no longer available, and the other was the same machine I have, but after I had already bought this one.
How many projects have you done on this machine?
Quite a few, but other machines have happened along since, so it hasn't been my only machine. I pieced a twin quilt top and made my son a pair of jeans as the first pair of projects. I have made a couple of denim skirts for myself, several cotton blouses, a rayon dress with piping, and six very wide and long sheer curtain panels.
Describe the kind of work you've done with it.
This machine is wonderfully well-suited to a wide variety of woven fabrics. It handles light fabrics just as beautifully as very firm and heavy fabrics. I am not sure, in all honesty, that it pierces heavier fabrics any better than my modern Bernina 160 (which I did have repaired, to the tune of $250!). And I have not had great luck at all using it on lighter weight knits, such as jersey.
What do you like and what do you hate about it?
The sewing experience on this machine is fantastic. The BU gives me the feeling that together we can push right through nearly any project. It handles thick topstitching or upholstery thread in the needle and the bobbin much, much better than my Bernina. I love that it has an adjustable needle position (left, center and right). My Bernina probably has 10 different positions from left to right, but I love the simplicity of the three, which turns out to be plenty for any need. I like that it has adjustable presser foot pressure, which two older Berninas I used to own did not. I like that the feed dogs can be dropped for free motion work, though I haven't explored that much yet. This machine is a high shank model, so it can use many industrial presser feet. These feet are rugged, very specific to a purpose and cost between $5-$10 per foot. Compare that to between $30-$60 per Bernina foot!
Somehow the visibility of the sewing surface and the ease of reaching it on this machine are both great. The "head" of my Bernina seems to be higher and come forward more, and I feel like I hunch over more when using it. The ergonomics of the Necchi are terrific for me. It's awesome to set the levers in one position and know that they will stay put until I change them. On the other hand, it isn't so easy to change back and forth between different settings on the fly.
I wish it handled knits better, and sometimes I wish it was a pink and cream Supernova with the circular needle plate and a full set of cams! This machine does straight stitch and zig zag, forward and back, and free motion work. That's all. That's enough.
I haven't seen a lot of discussion about the way the needle mounts on these vintage machines versus the more modern arrangement, but it presents an issue for me. The needle mounts with the flat side to the right. Threading goes left to right. This is not just Necchis, but actually all of my vintage machines. It's easy enough to thread, and easy to insert the needle once you learn which way the flat side goes, but it doesn't make two parallel rows of stitching with a twin needle. Instead the twin needle makes a sort of a shadow effect vertically. I like to use a twin needle for hemming knits, so I have to hold onto a modern machine for this purpose.