Tuesday, March 05, 2019

A Cautionary Tale - My Trusty 1974 Bernina Record 830 Sewing Machine Almost Burned Our House Down

I think I have written about my good old dependable Bernina sewing machine that I purchased in the 70's. I earned the money for it sewing for friends and neighbors when I was in high school. The machine is my pride and joy and has moved with me so many times. The amount of hours I have sewn on it has got to be in the thousands. 

Last Sunday, we were scared out of bed by the sound of our fire alarm going off at 5:15 a.m. Our farmhouse came with a professional (like a school or hospital) fire alarm system. When it goes off, it can be heard from far away much less it will scare the bejesus out of you if you are in the house.  Lights flash and the sound is monumental. It is also quite sensitive and I frequently set it off with my cooking prowess.  

But last Sunday, I was so glad that we had this thing. Mark and I ran all over the house trying to figure out why the alarm was going off. By the time we got down to the basement to turn it off, I discovered that my 1975 Bernina was smoking. And I mean smoking. It was so hot I couldn't touch it and smoke was pouring out of every orifice. I ran to grab some potholders and took it outside in the snow. 








When I lifted the machine, the wooden table I sew on was scorched and smoking too. I dumped some water on it and pulled the table leaves out and took them outside too. 



The problem was taken care of and we were left with smoke and nasty smell and no sewing machine.

By this time, the fire company was on the way. It was too late to stop them. An hour later, due to incredibly icy roads and no sand on them, they arrived. I don't want to think about what would have happened if we didn't have our fire/smoke alarm. We were so lucky to discover the source of the smoke and possible fire and to remove the machine and table.

The fire chief and two firemen came. The Chief was an electrician so he was able to show me the electrical source of the fire in the motor of the machine. 



He said I should have been unplugging the machine all the time and that I should have used an extension cord with a 3 prong outlet (the cord that came with my machine only had 2 prongs). All good advice that I will heed in the future. I have had this machine since the 70's and it has remained plugged in whenever it was set up on my sewing table.

I researched on-line to see if anyone else has had their Bernina motor catch on fire. I didn't find anything so think it is important that I add this here. (Vintage Berninas have problems with their foot pedals catching fire and I replaced mine with a safe pedal years ago.) From what I read, any of the older sewing machines of any brand do not have On and Off Power buttons so they are always on if plugged into electricity. I did not realize this. 

I sew a lot and really depend on my machine for my business and for general mending and household sewing. I knew I wanted the same exact machine I had (a Bernina 830 Record) - it has mostly all metal parts and is a real workhorse. Luckily I found one on Ebay. It has arrived and the new machine is as sturdy as the old one. It came with a recent service record, a thermal safe foot pedal and a 3 prong plug for the wall. I will keep my old Bernina for parts and now I will ALWAYS unplug my machine when I am not using it. Lesson learned.

Thank goodness for the fire alarm. Thank you to the little tiny fire department of Leyden for bringing the truck and to Tina, the policewoman, for getting the road crew to sand the icy road so the fire truck could get here. We were just lucky that we were able to put out the machine and table quickly and that we had the fire/smoke alarm to wake us and that it was working and tied into the central station. It made me think about all those cellar holes that are around our town and so many New England towns that used to have houses on top of them. Farmhouses in the old days were frequently lost to fire before there were fire companies and trucks and fire/smoke alarms. People just had to let them burn and around here, many did not rebuild. 

I hope this post helps someone else who owns and sews on an old machine and might not realize the potential of the fire hazard. 

67 comments:

Cheryl Korytoski said...

Wow, Kristin!! So, so glad you and your family are safe!! I recently pulled out my machine (not as old as yours) to do a little sewing. I will be unplugging it as soon as I finish this text!

Robin said...

I am glad that you, everyone else in your home, and your home are all okay. What a scary thing to have happen.

penny said...

I'm thankful everyone & the house is ok! Good fast thinking (and yay snow?!) and thank you for explaining why it happened. {{hugs}}

Mrs. Witry said...

So glad to hear that you are alright!
As a high school student, we lost most of our home to our electrical fire.
Luckily, no one was hurt although it could have been fatal if it had happened at night.
Beyond scary . . .
Mary Kate

ytsmom said...

Wow!! That is scary! Glad everything is OK, and you were able to replace your machine.

Kerry said...

How scary - but thank you for sharing! I think I am safety-conscious as my dad is a foreman but after reading this I realized my sewing machine is older than yours (it was my Nana's) and I keep it plugged in all the time - with it's original 2-prong cord! I just ran upstairs and unplugged it...

Kristen Walter said...

Yikes! I have a Bernina Sport 801 which I got as a high school graduation gift in 1986. My mother knew I couldn’t leave for college without my own Bernina. 33 years later it’s still humming. When i was at your house for a workshop, I saw your machine and said “she has the same machine as me”. It looks the same, but mine has a handle on top. I never leave it plugged in since I don’t use it regularly any more. So glad everything turned out OK and you found a trusty replacement!

wenhkc said...

My 20-year old Husqvarna and 38-year old serger have an on/off button/toggle but I plug them into the surge protector and also turn that off when I don't use the machines. My Singer 201-2 has had a thorough check up when I got it and there are no problems with the electrical. However, I keep it unplugged when I'm not using it, and also plug it into a surge protector when I am using it. A big WHEW that everything worked out for you when the fire started...and that you were able to find another sewing machine.

Michele in Maine said...

Wow, cautionary tale is right! I'm so glad you are all ok! I just ran up to my studio and unplugged my 60 year old Singer. (just a 2-prong plug). Yikes!

Marji L. In Granby CT said...

Well, I am hopping out of bed RIGHT NOW to unplug my 1950s White Rotary dinosaur of a sewing machine! I love it, still use it, and of course it has the 2-prong cord and foot pedal has never been updated. Never occurred to me that something like that could happen!!
So glad you escaped with just the minor damage. Also, awesome that you got a new-to-you replacement!

Louise said...

No offense, but this made me chuckle a little. I AWAYS unplig my machines, old and new, but it's because I wirry about the machines: power surge, lightning strike. Don't want my baies coming to harm. Never considered they might be up to no good!

gale (she shoots sheep shots) said...

Terrifying! So glad your alarm didnits job.
I have a workhorse 1970s machinenwithba 2 prong coed— I don’t leave it plugged in only because I don’t have a dedicated work table for it, but I’ve been setting one up and now you know it will be unplugged whenever not in use !

Colleen Sharpe said...

Um, yes, thanks for posting this - I didn't know, either!! (owner of a 1960s Singer workhorse and a 70s Kenmore workhorse)

Sally said...

OMG. I'm so glad you are all safe! Thank you for posting! I have a couple of old machines myself. Will be sure to always leave them unplugged. Again, so thankful you and yours are well and safe. xo

Weaver L said...

Like the surge protector idea. Thanks.

Joanne said...

I am so glad you and your family are safe!
We too have a hard wired fire alarm--and I live in fear that our 100 year old wooden house will go up in smoke. We lost a good family friend to a house fire.

Thank you for your public safety announcement. I have a 1980s Kenmore with an on/off switch, on an extension cord, plugged into a surge protector. Now I wonder if that is safe enough...

Lee said...

Oh, no! So scary. Glad you are all ok and that there wasn't any more damage!

marcia Love said...

Thank goodness you and the family are all okay. Scary beyond belief.
I've always kept my sewing machine plugged into a wall outlet but now that will change.
Funny though, I always unplug my toaster. Twenty-30 yrs ago I remember some brand of
toaster was self-igniting and since I read about that, I've always unplugged mine. Now likewise
for the sewing machine.

With all the electric gadgets we have nowadays, I'm wondering what else is vulnerable.

Many thanks for the post.
Marcia

fracksmom said...

So thankful you are all ok.

Gail said...

I am so sorry this happened, BUT so thankful you and your home are ok. Good information to keep in mind and I will post this on my wall to help spread the word of safety.

Nancy Sue said...

Thank you for posting this. You've saved lives!!!!

Nicole said...

Oh my goodness! I have a 1952 99-15 and a 401a Singer. I have never thought about this. I am running into my craft room to unplug them now!

Unknown said...

I am a Red Cross volunteer who installs smoke alarms. We always educate the home owner on fire prevention and safety. One thing we stress is extension cords are for temporary use only. Glad you had working smoke alarms. over 1/2 of home fires don't have alarms or have nonworking alarms. They should be replaced if they are over 10 years old.(yes the test button may work but that just tells you the battery is working- they lose their ability to detect smoke when they are old). Sorry you lost your good friend of many years!

Karen Glazener said...

I, too, have a Bernini 830 Record. My husband paid $400 for the machine Christmas 1974. She isn't my everyday machine anymore but does come out of the case every now and then. I will remember to unplug the machine anytime I stop sewing. Sooo glad your farmhouse home was spared.

Reneej said...

Thanks for posting this, Kristen. I think the biggest point to take away is to make sure you have hard-wired smoke alarms in several areas (bedrooms, kitchen, basement) around your home. I live in Melbourne, Australia where it is mandatory to have smoke alarms to all new homes. So many lives have been saved by this law. If you have a battery powered smoke alarm, check it twice a year - fix a date so that it’s easy to remember, and change the batteries. My Bernina was also bought in the early 70’s. I had her serviced and checked about a year ago and am keeping her for my granddaughters to learn on.

Anonymous said...

I also had a scare with my Featherweight when something fell on the foot pedal just enough to make the motor work without making any stitches. Could have easily started a fire. They have to be unplugged also. Ana in IN

Twelfthknit said...

We have one of the Nest devices. It is a smoke and carbon monoxide detector. It does self-checks and speaks. The first time it did it I was alone in the house and I nearly died of fright.

So glad for you that you had that happy outcome. I’m a Bernina fan too. My sewing machines are plugged into extensions. As well as turning each machine off after use I switch the power block off. My iron is plugged into a block which also has a lamp. When I leave my room I know if the light isn’t switched off neither is the iron

Happy sewing with your ‘new’ Bernina

Mrs.A said...

Yikes! So glad that everyone was safe. My own trusty Bernina is not quite as old…it's a 1530 that they stopped making in 1997. I have successfully purchased several of them from eBay. I sew on the machine almost daily and do turn it off at night but, thanks to this post, I will unplug it or turn off the extension cord when it's not in use. FYI, just began work on a Pickled Fish pattern this weekšŸ˜

Kristin Nicholas said...

Glad I could educate through my stupidity.

Kristin Nicholas said...

Me too. Thanks.

Kristin Nicholas said...

Glad I could educate.

Kristin Nicholas said...

Oh my goodness. What a thing to go through at a young age. I am still having nightmares

Kristin Nicholas said...

Thanks

Kristin Nicholas said...

Glad I could help.

Kristin Nicholas said...

Thx Kristen. It was lovely having you here.

Kristin Nicholas said...

Thank you.

Kristin Nicholas said...

Who was to know???? We were lucky. Love your new bags.

Kristin Nicholas said...

I know. ..... who knew. But it worked out ok. Thank goodness for alarm.

Kristin Nicholas said...

I have always felt lucky to have had a space to leave my machine set up. Who knew it could backfire. All okay now but very lucky. XO Gale

Kristin Nicholas said...

Glad I could educate.

Kristin Nicholas said...

Me too. Thanks

Kristin Nicholas said...

Thx Lee

Kristin Nicholas said...

It really is remarkable that more houses haven’t gone up with all the stuff we have plugged in these days.

Kristin Nicholas said...

Thank you.

Kristin Nicholas said...

Thank you.

Kristin Nicholas said...

Glad to be the example. I wasn’t sure if I should post this but am glad I spoke out.

Kristin Nicholas said...

Great machine—yes? Just need to unplug.

Kristin Nicholas said...

We do not have those laws here in the US. You are lucky. Your granddaughters will be happy you saved the Bernina.

Julie said...

Yes, the old Bernina 830 Records are workhorses--I have one and love it. I also have a Nova 900 (the portable model made in the same era, workhorse also, and lighter than the Record--I take it with me each week when I sew with friends.). Like your Record, it caught "fire" while I was out sewing with my girlfriends. We were eating lunch (in the same room) and I looked over at the machines and serious smoke was coming out of my machine. I unplugged really quickly. Fortunately, we never got to the real fire point--just lotsa smoke. We checked my machine out and could never figure the cause of the fire/smoke, but I figured that my heavy duty extension cord port had no surge protector-power off/on button and that lack was partly responsible for the smoke I had. I see now it was not. Thank you for letting us know that the machines are always "on." Plus, my original Record baby(as does the Nova) has a 2-pronged plug. Shall get that fixed!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tale of woe glad everyone is Ok. I always unplug because of lightning strikes and power surges. TVs and other appliances too

Anonymous said...

HOLY SMOKE, Kristin! What a scary incident. I'm so grateful your family and home survived intact - albeit with frayed nerves. Not so fortunate for your trusty sidekick, Bernina, though. Glad you were able to replace her.
I'll bet you started a stampede for those of us who leave our sewing machines plugged in. I also unplugged multiple appliances. What's a few seconds to "replug" before use compared with burning the whole place down?
Thanks for sharing and making us more aware. Roxanne

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing and putting the warning out there for us to see. Glad all worked out well.I unplug multiple appliances as well, especially toasters, and electric kettle.

Anonymous said...

So glad everyone is safe. I started unplugging mine after each use when a dear friend lost their home due to her sewing machine being left plugged in. I don't know what brand or year it was, but possibly because they were not at home at the time, their house burnt to the ground. I always unplug my machines and iron. In fact, I never really turn them off so I can see the little light which reminds me to unplug!

Sue Atkinson said...

Yes. Had this happen to me with my 1972/3 Bernita Minimatic in 2001. At a free motion quilting class when the motor let of a huge bang with sparks and smoke coming from the motor. Mechanic said replace the machine. So miss that little workhorse.

Kristin Nicholas said...

Thx for sharing. Helpful for so many.

Unknown said...

Glad y'all are ok. I have a much newer Brother sewing machine. I read somewhere yrs ago that even if you aren't using an appliance and it's switch is in the off position.... it still uses electricity. So Thankfully I always try and remember to unplug. Thanks for your post.

Anonymous said...

I think it’s more about lack of knowledge than studpidity! Thanks for sharing your story!

Unknown said...

I took my 880 to the dealer, as it would not turn on. She plugged it in and turned it on. As we were standing there talking, we heard a pop and black smoke started coming out of the machine.

Jane Holbrook said...

Go glad you had a happy ending and were able to find a new to you machine, thank you for the cautionary tale. I was told by a Singer Featherweight repair person that the trusty 221s, even with an on/off switch, are always receiving power and thus are a fire hazard. Always unplug! I have a series of quilts titled, "Cautionary Tales" and this one will be added to my list! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Mines on a switched outlet so I am good.

Unknown said...

Glad everyone is OK. I know the experience of the opposite from electrical wiring. I just recently purchased a Bernina after selling my sewing machine over 10 years ago. Recently became addicted to quilting!! I took a class at the Bernina store and the instructor recommended that everyone unplug their machine when not in use. She had a storm come through that caused her machine to get current through it and burnt up the motor on it. I have always unplugged mine when I am done using it after listening to her.

Jules said...

I'm so sorry this happened to you but very thankful your family and home were saved! Good advice given and I will need it!! šŸ’— Plus will add a smoke alarm to lower level where my sewing plaza is.

{I started with a 930, then moved up to an 1130 2 yrs later. I kept that and daughter has already called first dibs on it, even tho her brother isn't much competition for it! LOL! Much love for Berninas!! I have an Artista 200 now that I bought when it was the TOTL and newly released. I've asked my husband to put in a better outlet (house built in mid-70's) for my machine and this will be my push. He is very able/knowledgeable to do that.

In mid-Dec, I found an Artista 180 for $300 on FB. It was a 4 hr drive each way to meet the seller. I happily gave it to my adult daughter as a "just because" and she is thrilled!}

I'm thankful you found a good one on eBay. That is great and has to help soothe your wounds a bit. šŸµ️

karenquiltslife said...

This is not uncommon! But basically ANY old appliance's wire should be checked ocassionally, it get's brittle, and when moved (if not left in a cabinet for example) for use again and, you can end up with frayed wiring. Maybe only inside - where you can't see it! A power outage and a subsequent surge can cause wires that should not be touching to do so... resulting in a fire. Yes, unplug ANY vintage appliance and have it rewired if the wire is no longer flexible! Use it on a FUSED surge protector when operating. Since these often aren't grounded appliances, you could get electrocuted using them, if wiring fails during use! Thanks for posting this. There is sooo much "romance" these days around using vintage sewing machines, but there is also danger if they are not used cautiously. Many people do not know much about the dangers posed by old wiring!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I am so glad you and your house are ok! I have this exact same machine, model and year, Bernina 830, 1974, which I bought with my earnings from the fabric store I was working at during college. I don't use it much anymore, I have a few other machines, it's my 'backup' when others are being serviced, BUT .. I would like to know more about the foot pedal, mine was never replaced. So happy you found a replacement, too! Happy Sewing.

Cat said...

Wow!!! I had heard to unplug toasters for that reason, but not sewing machines... I think I will need to show this blog to my Mom, who has a lovely 60's vintage machine. That I believe she has plugged in...

Cat

Anonymous said...

I bought a new Viking a few years ago and attended a class on how to operate it. One of the things that stuck with me was a statement the teacher made. 'Never, ever leave your machine plugged in when you are not using it." Just a power surge can do damage to your expensive machine. I never thought about that, but I make sure to unplug it now when I'm not using it.

Anita from Friends said...

Hello Kristin,
Thanks for your cautionary tale. I have a Record 530 also and love it. As I took a break from a project a few weeks ago, I returned to a burning smell and the machine was running furiously. I thought the foot pedal got stuck, but I had to unplug the machine, 3 pronged plug, to get it to stop. I am picking up a new used pedal today. It was about $250 to get a new one and $30 to get a used one without warranty. I will take the machine in to test the pedal before leaving the store. My mate is exploring repairing the old pedal with a new capacitor switch, so I will have a spare. Happy and safe sewing to you!

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