History of the Bernina Sewing Machines

The company producing one of the most efficient sewing machines, Bernina, is a privately owned company that goes by the name of Bernina International AG. It has been very popular since the beginning when the company was founded in 1883 in Steckborn, Switzerland. If you have the tradition of sewing in your family, then your grandmother and probably her mother must have known and used a Bernina sewing machine.

The company has been delivering quality with a promise of efficiency that is unmatched. The tradition of owning and using Bernina sewing machines has been passed on from generation to generation. Whether it is a domestic project you are working upon or a professional one, Bernina has always lived up to its name. It has also been one of the brands that innovate their sewing machines according to the latest technologies and needs of the consumers.

History of the Bernina Sewing Machines – A Timeline


This year was an iconic one for the industry of the sewing machine as it was in this year that Karl Friedrich Gegauf made a groundbreaking invention. He invented the sewing machine that could efficiently do 100 stitches in one single minute! It was known as the hemstitch sewing machine. The invention was instantly picked up by the industrialists and consumers around the world. Such was the popularity of this hemstitch sewing machine that its mechanical production came to be termed as “gegaufing.”


Seven years following the initial invention, Karl Friedrich Gegauf successfully established a small factory with about 70 to 80 workers. Gegauf appointed himself as the technical director while his brother Georg looked into the business aspects of the factory. By 1900, the hemstitch machine had penetrated the markets worldwide and was being sold internationally.


When Karl Friedrich Gegauf passed away in 1928, the factory was handed over to his two sons, Fritz and Gustav Gegauf. Fritz Gegauf was an incredibly creative person who helped the company grow exponentially and prosper. The creative imprints and legacy of Fritz Gegauf still define the exemplary business character of the company.


1932 marked a successful year for the company as it was this year when the company produced and sold sewing machines with their own brand name and logo. It was the first step towards success. The first model with the brand name and logo was shiny black with Bernina printed over it. The brand name was inspired by the highest summit, Piz Bernina, in the eastern Alps.


The company made yet another breakthrough in the industry of the sewing machines by inventing the world’s the first-ever zigzag machine. The place of the logo was also slightly changed this year, the visually appealing brand name, “Bernina” on the shiny black arm of the sewing machine.


Standing true to its promise of living up to the consumer demands, Bernina produced the first portable zigzag sewing machine in 1945. This zigzag machine freed the use of arm and became a hit among consumers. Due to the increasing demands, the company increased its production of free-arm zigzag sewing machines.


In alignment with the rising popularity and consumer demands for newer technology being incorporated into the sewing machines, Bernina came up with semi-automatic machines. The introduction of the first-ever clip-on presser foot was exactly what the world needed at that moment. Once again, Bernina had done what others have not thought of.

Along with the patented clip-on presser foot, Bernina also introduced a semi-automatic buttonhole sewing function.


Continuing to setting incredible examples in running a family business, Bernina handed over the reign of the company to Odette Ueltschi, the daughter of Fritz Gegauf. After working and learning extensively under the leadership of her father, Odette Ueltschi finally took over as the company president in 1979.


This year witnessed another significant technological innovation under the leadership of Odette Ueltschi-Gegauf. Bernina produced the world’s first-ever knee-activated presser foot lifter. The feature was also a big hit as it freed the hands completely.

The Free Hand System (FHS) has been an important feature of all the Bernina machine models. It not only raises the presser foot but also performs an important function for you: lowering the feed dog.


Bernina introduced what the modern-day sewing machines now compulsorily include: an electric foot. This electric foot provided control over sewing, and soon became an iconic feature of every sewing machine ever produced.

1981 & 1982

These two years were especially important in creating a legacy of the Bernina machines. The world was changing rapidly, and everything was becoming computerized. To keep up with the consumers’ requirements and the technological advancements, Bernina took a step towards increasing the power of the motor and introduced a model offering stretch stitch function.


The build-up of the previous years and the hard work of the creative minds and hands at the Bernina Company paid off in 1986 as the company launched its first-ever fully automatic sewing machine. This automatic sewing machine came with an entirely computerized mechanical system that made buttonholing easy. Also, this machine offered stitch pattern memory.


This year marked another leadership change for the company as Odette’s son took the reins of the company in his hands. Under the leadership of HanspeterUeltschi, Bernina expanded, became more prominent than ever and turned into an iconic brand.


1230 was the model of Bernina sewing machine that came out that year. Owing to the extensively dedicated and efficient direction of the company by Odette, the model of the sewing machine was named after her. The then latest model of the sewing machine was named Bernette – comprising of Odette and Bernina.

1993 to 2001

The five years from 1993 to 1998 were crucial to the development of a line of sewing machines that were top-notch in their technological capabilities and also leaping forward to change the way sewing machines used to be. A fully computerized sewing machine was introduced in 1998, which was called the artista 180.

The year 2001 saw what was probably never imagined by Fritz in previous times. The newer models of the Bernina sewing machines came with a fully computerized button panel that worked on the CPS model. They offered a customized setting for all. Additionally, the activa145, came with the capability of scanning embroidery patterns and creating them on the garments for you.

2002 to 2004

Bernina was the very first sewing machine company to partner with Microsoft and produced something marvelous. The Bernina sewing machine came equipped with Microsoft windows along with a CD-ROM drive and an LCD. Furthermore, it offered a large memory to remember and retain various embroidery and stitch patterns.

Bernina won the Best Innovator award from A.T. Kearney for introducing Bernina Stitch Regulator (BSR) for fully automatic uniform stitching. This proved to be a massive hit among the quilters.

The Years After 2004

From partnering with Microsoft and winning the Best Innovator award, Bernina never stopped growing as a company. Every year brought about an exciting innovation, which made the consumers happy. Bernina introduced an embroidery-only machine for extensive commercial use. It also introduced its first-ever quilting machine comprising of the Bernina Stitch Regulator (BSR) function.

Bernina has always been a family-run business, and it always will be, as decided by its directors. However, nothing has stopped the company from conforming to the technological changes and keeping up with the consumers’ requirements. It is always the top priority of the professionals.