Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Necchi BU Review


Have you seen Zigzaggers? It's a very fun site for those of us interested in vintage sewing machines. I contacted Krista about reviewing some of my (growing) herd of machines, and she very kindly sent me the questionnaire. Since the Necchi BU is currently the alpha sewing machine around here, I'm starting with it.

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. For this heavy machine, the extra stability of one of those would help reduce vibration.


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.

29 comments:

  1. Thanks for your review. My husband just called me from a garage sale about one of these. Sounds like it well worth the $10 he paid.

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  2. A friend recently gave me this exact machine. Mine is not as clean as yours but still quite a thing of beauty. I have a simple question, it sews in reverse now and I can't figure out how to adjust it to go forward. Any suggestions?

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  3. Hi again!

    All figured out and a little too easy! We are now moving forward!

    BTW your blog is lovely and a great inspiration!

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  4. I live in NC too and have one with a Cherry sewing table (it sits in it) for sale... has a light. Needs a good cleaning and the black paint is crackled in several places, but would love to discuss selling to you if you are interested...

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  5. I would love to see a picture of your cabinet Cheryl. I have this machine and love it. We had a cabinet but decided to make it more portable. I have missed the cabinet. How much are you looking to sell them for?

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  6. I have a Necchi that was my grandmothers. It is no a cherry cabnient. I was thinking about getting ride of it until reading your blog. I now am going to refinish the cabnient and possibly get the machine serviced. Thanks

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  7. Great review. Thanks for taking the time to post it. I recently purchased a Necchi BU in South Carolina. (I moved from Florida two years ago and sold my Necchi before moving,so I was surprised to find a Necchi here at a thrift store.) Mine did not come with a manual. Do you have any suggestions where I might find one? Thank you!

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    1. Carol, glad you enjoyed the review. I do have a PDF of the manual for the BU Nova (just one model newer and almost exactly the same). I will try to post it on the blog. Look for a post coming up. If it doesn't work, we'll figure out a way for me to send it by email.

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    2. I am also looking for a Necchi BU Nova manual. I just purchased this machine for $100. It runs, but I am sure it needs some cleaning and oiling. I couldn't find it posted on your blog yet. If you can't post it, would you be willing to email it?

      finewhipador-drool@yahoo.com

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    3. I just found a 2nd hand Nova also. I'm looking forward to cleaning it up and using it. I couldn't find the manual on your blog. Would you be willing to email it?

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    4. Hi Ripple, my aunt just gave me her Necchi BU but she cannot find the manual.... would appreciated it if you would send me your PDF version.... Thanks

      John

      vomaris.john@gmail.com

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  8. Hello! I bought Carol Baum's machine and now I'm looking for the Necchi Bu manual. So far I love the machine, but while cleaning it I realized there are several slits in the rubber belt and it needs to be replaced. The ones I find that are the same size at JoAnns, etc., are made by Dritz and a bit thinner. I need thicker. When I went to my local sewing machine repair place, he offered a toothed one (which I believe is like what I see in your picture), but I've read that this is not the correct belt because my belt needs traction from the sides of the belt, so the teeth won't work. Does your Necchi have a different catch (toothed) mechanism? Sorry I don't know all the correct words, but I'd be very grateful if you'd help me. Thanks so much. Patsye

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    1. Patsye, I'm not sure I am understanding all of your terminology, but the belt I show in the picture is the one that always worked best with this machine for me. One that I would not recommend based on my testing is the round Dritz belt (black), that comes in a package at Walmart or Hancocks. I can highly recommend the online store Sew Classic: http://shop.sew-classic.com/. Jenny is so knowledgeable and she could point you in the direction of the perfect choice for your machine. Her prices are reasonable too.

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  9. I have the opportunity to purchase either a Necchi BU Mira or Elna Supermatic (like my Mom's from the 50's) an both are local to me so I can go see them before making a decision. You've given such great information about the Necchi BU's here, I would appreciate any insights you might have.

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    1. I bought the Necchi BU, it didn't take much persuasion after doing my research and finding but raves about these beautiful machines - no matter what their age. Mine has seen a few years. I can't tell if the light and motor are replacements or add-ons. I have a little digging to do, but that part of the fun in buying such a classic machine. I look forward to sewing with it - I believe velvets and multiple layers will no longer be feared when I sew with this smooth machine.

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    2. Oh, I'm sorry not to have weighed in before you made your purchase, but I think you made the right decision! The Necchi is going to be a bit more in line with standard parts that will be more readily available if needed. I'm not very familiar with the 50s Elnas, but I understand that they are sometimes considered relatively loud. Also, their parts are more specific to the Elna line and are consequently more and more difficult to find.

      I hope your new Necchi will live up to your high hopes! Velvets and multiple layers can be challenging despite the machine, though. I have even sometimes struggled with sewing mohair velvet on an industrial walking foot machine! The Necchi isn't magic, but it is a wonderful, beautifully made object.

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  10. When I was a kid I learned to sew on my grandmother's Necchi BU, which I still have. Over the years I've replaced the motor three times and the belt more times than I can remember. The Necchi BU, together with a serger, have been good enough for any project I wanted to do, but I recently bought a new Bernina Activa, just to see what it would be like. I had a difficult time with the front-to-back threading at first, being accustomed to the old style, but I do like being able to use twin needles. I've never tried using twin needles with the Necchi.

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  11. PS I use a plain stretch belt, like the ones shown on this website: http://sewingmachine221sale.bizland.com/store/page90.html

    I've never bought belts specially made for Necchi machines. The stretch belts work fine, but maybe they wear out more quickly than other kinds of belts.

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    1. Thanks, Barb, for the great info about your grandmother's BU. So nice that you still have that machine. I don't like the stretch belts myself--I have found that they tend to slip, and they make a noise I don't like. Glad they work for you, though, since they are easy to find.

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  12. Ripple, did you ever post the manual?

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  13. Ripple, did you ever post the manual?

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  14. I have just acquired a NECCHI Super Nova in the portable cabinet that was purchased in Italy in the 50's. Super perfect condition with all manuals, oil, box of all accessories etc. Do you have any idea what something like this is worth? I am having her estate sale this next week-end and am trying to get a value to get her as much money as possible. Not even a scratch on the green paint on the machine. Thank you so much.

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  15. I have just acquired a NECCHI Super Nova in the portable cabinet that was purchased in Italy in the 50's. Super perfect condition with all manuals, oil, box of all accessories etc. Do you have any idea what something like this is worth? I am having her estate sale this next week-end and am trying to get a value to get her as much money as possible. Not even a scratch on the green paint on the machine. Thank you so much.

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  16. A friend of mine bought a Necchi BU Super Nova from a goodwill store in Portland, ME. He is sending it to me. I'm so happy to have found your blog. Once it arrives, I want to start hunting down attachments!

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  17. I know this is an older post, but was wondering where you got all the extra accesories, I just bought a Necchi Bu but it doesnt come with anything. Thanks

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    1. Hi there, I bought a box of accessories on eBay. It was a beautiful vintage box with a bunch of Necchi-branded items. I believe it was around $30 with shipping. Not cheap, but I decided I wanted a whole suite of Necchi items. The Necchi bobbins are extremely nice.

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    2. Thanks a lot for the reply. Do you think older Necchi accesories are interchangeable? Coul I buy a box made for ex. A supernova and use it for my BU? Thanks a lot for your help

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    3. Your BU is a high shank machine, and all high shank Necchi accessories should fit it. The Supernova is also a high shank, so its accessories will work on the BU. Necchi did make some low shank machines of the same vintage as the BU. These are called the Necchi BF (and maybe others). Those accessories will not work with the BU, though the bobbins and bobbin cases are the same.

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  18. I have a 50's era necchi bu it comes with a solid cabinet with working drawers, instruction manual , foot pedal, and some accessories , cabinet is solid but needs to be re finished . I live in carol stream il I would sell for 100

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