Friday, April 12, 2013

Bernina Jubilae (1953) Portable Zigzag Sewing Machine, Model 125 – a quick research, service and review



Nana’s sewing machine runs again!



My grandmother bought her Bernina in 1958. The 125 Model is, I believe, Bernina’s first zigzag machine. This gutsy little machine replaced Nana’s treadle machine and is in very good order.  The only difference between the Jubilae and the 125 models without the Jubilae badge is the speed controller. The Jubilae has a foot pedal, while the 125 has a knee lever.

As with any vintage machine, there are, here and there, little scratches and signs of wear. When I look at them, I remember my grandmother and imagine her using it. The odd thing is, I don’t  remember seeing her use the machine. I have faint memories of her darning socks by hand, but that’s all.

The machine had been lovingly stored with all her original attachments and accessories. This is a real boon because vintage Bernina accessories and feet are not easy to come by. I tried two different generic low shank feet and found that they do not fit.


This is a very easy machine to maintain, every oiling point is marked in red. And you can “pop the hood” to get to some of the internal bits up top:


Below the needle, the  throat plate pops out easily.The shuttle area also opens out easily for cleaning.

The main belt and the drive belt, however, were completely useless and there was no way the Jubilae was going to run again without new ones. Not to worry, I thought, as I confidently opened the original manual that had been stored with the machine.

I was far too optimistic. The manual kindly informs you how to replace the drive belts, but I searched for the belt specs in vain. I searched the internet in English. No luck. I didn’t want to buy stretchy universal belts because I read that they put extra strain on the machine. Not something I want to do to a machine that’s already well past her half-century.

Then I searched in German. Boy, did I need help with that! A complicating factor when looking for parts and accessories is that, over time, Bernina re-used model numbers for quite different machines. Both the modern Activa and the old Jubilae are known as Model 125.Thank you to Jens for finding ‘Eddy’s private webseite’ where you will find Bernina Oldtimer Tipps zum Thema. On that page are  specs for old-time Bernina belts.

It appears that the main belt for both Models 121 and 125 (1945-57) should be 5 mm wide by 441 mm in circumference (measured on the inside of the belt) or 45 cm measured on the outside. The motor belt should be 25cm. Sehr gut! It seemed to me that the logical place to go shopping for these would be Europe – there are probably a fair number of old Berninas knocking about and metric parts should be easy to find. True up to a point. But the prices and the postage were exorbitant for these mundane, feather-light little parts.

Despite the recent ludicrous hike in US postal prices, it was cheaper to go belt shopping there. That meant going for imperial measurements. It wasn’t possible to find a perfect match, but in the end I bought two orange plastic v-shaped lug belts. Lug belts are said to give a snugger, more flexible fit without the drawbacks of stretch belts. I hope so.

The belts I purchased from Sew-Classic are specified by the manufacturers as 17 3/4” and 9 7/8” . Sew-Classic puts their internal circumferences at 17 1/2” and 9 1/2 “ (approx).

And here they are in place:


And with the cover plate back on:


She is running beautifully and I sewed up a nightdress on her without a hitch. There are two limitations I have noticed. Speed regulation seems to be fairly minimal – it’s fast, faster or stop. There doesn’t seem to be a low speed. My 1936 electric Singer is much the same. Is this just a feature of older electric machines? Or do they need further servicing? It may be that a capacitor has failed. But in any case, they are entirely usable, even with this tendency for speed.

The other limitation of the Jubilae is that there appears to be no way to adjust the height of the foot to allow for very thick layers of fabric like heavy denim hems on jeans. I can adjust my Bebarfald treadle machine but not the Jubilae. The Jubilae shares this limitation with my 21st century (though very basic) Brother. My Brother, however, seems to need a walking foot for almost every task, while the Jubilae does quite happily without.

The Brother does a blind hem and a stretch stitch which are very useful for t-shirts. But it is going to cost more than it is worth for its next service, because I can’t do it myself. The older machines are robust, easy to service, and very versatile – particularly when you have some attachments.

Is there a problem with some modern machines, or is it just me?


  1. Fantastic! Now I know where to source replacement belts for my 125!

  2. Hope your 125 is running well!

  3. I was lucky enough to find one of these at a thrift store some years ago. I haven't checked online until recently, but was pleased to find your lovely story of how you came to be in possession of yours. It's a great little machine, for sure.

  4. Motor brushes might be worn causing speed issues, or lack thereof.

  5. Tenho a Bernina 125 série 55-84-52 mas tenho dificuldade na tensão do fio inferior com a superior.Por isto trava enroscando o fio de cima no tambor debaixo. Já fiz de tudo que conheço.Tem alguma "dica" específica dela?

  6. Hi! I think this machine is identical with the Husqvarna zig zag that I have.
    I need a manuel and two belts.
    I read something about belts here, an tha is good. But I have problem to get a manual!
    Can some one help me?

  7. Tengo en Buenos Aires - Argentina una maquina Bernina Jubilae (1853 -1953) rgalo de una Tia que vive en Suiza . Para mi es una joya de colección , amo esta maquina . feliz con ella !!!

    1. Hola! Yo tmb soy de Buenos Aires y acabo de comprarme una en un remate en Uruguay! Estoy feliz!

  8. the model 117, which began production in 1938 was Bernina's first zig-zag machine. The Jubilae model (I own one) did not always come with a foot controller. Mine has the knee controller and I've seen others the same. Blue book (which I have never found to be wrong) has the manufacturing dates of 121/125 as 1943-53.