The Importance of Self-Care (as Illustrated by My Broke-Ass Bernina)

When we’re young, we don’t dwell on thoughts of mortality. Our bodies feel good, look good, and perform well. Lack of maintenance – or even self-abuse – doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on the resilient machines that we are.

After 40 or 50 years, however, the machine benefits from more regular maintenance and less rough handling.

I would have done well last week to keep this in mind when I was racing my 52-year-old Bernina 731 sewing machine and flipping switches back and forth like a demon. One rough flip too many and that was that. I broke the needle position pin.

L: The pin I broke off. R: Where it came from.

Out of the many ways in which she could have been broken, this is bad. Any number of other parts could have been damaged and still allowed the machine to function, albeit with less bells and whistles. By breaking this small but oh-so-important pin, I can’t really use the machine at all.

When it happened, I was immediately overcome with sadness.

I purchased this machine while I was in my third year of my fine arts undergrad. Over 30 years, I have sewn a crazy amount of art on this machine. Pretty much every sculptural thing I’ve ever made, this machine has been involved. It’s the same age as me, and feels less like an external piece of equipment and more like an extension of myself.

So, even though I do have a functioning back-up machine, I did what anyone going through a crisis of identity would do – I started looking for a replacement machine of the exact same make and model on eBay. I ended up buying an “as-is” machine for parts, and another, working machine that was advertised as being recently serviced and in “great working condition”.

As it turned out, the “great working condition” machine had, ironically, an issue with the needle position pin which, in effect, made it as useless as my original machine that I’d broken. Now here I was, with one working Bernina and 3 broken ones of the same make and vintage. (My husband wryly chuckled and told me that I reminded him of a 50+ man who was trying to keep one vintage car in running condition but owned several for parts – I can see his point).

I’ve been asked why I don’t just buy a newer machine, one that would be easier to fix or find replacement parts for. I’ve been asking myself the same thing. At some point, replacement parts and even technicians who know how to service and repair this model will cease to exist.

But I LOVE this Swiss made workhorse. It’s like a mini-industrial machine. It sews through just about anything, and, if you’re not treating it like a maniac, is easy to maintain and very reliable. Even though it has an all-metal body, it’s still portable – a full-size industrial machine is not.

Naturally, because my Bernina and I are the same age, I’ve been considering the functionality of my own 50+ year old parts. Am I keeping my human machine maintained and serviced or am I racing myself recklessly and failing to keep up on self-care?

My check-in has been timely. I’ve gotten a bit rough with myself.

I love my human machine and, unlike my Bernina, the parts are not so easily replaced. I need to tune up some of my habits, which I’ve let slip in the past few months. If left unchecked, this rough handling will start to wreak long-term havoc on my body. I will benefit from a little less caffeine, a little more strength training, and a return to meditation. All of these adjustments will help keep my main piece of studio equipment – me – in reliable working order.

Many of us, not just those who are in creative jobs, tend to ignore our most vital piece of equipment – our flesh and blood machines. What can you do for yourself that will help your main machine perform optimally?

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