Necchi

The bane of the Supernova

I am done with the Supernova. Necchi might be a goddess among sewing machines, but for me her allure has all but faded. And here is why.

Faulty transformer

This seems to be a common weak spot in Supernovas: the transformer. The machines were sold all over the world, so instead of supplying a different motor and light for every country, Necchi used a transformer to convert whatever voltage was coming in to the AC voltage required by the motor, as well as DC current for the light. Great idea until this happens:

That bit in the transformer has burned out making the entire block unusable. I am not knowledgeable in electric bits, but I asked around and was told that that part was not anything you could buy off the shelf and just swap out. Right, that was too much for me, so out went the transformer!

And with it I lost the light and the speed reduction on the motor. Fortunately, my machine had a 220V motor, so I could wire it directly like any other motor in my sewing room. At least this machine could be still used. I’ve been told that later models used a 160V motor, so there I would have had to buy an external transformer or replace the motor. All too much fuff for my liking.

The zig-zag lever

The Supernova sets zig-zag width with a lever. A spring in the mechanism always pulls the lever to the left towards the zero position, with two stops limiting the range of movement. The left stop is the one that sets zig-zag width for regular sewing – the right one is only used to cap zig-zag width in fancy patterns. The stops are moved and fixed with the two thumb nuts above the lever.

Look closely at the stops in the photo – they are very small and do not block off the lever completely. In fact, it is possible – intentionally or not – to bypass the stops by pressing on the lever. Why? I have no clue! Perhaps so that you could return the lever to zero position without having to move the stops. But then the lever goes “beyond zero”, meaning that the machine starts zig-zagging again – you need the stop at zero to have proper straight stitch. Or at least such was the case in my Supernovas.

The little stops worked perfectly fine on my first Supernova. But on my second Supernova, the lever kept sliding under the stops and returning to the left edge of the slider – the “below zero” slightly zig-zaggy position. 😤 The culprit was a flat spring in the mechanism.

A flat spring is essentially a strip of tempered steel that can be bent but always returns to its straight shape. The lever is mounted on such a strip, so when you press down on it, the spring pushes it back up. It needs to be strong enough to keep the lever up so it would not slide past the little stops as it is being pulled to the left by another spring.

In my second Supernova the flat spring was ridiculously weak. The lever swooshed past the stop as if there was nothing there.

You could keep the lever fixed in one spot by wedging a screwdriver under it – that would allow you to sew fixed width zig-zag. However, when you have an embroidery pattern with zig-zag in it, the lever moves in the slide as the zig-zag width changes, and wedging the lever in this case interferes with the pattern. Not ideal, to put it mildly!

Effectively it means that if the flat spring of the zig-zag lever is too soft, then you are losing the ability to modify the zig-zag component of the patterns completely: you can only keep the lever at zero and sew the primary pattern defined by the cam. You cannot add zig-zag and neither can you limit it.

The flat spring is not something that is easy to replace either. Even if you had a replacement part, you would have to completely disassemble the complex zig-zag mechanism to get to it. Not something I would do in a hurry. I would have to really want to keep this machine to delve into such a project.

The lack of utility stitches

Supernova’s fancy stitch mechanism is based on smooth modulation of needle position, zig-zag width and feed, which makes it possible to elongate every pattern. It is a good mechanism for embroidery patterns but it doesn’t work for utility stitches which have a short repeat and involve sharp switches in needle position and zig-zag width.

Necchi sought to address the issue of missing utility stitches and brought out fixed cam sets for stitched zig-zag and blind stitch. They produce passable patterns, but nothing as sharp or precise as the simple mechanisms based on counted stitches. These cam stacks incorporate sharp changes to needle position and zig-zag width that make the mechanism bang loudly – and I do not believe it is good for the machine! It was never meant for such patterns. I have therefore avoided using them, especially since I didn’t like the results that much.

Dense embroidery

But what of the fancy patterns that the Supernova was actually designed to sew?

Well, they are plentiful and very unusual and imaginative, that’s true! You can make so many lovely designs, and the elongation feature is a big plus.

Most of these patterns are designed for dense embroidery. Any pattern can be elongated either by increasing stitch length or by increasing the number of stitches per repeat cycle, or both, of course. Increasing stitch length reduces stitch density, but on most Supernova designs it also spoils the pattern. It is not for nothing that most of the stitches are recommended to sew with short stitch lengths.

Dense embroidery is not a flaw in itself, of course, and there are plenty of applications for it. But it is not something that I use often in my sewing because it only works on a dense cloth, or it requires a stabiliser. I tend to sew soft woven fabrics or jersey that get stretched out or even damaged by dense stitching. I tend to use long stitch embroidery instead, and so have not been using the Supernova in my projects. Her style is not for me.

Trouble with delicate fabrics

The two Supernovas that I’ve had, both had a very strong feed. An excellent grip is required for all those patterns with reverse feed, of course. As well as for successful sewing of dense patterns – you don’t want any knots building up on the underside when the material gets stuck in place. It is logical for the Supernova to have a strong feed, she needs it.

In itself, a strong feed is of course not a flaw. However, it is incompatible with delicate fabrics or jersey – they get chewed up and stretched out. And since I sew quite a lot of fine fabrics and jersey… well, you see where I’m going with this: the useability of this goddess of sewing machines turns out quite low for me. Obviously, I’m not worthy – what else could it be? 🤔

11 thoughts on “The bane of the Supernova

  1. Elena,
    I’m sorry to hear you’ve tired of the Supernova. For me the biggest as strength of the Supernova’s is the fantastic quality of satin stitch. Obviously that’s not enough to save it in your collection….

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  2. I got a Supernova specifically to treadle (thus bypassing the electrical problems), thinking it would be fun to have a treadle machine that did stretch stitches. Unfortunately, when I bought it I did not realize that there are no utility stitches, only decorative stitches, and it is impossible for this machine to make them, since the cams make variable numbers of stitches per revolution.

    However, mine makes excellent straight stitches and zig-zag stitches (I haven’t had the problems you had), and it handles everything from heavy denim to flimsy, stretchy, knit fabric. When all my other machines skip stitches or stretch out a stretchy fabric, the Supernova comes to the rescue.

    I find this machine does better than any other on delicate fabric or knit fabric, because the presser foot pressure can be adjusted to almost nothing. The feed is only strong if the presser foot pressure is adjusted to be too heavy.

    I have had problems with the upper tension and the bobbin winder, but the pros outweigh the cons for me. It also treadles quite easily, so it is one of my most frequently used machines.

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    1. It is interesting about the feed! May be I should have fiddled with the foot pressure spring. Both my machines had a strong feed even on the lightest setting, which wasn’t light at all. I’m sure there will be differences from machine to machine! And although my Supernova itself is up for sale, I am keeping all the cams and the feet and the manual just in case I change my mind some time down the line, especially if I come across one Supernova that works properly and handles fine fabrics… 😉

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    2. Oh, I meant to ask: which model of Supernova have you got? The difference in feed could be down to a different model. Both my Supernovas were mark 1. They also had flaky tension and a temperamental bobbin winder, now that you mention it. But not too bad, certainly not compared to the faulty zig-zag lever. But ultimately I could not use it exactly because it was so bad with fine and stretchy fabrics.

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      1. My Supernova is exactly the same model. I have a Necchi BU that also has infinitely adjustable presser foot pressure, so I just assumed that was a feature of Necchi machines from that era. Maybe your spring was replaced, or there were some batch variations?

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      2. Must be batch variations. This was on both my Supernovas – a free arm one and a flat bed one – so like you, I assumed THAT to be a common feature… Now we know that it isn’t, the feed obviously varies from machine to machine.

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  3. When we moved, we thought the sewing machine in our loft was my mum’s Singer – I killed it years ago but didn’t remember putting it in the loft. Before packing up to move, the case was brought down and inside turned out to be a Necchi. Don’t know what model as we were in a hurry to clean and pack away before the removal fellows. The previous owner made her own clothes but as we lived there for almost 30 years, her whereabouts were not known to return it. So 2 years later Necchi remains in her protective packing.
    Such a shame that you had all the issues with your girl. You certainly tried!

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    1. If it wasn’t for the rather unrepairable zig-zag lever issue, I might have persevered with other points. I might still have another go at a Supernova if I come across one that works properly. I’m selling the machine but keeping the cams and the manual, just in case I change my mind. 🙂

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  4. Thank you very much for this post. I found your blog through a Google search on Necchi a few years ago. I have a Lycia myself. I sew clothes for a hobby, am a self-taught beginner and this is my only machine. Some of the issues you describe sound familiar, which is great to hear, because it means it is not just ‘me’ or ‘my sewing skills’. I see some helpful comments as well! I will keep sewing on this machine, but it is reassuring to keep these things in mind.

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