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Design Notes

It's the Motherboard of All Sewing Machines

September 19, 2002|JANET EASTMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Poor Hester Prynne. She probably wouldn't like the speed and ease with which a new sewing machine can crank out a scarlet letter A, but Anaheim Angel fans and home embroiderers may.

Bernina's Arista 200e, which arrives in stores this week, is the first sewing and embroidery system powered by Microsoft Windows. Touch the keyboard on the built-in screen and you'll see letters--in various fonts and from seven alphabets--duplicated onto fabric faster than by any other home craft machine. The Microsoft CE. NEToperating system also allows you to connect to the Internet. Browse through a vast library of embroidery designs stored on a Web site or CD, and download the ones you want to copy. Or create original designs on your computer and import them into the sewing machine's brain. Whatever you send its way--even digital photographs or your kid's artwork--can be converted into a stitching pattern that the machine can read.

Engineering eggheads from Bernina and Microsoft spent three years working with those who sew to make the machine perform complicated tricks in easy steps.

Menus and icon buttons on the index card-size color screen make it possible to see and edit stitches before they're sewn. If you don't like a stitch, there are 850 others to play with. Block letters, mirror images and a host of other type styles can be arched, rotated and resized in seconds. Stitches can be directed a dozen different ways, including sideways and in circles.

When an image's height or width is enlarged (up to 5 1/2 inches by 10 inches) or reduced, the computer recalculates the number of stitches needed to maintain the quality of the design and its stitch density. It then displays the altered image on the screen and tells you how long it will take to complete the job.

Quilters, embroiderers and sewers can walk away as the Arista pumps out 600 stitches a minute. It can wind a bobbin while it's sewing. And when it's done, it cuts and ties the thread. The tireless machine doesn't stop even when it's turned off. Your designs and customized settings can be saved in on-screen folders, and the machine will remember your last 15 stitches when you restart it.

To guide you through unfamiliar territory, dealers provide in-store classes, and, when you're home alone, you can use the CD tutorials. All of these gee-whizzes come with a high-tech price: $7,000, plus optional software.

A list of authorized Bernina dealers is available at (800) 877-9477; www.berninausa.com. Mel's Sewing Service stores in Anaheim, Huntington Beach and Tustin offer free demonstrations. Call (714) 774-3460; www.melssewing.com.

Suds and Duds, Online

Techies have been bragging about smart machines for years, but finally there's something that can rid college students of their biggest headache. No, not the prof who insists that Carbon-14 is an isotope and not an element. We're talking about laundry.

IBM and USA Technologies have created Web-enabled washers and dryers that make it possible for dorm dwellers to cut down their time pacing around the laundry room. Students access a Web site on their PC or laptop to check if there's an empty machine. After trudging to the laundry room and putting in a load, they activate the machines by swiping an ID card through a reader or by punching in their code on a cell phone. No more begging for quarters and no reason to stick around. Students can dispense soap and fabric softener during the wash cycle with the click of a mouse, and be alerted by e-mail to their computers or pagers when clothes are ready.

Boston College served as the field test for the program, and negotiations are underway to retrofit more than 9,000 on-campus washing machines and dryers across the country to accept the wireless commands. For more information: www.e-Suds.net.

Whole New Dimension

A gentleman farmer in San Diego County had a problem with wayward produce. Plastic grocery bags of avocados, lemons and oranges would roll around in the back of his Jeep. His solution? Fiskars' Kangaroo bucket, which springs open when needed but can be flattened to 2 inches and shoved under a car seat when empty.

The 1 1/2-foot-high vinyl bag holds 10-gallons of fruit--or whatever--when it's upright. It is washable and mildew-resistant, and has sturdy nylon handles, but no lid. It's available for $15 at the Container Store in Costa Mesa (714) 556-2333 and San Diego (619) 220-0909; www.containerstore.com.

Janet Eastman can be reached at janet.eastman@latimes.com.

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