Thanks to all of you for the great advice! I had a REALLY good time reading all your sewing machine love stories–and you gave me such good things to consider as I looked at my options.
I went ahead this weekend and took the plunge, and brought home a used Bernina 440 from my local dealership–and it is already my new best friend. I called them to see if they had one in stock, braved 4 pm Atlanta traffic (yikes!) to head wayyyyyy out into the suburbs and sat for an hour, hemming and hawing and looking back over your comments. I was a little concerned because even though this one was a trade-in and at a great price, it came with the embroidery unit, which I was pretty sure I would never use. Why buy something when it will just sit, right? After test driving for over 60 minutes (and past closing time), I suddenly realized I was already thinking of this as “my” sewing machine. And the deal was done. Like the time I got a cat at the shelter, and wa there for two hours, and realized I would get irritated if anyone picked up “my” cat: at that point, it’s time to cut bait and take it on home.
Motor hums with power, the needle glides through the fabric, the free motion stitching is smooth as silk, and I’m in love. This machine purrs, I tell you–I adore my Rose, and absolutely kept her (because all of you are right: Bernina is HEAVY, and I don’t think I’ll be dragging her to many workshops), but I am thrilled with how smooth and effortless sewing is on this machine compared to my old one. I haven’t tried the infamous BSR yet, but I will for sure let you know how it goes. This is an unusual (and HUGE) gift to myself–I’m notorious for making big purchases for others and not spending money on me. I can already tell I’ll be delighted to sew with this little lady for many, many years to come. Woot!