I chose Bernina because its widely rated as the best quality machine out there and I want this one to last and last. it is a family company and they control their own parts subsidiaries - which means you can always get parts. It's a metal cased machine, good and stable. However I have only bought their entry level machine the 330. I chose this machine as I need a machine that is light enough to take out to classes with me. Their bigger 500 series was just too heavy to carry about ( and too expensive to want to!).
So far I am loving the Bernina. It is stable, the straight stitch is really reliable. I adore the needle up/down function which allows you to stop sewing with the needle still in the fabric to pivot etc. It still has more fancy stitches than I need but some of them are fun, and my daughters teddy clothes are going to get much snazzier hem decorations as a result! The bright light is amazing if you sew at night when your kids are in bed, like me.
What I don't love as much is that I had to buy the walking foot and 1/4 inch foot separately and they were not cheap, but it was still cheaper than upgrading to the specific patchwork edition the 350. It only comes with a soft cover which is a bit of a pain so I have also bought a carry bag for taking it out to classes. It also takes a bit of getting used to that I have to change the foot to get the walking foot function. With my old machine I could swap between the extra walking foot function at the flip of a switch for sewing binding etc.
However all in all I couldn't be happier with the new machine. If you are hoping Santa will bring you a new sewing machine this Christmas I can't encourage you enough to seek out your local independent sewing machine retailer. In a world of slick retail experiences it might not be the most modern sleek shop you've ever visited ( here in the UK they tend to be shops that have stuck around for a long time and might look a little bit dusty on the outside!) but inside there will be a wealth of information that you just won't get at a department store no matter how knowingly sold! There is no substitute for experience - the stores in advising you, and yours in being allowed to sit and sew for an hour trying out the machines you are choosing between. I bought my machine at Home Counties Sewing Machines in High Wycombe, so if you are local and need a machine I would highly recommend them.
I hope that this has been useful for anyone looking for guidance on how to choose a machine, and what to look for. Now I'm off to play with my new (early) Christmas pressie again!