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Not specific to your machine - a secret to easier gathering is to drop the tension on the upper thread by 1 or 2 numbers before sewing that gathering line. Then, you pull the bobbin thread when you gather. It will gather MUCH easier. Just don't forget to put the tension back to normal before you start regular sewing again! Temporarily switch to another color bobbin if you're afraid you might forget which is which - you'll be pulling it out anyway. I think most people gather with a stitch that is just .5 mm longer than they're using for construction.
Since you seem to have done everything possible to make it "happy", it is not likely that tension is the issue. With the problem becoming more aggravated, sounds like the feeding mechanism is not responding correctly in the reverse mode. Even refurbished machines come with a warrantty, so try that route before submitting it for an inspection by your local qualified technician.