The Best Sewing Machine Ever

This is the sewing machine that I learned on.  My father taught me, and I figured out a lot on my own after my own skills surpassed his.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen the manual for it; I’m pretty sure it was already lost when I was learning how to sew.

I have an absurd love for it.  Whenever I go back to my parents’ house to visit, I at least open it up and dust it off.  No one other than me has really used it in around ten years.  It was a decent machine for 1976, my parents bought it new, and it has a relatively good number of stitches and accessories for that era, but I don’t think that it was anything truly extraordinary.  That being said, it has stood the test of time.  It’s been moved up and down stairs, sometimes at greater velocities than might be recommended, and it’s sewn many Halloween costumes.  It’s been left languishing on its own for months on end, and then used 20 hours a day to finish special occasion dresses.  It’s been disassembled and reassembled, dusted and oiled, and generally been made useful for its whole life.

On the right hand side of the machine, the top lever on the face of the machine selects white or red stitches.  The knob just below this, which is turned by grasping the flat protrusion on the front, selects the stitches, with a white and red stitch available at each knob position.  Turn the knob, flip the lever, and you have your stitch.

The outer ring of the stitch selector knob rotates separately and selects stitch width, while the lower knob selects stitch length.  It’s labeled in stitches per inch, and when you have the tension and presser foot height correct, it’s remarkably accurate.

Off to the right of these two knobs is the reverse lever.  When I went in to buy my new Brother, I had told the woman at the shop that, even though I’ve been sewing for years, I was used to an old machine so I’d need a bit of guidance.  I’m clearly good at intuiting how to thread a machine, I picked up how the drop in bobbin worked very quickly, and I had an easy time understanding the stitch selector mechanism on my new machine, but she laughed a bit when I got confused by the reverse lever; it just didn’t have that reassuring *clunk* when it engaged.

Just below all of these knobs and levers, on a level with the tabletop, are the power button and the feed dog position lever.  Above them, on the top of the machine, are spots for two spools of thread and the bobbin winder.

To the left are various thread guides for sewing and winding bobbins and the adjuster for the height of the presser foot.  The latter is incredibly useful for thicker fabrics.  You just release the presser foot up by pressing on the outer ring of the adjuster, then press down on the center post until the height of the foot is just right to keep the fabric on the feed dogs without squishing it too much.  The lever to actually lift the presser foot is on the very back of the machine.

The upper thread tensioner is the knob on the front here, and the lower tensioner is located in the bobbin housing.  They’re both dead simple to adjust, but an absolute terror to actually get right.

Maybe it’s just because I’ve been using this machine for so long, but even with its strange quirks it’s still the easiest for me to get along with.  I like my new machine, and it can certainly do more than this one can, but for simple garment construction when I don’t need anything fancy or remotely portable, this old Sears Kenmore would be my choice every time.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “The Best Sewing Machine Ever

  1. sweetstuffbybecka

    I inherited a machine that looks very similar to this! It’s not sewing right, I think the bobbin tension is screwed up. I don’t have a manual, so I’m trying to figure it out myself. I also can’t find a model number on it. Do you know what model yours is? Maybe if I knew, I could find a manual online…
    This post have been very helpful! Thank you!

    • My machine is model 158.14301. There are a couple of similar models like 158.132, 158.141, 158.121. Try searching Google images, Ebay, Craigslist, etc. for Kenmore 158 models, and see what turns up. You may be able to find a manual as a PDF online, or a hard copy on Ebay.

      The bobbin tension is the most finicky thing on this machine, but I also have troubles with it when it’s not cleaned and lubed well enough. If you haven’t already tried opening it up, top and bottom, to vacuum out any dust and put some sewing machine oil on the moving parts, I’d try that first. Then try adjusting the upper tension (the numbered dial on the left of the machine face) and the lower tension (a flat head screw on the bobbin casing). Let me know if you have any other questions, and post a couple of photos of your machine! I’d be interested in seeing it.

      • sweetstuffbybecka

        Thanks! I found out it’s a model 158.1410. I think im going to take it in to a shop to get a professional cleaning and greasing since its been unused for over 10 years! I think I’ve gotten the tension issue worked out, and the bobbin issue ended up being a silly knot in it’s thread. So, as of now, its up and running! I posted all about it on my blog if you want to check it out!

      • My 158.143 is pretty simple to open up; you just flip the left side open like a door, and the top plate just pops off to expose all of the upper inner workings. When I need to work on the underneath side of the machine, I just lift it all the way up and back on the hinge that raises and lowers the machine from the cabinet. I’ve found that taking an hour to really vacuum and brush out any dust and to slowly crank the machine by hand while putting a drop of oil on any point where metal moves against metal does wonders. But I am more intrepid (or foolish) than most when it comes to mechanical things.

  2. Fran

    I need help with the bobbin area, I just got mine and the bobbin set up has 2 pieces off. I can not figure them out, or if pieces are missing

  3. Hello Procrasterina,

    I have a “new” old Sears Kenmore and I am researching to find out about it. It looks like yours and hopefully before week’s end I will know more. Meanwhile, thank you for this post it is a big help. I have yet to locate the serial number on mine; however, the foot pedal reads “Model 6816” on the bottom.

    Cheers,
    Lyric

    • As far as I can tell, the same foot pedals were used for multiple different machines, so you’ll get some info from the pedal, but not everything. On my “new” old Sears Kenmore, the serial and model numbers are printed on a plate attached to the front face of the machine under where it sits on the table. I would assume that it’s on the same spot on my parents’ machine as well. Good luck! I do love old machines like this (hence buying a “new” one while I don’t have access to my parents’).

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