Tag Archives: sears kenmore

Cleaning and reassembly of Sears Kenmore 158.14101 sewing machine bobbin winder

When I bought my $25 Craigslist sewing machine, I managed to get it sewing again relatively quickly with some basic cleaning and lots of oiling. Unfortunately, the bobbin winder refused to work. I popped the bobbin on the post, threaded it just fine, unscrewed the clutch (silver wheel in the middle of the hand advance), clicked the stop lever over into the bobbin, and nothing happened:


The motor turned, but the bobbin just didn’t spin. A quick investigation showed that while the stop lever itself moved, it didn’t affect anything on the underside of the assembly. It’s supposed to push a little rubber tire over to connect with the rest of the machine, but that wasn’t happening.

The logical step was to take it apart and see what was wrong. The first obvious thing was that it was about as filthy as I have begun to expect from this machine, but with more fuzz and less gooey stuff:


I tried to clean it with cotton swabs, but I just couldn’t get into all the crevices. The bobbin winder still looked filthy, the rubber tire didn’t move when I clicked the stop lever over, and the pin only turned very stiffly. So I held my breath and took it completely apart.


Most parts were easy to clean, and I was happy to see that both springs were in good shape, since I had suspected a broken spring might have been the reason that the bobbin winder wasn’t working. It was hard to tell as I was loosening screws and dealing with lots of grime, but I think the large spring may simply have become unseated. Another issue was the serious stiffness of the winder. I put a drop of oil on both the top and bottom of the sleeve that holds the rotating pin, and that helped a huge amount, but I noticed that as I was oiling, black residue was getting flushed out. I spent two entire episodes of Doctor Who oiling, spinning to distribute the oil, and wiping up excess as it flushed out the system. It was pretty gross. I don’t think I got it all, but at least the pin seems to spin freely now with all of this black grime flushed out.


(And, yes, those are the remains of the Manhattan that was M’s contribution to this part of the process.)

Next came reassembly. It was a bit fiddly, and I’m kicking myself for not taking more photos. But here’s the general idea: First align the lower part of the assembly, including the winder, stop lever plate, small and large springs, and the base, and screw together. Check the alignment on these parts, and then finish the assembly by screwing on the stop lever. Piece by piece:

    • Seat the large spring into the hollow in the winder. Make sure that one end goes into the little hole in the bottom of the hollow; as far as I can tell, the large spring doesn’t have an “up” or “down.”
    • Insert the small spring, pin end out, into its hole in the base and set aside for now.
    • Set the stop lever plate onto the winder. Thread the other end of the large spring through the little hole in the stop lever plate, and make sure that the tab of the stop lever plate seats into the hollow in the winder. This part is tricky, but doable.
    • Insert the longer of the stop lever & stop lever plate screws into the aligned holes in the winder and stop lever plate.
    • Align the stop lever plate and winder assembly on top of the base and small spring assembly. Push the small spring in to fit under the tab of the stop lever plate and screw the two pieces together until hand tight. This part was the worst. I didn’t have enough hands, and ended up needing M’s help holding the whole thing together while I tightened the screw.
    • Take the shorter of the stop lever & stop lever plate screws and attach the stop lever to the base, aligning the lower tab into the notch in the stop lever plate. The screws should be snug, but should still allow the lever to move.

Check your work by clicking over the lever, and seeing that the rubber wheel moves.


This whole thing gets reattached to the top cover with the base screws, and will wind a bobbin like a champ. Now to figure out what to do with that acursed broken reverse lever…

EDIT 29 November 2013

For reference, point A is where I was oiling the winder, and point B is where I was wiping up the excess.




Filed under sewing machine repair

The slow resurrection of a sewing machine

First life, then sewing machines:

I’ve mentioned it briefly before, but I just moved to Minneapolis a couple of weeks ago. My best friend R, her boyfriend A, and my boyfriend M moved down here in May and June, and I spent all summer switching between Fargo, Minneapolis, and Michigan teaching master classes, going on job interviews, and generally trying to see if I could make a life here in the Cities. It was nerve wracking. I quit my job in Fargo before I had signed anything with a studio here. During my last week at that job, I received a jury summons for the week that I was potentially renting a moving truck to move furniture down here. It was chaos. It was miserable.

But then I signed a contract with a wonderful ballet studio here, after finding out that I would get enough hours at a good enough pay rate to fully support myself on ballet teaching, despite the fact that my former boss had been making many sarcastic “good luck” remarks. I found an amazing apartment downtown, near the Orpheum, the Pantages, Crave, Seven, the main public library, the skyway, Target Center and Target Field, and bus and light rail stations. I got disqualified from jury duty because I changed my address a little early (and a big thank you to the amazing clerk of court who advised me when I called to ask what on Earth I should do). Everything fell into place.

Unfortunately, my lovely downtown apartment won’t be available until October 15. It’s in an old bank building that is being converted into lofts right now, and they just pushed the date back, so I’ll be spending a while longer at my boyfriend’s apartment. At least my new apartment will have a lovely kitchen, and some amazing views:



In the mean time, the Gentleman has been good enough to put up with two sewing machines (now three), my bicycle, houseplant, lots of clothing, and too many pointe shoes in his Uptown apartment. In return, I taught him how to use my Brother Pacesetter 3700, use a rotary cutter and mat, cut and sew a pattern, and helped make his costume for the Minnesota Renaissance Festival; he’s working there spinning poi and staff and hula hooping. We’ve also been making fabric covered professional performance quality hula hoops, hopefully for sale on Etsy, but he’s at least managed to recoup all initial costs through the hoops he’s sold at the Ren Fest.

In the mean time, I’m still working on restoring my new old Sears Kenmore. It has layers and layers of gunk on it. I’ve already cleaned this particular bit of the bobbin casing three times with Murphy Oil Soap, which seems to be the best at getting rid of this stuff, but the brown, sticky residue is very resilient:


The outside is mostly clean now (barring little nooks and crannies and spots underneath some levers and knobs), and the moving parts have all been oiled enough to flush out all the nastiness there, so it’s possible to close up the machine and sew very well. M has also made noises about sanding things down, repairing hinges, etc. I say, if he feels like working on restoring the cabinet, more power to him.

Now I’m working on the bobbin winder, which appears to have all parts functional, and was just extremely stiff. I took the whole thing apart to clean because the initial condition was disgusting.


Now it’s in pieces, but it’s probably cleaner than it has been in decades, and it’s well oiled again. I just have to make sure to put it back together correctly, mount it back on the top cover, and see if it works. Here it is earlier, halfway clean.


Despite the fact that the reverse lever broke this afternoon (or was broken all along and I discovered it this afternoon), I have high hopes for this machine. I tested out more stretch stitches this afternoon, and it performed beautifully.

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Filed under life, relationships, sewing

WIP Wednesday

My current work in progress isn’t sewing, or knitting, or anything like that. It’s this baby:


This machine is a Sears Kenmore 158.14101 that I bought last night from Craigslist for $25. It was filthy. So filthy that after 3 hours of cleaning and lubing, it’s still filthy. I think it was stored in a garage for quite a while, because of the unidentified film of grime covering every remotely exposed part and 90% of the inner workings.

I was very nervous about paying even $25 for this machine, since it was so stiff that I could barely turn the hand advance when I first looked at it. The inner workings looked as though they had been oiled and at least basically taken care of during their life, but the motor could barely turn anything; the fastest speed it could go, pedal mashed to floor, was a stitch about every 2 or 3 seconds. It simply creeped. But it started to loosen up even with a few hand cranks, it looked and smelled like a well-oiled machine, and I took a gamble.

Then I had nightmares all night long about taking steel wool to corroded parts and sanding away until they were nothing, leaving me with a heap of misshapen metal that wasn’t ever going to sew again. But when I woke up and put some (okay, a whole lot of) oil on all the oil points, cranking the whole time, it started to loosen up.

I cleaned the entire exterior three times because the rags were still coming away filthy on cleaning #2. I brushed away bunches of lint, cobwebs, and chunks of congealed oil and fuzz and who knows what from the upper workings. I disassembled the entire bobbin compartment, presser foot, foot plate, and feed dog assembly in order to get out all the dust and unidentified grossness. I decimated my cotton swab supply.


And then I put it back together. Now, it runs at a respectable speed, although the hand advance still has a mysterious squeak, the bobbin winder doesn’t work, and the feed dogs are stuck in the up position. I suspect I have more cleaning, lubing, and adjusting in my future, but I’m actually looking forward to it. It can sew a straight seam or zig zag with aplomb, and I’m very happy.

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Why I Should Get Promoted More Often (A Long, Boring Discussion of Sewing Machines)

When I met with my boss yesterday, he offered me a very generous promotion. It means more responsibility and time at the studio, as well as a pay increase and insurance. My first thought was, “OMIGOSH, I can buy more yarn! Maybe I can even buy yarn at Bouclé!  Look, they’re right across the street!”  I did go buy two more pairs of needles that evening, but it was totally legitimate because I can’t knit Wool of the Andes with my Knit Picks Options because they split the yarn. Therefore, I needed to buy some size US 7 Addi Turbos in order to knit my beret. (I have settled on a pattern, by the way. It’s the Gretel beret by Ysolda Teague. Further bulletins as events warrant.)

However, I think I need a new sewing machine. You might be thinking that “need” is a bit strong, because I do have a pretty new Brother machine. The issue is that, while he does perfectly fine with thinner fabrics, and I’m loving the automatic clutch on the bobbin winder, the drop in bobbin, the quilting guide, and some other modern features, he has issues with thicker fabrics. I’m thinking that it’s time to go for an old machine. Enter Craigslist. There are tens of old machines out there for sale just in my city, all pretty reasonably priced.

My dilemma is this: I could buy a 1970s era Sears Kenmore that looks to be the same machine as my parents’ but perhaps a couple of years off. The sewing table that the machine is in actually looks like it’s in better shape than my parents’ is. But that seems silly because my mom has always talked about the fact that I’m going to get their machine eventually, and having two identical machines in the family seems silly. I do love that machine, and I know all of its quirks and foibles, so having a familiar machine has its advantages. And still I hesitate.

Another option would be get something closer to my great grandmother’s machine, which is in storage right now near my parents’ house. I believe that it’s an early 1950s model Singer. It’s in a beautiful cabinet, with drawers, a wide tabletop and working surface, a matching chair, and tons of bobbins and vintage sewing supplies tucked away in it. I believe my great grandfather bought it for Granny, and, if so, he did a good job. It needs some work, and I’ve been meaning to re-wire it. In fact, other than sewing a couple of seams with it when I first took possession of it in high school, I haven’t done any sewing on it. The old, cracked insulation makes me nervous, and I don’t want to get a shock or set something on fire. But, once again, buying another sewing machine like this one seems silly because I already have one of the nicer machines from that era.

My third option would be to go for something much older, like a treadle or hand crank machine. Disadvantages include possible (probable) troubles finding needles, replacement parts, bobbins, etc, and the fact that finding someone to do repairs could be difficult and/or expensive. Advantages include the fact that most machines in this category are tanks and can sew through pretty much anything you can fit under the presser foot. On top of this, maintenance is designed to be done at home. In 1915, not just anyone could hop in the car and drive to their local repair shop 15 minutes away. Also, the lack of electrical business and other complicated features would make repairs simpler. I know how to clean and oil a sewing machine. In fact, I’m pretty good at it, and fixing mechanical things seems to be an inborn talent for me. Plus, aren’t these really old machines just so pretty?

I’m thinking I should just get Granny’s machine out here somehow, but I’ve sent out a bunch of emails to people listing machines on Craigslist and we’ll see if anything truly promising shows up.

Any comments, helpful and otherwise, are welcome.


Filed under knitting, sewing

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.


Filed under sewing