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Kenmore Sewing Machines’ Rise and Fall: History of the Brand’s Most Popular Models (2024)

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kenmore sewing machines historyLike a melody stitched into the fabric of time, Kenmore sewing machines hummed in homes across the nation.

Their sturdy bodies, precision stitches, and affordable prices made them a beloved companion to aspiring seamstresses and seasoned tailors alike.

Now, let’s journey through the rise and fall of this iconic brand, exploring the most popular models that left an indelible mark on the world of sewing.

Key Takeaways

  • Kenmore sewing machines were once hugely popular for their durability, precision, and affordability, but Sears’ bankruptcy and the end of manufacturing partnerships brought production to a halt.
  • Vintage Kenmore models like the 117, 158, and 385 series are now sought after by collectors and sewing enthusiasts.
  • Finding replacement parts and service for old Kenmore machines can be difficult since they are no longer made.
  • Well-maintained vintage Kenmores can still provide quality stitching, but buyers should examine condition and features carefully before purchasing secondhand.

Rise of Kenmore Sewing Machines

Rise of Kenmore Sewing Machines
You began selling Kenmore sewing machines in 1913 when Sears, Roebuck and Co. launched its mail-order catalog containing the first Kenmore branded model.

From that moment on, Kenmore dominated the sewing machine market with its durability reputation and universal parts availability.

Sewing enthusiasts across the country embraced these machines for their reliability and performance.

The partnership between Sears and manufacturers ensured consistent production of high-quality models that catered to a wide range of consumer needs.

As post-production popularity soared, vintage Kenmore sewing machines became highly sought after by collectors and hobbyists alike.

These antique treasures offer a glimpse into the rich history of sewing technology while still maintaining their functionality today.

From early wooden cabinet models like the iconic 117 series to retro-futuristic designs seen in later years such as those found in the 148 & 158 series, each model carries its own unique charm that captivates vintage enthusiasts.

The rise of Kenmore sewing machines not only revolutionized home garment construction but also empowered individuals with newfound creativity through stitching mastery using reliable machinery steeped in history’s fabric tapestry.

Why Kenmore Isn’t Sold Today

Why Kenmore Isn
You may be wondering why Kenmore sewing machines vanished from the marketplace in recent years.

Sears declared bankruptcy in 2018 and ended its long-standing manufacturing partnerships with companies like Whirlpool, Janome, and LG that produced appliances and sewing machines sold under the Kenmore brand.

This led Sears to clear out its remaining Kenmore inventory in 2013 and exit the sewing machine business altogether.

Sears Bankruptcy

Your continued access to Kenmore sewing machines ended when Sears filed for bankruptcy and severed ties with longtime manufacturing partners like Whirlpool and Janome in the early 2010s.

Sears held a big clearance sale to get rid of its Kenmore inventory around 2013.

Sears department stores and their website no longer carry sewing machines, though some models may be available through third parties on Sears Marketplace.

End of Manufacturing Partnerships

The end of the manufacturing partnerships resulted in Kenmore sewing machines no longer being sold today.

Sears broke ties with long-time partners like Whirlpool, Janome, and LG amidst bankruptcy struggles.

This severed access to appliance production pipelines, leaving Sears without sewing machines to sell by 2013.

Though still treasured by collectors, discontinued production poses sourcing obstacles for replacement parts.

Understanding the historical shifts in manufacturing helps contextualize the brand’s current absence.

Most Popular Vintage Kenmore Models
As a sewing machine historian, you’re likely familiar with some of the most iconic Kenmore models over the years.

The Kenmore 117, 158, and 385 series stand out as the brand’s most popular vintage models – known for their reliability, ease of use, and accessibility to home sewers.

Now let’s take a closer look at the features and history behind these classic Kenmore sewing machines.

Kenmore 117

After Sears stopped selling new Kenmore sewing machines, you likely wondered about the popular 117 models that defined the vintage Kenmore era.

Manufactured by White in the 1940s-1950s

Known for simplicity and ease of use

Often built into wooden sewing cabinets

Highly durable construction and power

Kenmore 158

When scouting for a sturdy, user-friendly vintage model in the 1960s-70s, you’d come across the widely acclaimed Kenmore 158 series.

Simple, sturdy machines manufactured overseas in that era, these models were known for their ease of use, reliability, and compatibility with many cabinets.

Their straight stitch mastery and vintage appeal still draw interest today.

Kenmore 385

Finding Janome had manufactured many Kenmore 385 models, you’re looking at these computerized, embroidery-capable machines renowned for their variety of stitches.

While boasting impressive features, their complex design presents repair considerations.

Still, their vintage appeal and Janome compatibility retain interest in the 385 among the sewing community.

Finding Antique Kenmore Sewing Machines

Finding Antique Kenmore Sewing Machines
You can find vintage Kenmore sewing machines for sale on eBay, Craigslist, Etsy, and in antique stores.

Carefully examine the model number before purchasing to verify the machine’s age and capabilities.

Vintage sewing aficionados often shop on Etsy for unique finds like a 1950s Kenmore in a retro maple cabinet.

Check your local Craigslist for postings from collectors looking to downsize their stash of classic Kenmores.

Bring a basic sewing kit to test machine function and inspect wear.

Study restoration guides to determine if a vintage Kenmore is salvageable or too far gone.

Focus on models with all-metal internal components, which withstand time better than plastic gears.

Join online collectors’ groups to connect with experts on historically accurate Kenmore restoration techniques.

Value of Vintage Kenmore Models

Value of Vintage Kenmore Models
Evaluating your vintage Kenmore’s worth involves considering its age, features, condition, and demand for the specific model.

A few key factors include:

  • Antique models from the 1940s-1960s often sell for $100-$300 depending on condition.
  • Well-maintained machines with original cabinets or tables can fetch higher prices.
  • Unique features like high presser feet or heavy-duty motors increase value for collectors.
  • Popular models like the 117, 158, and vintage 385s tend to be worth more than other designs.

Carefully examining your machine’s age, capabilities, and market demand can help you determine a fair asking price.

With some effort, your vintage Kenmore may surprise you with its collectible value.

Buying and Using Old Kenmore Machines

Buying and Using Old Kenmore Machines
When looking for a vintage Kenmore, check model numbers to identify key features you want.

Examine the machine carefully, testing stitches and moving parts to assess its condition before buying.

With proper maintenance, such as cleaning and lubrication, an old Kenmore can provide years of quality stitching.

Maintenance Tips

Your vintage Kenmore will continue running smoothly with regular oiling, cleaning, and greasing to keep its internal mechanisms in good working order.

Belt problems can be resolved by replacement, and hairdryers can rejuvenate old grease.

Clean lint and threads often.

Use the manual for oiling instructions.

Protect the straight stitch function by keeping tension discs clean.

Kenmore machines thrive on care.

Features to Look For

When examining a vintage Kenmore sewing machine for purchase, check for features like:

  • Metal construction
  • A high presser foot
  • A powerful motor for durability and strength

Don’t overlook functional features like:

Prioritize machines with replacement parts still available despite their vintage appeal.

Perform maintenance as needed, but look for inherent longevity.

Case Study: 117-959 Model

Case Study: 117-959 Model
To fully understand the value and potential of the 117-959 model, let’s delve into a case study.

The 117-959 is an early 1950s Kenmore straight-stitch model manufactured by White. It’s deemed a superior machine for its sturdy build, unmatched power, and superb straight stitching — rare qualities that vintage sewing enthusiasts still seek today.

Though its cabinet may not suit modern machines, restoring this mid-century Kenmore provides a quality, usable piece of sewing history.

With proper cleaning, oiling, and maintenance, the 117-959’s outstanding capabilities can be revived.

Embracing such vintage machines illuminates sewing’s evolution and preserves special engineering feats from the past.

Factors in Repair Decision

Factors in Repair Decision
When deliberating whether to repair a vintage 117-959 Kenmore sewing machine, carefully weigh the estimated cost against its outstanding merits.

Consider your familiarity with maintenance, and that lack of care often causes problems.

Cleaning and replacing parts like the belt may restore function without a full overhaul.

Repair Cost Analysis

Analyze the repair estimate to help determine if fixing your vintage Kenmore is worth the investment.

  • Repair Affordability:

    Consider the cost of repairs compared to the value of the appliance. If the repairs are expensive and the appliance is not worth much, it may not be worth fixing.

  • Vintage Reliability:

    Vintage appliances may be less reliable than newer models. Consider the age and condition of the appliance and whether it is likely to break down again soon.

  • Restoration Challenges:

    Some vintage appliances may be difficult to restore due to a lack of available parts or specialized knowledge required for repairs. Consider whether you have the skills and resources to restore the appliance yourself or if you will need to hire a professional.

  • Historical Maintenance:

    Vintage appliances may require more maintenance than newer models. Consider whether you are willing to put in the extra time and effort to keep the appliance running properly.

  • Budget-Friendly Fixes:

    Look for budget-friendly fixes that can extend the life of the appliance without breaking the bank. This may include simple repairs or maintenance tasks that you can do yourself.

Machine Quality Assessment

You’ve got to weigh your vintage Kenmore’s outstanding qualities when deciding whether to repair it.

Assess its superb straight stitch, unmatched power, and sturdy construction – rare qualities in newer machines – before discarding it.

Kenmore’s vintage merit factors into the repair considerations.

Maintenance Impact Evaluation

Evaluating how proper maintenance could have prevented problems provides insight when deciding whether to invest in an old Kenmore’s repair.

Assessing the challenges of restoring performance and the impact of preservation techniques are key assessment criteria when evaluating a vintage machine’s longevity.

Dating a Vintage Kenmore

Dating a Vintage Kenmore
When identifying the manufacture date of your vintage Kenmore sewing machine, you’d turn to resources like the Kenmore Yahoo Group, White sewing machine history, or experts like the previously-active Bill Holman from Pattern Review for information.

Examine the model number, often found on a plate under the machine or stamped into the body.

Look up old Sears catalogs showing available models by year.

Check websites with details on Kenmore’s history and model changes over the decades.

Join online vintage sewing communities to connect with knowledgeable enthusiasts.

They can help narrow down the year your particular Kenmore machine was produced based on its features and design elements.

This assists with finding the correct parts and manuals for your vintage treasure.

Maintaining a Vintage Kenmore

Maintaining a Vintage Kenmore
Having dated your vintage Kenmore sewing machine, you should now focus on properly maintaining it.

Regular maintenance keeps these durable machines running smoothly for decades.


  • Carefully clean built-up lint and debris with a small brush and scissors.


  • Lubricate moving parts with sewing machine oil every 6 months.


  • Apply grease to gears with a toothpick annually.

    Heat Treatments:

  • Heat sticky mechanisms with a hairdryer to loosen grime before cleaning. Perform this as needed.

    Maintenance Schedule:

  • Perform maintenance every 6 months or as needed.

    Additional Information:

  • Vintage Kenmores require more upkeep than modern computerized models.
  • Proper care allows you to continue enjoying your machine’s excellent straight stitching for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Where can I find parts and accessories for my vintage Kenmore sewing machine?

Visit Sewing Parts Online or eBay to find presser feet, needles, gears, and other accessories compatible with vintage Kenmore models.

Cross-reference your machine’s serial number to identify the correct parts.

Take care when ordering to match components precisely.

What sewing machine oil should I use for my old Kenmore model?

Choose lightweight sewing machine oil specifically formulated for vintage machines.

Apply just a few drops to moving parts.

Over-oiling can attract dirt and leave sticky residue.

Let oil penetrate overnight before sewing.

This protects old Kenmores without gumming mechanisms.

How do I properly clean and maintain my antique Kenmore sewing machine?

Keep your vintage Kenmore running smoothly by:

Do not overoil.

Inspect all parts for wear and replace when necessary.

Check adjustments before sewing.

This routine care prolongs its useful life.

Are the internal components like motors interchangeable between different Kenmore models?

Unfortunately, most Kenmore sewing machine motors are model-specific and not interchangeable between different machines.

The wiring, fittings, torque, speed control, and other factors vary too widely to simply swap in motors from other Kenmore models.

I’d advise checking manuals to verify compatibility before attempting motor swaps.

Is it worth paying for repairs on my 1970s Kenmore, or should I just buy a new machine?

Consider getting a repair estimate before deciding.

If reasonably priced given the machine’s merits, outstanding straight stitch, and power, it may be worthwhile fixing.

Otherwise, a new machine may better suit your needs.


As stitches in time, these venerable Kenmores have sewn their legacy into our nation’s fabric.

Though their song may now be faint, their continued presence in antique shops and grandparents’ attics keeps their spirit alive.

So retrieve that old Kenmore from the closet, oil its parts, and let its steady hum transport you back to its heyday as you craft your own patch upon history’s quilt.

Avatar for Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a site dedicated to those passionate about crafting. With years of experience and research under his belt, he sought to create a platform where he could share his knowledge and skills with others who shared his interests.