Sewing,  Vintage/Retro

Kenmore 158.18022 Vintage Sewing Machine

Well well well, if it isn’t the post I started some time ago and then forgot about. Honestly, this past year (can you believe it’s coming up on a year of this?) has been so weird that I just can’t concentrate on anything. But, better late than never, right?

You may have seen my post a few months back about the Viking 714 vintage machine that I picked up in the summer. I have since sold it on. At the time, I thought that would be the main vintage machine that I would use for things where I didn’t want to use my modern Kenmore (a 385.19110 computerized machine.) It had the 1.3 amp motor that I wanted, and it was a nice machine, but it was lacking … something. I still don’t know what that something was, to be honest, I just didn’t really enjoy sewing on it. It was a low shank machine, moveable needle position, had some fancy stitches, but it just wasn’t “it.” I can’t explain it.

In any case, I was still browsing eBay and Marketplace looking for other machines, and reading more and more about older Kenmores. I had pretty much determined I wanted a vintage Kenmore of the 158 series, with pattern cams. One of the ones that kept coming up as a “fan-favourite” was the 1802, and as luck would have it, I found one on eBay. In Wisconsin. I’m in Canada, but the shipping looked reasonable.

I put in a bid thinking there was no way I would win it, and promptly forgot. Well guess who won? It was me, if that wasn’t clear. The seller was highly rated for shipping machines – and rightly so. It arrived wrapped and packed so carefully. No damage. All the cams, extra attachments, buttonholer, monogrammer, and an extra monogrammer from the 1803 (which also works on this machine, luckily.) A pic of my new best gal:

Vintage Kenmore 158.18022 in her new (not vintage) case. This machine was manufactured in 1969.
The “Tower of Power” of accessories that were originally included with this machine. The boxes are a little dirty.

Just beautiful. Really dirty, but in great shape. I have named her “Gert” or “Gert the Dirt” for obvious reasons. She cleaned up nicely, and after oiling, cleaning, oiling, cleaning, and more oiling, runs like an absolute tank. At first it had a squeak which necessitated oiling the belt pulley inside that isn’t listed in the instructions as an oiling point, but apparently is quite commonly squeaky as I discovered in one of the vintage machine Facebook groups. I also had to oil the motor – some vintage motors take oil, some take grease, and some take nothing at all, so DO NOT oil your motor unless you know for sure it takes oil! – and it runs much quieter now.

Some of the myriad reasons I love this machine:

  • It uses cams for decorative stitches, but has built-in stitches that do not require cams – including the triple stretch stitch that I use a lot;
  • Has a 1.2 amp motor and all metal gears;
  • Came with a whole lot of fun attachments including buttonholer, monogrammer(s), and a zillion feet/hemmers/things I don’t even know what they are yet;
  • On/off switch (the “light” switch acts as a power switch – machine won’t sew when that is turned off, so I can leave it plugged in);
  • Takes class 15 metal bobbins, which I already have many of. Although it is a little fussy about winding certain bobbins, I have plenty that work;
  • Proprietary super high shank (SHS) system with a little lever for easy on/off of feet – no unscrewing to change feet. I know a lot of people DON’T like this, because the feet are much harder to find than low shank, but I actually like it a lot, and mine came with all the feet. The only thing I might want to find one day is the highly-coveted (and $$$) SHS walking foot, but it’s not necessary because….
  • Highly adjustable presser foot pressure! I know this is standard on most machines, but my modern machine doesn’t have the ability to adjust foot pressure, and it drives me a little crazy that I sometimes need to use a walking foot to compensate for that.

There’s a lot to love about this machine, truly. Are there negatives? Well it doesn’t have a free arm, and it doesn’t have any ability to move the needle position – it is a left-homing machine, though not quite as left-homing as my White, I don’t think? It’s slightly-left-of-centre anyway.

I rarely use a free arm, so I am fine with the flat bed, especially since I believe that Kenmore introduced nylon gears around the same time as they started making free arm machines, and I wanted to avoid that if possible. The needle position also doesn’t bother me, but it is something to be aware of, particularly if you do a lot of 1/4″ seams for quilting, etc.. I have been told there is a way to MacGyver it to be centre-homing with a cam, but I haven’t bothered to try that.

“But,” I hear you ask, “How does it sew?!” Um, beautifully. It’s honestly one of the nicest-stitching machines I have ever used. It’s relatively quiet, it’s solid and powerful, and I have timed it in a speed test against my modern Kenmore, and it is just so much faster! My modern machine is a great machine as well, don’t get me wrong. It’s extremely quiet, has all the stitches I could ever need, plus the great features of an electronic (needle up/down, automatic backstitch), but it only has a 0.6 amp motor and isn’t supposed to be a heavy-duty machine. It’s not normally an issue, but for that triple stretch stitch it isn’t the fastest, and when you’re doing a lot of it, speed counts.

The only other negative I have seen so far with Ms. Gert is that over thick layers you MUST adjust your foot pressure, use a hump jumper (or both) or you will hit the needle plate and break a needle. But is that a negative? Not really, just how it works. It took me three or four needle breaks to figure out what was going on, but now that I get it, it shouldn’t happen again.

Another cool feature of this machine: It can do a chainstitch. It uses a cool little adapter for the bobbin, plus a special needle plate insert. I haven’t tried that yet, but I should really do that.

Here I will leave you with some choice photos of this beautiful machine. You can also see some video of the buttonholer in action on my YouTube channel or Instagram.

Enjoy those vintage machines!

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The 1802 monogrammer - with 10 letter discs!


  • John Sargent

    I own a Kenmore 158.1760. It is a free arm from the 1970s. It uses cams, probably the same cams your machine uses. It also has an all steel drive train and is a pleasure to use. I have a Kenmore walking foot for it. Thanks for your post.

  • Heather

    Awesome! Hold onto that walking foot tightly I think I almost bought a 1760 at one point, they’re highly regarded. Can’t really go wrong with any of the 158 machines I don’t think.

  • Kathy Sullivan

    Love the post Heather!! how-ever, I am looking for a presser foot for my Vintage. Do you happen to have one in your parts of sewing machines that will fit? My model is — 158.18022. I have been looking everywhere!! I hope to hear something soon. Thank you.

    • Heather

      Which foot are you looking for? Sometimes you can find the whole “towers of power” on eBay or marketplace, or with different machines. The good news is that any super high shank feet (Kenmore proprietary design) should fit, although they are far less common than low shank, if you are looking for a specific foot.

      • Barbara snoeberger

        Can you tell me about the button by the light that says won’t move.what is wrong with my machine.? I just got it withe the book and all the partsto sew but ????

        • Heather

          Hi Barbara, that is the feed dog drop lever/button which moves the feed dogs down out of the way (for things like free-motion quilting or the monogrammer where you don’t want the fabric to feed from front to back with each stitch.) If the machine hasn’t been used in a while, it is very likely some old lubricant has solidified and is preventing things from moving correctly. It is likely you will need to do a bit of a deep clean and oiling. Have a look underneath (remove from cabinet or case if it is in one) and put it on a protective sheet or cloth of some kind, gently lay it on its back. I personally would use isopropyl alcohol and q-tips or rags to clean up all the metal bits that should move. The old oil will be like a yellowish earwax looking stuff. Try and clean off as much of that as possible, and then oil all the metal on metal moving parts with sewing machine oil. You will likely have to repeat this several times. If it’s quite solid, you can also try to direct some gentle heat from a hair dryer at the bottom metal moving parts (avoid plastics and DO NOT use a heat gun, we don’t want to melt anything!) to get it freed up. It’s messy but once it’s done you shouldn’t have to repeat it if you’re oiling with sewing machine oil.

          Now that I’m thinking about it, sometimes that part “pops up” when you go to sew. If it was dropped and then put back up (to the right will drop the feed dogs and to the left will raise them back up) so if you try to sew with it it might just pop back into place and start sewing, which might be why you can’t drop it again, but not a bad idea to clean and oil the machine anyway. Sewing machine oil on any metal parts that move will generally not steer you wrong.

  • Donna

    Actually, Kenmore made a number of free-arm (convertible) machines that have all metal gears. Check out the 1941 and the 1760, for example. Among American branded machines, there aren’t a lot of machines in that category – at least not that ALSO include zigzag and reverse stitches, that is.

      • Bonnie Seitz

        I’ve owned my Kenmore model 1802 since 1971. Just now became interested in using the chain stitch option. Did not have any luck. Have you been able to chain stitch on your machine?

        • Heather

          I did get it to work last year, although I haven’t used that function again. It does require the correct plate and bobbin case, and I recall it being a little bit fussy about tension. I will have to drag it out and try again and see if it was beginners’ luck.

  • Grandma G.

    I’ve been sewing for over 63 years and got my first Kenmore in 1969 or ’70. It was a 158-1400 and I LOVED it. Back then, knits, and in particular those awful double-knits were coming into fashion. Until then, I had only my Mother’s straight stitch, a wonderful old White Rotary 77. I still have that machine, it’s a wonderful memory of her.
    I’ve liked Kenmore’s since that first one. I’ve had other machines, but eventually came back to mostly Kenmore’s. Now I have a collection. I look for good ones, clean them up, try and fix whatever problems they may have (mostly they just need cleaning and oiling) and enjoy using them. Not too long ago I found and bought an 1802 in lovely condition. I’ve been busy with other machines so I haven’t gotten into it yet, but it seems little more than a tad dirty on the surface. I have loads of different cams and accessories, so I’m looking forward to a lot of fun a great sewing with her. I think a little oil and may some grease and she’ll be ready to go!!!

    • Heather

      I love that! I also love the random other acquisitions that come with vintage machines – little crafty bits and pieces that someone doesn’t know what to do with so they toss them in with the machine. Button jars, thread spools, random things bought for a project that never happened. You wish they could talk sometimes.

      • Gen

        I own the same model. It was given to me by my mother and I’ve never learned how to use it, and no longer have the opportunity to ask.

        I opened up the bottom and the motor belt will need a replacement. It’s still in one piece but it’s heavily cracked and will break as soon as I will try to use it.

        It was interesting to see how good it is, and I’m going to take the time to have it repaired.

        • Heather

          Oh definitely have it repaired if it’s feasible. I think if there’s nothing majorly wrong with it, it will serve you well for many years to come. I know “they don’t make them like they used to” is a bit of a cliche, but in this case it’s really true. I can’t imagine any of my modern plastic machines will still be going as strong in 50 years. Maybe they’ll surprise me though.

    • Heather

      Hi Adelita,
      If you have a similar machine to this one, and the handwheel moves but the needle bar doesn’t, my first step would be to make sure the clutch is not disengaged as when winding a bobbin. (Turn the metal smaller wheel inside the handwheel clockwise while holding the outer wheel to tighten.) If the hand wheel doesn’t move at all when you try to turn it by hand, you will need to do more investigation. A lot of times these older machines can get gummed up with old oil that has turned solid. It can be cleaned out with alcohol, but sometimes you might need to use some (GENTLE!) heat from a hair dryer inside the top of the machine to loosen it up. DO NOT use a heat gun and avoid any plastic parts. You can access this machine by taking off the top panel, it just lifts up on this model, but other machines can be different. If cleaning/gentle heat can get everything moving, keep doing this until all the old yellowed oil is gone, and then oil where metal meets metal with good quality sewing machine oil. Your manual for the machine will have specific information about the oil points for the machine. If this isn’t the issue sometimes things get bent or broken and you’ll need to investigate that, potentially with a repair person.

      If you have a different kind of machine such as a computerized machine or a newer plastic style, you would want to approach the task differently as there can be a lot more that can go wrong. I hope this helps a little! Good luck.

  • Esther Wilbanks

    Thanks for the info. I recently received the tower of power. I did not know about the super high shank machines. I have a low shank Kenmore that I love. After some research, there is not a lot so once again thank you, I’m hooked. Now to find one.

  • Jane Lewis

    I have a Kenmore model 158.16012 that I have owned since 1972. Looking for a portable case for it, but wondering how the foot pedal fits into the case. Do you have to take the machine out of the case to use it? Mine has been sitting in a cabinet for years, but I would like a portable case for it.

    • Heather

      I have mine in a new compatible portable case, and you don’t have to take it out to use. It attaches with the two pins at the back just like on a cabinet. The foot pedal doesn’t really fit nicely for transport, you have to just kind of roll it up and put it in the throat space, but it works. There’s a cutout at the back for the cords so they aren’t pinched. It’s quite good. Probably would have been cheaper to buy a second machine in a vintage case but I was concerned about the plastic being brittle (and then having an orphaned machine anyway.)

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