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!

The 1802 monogrammer - with 10 letter discs!

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