Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Kenmore 17881



Everyone who regularly reads this blog knows that Italian-made Necchis are my favorite sewing machine. However, a long-time collector like myself needs periodic infusions of new machines to tinker with and the Italian Necchis are now in the 60-year-old range and getting more scarce. To fill the gap, I have been picking up Janomes. Several years ago, my wife bought a Janome 6500P. she was so pleased with it that I bought one for myself. Since that machine has performed so well for both of us, I decided to add Janomes to my list when I am scouring thrift shops and auctions for new finds. While Janomes are not that plentiful, Kenmores having "385" as the first three digits of the model number are also made by Janome.



Pictured above is my latest find, a Kenmore 17881. The photos are a bit fuzzy because I took them in low light with my cell phone. At first, I thought, "this is not a vintage machine" but then I realized it was manufactured around 1988, which makes it 25 years old! That probably brings it just barely into the vintage arena.

The machine was starved for oil and took a fair amount of lubricating and exercise to accomplish a zig zag stitch; the stitch selector indicator needle was bent back 180 degrees so it didn't even show in the window (I still haven't figured out how that could happen); and I am still working to free up the stitch length mechanism. The stitch length is changeable but it's so hard to twist the plastic knob that I'm afraid I will break it.  It also had some small droplets of teal paint in several places on the front, but headlight lens restorer took care of that quickly.

The machine sews smoothly and quietly and forms a perfect stitch. It has a nice size throat opening, both width and height.  I will keep looking for Janomes and 385 Kenmores to fill the gap until the next Necchi shows up.  In the meantime, I have to select another machine from my collection to sacrifice to keep the number constant and my marriage happy.

13 comments:

Michelle said...

To free up your knobs, take the top off of the machine off, and point a hot hair dryer at the inside parts behind the knob. After a little bit, try turning the knob and see if it turns any better, then give it some oil. This has worked for me many times.

sewingmachinenut said...

I too very much enjoy the Kenmore 385s. They seem fairly solidly built and run smoothly. My wife and I bought a refurbished 385 in the mid 80s after we married and the machine is still a workhorse. I recently picked up an identical 385 for next to nothing and use it as my main machine. Two issues with both my machines have to do with gummed oil on the reverse clutch/dog shaft and the stitch select shaft. In the first case the reverse does not engage. In the second case the buttonhole setting doesn't always engage. Both were easy to fix though with cleaning. John

Ed Lamoureux said...

Michelle, I have avoided the heat method because, with diligence, I have always been able to find the sticky part(s) and lubricate them. In this case, I got lazy and tried the heat method. in about ten seconds, four of the teeth on one of the plastic gears melted off and the stitch length dial would just spin around without doing anything. Fortunately, that gear only uses 180 degrees of its rotation and I was able to reposition the gear on the shaft so the bad teeth are not in use. Took me about 2 hours to recalibrate the stitch length but it is now working as before. I still need to find the problem with the stitch length mechanism but I won't be applying heat to plastic machines again. -Ed

Sara Glascock said...

I am new to sewing (less than a year) but within the year, I have become literally hooked on collecting, fixing and using sewing machines. The first machine bought was a crappy plastic nightmare Brother from Walmart. $60 I will never get back. I knew I liked sewing but I had to get a new machine.

The first REAL machine I got was a Janome. It is still the most reliable machine I have. While cruising Pattern Review, I discovered that the 385 Kenmores were made by Janome. I now have 2 of them. Of my collection of 10 machines, my Kenmores get used quite a bit.

Jonathan said...

I'm a huge fan of the Kenmore 158s. I have an all metal 158.19460 freearm. I think it was made in 1976. It has a nice selection of utility stitches. Wonderful machine!

Jonathan said...

I picked up a Simplicity model 1170 at a thrift store. Made in Thailand. It has about 18 built in stitches - a nice selection of overcast & stretch stitches. I really wanted it because the machine came with the button hole gauge foot - that you insert a button into the back of, pull down a lever near the presser foot and the machine makes a button hole based on the size of the button in the gauge. The earliest Singer I found this feature on was my Creative Touch 1036. I think it's pure genius! lol

I've found my 1170 Simplicity sewing machine for sale on eBay with a Janome logo. So I'm wondering if Janome made machines for Simplicity.

nanaofnc said...

Just came across your post while searching for info on the Kenmore 17881. I picked up mine at Goodwill for $10, then got it serviced for about $100 more. It is quite the workhorse, and I love it more than my computerized machines. I'm resisting getting too many machines, but love reading about them. I'm going to enjoy your blog a great deal. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to track down someone who can help me out. I have a 17881 that seems to have a timing problem. I tracked down a manual but no mention of how to set the timing.
The needle is hitting the bottom of the flat nylon circle that holds the shuttle case and bobbin because the needle drops at the wrong time. It was sewing fine and suddenly the needle hit the needle plate cover and broke the needle. Then it rattled and crunched and shook and quit sewing. When I took it apart I discovered the timing was way off and that the needle is jamming into the nylon ring under the shuttle.
I am using a standard Singer needle and inserting it correctly.
Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.
I also have a Kenmore 158 that I bought in 1964 for $59 at Sears in Columbus, GA. It is the toughest monster I've ever known... never been fixed in all these years... even used it to run a drapery business for about six years and never even a burp no matter how thick or tough the task. I even used it to make wool herringbone Harris Tweed garments with leather collars and trim!
I got the 17881 at Goodwill for $12 because it was light and could be used in the living room or dining room with ease. The other machine would need two people to get it up the steps.
Thanks for any help you can offer.

Princess Garcia said...

This is my Sears Kenmore 385 1788180. Mine is missing the thread holder any help you may offer would be awesome 😁. Thanks all 💝

Ed Lamoureux said...

When you say "thread holder", do you mean the spool pin on top of the machine or the bobbin below the surface of the bed? -Ed

Ellie said...

I am terninally ill and I just bought a Kenmore off Ebay; it is very clean; and paid $60+ for it; it will only sew in straight stitch and won't reverse to lock stitches. The knobs for the stitch selector would not turn at all; but I kept trying to turn it; now it will turn to the different stitch settings but will not do any stitch except straight stitch. Can anyone help? I also have another machine exactly like this one (not as good condition) but it will only sew straight stitches too.
Thank you,
Ellie

Heather Rose said...

I have this machine!! I've had it since I was 17 and I can't imagine using anything else. My mom bought it for me and I wouldn't sell it for the world. I wish she was around to see all the things I've made with It.

A Dale said...

Help! Can anyone help me with setting my timing It is skipping stitches. Different needles and material.