Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Kenmore 385.1684180

Even though it has the slide plate that turns under the seam allowance, I really like my 385.17881 Kenmore because it is so smooth and quiet. 

I always consider those traits to be an indicator of the quality of the machine.  Unfortunately, when I got it, the stitch length dial was very difficult to turn and I tried to loosen things up with a heat gun, melting some teeth on the plastic gear behind the stitch length dial.  I was able to reposition the gear so that the missing teeth were  not where they would affect stitch length selection, but the dial still turns very hard and I only have stitch lengths of 10-12.  I have been looking for a replacement for that machine, hoping to find the exact model needing work so I could cannibalize parts from my current machine to rehab the new one.

I still haven't found the exact model replacement, but I saw this 385.1684180 on an online auction.

 The style lines are very similar to the 385.17881 and it has the same rotating hook and drop-in bobbin, so I bid on it, hoping it would be as smooth and quiet as the 385.17881.

When I received the 385.1684180, I saw that it appears to have been well-used, but not abused.  The light bulb was burned out and the plastic bushings that hold in both spool pins are broken.  Sears Parts Direct had the bushings in stock and they are on the way to me.  The bobbin area was very clean, making me think the machine had been well cared for, but when I opened the bottom covers, a lint ball the size of a plum fell out!  It had been cleaned from above, but never went in for a professional servicing.  There was also a lot of gummy substance on many of the surfaces underneath, including the hook gear.  I tried to clean it off with mineral oil, alcohol, and several other substances but scraping it off seemed to be the only way to remove it.

Those issues  were easy to fix but one was more difficult - it would not stitch in reverse.  Pressing the reverse button had no effect, it just kept going forward.  Tracing out the linkage from the Reverse button, I found that there are two springs and a collar that slides along the hook shaft. 

When the collar is to the right, the machine sews forward.  When the collar slides to the left, the feed dog travel is altered so the fabric feeds in reverse. 

Here's how it works:
    The spring near the Reverse button (not shown in these photos) is stronger than the spring down by the collar (in yellow circle).
    When the Reverse button is pressed, the weaker spring is allowed to slide the collar (in the red circle) to the left for Reverse.
    When the Reverse button is released, the stronger spring pulls the rod (in blue) and overrides the weaker spring and slides the collar to the right for forward sewing.

  I could feel that the collar was not moving freely and spent two days trying to free it up.  After lubing and exercising the collar and hook shaft for hours with no results, I accidentally knocked the arm from the weaker spring out of its track and found that the collar itself was actually free-moving, it was the arm from the weaker spring to the collar that was binding.  I had oiled the pivot point of that arm in the very beginning but that was not enough.  I removed the arm and spring, cleaned everything well and re-lubricated.  The Reverse button now works as advertised and the machine sews backward as well as forward.




Jonathan said...

I like these Kenmores. I don't own one, but they're smart looking machines. I'll buy one eventually - when I find one at a reasonable price.

Anonymous said...

I have a 385.18330, similar to the machines in this article.

I'm trying to get the front cover off to inspect why the stitch selection mechanism isn't working as it should. I've removed all the screws I can find, but I can't get the front and back halves to separate along the harp. Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this article on how you went about fixing the reverse mechanism. I am in the process now and the info about how the two springs work opposite each other and one is stronger made complete sense. Up until I read this, I was clueless as to how to approach the issue. Thanks so much! I own the Kenmore 385.1884180 which my husband purchased for me back in 1989. It has been a champ, and 25+ years later I finally had to put some effort into maintaining it. I almost took it to a shop for service, but decided that I could probably figure it out. Your help was just what I needed. Thank you!!

Kirby Vaughan said...

I bought a 385.1764180 recently. Looks the same as yours but says 24 stitch instead of 22.
Reverse didn't work, which your instructions helped to fix. But also stitches were very close together and almost not moving at all. When hand cranking it seemed to stitch ok but under motor power it stitched very short stitches regardless of where the stitch length was set. It appears that the factory lubrication was white grease which has turned to cement. I noticed that the feed dogs were coming up in the wrong place but if I paused for a couple seconds, they would sink down where they should be. Turns out there was too much friction due to the old grease in the feed dog pivot. So when under motor power the feed dogs would never drop and the cloth would barely move forward. I had to spray Kroil a couple times to loosen them up enough to drop when they were supposed to.and then lubricate them with oil. The feed dog pivots are at the front of the bobbin compartment if you remove the cover. A little difficult to get to but can be done with an extension tube. I have heard this is a common symptom, stitches becoming small and not changing with the adjustment knob. This person dumped the machine because she thought it was broken and unrepairable.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much Ed, for posting this information. I have exact same problem with a Janome and finally understand how it works!

Anonymous said...


We could see where the problem was, thanks to your pictures. Got it loosened up and lubricated so that it works like a champ! I have had this machine for over 27 years and it is a great machine that is always dependable and works well whenever I need it.

Thanks again for posting!

Katherine said...

HEY!! I have a kenmore 385.1684180 and I cant get it to actually stitch, the thread just comes out of the fabric, I am thinking I have the bobbin threaded wrong and this is the only place I have found info about this specific machine. Wondering if anyone can send me a pic of their bobbin threaded in the machine properly or even a video or manual on how to do it????
Plleaase help