Orphan Sewing Machines

Last week, I was gifted three vintage sewing machines. The person who gave them to me was moving a relative into an assisted living facility. And, in cleaning her place, found three sewing machines. Now, I never say ‘no’ when offered a machine. It could be a machine I want to collect or has value. But, more importantly, I feel like there are always people who want to start sewing. And, I think the best way to start is on a free machine that works.

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The first is a Sears Kenmore 1703 in a table. I think the machine must have been top of the line when it came out.

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It has cams for 25 different stitch patterns plus a built in zig zag. I thought about keeping this one. But, I really don’t have the space. And, I have three sewing machines as it is now πŸ™‚

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The second machine is a Singer Merrit from the late 80s. It’s actually pretty solid and sews fairly well. It can also take cams to do some decorative stitches including a three-step-zigzag.

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The third machine is this green Singer 185k. It’s all metal and straight stitch machine. This is the only one of the lot I’m keeping. And, that’s just to set up and run my Singer buttonholer. Because it’s not in a table, I can make room for it.

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I love my Bernina Β 830, but I am not down with a four step buttonhole. Β All the machines were filthy and full of dust.

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I didn’t pull out this last bit of red, because I think it’s felt that’s supposed to be in that spring.

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I also really like that it was made in Great Britain.

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The Singer Merrit and Kenmore are both listed on Freecycle and I suspect they’ll be gone in a few days.


  1. The Kenmore machine reminds me of the one that I got for Christmas in 1975. It was a Lady Kenmore 1914 with 32 decorative cams and lots of feet. I sewed on that machine until 2001 when some contractors took it out of the cabinet and dropped it when doing some home renovations. The housing cracked and it just wouldn’t sew properly after that. It is a highly sought after machine in the vintage Kenmore yahoo sewing group. You’re going to love your new machine. Marty

    http://www.martyslittlecorner.blogspot.com Brighten each corner where you are … SMILE!!!

  2. The Kenmore Machine was my dream machine for years! I wanted one of those sooooooo bad. I hope it goes to a good home because it was an amazing machine back in the day!

    • Ack! It’s a machine I was looking for last year myself. I am starting to lean to keeping it.

      On Sun, Dec 28, 2014 at 5:34 PM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


  3. Hmmm, that Kenmore machine is almost identical to what I sew on now. Inherited from my mother when she upgraded to a series of more specialized machines, mine has a faux-wood grain rather than faux-marble panel and orange cams. I still use it regularly even though I’m a fairly mediocre sewist. Maybe once I start making clothes for myself instead of a toddler I’ll spend more effort trying to improve my sewing. It sounds like the machine ought to be able to do what I need! Good news for me. I’d been wondering if I needed to upgrade, but it sounds like maybe I won’t for a while. I’m glad you posted this.

    If any commenters know what the name for the type of presser foot that is, I would be grateful. I’ve been trying to buy a rolled hem foot for the machine, but evidently “high shank” means something different than I thought it would.

    • I think it’s the ‘super high shank’ feet. I think. Peter from Male Pattern Boldness sews on a similar one I think.

      On Sun, Dec 28, 2014 at 5:44 PM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


  4. What a great way to start out the year! Does the green Singer have a cover? I see some amazing before and after photos of old machines online. They scrub them up and polish the metal and oil and replace belts etc and wow they look like brand new!

  5. The bit of red on the 185 Singer is an oil wick and should not be removed. Oil lightly with just a couple drops of machine oil occasionally to keep the bobbin running smoothly. Congrats on a great gif machine.

    • Yay! Thanks for letting me know. It was hard to tell at first since there was so much lint. But, as I kept cleaning I thought, ‘hmmmm. I better leave that bit alone’.

      On Sun, Dec 28, 2014 at 11:31 PM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


  6. I have the same green machine, I call her the “Green Lizard”. Found in a thrift shop for almost nothing, in a blonde wood cabinet I had to let go as no room for it. I don’t use her much, but she is primo. You got lucky, and thanks for passing along to new sewists. These machines go on forever.

  7. It is so difficult to part with really good old machines! The green Singer is certainly a keeper. I am sure you will make a couple of new sewers very happy with the others.

  8. I’d make a runner for the Kenmore and make it my new end table or bedside table. I passed on one of those I had access to not knowing what a reputation the kenmores had. I’d have that baby serviced and hoard it even though I have all sorts of fancy new and a few choice vintage machines in my herd. It is a great vintage machine that has many stitches besides straight ones. The modern one I’d give away and then probably stuff the green one on a shelf someplace here. I really prefer sewing in a dedicated cabinet to plopping one on a table but that is my cup of tea.

    • I know, I know, I know!! I have it in the dining room right now with a nice wooden box on top. I *Really* wanted to keep this one as it has a three step zig zag and a chainstitch. It’s too big for my sewing room. I thought about as a side table in my living room, but no room. I would normally have stored it in the basement or a while, but I’ve ceeded that to Jordan’s gym / work out space. I might be able to squeeze it is as a beside table if I lose the ones I have now.

      On Mon, Dec 29, 2014 at 7:11 AM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


    • I am a professional seamstress πŸ™‚ I use my KENMORE that was purchased in December 1974..EVERY DAY πŸ™‚ She is METAL….ALL of her πŸ™‚ She is heavy and reliable and has NEVER been ‘in the shop’ πŸ™‚ I clean and oil her and she WORKS πŸ™‚ She has been in CONSTANT use for the past 12 years. ALOT of use before that time. I bought a computerized SINGER when it was the NEW GIRL on the block in 1987. It was fine. I used it until it finally got too expensive to repair it about 8 yrs ago. BUT, it was in the shop FOUR times over that period 😦 Miss Kenmore=NEVER πŸ™‚ I agree with opinions about having a FLAT SURFACE around my machine. I can sew on a portable but I don’t like to 😦 I realize my situation is not the common one πŸ™‚ I advise BUY OLDER MACHINES πŸ™‚ You do NOT need all of the bells and whistles. You NEED..straight and zigzag. Buttonholes and a stretch stitch is very handy πŸ™‚ I RARELY use my blind-stitch. That’s IT for stitches πŸ™‚ I have made suits and bridal gowns, quilts and pillows , car covers and costumes, etc πŸ™‚ PLEASE don’t TRASH older sewing machines. Try to RESCUE them if possible πŸ™‚

  9. I have a Singer touch ‘n sew circa 1975 that has the cams for the buttonholer. I love those buttonholes! So I have kept the Singer for that reason only. You can make a pass one, two, three times or more and the buttonhole stitches always land in the same spot! I hate my 4-step buttonholer with my Bernina. I just feel better saying that! Beth

  10. LOL-I think we’re all in love with the little green machine! I was looking through, nodding, “nice, nice” and then…”OOOH!’ I’d be hard pressed to let that baby go! I love that you’re wanting to find homes for the others, too, we can’t keep our craft alive if people don’t learn and it’s an awfully expensive start if you have to buy new.

  11. Unlike those commenting on your vintage machines (the topic of the post) I’m caught by your mention of your Bernina 830. Is it the “new” 830 with embroidery function, etc.? I recently bought on and have a *%( of a time keeping it running smoothly. Recently broke two needles because of balled up bobbin threads. I wonder if it’s worth keeping. What do you think? … of course, yours may be the vintage 830.

  12. Now I see why you can’t buy the Juki! πŸ˜€ No, I think it’s so great that you’re rescuing these from the landfill and hopefully giving a few of them happy new homes! Wonderful!

  13. I started sewing on a cheap “modern” machine that gave me endless thread nests, but I really didn’t know how bad it was until I got a Kenmore similar to yours (model 1774) that my Aunt found in a big lot of boxes she bought at auction. I was intrigued by the pattern cams and buttonholer, so I brought it home, had it serviced and learned how smoothly a sewing machine could really sew. It has every original component, including the instruction manual with helpful notations inside! Thanks for thinking of new sewists – having one of these classic machines has made all the difference for me.

    • Yay! Thanks for telling me. I’m feeling better about having found them a new home.

      On Wed, Dec 31, 2014 at 8:34 AM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


  14. I sew with a vintage 930, and hated the buttonhole method until I got a Greist buttonholer on eBay. It’s not as great as the modern Berninas, but it’s pretty nice.

  15. I’m in Lansing Mi and just picked up a much lesser model 158 only 6 stitches for a guy that had borrowed my Singer 301. Anyway, if you decide not to keep the Kenmore, get in touch as this guy would love it.

  16. That Kenmore looks like the one my dad bought my mom in the 70’s to replace her really old Singer, which we all hated. I loved that machine! Don’t think we ever used one of the cams though. Does it have the buttonhole attachment that attaches to a special throatplate and is like a gear/cam operation? Ah, memories.

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