Kenmore Sewing Machine Repair and Troubleshooting Guide (2023)

Antique Kenmore sewing machines will usually last forever with proper care. Learning how to troubleshoot your machine will keep it running for decades! For help, see this Kenmore Sewing Machine Repair and Troubleshooting Guide.

Troubleshooting Kenmore sewing machines is to oil and untangle the thread path. Other common problems include a machine that won't sew or only sews backwards. Kenmore machines can also have power issues, zig zag issues, or voltage issues.

In this article, you will learn how to solve ten problems with your Kenmore sewing machine. You will also learn how to obtain a Kenmore manual. Finally, you will find tips to prevent your sewing machine from jamming.

quick navigation

  • What you should know about Kenmore sewing machines
  • Troubleshooting Kenmore Sewing Machines: 10 Easy Solutions
  • Why does my Kenmore sewing machine keep crashing?
  • Kenmore Model 385 Sewing Machine Troubleshooting
  • Free Kenmore Sewing Machine Repair Manual
  • Kenmore sewing machine parts
  • Conclusion

What you should know about Kenmore sewing machines

Kenmore sewing machines had many different manufacturers, but they were all sold by Sears Roebuck, the legendary American company that introduced the mail-order catalog to the country. Sears used the Kenmore brand for many "badge" devices purchased pre-made from various manufacturers around the world.

American consumers knew and trusted Sears and valued the Kenmore brand for it. after i said thatKenmore sewing machinesIts quality has varied over the years depending on the manufacturer that made a particular model. Sears introduced sewing machines into its catalog as early as 1913 and continued to sell Kenmore branded sewing machines until 2013.

In general, older Kenmore models have a reputation for being inexpensive sewing machines that work reasonably well and last a long time. However, any model made after 1970 may contain plastic or computer-controlled parts that often don't hold up well over time.

While it is difficult to find a complete inventory of every Kenmore model ever made, you can easily find information on the general chronology of manufacturers.

A company called White made most of the early Kenmore models. So, from the 1950s through the 1960s, Sears bought Japanese machines.

During the 1970s, Singer made a few Kenmore models with the badge. From then on, a well-known Japanese company called Janome took over Kenmore machines and manufactured them until 2013.

Unfortunately, Sears went bankrupt after 2013 and stopped selling sewing machines altogether. You can find many old Kenmore machines on sale today, but you won't see new Kenmore sewing machines on store shelves anymore!


Troubleshooting Kenmore Sewing Machines: 10 Easy Solutions

Since most Kenmore sewing machines today fall into the vintage category, you need to focus on vintage sewing machine troubleshooting techniques to keep these classics running.

Kenmore machines, of coursemade by janomebetween 1970 and 2013 may also have more modern characteristics. However, most sewers tend to prefer classic solid metal Kenmores, which still have a solid reputation as durable machines.

While not all Kenmore machines are of the same quality, it is true that most of the time you can do simple repairs yourself! These older machines don't have as many major mechanical or electrical problems. However, if you open up your old Kenmore and find bad wiring, you should probably take that as a sign that it's time to seek professional help.

Another thing to keep in mind when browsing your Kenmore machine is that these models generally don't cost a lot. Because of this, you can feel more confident about taking the risk of doing the repairs yourself. If you break something, at least you didn't break an expensive machine!

However, nine times out of ten, you can use one of these ten simple solutions to fix the problem!

1. The sewing machine does not sew

Your Kenmore sewing machine cannot sew for a variety of reasons. Go through this handy checklist and you will be able to check the possible causes one by one!

  1. Check the power cable. Perhaps a fuse has blown in your house or perhaps the sewing machine's power cord has come loose! Try plugging your device into a different outlet and plug the cable into the device securely.
  2. Check the pedal. Some of the older Kenmore machines tend to rattle and vibrate a lot while sewing, which can easily cause the pedal cable to come loose during sewing!
  3. You can also easily buy a replacement power cord or pedal if you suspect an old cord is faulty.
  4. If your sewing machine turns on but does not sew, you may need to replace the needle or clear the thread. See the next section for more information.
  5. This last option doesn't come up very often, but you could have a wiring problem or a blown motor in your machine. In that case, unless you have some electrical work experience, you'll probably want to visit an antique sewing machine repair shop.

2. Tangled line

Incorrect threading often results in the thread tangling under the fabric as you sew. Sometimes referred to as a jam or a bird's nest, this problem can stop your sewing machine!

This happens occasionally with all sewing machines and all sewers and is not a problem unique to Kenmore machines. The good news is that you can easily fix the problem by following these steps!

  1. Cut the thread close to the bobbin. Then cut above the needle again and pull the end of the thread down to release the tension disks and thread paths.
  2. Use your fingers, a seam ripper, or sharp scissors to remove tangles and fabric from under the presser foot.
  3. You must remove any lint that may have lodged in the bobbin area or in the upper thread path. If your machine came with a small brush, use that. If not, you can use a clean makeup brush to remove the dust.
  4. At this point, you can safely re-thread your machine. Of course, not all Kenmore models look the same, but for the most part you can follow the clear markings that run from hook to hook between the spool of thread and the needle.
  5. However, be sure to raise the presser foot before threading. This opens the tension discs and the upper thread can be correctly threaded.
  6. Finally, thread the needle! Some models may have an automatic needle threader. To ensure it works properly, use the handwheel to raise the needle as high as possible before attempting to thread it.

3. Internal thread

Thread may break during sewing for various reasons. The most likely causes are at the top of this checklist. When common remedies don't work, read on for the less likely but still possible options!

  1. The most likely cause of thread breakage is incorrect threading. The first step is to turn the machine off, properly remove the old thread, and then re-thread the upper thread path! Be sure to remove all thread fragments from the tension discs, as this can cause the thread to snag and break as you sew.
  2. Excessive tension can cause the upper thread to break during sewing. To find out how to adjust the tension on your Kenmore machine, see the Tension Problems section later in this article.
  3. Rough areas on the needle plate or bobbin case can tear the thread during sewing. Inspect your sewing machine carefully for scratches or damage, just in case!
  4. A bent needle could hit metal on the way and possibly break the thread as well. Replace the needle frequently to avoid this problem.
  5. If you find that the bobbin thread keeps breaking, you may need to adjust the tension on the bobbin case. To do this, loosen the small screw on the housing. You may also need to give the coil area a good clean as there could be lint or old oil trapped there!
  6. Cheap or old thread often breaks during sewing. Likewise, a thread that does not match your fabric, such as B. a polyester thread sewn onto silk fabric, tearing or tearing during sewing.

4. Troubleshoot bobbin thread

Again, you will find a variety of different causes of lower thread problems.

  1. First, you just dowinding coil🇧🇷 Many Kenmore models have an external winding shaft that can be slid between winding and "off" positions. You must "turn off" the spindle again or your machine will not move the needle to pick up the bobbin thread!
  2. How long has it been since you cleaned the entire coil area well? You should even use a screwdriver to remove the needle plate to ensure any lint left behind is removed! The bobbin accumulates more dirt and dust than any other part of the sewing machine, and the accumulated mess eventually prevents it from working properly.
  3. Occasionally, you may forget to lower the presser foot before sewing. This often causes the bottom thread to become tangled. To correct this, remove the tangle, reinstall the bobbin and start over with the presser foot down.
  4. Another common problem with older sewing machines is using the wrong bobbin size or shape. Your manual will tell you what type of coil your specific Kenmore uses. Many older Kenmore models will accept a Class 15 spool.

5. Stress Repair

Learning how to adjust tension on an old sewing machine may seem daunting, but it's actually easier than adjusting tension on a modern machine! However, finding the right tension for each project often requires a bit of trial and error.

First, what exactly is sewing machine tension?

Simply put, tension is the pressure exerted on the upper thread as it moves from bobbin to needle. Your sewing machine uses washers inside the machine arm to apply this force.

(Video) Sewing Machine Problems: The Most Common Issues

Higher tension increases line pressure and allows less threading, resulting in tighter stitches. A lower tension allows the thread to flow more freely and creates looser stitches.

If you're wondering what voltage your Kenmore sewing machine should be, there's no right answer! The middle numbers, typically four and five, provide the medium tension setting that generally works on cotton and medium weight fabrics.

That said, your machine handles each type of fabric and thread in a slightly different way. This means you may need a tighter or looser top thread for every project you sew!

To reduce this number when starting a project, follow these simple steps:

  1. Sew a few inches of straight stitch onto a piece of fabric.
  2. Remove the fabric from the machine and look at the top of the fabric. Do you see loose, skipped or crooked spots?
  3. If you notice puckering or thread loops on this side of the fabric, reduce the tension. Try a smaller number and sew again!
  4. Turn the fabric inside out and look at the bottom of the seam. Have you ever seen a tangled thread, skipped stitches or loose seams?
  5. If you notice that the thread is tangled, the machine has threaded incorrectly or needs to increase the tension to a higher number. That's when you see the top thread coming out from the bottom of the fabric as well.
  6. Try changing the voltage setting one number at a time. Sew a few inch stitches at a time and check them.
  7. When the top and bottom threads look perfectly bleached and you see neat, even stitches on both sides, you've found the right tension!

As a pro tip, you should also thoroughly clean the thread path and tension discs by running a clean piece of thread to ensure that a little bit of old thread or dust isn't causing tension issues.

6. Feeder dog bug fix

If you bought an old Kenmore sewing machine, you'll probably need to clean the feed dogs so they move properly. The driving teeth look like small metal teeth that push the fabric under the needle.

You may encounter a number of problems when feeding dogs.

  • If the feeders appear frozen and won't move, the machine must be thoroughly cleaned and oiled first. If you have a newer model with different stitch lengths, make sure the stitch length is not set to zero.
  • If you are working with silky or sheer fabrics, old feeder dogs may have trouble grabbing them. In that case, use your hand to gently guide the material. Or, you can use many different types of fabric stabilizers to help with this sewing process.
  • Finally, on rare occasions, the conveyor timing may not match the needle timing as it moves up and down. This is a mechanical problem that you could fix yourself, but it's complex enough that you'll probably want to take your machine to a repair shop to have this problem fixed.

7. Rollback Issues

Even fairly old Kenmore sewing machines often have a reverse function. In some cases, your machine refuses to sew in reverse. You may also find the reverse lever or button and your machine stalling.onlySew backwards!

This is a problem that mostly occurs with older machines, and even then, it is more likely to occur with machines that have not been properly cared for and maintained than well-oiled and squeaky clean models.

If this is happening with your Kenmore, there are a few solutions you can try before taking it to the shop.

First remove the reverse button or lever and find the spring behind it. If the spring appears to be stuck and all the coils are contracting, try loosening or repositioning the spring.

Second, uncover the machine and clean the gears behind the reverse lever. Sometimes old grease or dirt gets in and solidifies, freezing all moving parts!

8. Zigzag problems

You may also run into problems when trying to zig zag on your Kenmore machine.

Not all older Kenmore models have the zigzag stitch option. Mid-century models will likely have zigzag and other stitch options, but may require the insertion of plastic discs called cams to create these stitches. Of course, most modern machines have automated zigzag stitches!

(Video) Adjusting the hook timing on a Kenmore 385 sewing machine

But what to do if the machine does not zigzag?

  1. Read the manual. You will need to determine what special settings or equipment you may need to instruct your machine to perform a zigzag stitch.
  2. Clean and oil your machine if any of the hooks that lift the line only need oiling. Check out the oil section later in this article!
  3. If your Kenmore has been subjected to heavy use over the years, a worn internal gear can prevent zigzag operation. When a gear's teeth become too worn, it must be replaced.
  4. Finally, timing issues can affect zigzag stitches as well as other stitch patterns. In that case, you might want to seek professional help.

9. Loose stitches

When using your Kenmore sewing machine, several problems can cause loose stitches.

  1. As always, your first stop should be to check the thread path. Just go over the machine and see if that fixes the problem. If the thread has come loose from a hook or tension discs, it does not have enough tension to form strong, accurate stitches.
  2. Also check the bobbin thread. Your Kenmore may have a front-loading or direct-insert spool. Sometimes front-loading bobbins can become loose in the bobbin case and cause problems.
  3. Be sure to match the thread type and weight to the fabric type and weight. Thick cotton threads, for example, probably won't sew well on thin silk!
  4. Finally, tension issues can also lead to loose seams. In the previous section of this article, you will learn how to adjust the high voltage to correct this problem.

10. Oil problems

Most older Kenmore sewing machines have many moving metal parts that need regular oiling.

As a warning, read your sewing machine manual before embarking on this quest. The manual will tell you exactly what to lubricate. Also, make sure you always use sewing machine oil, not any other lubricant!

Sometimes you also need to read the owner's manual to find out how to get into the machine. For example, many Japanese-made 385 models have a box-opening hinge at the end of the arm. This will allow you to lubricate the gears and tension washer area.

As a general rule, you should regularly apply a small drop of sewing machine oil to all moving parts of your old machine.

Why does my Kenmore sewing machine keep crashing?

The number one cause of a Kenmore sewing machine jam is incorrect threading. After that, the second most common culprit is an incorrect high voltage setting.

In some rare cases, the engine may stall or stall which is why your machine seems to stall. Or you have a problem with the steering wheel. Sometimes old grease solidifies on flywheel gears, preventing them from turning.

On the other hand, even simple problems like a bent needle or the wrong type of needle can cause your sewing machine to stall and not sew.

Whenever you hear a loud noise or squeak, stop sewing. Clean any trapped fabric or tangled threads under the presser foot.

Then turn off the machine, re-thread and replace the needle just in case. This often takes care of the congestion!

Kenmore Model 385 Sewing Machine Troubleshooting

There are many basic sewing machine troubleshooting techniques that you can apply to a Kenmore 385 model.

Kenmore sewing machines with model numbers starting with "385" were manufactured by Janome between 1965 and 2013. The famous 12-stitch model probably dates from the 1990s.

Some of these models have good reputations, especially the first ones that still have solid metal parts! Later models from the 1980s and 1990s tended to use cheap plastic parts or computer components that we now see as dated.

(Video) Sewing Machine Won't Stitch, Won't Pick Up Bobbin Thread, How to Fix Hook Timing

All this indicates that troubleshooting a Kenmore 385 model can vary greatly depending on when the machine was manufactured. As discussed earlier in this article, most 385 models occasionally experience threading, tension, or bobbin issues.

If you find an older computerized Kenmore, you might want to pass it along. These models don't stand up well over time and require expert wiring knowledge and old computer circuit boards to keep them working!

Free Kenmore Sewing Machine Repair Manual

Your Kenmore sewing machine originally came with an instruction manual that included installation and repair tips for the user. As many Kenmore machines have reached middle age, not all can have this original document! There's good news and bad news when it comes to finding a manual for your Kenmore sewing machine.

First, Sears doesn't offer them for free through the company's website. You can findthis limited "repair guide" for free, However!

However, if you specifically need a Kenmore 385 sewing machine guide, there are two different tactics you can try.

Firstly, you can buy almost any sewing machine manual online these days. Try Etsy or You can also buy some Sears flyerson here.

Second, if you want to find a free manual, try joining an online sewing forum. Seamstresses who get together to discuss old sewing machines often post the manuals they find. Seamstresses are happy to help each other!

Kenmore sewing machine parts

Finding replacement parts and accessories for older Kenmore models is getting harder and harder every year. You can often still find pieces online through Etsy and eBay. Sometimes an antique sewing machine repair shop near you will have the parts in stock.

However, when Sears stopped selling Kenmore sewing machines, they began to disappear. Some sewing enthusiasts are in the habit of picking up old Kenmore sewing machines they found at yard sales or garage sales just to get the parts out of them!

Because Kenmore machines never became collector's items and were generally not considered high-end models, they are sold cheaply. You can often find vintage Kenmore sewing machines for under $100.


Sears sold Kenmore brand sewing machines for many years, but no longer offers new Kenmore models. As most Kenmore models are quite old, you will have to use old-fashioned sewing machine techniques to repair them. These techniques include knowing how to oil your machine and finding the right parts and spools.

Using a sewing machine also means fixing common problems like tension adjustments and tangled threads. You may also need to adjust the conveyor or fix the bobbin thread.

Do you have an old Kenmore sewing machine? What seams did you do? Leave a comment below to let us know!

(1) Shared under oneLizenz Creative Commons (BY-SA)


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