If you love vintage sewing machines but find yourself confused by the hundreds of different brands, makes, and models out there, you’re not alone! Sewing enthusiasts tracking down information about vintage Kenmore machines often find themselves in a tangled web of multiple manufacturers and hundreds of different model numbers. For example, who made the Kenmore Sewing Machine Model 5186?
Kenmore 5186 machines are part of the Japanese-made line of sewing machines sold by Sears under the Kenmore brand name during the 1970s. Kenmore sewing machines were sold by Sears but manufactured by a variety of companies who contracted with the Sears & Roebuck company from the 1920s through the early 2000s.
In this article, you’ll find out how to identify a Kenmore machine based on its model number, learn about the quality of these vintage sewing machines, and discover how to track down the user’s manuals for these old machines!
Kenmore Sewing Machine Model 5186
Technically, there is no Kenmore sewing machine model 5186. This number is the serial number on the motor inside a particular kind of sewing machine. Kenmore models do all have their unique model numbers, though.
This allows us to figure out that the “5186” motor can be found in the 148 Kenmore models manufactured during the 1970s.
If you want to find out who made your machine, you need to locate the model number. Vintage Kenmore usually has a little metal plate inscribed with this number. Most models placed the model number plate either on the side or bottom base of the machine, near the handwheel, or near the on/off switch.
But what do Kenmore sewing machine model numbers mean? Sears assigned a long list of model numbers to many different Kenmore models over the years. All of these numbers appear in one of these formats: XXX.XXXX, XXX.XXX, or XXX.XXXXX.
As you can see, sometimes the second part of the model number varies in length, but the first part of the model number is always a three-digit prefix. Sears used this three-digit prefix as a code to indicate what company manufactured each model.
As a quick overview of this prefix code, an American company called White manufactured all Kenmore 117 models. This period lasted from the 1930s through the 1950s.
Then, from the 1950s through the 1970s, a Japanese company called Soryu manufactured the Kenmore 148 models. Another Japanese company called Maruzen made the 158 models.
More recently, Janome made the Kenmore 385 models for Sears.
Let’s return to the example of the “Kenmore model 5186.” A bit of research reveals that Kenmore used the 5186 motors inside the Soryu 148 models made during the 70s. Very likely a machine with this motor is a 148.12190 model made in 1973, though you would need to find the model number plate to be sure!
History of Kenmore 148 Models
If you care enough about the provenance of your vintage sewing machine to track down its model number, you probably also want to know a bit more about where it came from! Here is the history of vintage Kenmore sewing machines in a nutshell.
Kenmore: a Sears Brand
Sears & Roebuck established a nationwide sales catalog in the late 1800s that propelled their company to huge success. Because the company had such a massive reach, the items sold by Sears often became very popular.
Sears did not make its own sewing machines. Instead, the company contracted with outside manufacturers. These manufacturers produced the machines, and Sears distributed them under the “Kenmore” brand.
As you know from the previous section, Sears contracted with several different manufacturers over the years. These companies included White, Soryu, Maruzen, and Janome.
The Japanese Sewing Machine Industry
In the late 1950s Sears dropped its contract with White. White was a prominent American company. Times changed, though, and Sears seized the chase to sell more cost-effective Japanese-made models!
This bit of history is quite fascinating if you have any interest in WWII.
Japan launched several powerful sewing machine companies in the early 1900s, including a company called Yasui. This company eventually became Brother Industries Ltd., a name you undoubtedly know!
However, the end of WWII catalyzed the international reach of the Japanese sewing machine industry.
After the end of the war, the Allied Forces occupied Japan and enacted what they termed a “rehabilitation” process. Setting aside the ethics and politics of the war and its aftermath, what you need to know is that the United States provided funding for various economic projects in Japan.
One of these projects was the sewing machine industry. The industry took off during this timeframe. By 1951, Japan manufactured and sold more than a million sewing machines a year!
This post-war boom spawned a fair amount of controversy. Several Japanese manufacturers based their designs on a Singer model. This is why some vintage sewing machine experts refer to the machines made in Japan during this period as “Singer Clones.”
However, sewing enthusiasts usually have great things to say about the post-war machines. They run smoothly and last forever! You can usually find the letters “JA” or the term “Made in Japan” stamped somewhere on these models.
Many, many manufacturers and brands emerged in Japan at this time. Sears had contracts with three of them: Soryu, Maruzen, and Toyota. Sears sold these Japanese-made models under the Sears Kenmore brand.
In 1957 Sears sold its first machine manufactured by Soryu, a Japanese company. This model, nicknamed “the Commander,” looks like a classic cast-iron Singer model from that era.
Sears continued to sell Soryu-made models through the 1970s. These machines were all classified as Kenmore 148 models.
What Happened to Soryu?
You can pretty easily track down the information that Sears sold sewing machines made by Soryu. This contract began shortly after the end of WWII and ended sometime in the 1970s.
Unfortunately, aside from that, there is little remaining information about the Soryu company. Even Wikipedia has nothing on them!
All the vintage sewing machine experts agree that the Kenmore 148s were made by “Soryu Co.” But no one knows much about this company, which seems to have disappeared.
Are the Kenmore 148 Models Good?
Many sewing machine enthusiasts sing the praises of Kenmore 148 models. Home sewers love these models for their solid, long-lasting craftsmanship.
Since the 148 models span a considerable time period, their functionality varies from model to model. The earlier models only have basic functions such as straight and reverse stitch. Despite this, experts like these simple models because they feature excellent craftsmanship.
By the 1970s, the Kenmore 148 models expanded into more competitive, complex capabilities. Some have double-needle options and buttonhole makers. Other 148 models can perform fancy stitches like scallop and diamond stitch.
Some home sewers also really like the powerful motors in 148 models. These motors allow home sewers to stitch through thick fabrics such as sailcloth, canvas, and jean. The 148.15600, for example, contains a 1.0 amp motor.
Modern machines cannot do this. You would have to purchase an expensive industrial sewing machine to accomplish this task today!
That said, some sewers have issues with the thread tension in the 148 models. Tension problems can create a looseness in the gears, leading to what some sewers refer to as “slop.”
A few expert sewers also report that many Kenmore 148 models contain a single plastic gear located below the zigzag actuator. This plastic gear may break or malfunction more easily than a gear made of metal.
To sum up: many home sewers like vintage Kenmore 148 models and still use them today. Like all old appliances, some people have found various potential problems you may run into with these models. Overall, though, Kenmore models accomplish basic sewing tasks very well, decades after they were made!
As a fun fact, many of the Japanese-made Kenmore models came in a selection of delightful colors. These include a shimmery metallic blue, a sophisticated lemon shade, or a charming pink.
Should You Buy a Vintage Kenmore 148?
Before deciding whether to buy a vintage Kenmore 148 model, you should consider its features, the durability of its construction, and the cost involved.
First of all, what kind of sewing do you want to do?
Brand-new sewing machines are almost all computerized. They offer dozens of different stitching patterns at the touch of a button. If you need this kind of functionality, a vintage machine won’t cut it for you.
On the other hand, if you need to complete basic sewing projects on a sturdy machine that will run forever, vintage is the way to go!
Before making a purchase, read up on the capabilities of the particular 148 model you’re considering. The product description should give you a good idea of what features this model has.
If the description seems lacking and you can’t examine the machine in person, try hunting down the user manual for the model. That will describe in detail what the model can do.
Vintage machines can do more than you might think, but in general, they don’t have the full range of functionality provided by modern machines.
However, if what you want is durability, vintage machines win that contest hands-down! Many home sewers state that they have used a 148 model for thirty years or more. You can easily see why people invest in vintage machines if you compare that lifespan to the three-to-five-year lifespan of many modern machines.
Why do vintage machines last so much longer? Well, part of this depends on how well you take care of them. If your 148 has rusted in an abandoned garage for forty years, it may have issues. If you take care of it, though, it will repay your kindness for decades to come!
In general, older models feature solid metal gears that do not wear down or break as easily as the plastic gears inside new machines. They also often have powerful motors that juice them up to stitch through heavy fabrics or sew through all of the layers of a quilt.
Finally, you should consider the potential cost involved in buying a vintage machine. Here’s the good news first: Kenmore 148 models typically sell for around $100. This is much less than the average brand-new Singer or Janome!
Keep in mind though, that you may need to pay a specialist to clean and overhaul the machine before you can use it. You may also have to purchase vintage parts for repairs as time goes on.
You can almost always find Kenmore 148 models for sale on eBay. You may also have good luck searching local thrift stores and yard sales, though you run the risk of acquiring a broken machine at such places.
Sewing enthusiasts typically describe 148 models as solid and reliable. If you’re looking for a vintage machine, you really can’t go wrong starting with a Kenmore.
The only downside to consider, besides the potential cost, is that sewing on a vintage machine does require a certain skill set. You will need to learn how to thread the machine, how to wind the bobbin, and how to clean and care for this old appliance.
Why Won’t Your Kenmore Sewing Machine Work?
Usually, a little care and a thorough cleaning will get a vintage sewing machine up and running. Vintage sewing machines made before the 1980s often last forever. Unlike modern machines, which are made of plastic, these machines had solid metal construction.
Here are some general tips to help you maintain your vintage machine:
- Unplug the machine before you do anything!
- Reference the user’s manual. This will tell you what should and should not be cleaned. It will also provide diagrams illustrating how to set up the machine.
- Find model-specific advice. You can find Youtube videos about everything imaginable, but if the video describes how to clean a Singer and you have a Kenmore, the advice won’t help!
- Use gentle cleansing products such as soft brushes for dusting, a bit of soap and water for solid surfaces, and a gentle cloth for polishing.
- Many vintage machines require periodic oiling. You should never use any oil except actual sewing machine oil, which you can purchase at most arts and crafts stores.
- Try re-threading the needle path and the bobbin. This simple fix could save you a lot of time and effort!
- Unless you know a lot about small appliances, if cleaning and resetting the machine do not get it up and running, you may want to contact an expert.
Kenmore Sewing Machine Manuals
Sewing machine manuals help you set up, clean, and maintain your sewing machine. They are nothing like the confusing and often-ignored instruction pamphlet that comes with Ikea furniture. You definitely want to keep the sewing machine manual for future reference!
Finding the manual for vintage models can present a challenge, though. Some manufacturers will provide free access to manuals for their vintage models. If the company that made your model no longer exists, you will have a harder time finding the manual.
For instance, Sears no longer sells Kenmore sewing machines. This means you may have trouble finding the manual for your Kenmore 148 model.
The first place you should look is the Sears website. There you will find vintage sewing machine parts for sale and free access to some (but not all) of the Kenmore sewing machine manuals.
You can find both the parts and the available manuals by inputting the sewing machine model number in the search box.
Unfortunately, while Sears still sells some vintage parts for the Kenmore 148.12190, it does not offer the manual.
You can also try either of these paid options for purchasing vintage sewing machine manuals.
Sewusa.com provides a very large assortment of vintage manuals for a price of $10 per download.
Kenmoresewingmanuals.com provides downloads of many vintage manuals for $5.95.
Do you feel well on your way to understanding vintage Kenmore sewing machines? Hopefully, you now know all about the Japanese-made Kenmore models, how to take care of your vintage machine, and where to find the manual!
Do you own a vintage Kenmore? What do you use it for, and do you have any tips or tricks to keep it running? Leave a comment below to let us know!