Tuesday, August 19, 2014

New Toy - Vintage Kenmore Rotary Sewing Machine!

Hi Friends!

One thing to love about the tag sale season - sometimes when the sales are over, people still have awesome stuff that they want or need to get rid of.

This amazing machine was left on the side of the road with a 'free' sign on it.   I tell you it made my weekend!    This is a Kenmore-Franklin Rotary Electric sewing machine, boys & girls, Model E6354, circa 1948.  (There is a little plate on the inside of the cabinet with 'another' model number printed on it (think more of a newest type designator as Sears made these machines from the late 30's to mid 50's)  that allowed me to find the year, thanks to this Sears Sewing Machine Archive page. )

Check out the 40's Industrialness of it....   It's angular lines and lack of decoration are quite a departure from the previous generations of machines.   As with many war-era items and slightly thereafter, there was a stark practicality to them.   

For comparison, here is my 1930 Singer model 66 "Red Eye" machine.  This one, like many that came before it, was pretty. Even if you didn't sew much, this thing would look lovely sitting in a corner.

In the twenties and early thirties, even the most pedestrian of household objects were ornately detailed.   (note the radiator below from the 20's. Utilitarian?  not in the least)  Going into the late thirties we start to see cleaner lines, less frills, and  more technological influence.
1920's radiator
closer details of my Singer sewing machine
Sewing machine close-up: Even the end plate is fancy!

So the 1948 Kenmore-Franklin Rotary machine seemed to be in excellent condition.  I decided to plug it in and see what happened.   But where was the foot pedal?  It didn't seem to be a hand crank machine, and despite much searching, I couldn't figure it out.  I was beginning to think that maybe it had a separate plug in foot pedal that had gotten lost over the years.   But wait....  There was this fold out lever on the bottom of the machine.  It seemed to have a tensiony spring to it.  So I plugged the machine in, and pushed the lever to the right - Voila!  we have lift-off!   The lever is actually supposed to be operated by your knee, so when you are sitting, you just lean your knee over to the right to make it go.  The needle went up and down pretty smoothly.  After a few minutes, there was a faint electrical smell so I decided to unplug it before the seventy year old wiring went up in flames.    

See that long metal thing in the center of the picture?  That's a lever.

Alas,  I am well aware that most vintage sewing machines aren't very valuable.  I found an interesting article here that talks about that.    I have a very beautiful treadle machine that I bought it at an antique mart about 20 years ago for $40 and today it's probably only worth $42.    However, it is quite a beautiful piece and it makes me happy.  I  currently have it in storage, but I will get it out soon and put some photos up here for everyone to see.    Also, Vintage Machines are a bit of a 'white elephant' item.  Most of the older machines are an actual piece of furniture that you actually have to find a place for in your house, and they are very heavy at that.  Unless they are into sewing, few people want to make room for them. 

Here is a link to  Sears sewing machine history if you should have interest in the lineage of Sears machines.  I currently sew on a Kenmore from the 1970's that was my Mom's.   I have had two new machines over the past several years, but both broke in a matter of a year or two so I keep coming back to my faithful Kenmore.  A few tension problems aside,  it is a wonderful machine.

Here are some other pictures of the 1948 machine's bits and pieces:

I have laid out here a modern size bobbin (3/4" diameter)
 alongside the ones that go with this machine (1" diameter). I do not know if that was the
standard size for all machines back then, or if each manufacturer would have there own sized ones. Luckily this
machine had several extra bobbins!

This is the bobbin winder, found beneath the wheel. On most Modern machines they are on top.

It came with a whole box of attachment goodies and spare bobbins

So, do you have any vintage machines? what kind? Have you ever tried sewing on them?
Comment below! I'd love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading,
xo Yvonne


  1. Kenmores are the best! Can't beat the old ones - built to last. I think that is true of a lot of modern day machines though "built-in-obsolescence" don't make them like they used to.

  2. I have been looking everywhere for a manual for the Kenmore Rotary model 117.600.

  3. I just picked up one priced 14.99 from a thrift store...I'm almost certain it won't work without some work done to it, the plug has been smashed. My husband said he'd look at it for me, if he can get it running I would smile bigger than I already am. The cabinet is in need of refinishing but it is in excellent shape...very sturdy piece with ornate legs and some detail work to the doors and two dangle knobs (I know the knob style has a name but it isn't coming to me). It's nostalgic and makes me feel connected in a sewing/crafting/homemade kind of way. The model number inside the cabinet is 1373051