A General Answer to a Specific Question

A reader recently contacted me with two questions that she wanted me to post an answer to…

“There are two things I’d like to see you cover. One is an explanation of Kenmore model numbers. They make absolutely no sense to me- they don’t seem to run in any kind of numeric order.

The other is an explanation of Kenmore attachments. You mention many times ‘the best buttonholer ever’, but when I look it up, there were many Kenmore buttonhole attachments, and most look no different than the Singer ones. And you mentioned once ‘it has the under-bed mechanism to drive the fantastic attachments Kenmore designed by using a gear driven bobbin plate cover’. But I have no idea what you’re talking about, and I bet most of your readers don’t either.”

Both questions that beg for and answer and clarification. Well, I will do my best to answer her questions and hopefully it will be information that will provide some useful information for my readers and the sewing community at large.

The answer to the first question is generally vague. Based on all of the research I have done on the topic comes to no real answer. Perhaps the executives at Maruzen/Jaguar (the manufacturer) had a meeting every Tuesday to discuss the topic. The debate may have concluded with “I know! let’s come out with a new model!”. If true, it’s a good thing they didn’t meet twice a week! In any case, one has to wonder, especially since the differences between many models is so slight as to make it unnecessary.

In the 158.XXXXX model I believe there are 168 models. There are certainly some models that I come across more than others, and many I have never seen or heard of. There are folks that have an opinion on which model is best, and I know that there are many of each still in use. I do know from restoring them that, for the-all metal machines at least, they are well made and durable machines. The same could be said for Singer, and they generally limited their models to a subset of model numbers that made more sense. That is not always the case, and I don’t think that a Singer “Fashion Mate” model 362 is the same build quality as a model 328K… they aren’t. They are both 300 series models, but they are not even closely related. Anyway, back to the Kenmore question.

There is a lot of information on Kenmore’s that I find extremely useful. If you have not heard of the “Vintage Kenmore Group”, I would urge you to check them out. It is a forum that has a depth and breadth of information on Kenmores that I have found unrivaled. It is a forum so you will need to register, but it is free and the folks are friendly and eager to help. One very useful post is a comparison list for all of the different models of Kenmores the author compiled, and it is pretty complete… search for it.

So, that’s my general answer to her specific question, and where I fell short I hope someone will chime in with a complete and definitive answer.

Her second question? Well, I know that there will be folks taking sides and many may disagree with me, but my opinion on Kenmore attachments remains the same. For vintage machines, they are the best out there (based on my experience with the brands I have used).

The big difference between a Singer buttonhole attachment and a Kenmore buttonhole attachment is how the fabric goes thru the mechanism, and how the mechanism is driven. A singer buttonhole attachment uses the needle bar to drive the mechanism and uses teeth on the attachment and a smooth plate below the fabric to move the material under the attachment. The only problem with this arrangement is that if the fabric drags or is not drawn thru the attachment evenly, the buttonhole will be deformed and possibly ruined.

here is a picture of a 60’s vintage buttonhole attachment (for Singer machines that can zig-zag).

In contrast, Kenmore began manufacturing machines that included a drive mechanism built into the machine to run their attachments (not just buttonholers), While it may not have been noticed, it is on many (but not all) Kenmores. This drive mechanism runs a replacement bobbin plate cover that has a gear mechanism built in. This gear is engaged by the drive mechanism in the machine. The advantage is that the fabric is held in the attachment and the gear runs the attachment (and the fabric) under the needle. This prevents fabric slippage and feed problems when forming the buttonhole.

The geared cover is available for flatbed as well as convertible machines and was supplied with the attachment. Because I have just completed a Kenmore convertible machine restoration and acquired a buttonhole attachment and drive plate for the machine, I will show pictures of the buttonhole attachment on that machine. I also happen to have more pictures of the Kenmore attachment, so it’s not because I wanted to downplay the Singer buttonholer by showing only two measly pictures!

Kenmore offered several buttonhole attachments models, so there are differences in the style and looks, but they are basic in how they operate. So, to answer her second question I think that Kenmore’s buttonhole attachments are much more reliable in the outcome of the buttonhole and is a much better attachment than offered by Singer (or other manufacturers of the day).

As I said before, this is my opinion and I hold to it… but please don’t flame me by thinking it is the end-all to all buttonholer attachments. If you like Singer’s attachment, have success using it, and highly recommend it to others than I respect your opinion.

So that’s it!

I hope I have provided some clarity to the questions, and I would appreciate any comments or feedback on the topic.

Have a great day!


Published by pungoliving

First and foremost, I decided to share some of my experiences with vintage all metal sewing machines. It is a natural progression of my life experience exercising my hands and my mind. My background is a simple story... graduating High school, I wanted a trade. I landed an apprenticeship at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in welding. 5 years later after earning certification and working in many different environments, I decided to enroll in College and earn an Engineering. At the same time, I married a wonderful girl and started a new life. Graduating College with a degree in Structural Engineering, I began a 35 year career in the Federal Government. Along the way, we were blessed with 3 beautiful children. Earning a Masters degree in Engineering and registration as a Professional Engineer I worked for the benefit of my family and my Country. Over the years, I have pursued many different hobbies... woodworking, car mechanics, astronomy, and taking apart and putting together all sorts of things. Pretty much anything I could put my mind and my hands into. So now, many years later, I am retired and finally able to wile away my days at home with the love of my life. Her interests have always been in sync with mine, but spending so much free time with her, I realized how broad her talents are! One interest she is particularly fond of is sewing. It didn't take me long to put 2+2 together and realize that I could do something with this. So, acquiring, adjusting, servicing, and restoring sewing machines was a win-win. I have a hobby that is detailed, involves tinkering with precision engineered high quality manufactured machines, while she has an opportunity to sew on various different makes and models of sewing machines. While there are many that have information on line, and what I have to say more than likely has already been said, I wanted to contribute to that conversation and learning gleaned from my experience and research.

6 thoughts on “A General Answer to a Specific Question

    1. The gear and mechanism, the buttonhole attachment is plastic. The mechanism for other Kenmores is all metal (at least mine is). Kenmore made different styles, most being plastic. They all use a metal gear and gear plate.


  1. Hi Lee,

    I don’t know if this will be helpful to anyone, but I’ve attached a file I came across a year or two ago. It lists most (but not all) models of Kenmore machines beginning in 1934. If nothing else, it’s a helpful reference to have when dating a machine and to see the progression of their numbering system.

    When I got my first, much-loved 158-14001 around 1970, it came with one of those flat, dial-to-select type buttonhole devices which used the gear plate. Back then, it was a Wowzer! It was cumbersome, had a limited selection of sizes but it worked pretty well and I used it a lot. In as much as I love my vintage Kennies, I am grateful for the modern electronically programmed version of buttonholes, they are much easier.

    I’m slowly working on various vintage “ladies”. One that I’m almost finished with is a very nice 80+ year-old Singer 201-2 that is a beauty! The motor runs well, but should have a clean out and I need to recharge the grease wicks, so I’ve not used it for anything other than some testing. But I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without encouragement and advice from you and a few other experts who post on YouTube. Currently I have a number of Kennies which need my attention and most likely some help from you, but I haven’t had time to even check them out much. With cooking, cleaning, laundry, doctor and vet visits plus a load of sewing projects, I just always keep running out of time! But I’ll get there.

    Take care and God Bless.

    Suzanne Gable


  2. Hello Lee. I have a vintage Singer buttonholer, and found it pretty good. The instruction booklet recommends going around twice, which helps fill in the gaps. I attempted to use it on a bulkier project, and there was not enough clearance, so I used my modern machine’s buttonhole. In 1976, my mom bought Sears’ top-of-the-line model, with the 30 drop-in cams. At the time, when I tried them buttonholer, I didn’t much care for it because if you didn’t have it perfectly lined up, it took the path it would take, and my buttonholes were not consistently placed. However, last summer, I cleaned up a 1970’s Kenmore 158.xxxxx.. for my sister. Then I tested all the stitches (no cams, just built-in) and the buttonholer attachment, as well as the built-in buttonhole. I read the instructions for the buttonholer and found that there are marks to line up where the buttonholer begins its path. I drew like on my test piece of fabric, with interfacing between two layers. The buttonholer made perfect buttonholes. I then tried the built-in buttonhole setting, and they were not as nice, having less dense stitches on the “up-stroke”, so to speak. So now I am sold on the Kenmore buttonholer gear-driven system.

    Renita George


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