As discussed in my previous reviews of the Kenmore 158.1316 and the 117.720, Sears Roebuck was one of the largest sewing machine distributors in the U.S. for many years. Sears had contracts with numerous manufacturers (like White) and frequently rebadging existing designs as well as had new designs fabricated to their specification. Thankfully, the Kenmores are easy identified by their model numbers. The first 3 digits before the decimal represent the manufacturer/factory from which the machine comes from, while the number following the decimal indicates the model number of the machine.
Today we'll be looking at a Kenmore 148.531. The 148 designation indicates that this machine was manufactured in the Soryu Plant in Japan, circa 1967.
On the surface, the 531 is quite unremarkable. Like most class 15 clones, it is a single needle, side-loading, oscillating hook machine machine capable of straight, zigzag and blind stitches. Like most low-shank Kenmores, this machine features a convenient, extra high foot lift and standard marked needle plate.
The controls, however, are a bit non-conventional. Stitch width is controlled via a spring loaded knob that snaps back to zero when released. In order to preserve the zigzag setting, you must use a separate dial to lock in the minimum stitch width you want. This seems to imply that this machine was intended for satin stitch embroidery where the user would be very quickly adjusting the stitch width on the fly.
The machine features a stitch length dial with a (non-matching stitch length) push button reverse and droppable feed dogs.
The blind-stitch feature is activated by a switch and is run by it's own separate cam that has a fixed stitch width, so you won't be able to adjust the bight of your blind stitches.The machine also comes equipped with a simple 4 step buttonhole feature. It is worth noting, that the machine limits your maximum stitch length when using the button hole feature, so it will prevent the user from selecting the buttonhole feature if your stitch length is set too long. While a bit confusing at first, this is a welcome feature.
I found this machine to have too much slop. Much more so than other Kenmores I have worked on. I'm not entirely sure why this machine was designed the way it was, but the light housing is mounted on a coiled spring in the nose of the machine. The spring actually pushes the metal housing against the needle bar junction. You can actually see where the metal has been scratched and scored, after countless hours of rubbing. This is even more pronounced when the machine is set to maximum zigzag. This is all quite audible especially sewing at higher speeds.
I can pretty much grab any linkage with my fingers and wiggle it around--there is literally that much play in this machine. I hesitate to make a blanket statement about 148s in general but in my experience, I find that the 158s are much better constructed with much less play. Regardless, the tolerances on any of the Kenmores don't come close to the precision engineering found on vintage Singers and some of the more reputable manufacturers. Which is totally understandable, because people didn't buy Kenmores for precision engineering, they bought them for their rich feature sets.
Speaking of rich feature sets, I absolutely love the spring loaded adjustable presser foot pressure mechanism.
Built like the typical Kenmore tank, the motor on the 531 is fairly beefy weighing in at 1.2 amps. The machine tops out at about 950 stitches per minute. I suspect there is just too much slop in it to get any faster. It's worth noting, this machine is super heavy and as a result, super stable.
- Oscillating hook
- 3 functional stitches
- Satin stitch stitch width locking dial
- 4 step buttonhole
- Feed dog drop
- Push button reverse
- Extra high presser foot lift
- Adjustable presser foot pressure
- Class 15 bobbins
- Accepts low shank feet
I'm usually a fan of Kenmores since they sit at such a sweet spot balancing features versus build quality but I feel that the 148.531 has definitely crossed my threshold in terms of what I'd consider enjoyable to sew on. That being said, I'll gladly choose this over a modern Singer, any day.