Thursday, November 17, 2011

I thought all sewing machines turned the same direction.

I had heard about a few machines that actually turned backwards from the standard. I finally got to play with one. White sold many in the 1920's and I believe Free Sewing Machine Co. also sold similar products around the same period. Pictured below is a Kenmore model 117.59, bought in 1938 from Sears, Roebuck and Co. (according to the sticker inside the cabinet) Kenmore continued to release upgraded versions of this same machine. The second release being 1942 and they added an extra "1" to the model number (117.591). In the mid 40's, a model 117.959 appeared. The White Sewing Machine Co. manufactured all of the Sears/Kenmore machines from the 30's through the 50's. The Free Sewing machine Co. manufactured the Westinghouse, and the New Home. The main difference was the upper tension. All had a similar setup using a friction drive tire on the motor. And, the hand wheel on all of them must turn Clockwise to sew. The White Sewing Machine Co. was the first to introduce this flat crinkle finish. It was marketed as a non glare finish which was easier on the operator's eyes.
Every one of these machines that I have seen had a flat spot on the motor friction tire from just sitting at that spot for so many years. So if you tried to run the machine, you would get a " thump.....thump......thump" every time the flat spot hit the hand wheel. I actually found a place to order a new one but I just couldn't wait a week to try and sew after spending several hours cleaning and lubricating this old machine.
I cut the old piece of rubber off and then took 24" of electric tape and cut it down the middle lengthwise. I then carefully rolled both 1/4" wide tape strips around the shaft where the old tire was. Wow, It worked!
The motor mount has a spring that keeps pressure on the wheel and like I said, it worked perfect. I could at least do a sew test. It was a challange to figure out how to thread the machine but just following the rule (#1-tension, #2-Take up, #3- needle) and a little common sense, I guess I got it because it sews beautifully.
I guess I never thought about it before, but the motor itself turns the same way that all sewing machine motors turn. Counter-clockwise. If there was a belt involved here, the hand wheel would turn counter-clockwise. Since the motor is directly connected to the hand wheel by the friction tire, it will turn the opposite way, Clockwise, or backwards to what we are used to today.  

Here is a Kenmore model 117.959 - (different Stitch Lever and Light)

Here is a Free Westinghouse Model ARE

Here is a New Home Model NLB


  1. So much great reading on your blog. :~) I have the Kenmore 117.591 in a very beautiful cabinet. It, too, was my first encounter with any machine, ever, in which the hand-wheel is meant to turn the "other" way.


  2. Can you tell me where you got your motor friction tire? I'm getting my Granny's machine and my aunt has just let it sit in her foyer for 26 years :o( I'm a quilter and tried to get the machine for years but...well anyway, finally. Thank you Amie in Tn.

    1. Do a Google search for Sewing Friction Pulley.
      There are several suppliers.

  3. I just inherited my mother-in-law's Kenmore 117.591 today. Do you know if there is a user's manual anywhere online? I've never used one like this. It looks like it's in good shape for as old as it is!

  4. I have a Users Manual in PDF file format but due to the size of the file, I am not sure how I can get it to you. Send me an e-mail and we'll try and send it that way. Go to my Complete Profile Page and click the e-mail link under the Picture.

  5. I have posted a link to a Kenmore Manual on my "Manuals" page
    found directly under the Perfect Stitch Logo at the top of the page.

  6. I just inherited a Kenmore 117-959 and it is in great condition. Even came with the booklet. It has not been used in about a year. My only issue is that I have no idea how to turn the machine on! Can you help with this?

  7. I just bought what I thought was a pretty side table with original hardware and it has a sewing machine inside with bobbins, a box with attachment parts, and a manual showing it's a 117.959 serial 503141. I know very little about sewing machines. I would also love to know more, including about where replacement parts are available if I need them. I hope it runs. I saw another person comment that the bobbin case, foot control, and power cord aren't made any more.

  8. Replacement parts are available. Just google the model number and explore. E-bay usually has bobbin cases and you can re-wire any 120volt foot controller to work with this machine. Please e-mail me if you need further assistance.

  9. Hello there,

    Could this machine handle heavier fabrics, such as vinyl?

    Thank you!