Kenmore 385 Only Stitching Backwards

My Kenmore 385 100 stitch will only stitch backwards, and makes teeny tiny little stitches. It has been "squealing" for a while, but only sometimes and it went to this backwards-only stitch when I tried to sew some words with it, fancy stitches. I bought it in 1997 for $500 and it was a couple years old then. Is it worth repairing? Can I open it up myself?


Thank you!

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June 18, 20150 found this helpful
Best Answer

I teach total newbies Sewing 101 and do a bit of self-taught machine repair and refurbishment here in the UK where I've retired after 50+years in the US. I'm not familiar with Kenmore machines but my experience with Singers tells me what you're describing is very likely a belt failure. If not a belt, it might be a silicone-plastic-rubber part failure although I've never had a part make that sound you describe - that sound is 99.9% surely from a belt warning of failure. The only other possible is a wad of thread fluff/lint caught somewhere deep in the machine - bottom line is none of these are home repair possible unless you're a factory trained or very talented self-taught repair tech completely familiar with that particular model and in possession of the hideously expensive service manual (vastly different from the standard 'user guide/owner's manual that comes with a sewing machine. One of my Singer service manuals cost me $700USD in 2009, I believe Kenmore manuals are comparable in price).


Without proper training and access to tools specific to sewing machines, you are best advised to take this machine to the nearest Sears repair centre - they're factory trained on all models of Kenmore sewing machines including vintage machines like yours.

They have the knowledge and correct tool-bag to ensure they can repair your machine and then put it back together in a way that means the machine will still function once reassembled - don't laugh, countless 'basket-cases' have been brought to repair centres.

What is a 'basket-case'? Owners hoping to save money decide to open the machine, take the thing apart and then are not only unable to find and fix the problem, they have no clue how to put the machine back together! They finally give up, sling everything they can find into a box/bag/basket, and tote the container to the pro for rescue - hence the name 'basket-case'.


Basket-cases are VERY expensive to have a qualified tech work on. Avoid being the owner of a basket-case. Take it to a pro.

Be sure to ask for an estimate before the repair tech does any work and ask him/her to include a 'repair worth' estimate - it may be a comparable replacement with a new machine (under warranty and with all kinds of accessories!) is a more cost-effective and sewing satisfaction option.

A new machine will have been built with the latest technology (not always a good thing, but more often than not, is), and will come with a warranty, training sessions from the sewing centre, and lots of shiny new accessories that do all kinds of really cool things you couldn't do with the old machine.

Sometimes sewers do choose to have the old machine repaired as there is a specific function on the old machine they feel cannot be replicated on a new machine. I have a mid-sixties Italian built Singer that I know is a 'money-pit' machine - finding repair parts for that old a machine means I often have to use salvage parts with sketchy lifespans so I'm not getting many sewing hours from it but I do love the straight stitch on this machine, it's the best I've ever-ever-ever got from a heavy duty machine - lol, it's a real money-pit but I keep it going just for that one stitch!


Your Kenmore may be the same sort of machine, in which case repair will be your call - just be aware eventually you will not be able to pour money into the machine because the parts simply will not be available. I solved this issue (somewhat, it's still temporary in the end) by forcing myself to buy a brand new comparable machine, reserving my beloved money-pit for when I need that one irreplaceable stitch. Doing so increases the longevity of the money-pit;)

Good luck, hope this helps!

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