Kelly, Meet Ms. Sewing Machine

It was a bittersweet moment when I decided to purchase a new sewing machine. I loved the old sewing machine, even if I never did get to actually sew on it. I loved the retro charm of the avocado foot pedal and the quaint manual with the mom and daughter on the cover. I loved that it was made almost entirely of metal. I especially loved that I already had it, that I was avoiding purchasing something new, for both economic and environmental reasons.

However, I just couldn’t get the machine to work properly. I think I could have created stitches that looked almost right, but even then it was with the tension set at zero. I’m certain that the machine is fixable but not by me, and I was too impatient to use my newly-learned sewing skills to wait for the fix. I also suspect that there may well be other problems with the old machine that I just haven’t experienced yet.

So, with mixed emotions, I ordered a new machine and picked it up from Sears on Sunday. (As you may recall, I hate driving in the city, so I took the bus downtown and hauled the sewing machine back home on the bus! Good thing it’s not as heavy as the old machine.)

Kenmore 18221

The fancy new sewing machine, complete with pink(!) dials and knobs.

I purchased a Kenmore Drop-In Bobbin Sewing Machine (Model #18221) for a few reasons:

  1. The Needle Shop recommends Kenmores.
  2. I used a Kenmore in class (though not this one) and liked it.
  3. I’ve heard from several people that you should spend at least $150 on a new sewing machine (this was $179.99) because the cheapo models are not well-made.
  4. I wanted a drop-in bobbin because it seemed simpler and better for changing bobbins on the fly (although, as it turned out I had paid a lot more attention to the vertical bobbin loading in class and had to turn to my good friend, Youtube, to load this bobbin.
  5. If I was going to buy a new machine anyway, I wanted one that did automatic buttonholes and had a few decorative stitches.
  6. Devon has this machine so I had seen it in real life.
  7. Finally, the reviews of this machine on are overwhelmingly positive.

The machine was very easy to set up, and I really put it through the paces in the past few days (more on that tomorrow). Overall, I like it, and I think I’ve been far less frustrated than I would have been with a poorly-working older machine.

Foot Pedal

Boring Black Foot Pedal

I’m sad that the foot pedal is boring black, but on the other hand, it handles really well. I feel like I have complete control over the speed. I wish it went a touch faster, but it’s probably best for my projects that it doesn’t.

I like that it has a variety of stitches, even if I probably won’t use them very often. What’s really nice (maybe all new machines have this?) is that it lists the recommend stitch length and width for each stitch. I think the colors mean something, too, about the types of stitches they are, but I’ve only done straight stitching, so I can’t really comment on that.

Close-up of stitches on Kenmore 18221.

Colorful! Note the pink reverse switch.

Like the old machine, this one too has an extension piece that pulls off for free arm sewing (which I’ve already taken advantage of). Unlike the old machine, this one is all plastic, so if a peg breaks, all my useful mechanical skills will be useless. Also unlike the old machine, there’s a nifty storage compartment in this extension piece. I love have the presser feet and extra bobbins right there. (It would be nice if the machine came with more than three bobbins, but I can always buy more of those.)

Storage compartment in Kenmore 18221

Love having the accessories so close by!

Overall, I’m very happy with the machine. I don’t have much to compare it to, but I found sewing to be pretty straightforward, and I was able to keep stitches pretty straight, even on long pieces of fabric.

I do have a few gripes. I don’t know for sure if I’m doing something wrong, or if these are defects in the machine. First, occasionally when I wind the bobbin some of the thread goes below the bobbin, onto the bobbin holder. When this happens, I have to pull the bobbin off, unwind that loose thread, and start over. I’m not sure why that happens, but it is annoying. I can usually get it right on the second try. Second, sometimes I will sew a long section only to realize that the needle became unthreaded, and I have to start over, I’ve been trying to pull out more thread before I start, but it’s happened several times. I suspect this isn’t really a problem with the machine, but it’s frustrating. Finally, and again, I don’t think this is a machine problem, I’ve had some difficulties with thread bunching. I think it’s happening when I try to sew too many layers, or when I’m sewing over other stitches/loose threads. The problem is probably just that I’m a total novice. I’ll see what happens going forward, and maybe I can learn to avoid these problems.

I read in a few reviews that the zipper presser foot on these machine was bad, so I used the foot from my old machine, so I can’t comment on that. Being able to pop off presser feet rather than screwing them off is a nice bonus, but I had to use the screw-off feature to use my old presser foot.

Stay tuned tomorrow for pictures/descriptions of some of my finished projects!


3 responses to “Kelly, Meet Ms. Sewing Machine

  1. Hi! My machine was dropped and the spring that resets the needle after each zig or zag popped off! Is ther any way I could get you to open the light cover and take a picture of the spring right there? I jsut cant figure out at which points to reattatch it and there is no service manual available for it! This would be the biggest lifesaver as I can only straight stitch at the moment!
    Thank You!!!

  2. Hi Kelly. I recently inherited a new Kenmore 18221. I’m also learning and now that I’ve made one project with 3 colors of thread, I’m out of bobbins! Do you know what size bobbins this machine takes? Between the manual and Google and my skills as a librarian I *still* can’t find a definitive answer. I’m hoping that as it’s been a year since this post you’ll have purchased those aforementioned bobbins. Many thanks! 🙂

  3. Hi. I was looking for the needle size (since I can’t locate my manual), and came across your blog. I used the standard bobbin sizes (I prefer the metal over the plastic that came with the machine). As for the issues you mentioned, I have the same ones. For the bobbin, I try to make sure that I’ve switched everything and seated the bobbin well, but it usually takes me a few tries. The only solution I’ve found for the thread is to always have a long (4 inches, at least) tail when I start a stitch. I dislike ‘wasting’ the thread, but it’s worth the savings in frustration. I also learned on a Kenmore, and enjoy the simplicity and versatility of this machine. I downloaded the manual from ‘’

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