Meet Mabel, My 1948 Kenmore 117.959

I found her on Craigslist. I wasn’t looking for her but ended up taking her home anyway. My new, old sewing machine!  
My 1982 thrift shop Bernina had just sputtered her last breath. She just COMPLETELY conked out. The poor old girl could only take so much abuse, I guess. Well, I haven’t given up on her but it will be a little while before I can get her to the shop. I have a feeling it might be a dead motor. I got a lot out of her for my twenty five dollars, poor thing. I made the wedding dress on her without a snag and for that I will be forever grateful.
In the meanwhile, I had been reading on various blogs, particularly, Male Pattern Boldness, about how beautiful the straight stitch of some of the old machines are. No, they don’t have the zig zag stitch, but I could always make a clean finished seam which is a lot neater looking.
I found my 1948 Kenmore when I was hunting down vintage patterns on Craigslist. Yes, I am one of those wierdos who doesn’t bat an eyelid to drive thirty miles to get some old patterns at a dollar a piece. I once had my mom meet a guy at a gas station in Long Beach to pick up a stash of forties and fifties patterns. Gotta love you mom, and you drove a hard bargain too!
Tom was a retired fireman whose beloved mother had recently died. He was cleaning out his mother’s condo for an estate sale. I could tell he was bereft at the loss of his mother, or maybe he was a serial killer waiting for his next victim? He told me about the machine, but I passed on trying it out because  my baby was sleeping in the car. I had him bring the patterns outside to the curb so I could look through them. Of course, it turned out he was as nice as could be but you never can be too careful when buying things off Craigslist!
Well, he called back the next week and said he and his wife were still organizing the sale and would I like to try the machine out before the estate sale ? 
I said yes, I would try it out, being curious about these old machines. After about a half hour of reading the manual and trying to figure out how to load the bobbin and thread the machine, I got it running. Tom’s mother had been very neat and tidy, the drawers of the desk were well organized, and the notions looked as if they had been just placed there recently, and hadn’t been there for years. It was a bit like a time capsule to me. I pressed against the knee pedal. The stitches were beautiful and well aligned. My late model Viking Husqvarna Freesia stitches are not nearly this straight and even. I can finally topstitch!
It came with a big desk loaded with accesories and fancy presser feet. The drawers were chock full of vintage trims, zippers, and other sewing accoutrements. It even came with a nifty buttonholing attachment, which I have yet to figure out. To be honest, I  have yet to figure out any of the attachments.
But the machine and the table were maybe a little utilitarian for my taste? It doesn’t quite go with my French Country decor. I was hoping for something more streamlined, and perhaps a less clunky sewing table.
Well ,Tom told me he would  cut the price in half and knew his mom’s machine would be going to a good home if I bought it. That line works every time! Being the softie I am, and sensing a good deal, I was won over and brought it home.
My kids think she’s rather plain, not sensing her inherent beauty yet. There she sits in my dining room. I think I’ll call her Mabel..
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  1. DaneMum says

    Congats to you and Mabel – May your love be long and faithful. She’s a beaut!

    • paula Holdeman says

      My husband bought, what he thought, was a heavy sewing cabinet that looks like your cabinet for $20. When I opened it up, there was a sewing machine like your Mabel with all the attachments. Unfortunately, there are no manuals to go with it. Could you copy the 2 manuals that came with your machine and send them to me? I will pay all the expenses. Thanks so much!

  2. Melissa @ Love Affair With My Brother says

    She is beautiful, one day your kids will learn to appreciate her! I love the name too 🙂

  3. Jane says

    Mable is a beautiful ol’ gal. I hope she gives you years of great stitches.

  4. Carey ~ Gypsy Thread says

    Mabel is beautiful. The kiddos don’t know what they’re talking about. 😉

  5. Sewing Princess says

    beautiful buy! I find it fantastic that you gave a new life to the machine. I actually find the stand quite cool…sort of 70s style

  6. A.J.A. says

    Nice! I really like the cabinet. Those are old workhorses. I have had a few Kenmores (can you say “sewing machine hoarder?”) and currently do most of my sewing on a sixties model that I think is the BOMB. I hope she serves you well!

  7. Tiff says

    I LOVE your new old macine! And SNAP I just bought a vintage machine too! I wanted to get mine serviced before I use it. It is so exciting! I can’t wait to see what you make with her! X

  8. Ryan, Corrie, Max, and Jack says

    It’s beautiful! I think, that if you don’t like how it looks in it’s current housing, that you should try some paint! A different color might make it fit in better with your decor, and give it a breath of fresh air!

  9. Eileen says

    My Mom had that exact machine and it never stopped running. She loved it. Although she eventually bought a newer machine she could never part with her older one. I never sewed on it, but I remember the knee pedal!

  10. Sew Country Chick says

    I’ve cut out a yellow gingham from a Collette pattern and will be taking Mabel out for a spin!

  11. says

    Your new old machine is lovely, have fun sewing on it.
    As for your sad Bernina, do you know about Tom Jenson? He services my industrials in my home and is a wonderful technician. I know he has a new storefront in downtown Oxnard. When you’re ready if you want his number you can contact me via my website.

  12. e.e.mullarke says

    I recently purchased the same exact item at a Salvation Army and cannot figure out how to thread the upper thread. My old machine was a 1980s Singer…so I’m at a loss. I have a digital copy of the manual, but you love any advice you have!


  13. says


    The vintagekemoresew Yahoo group has the manual in their files section. You can join the group and get lots of useful info.

    The Floribbean

  14. Anonymous says

    I am happy you like your machine. I have mine in my garage now, but I grew up with this machine, in a desk just like yours, and used it for 50 years, until last year. I just got a brand new Husqvarna/Viking and will be retiring my Kenmore. I hope you have as many years with it as I have had. It still works like a charm. You can’t beat the old machines for durability.

  15. says

    I just bought this EXACT machine and table at an Auction 2 days ago!!!

    It’s equally as wonderful as you describe! It did take an hour to get it threaded – bobbin and all (yes I have the manual – no I don’t read manuals! haha)

    We’ve replaced the electrical cord from the cabinet to the wall – and need to replace the “rubber” bushing from the motor to the wheel – have you replaced yours or have any tips?!


  16. says

    I just bought this EXACT machine and table at an Auction 2 days ago!!!

    It’s equally as wonderful as you describe! It did take an hour to get it threaded – bobbin and all (yes I have the manual – no I don’t read manuals! haha)

    We’ve replaced the electrical cord from the cabinet to the wall – and need to replace the “rubber” bushing from the motor to the wheel – have you replaced yours or have any tips?!


  17. says

    I just bought this EXACT machine and table at an Auction 2 days ago!!!

    It’s equally as wonderful as you describe! It did take an hour to get it threaded – bobbin and all (yes I have the manual – no I don’t read manuals! haha)

    We’ve replaced the electrical cord from the cabinet to the wall – and need to replace the “rubber” bushing from the motor to the wheel – have you replaced yours or have any tips?!


  18. says

    Oh, I’m so jealous! I have to admit that I’m a little intimidated by older machines, but maybe I just need to do more research and keep my eyes open… very cool, especially with everything it came with!

  19. Emily says

    I just purchased the same exact machine as well, but in a different cabinet. Apparently the presser foot won’t go up and down, but was working fine a few weeks ago. Have you had any luck finding a parts supplier or good repair person? Or perhaps doing it yourself?

    Any advice for me in general? I’d love to send you pics of my cabinet 🙂


  20. Emily says

    I just got the same machine in a different cabinet! My presser foot won’t go up and down…any luck finding parts or repair people?

    I’d love to send you pics of my cabinet!


  21. Anonymous says

    i have the exact machine but i can not figure out how to thread it and get it take my bobbin, can you help me please.. please email me at

  22. Anonymous says

    What a find. I have this very same one, it belonged to my grandmother, but I don’t have a manual. do you have any suggestions where I might find a manual? if you do my email is Congrats on the treasure you found! It’s beautiful!! 🙂

  23. Anonymous says

    I think the name Mabel is perfect. You should continue this little blog about Mabel and your adventures together! 🙂

  24. Sandra Sanderson says

    I have one that i am servicing for my friend and it needs the rubber bushing that goes between the motor and wheel. Do you know where I can find one?

    • Michelle says

      e-bay has the motor pully, and several attachments by various sellers. Copies of the original owners manual can also be purchased on e-bay. I found a copy of the manual in a PDF format that I was able to download and print, as well as a parts list for 117.959 model. Anyone interested in this copy of the manual, and parts list send me an e-mail. I will be happy to attach a copy in a return e-mail.

      • Carol says

        Hi! I am trying to thread both the upper and the bobbin case on my mother-in-law’s old Kenmore model 117-959. I need the manual! Please help!

  25. Michelle says

    I have gone back and traced my steps some. Here is a link for the Kenmore Rotary Sewing Machine Model#: 117.959 Owners manual. This Machine is from the 1947-48 series. This is a PDF copy, not an original. It is free to download. You will need Adobe reader, and when you open the pdf. in the reader it is sideways, making it difficult to read. Just go to the top of Adobe Reader, Click on the “View” tab, and the top option is to “rotate clockwise” click this. Your manual is readable from your computer. I also have a j-peg of the parts list. This machine can be equipped with either motor shown in the diagram.

    This is where I found the PDF. of the owners manual “”

    This is where I found a J-peg image of the Parts list and diagram of parts for the 117.959 Kenmore/White rotary sewing machine.


    To capture these Images, right click on the Photo and select (Save Image as…) save it to your desktop so you know where to find it after it downloads. You can do this for each image on this site. I made a folder and put all my Vintage Kenmore Sewing Machine documents into one file for easy retrieval.

    I hope this helps those of you that are looking for Information on your Vintage Rotary Kenmore/White Sewing Machine.


    • Michelle says

      I attempted to make the links to the pages a click-able link, however once it posted did not post as click-able. So, do a copy /paste (minus the “Quotation” marks) at the beginning and end of the links.

  26. Tigerlily says

    I know this is an old post, but I have to say thank you!!! I picked up one of these in a cabinet for $15 off Craigslist a few weeks ago. It’s in rough shape, needs a good cleaning and possible repainting. The motor smokes, probably not a good thing, and the needle bar won’t move up and down. It’s going to be my first foray into vintage machine repair. The bad thing is, I had no idea what model number it was because it’s down in the cabinet under a piece of wood and I’m afraid to take it out due to the springy mechanism of the cabinet. I can’t do it alone, either, which is another problem because it weighs a TON! This machine is honestly a tank! My mom has suggested the name “G. I. Jane” for her because of that 🙂

    Your machine is gorgeous and I am so thankful to know now what I have! It’s going to be a great help to be able to find manuals and information on how to get her running again. I might paint it a dusty purple color, it looks so close to that already! I’m excited to have found out so much in one place! Many, many thanks!