Kenmore 16231 90-Stitch Function Sewing Machine Review

The Kenmore sewing machine model 385-16231, built by Janome for Sears, has all the features that make this a great quality machine that is easily affordable.

If it looks familiar that’s because it is twin to the Janome 11590 – the refurbished and rebranded for Janome model. The 16231 comes with 31 built-in stitches, 90 stitch functions and simple electronic features; it has many of the qualities that make Janome a popular brand.

And what’s not to love, as one reviewer has stated: “If you sew, do NOT pass this machine up! This is a true workhorse, capable of doing more sewing than you can imagine…” (By icewolf of So happy and grateful in Indiana.)


In This Review:

(Click Ahead!)
Quick Stats for Kenmore 16231
Notable Features and Highlights
Reviewer Feedback
Manual and Warranty
Kenmore 16231 Extras

Quick Stats for Kenmore 16231 (Back To Top)

Price Free Shipping at    
Stitching Functions: 31 Built in decorative, utility and stretch stitches with 90 stitch functions
Button Hole Type(s): 1-style,  1 step buttonhole
Bobbin Winding System: Horiztontal bobbin winding
Bobbin Type: Top Drop in bobbin
Clear Bobbin Cover: Yes
Adjustable Tension System: Yes – adjust the thread tension dial for perfectly balanced stitches
Thread Cutter: Yes – You do not need a pair of scissors to cut the thread after sewing, simply use the built-in thread cutter located on the face cover.
Automatic Needle Threader Yes
Presser Foot Lift: You can raise the presser foot lift it about 1/4″ (0.6 cm) higher than the normal up position for easy removal of the presser foot, or to place heavy fabric under the foot
Built-in Accessory Storage: Detach extension table,  open the cover of the accessory box towards you. The sewing accessories are conveniently located in the box.
Carry Handle: Yes – retractable carry handle
Drop Feed: Yes – Drop feed lever located on the bottom, back of the free arm
Quilting: Yes –  with purchase of additional items
Embroidery: Yes – minor  monogramming and decorative stitching
Free-Arm: Pull the table away from the machine for “free-arm” sewing of cuffs and sleeves.
LCD Display: No
Light: Yes – Bright Krypton sewing light
Superior Feeding System: 7-piece  feed dog system to effortlessly feed fabric of any thickness
Pressure Adjusting Lever Adjust the presser foot pressure for smooth fabric flow of different fabric weights
Snap-on Presser Feet: Yes – 7 snap on presser feet
Stitch Length: 4 mm (Maximum)
Stitch Width: 6.5 mm (Maximum)
Maximum Speed (By Foot control): Over 780 s.p.m. ; (By Start/Stop button): Over 680 s.p.m.
Reverse button Press the conveniently located Reverse Stitch Control to sew in reverse.
Manual Printed owner’s manual in English, Spanish and French
Limited Warranty: 25 year limited warranty
Cover: No
Dimensions: W 16.3″  x D 6.8″ x H 11.8″
Weight: 17.6 lbs

Notable Features and Highlights (Back To Top)

The Kenmore 16231 is an introductory, mechanical machine that runs smooth and quiet. It has easy electronic/automated features, and also includes many features that quilting enthusiasts find handy.

The Internal Frame is made of Die-Cast Metal. What’s that mean? Well, the Die-casting process uses high pressure to mold steel into specific shapes and that makes for a solid piece of sewing machinery; sturdy enough that it won’t bounce around when you’re sewing at top speed!


31 Built-in stitches/ 90 Stitch Functions

According to the manual the 16231 comes with 31 built-in stitches. On the stitch panel across the top are the utility and decorative stitches. The straight stitches (#6, #7 and #8: left, center and right) count as 1 stitch. Across the bottom are the stretch stitches. The straight stretch stitches (again #6, #7 and #8: left, center and right) also count as one, and this makes up the total of the 31 built-in stitches. Then add the the one step, 1-style button hole stitch (BH) to the mix.

Stitch Selector

Selecting a stitch is really easy, and here’s where the mechanical side of the machine comes into play. No electronic push-buttons, just turn the mint green stitch selector dial, located on the side of the machine, until you reach the stitch that you want. The black bar between the top and bottom stitches contains the red indicator that moves along as you turn the dial so you can tell which stitch is selected.

To access any of the stretch stitches across the bottom row, the Stitch Length Control Lever (see below) must be set to the stretch stitch position. The Recommended stitch width and stitch length are shown in the Sewing Guide Display, two little windows directly above the stitches panel. When you turn the stitch selector, the information in the Sewing Guide Display changes automatically.

Stitch patterns are also color-coded:

Red: Straight, Zigzag and Utility stitches
Green: Geometric decorative stitches
Blue: Built-in buttonhole
Gold: Stretch stitches

The color in the Sewing Guide Display will correspond to the color of the selected stitch.

And, by the way, only the stretch stitch is available for stitch pattern #9. You just need to set the Stitch Width Control at S. S.

Stitch Width and Length Control Lever

Stitch Width Control
Slide the Stitch Width Control lever to the desired stitch width number. The higher the number, the greater the stitch width. The  mark shows the adjustment range when using the twin needle. The blue zone is the appropriate adjustment range for buttonhole sewing.

Stitch Length Control
Slide the stitch length control to the desired stitch length number. This is where you set the Stitch Length Control at SS when using a stretch stitch. The higher the number, the greater the stitch length. The  mark shows the adjustment range when sewing the buttonhole

* Remember to raise the presser foot before sliding the Stitch Length Control otherwise the needle may be bend or break.

Adjusting Stretch Stitch Balance

When you sew stretch stitches on particular fabrics you may find that the stitch patterns are uneven or unbalanced. One way to correct this distortion is with the Feed Balancing Dial, located under the Stitch Selector Dial. Simply turn the dial, using the screwdriver or even a  coin, in the appropriate direction (check your manual) until the pattern stitches out correctly. This is great feature and it allows you to maintain perfectly-balanced, professional-looking stitches.

Reverse Stitch Control

Press the Reverse Stitch Control to sew in reverse.


Although Kenmore’s 16231 is basically a mechanical machine, it does include some easy automation,  including features that beginners especially appreciate.

(1) Start/stop Button – Press the button to start or stop the machine. The machine starts running slowly for the first few stitches; it then runs at the speed set by the speed control lever. This is a perfect feature for a beginner who just wants to take it slow or a seamstress working on a detailed project.

(2) Up/down Needle Button – You can set the needle position with this button, up or down when the machine stops.

(3) Speed Control Lever – Sewing speed can be varied by the speed control lever according to your sewing needs. Move the lever towards the left (where you see the picture of the turtle), to slow down sewing speed; or towards the right (where you see the picture of the rabbit) to speed things up.


7 Piece Feed Dog System

Kenmore’s 16231 has a superior 7-Point Feed Dog System. Essentially, the feed dogs have  7 points of contact with the fabric above giving it a better grip on the fabric and ensuring that the the fabric flows smoothly and precisely for any fabric thickness.

Presser Foot Pressure Adjustment Lever

The pressure adjusting lever allows you to adjust the amount of pressure placed on the fabric by the  presser foot so that when you are quilting or working with different fabric weights you can still maintain smooth fabric flow and perfect stitches without worrying about the fabric puckering. The pressure adjustment lever is located inside the face cover.
Presser Foot Lifter
The Presser Foot Lift allows you to raise the presser foot 1/4″ (0.6 cm) higher than the normal up position for easy removal of the presser foot, or to place heavy fabric under the foot.


*Needle threader:  a handy feature if you have a difficult time threading the little hole in the needle.

*Drop Feed:  Drop feed lever located on the bottom, back of the free arm for free motion quilting, embroidery, button sewing and darning.

*Free-Arm:  Pull the table away from the machine for “free-arm” sewing of cuffs and sleeves.

*Additional Spool Pin: for winding the bobbin without unthreading the machine, and for twin needle sewing.

*Buttonhole Pitch Balance Adjusting Lever: If buttonholes or stretch stitches are not even use this lever to adjust the density of the stitch; It’s all about creating professional-looking stitches!

Tip: This machine requires oiling. Please follow the directions in your manual.


Reviewer Feedback (Back To Top)


This machine is awesome! if you are a quilter be sure to put the pressure foot pressure at 2-you will have no problems with bunching or sucking into the needle plate. Remember to have your bobbin winder off so your needle up/down will work! This is a …(Read more)

If you sew, do NOT pass this machine up! This is a true workhorse, capable of doing more sewing than you can imagine. I have made quilts, jackets, curtains, purses and many fabric art projects on this machine. The needle up/down feature is worth …(Read more)

I have found NOTHING about this machine that I do not like! The light is bright, the work area is great. The needle threader is fast and efficient. If you are looking for a really great mechanical machine, that is more than worth the price, this one is for…(Read more)

I mostly do repairing of jeans and coveralls for my husband, so I wanted a machine to easily handle heavy denim and twill fabrics. So far this Kenmore has filled the bill quite well! It’s also very nice to have a quiet machine, and one that’s simple to…(Read more)


this machine is easy to use but had 2 uncomfortable features..the reverse is push button and has to be held while reversing and the bobbin winding mechanism is adjustable and adjusts too easily, so can adjust to allow bobbin to overfill, unintentionally.

Bottom Line

Click here to read the reviews For Kenmore 16231




Videos (Back To Top)

Here’s a video to show you a little bit about how this machine runs. There’s also a little “tour” of some of the machine’s features.

And while we’re at it, just in case you need a demonstration, here is a great video instruction for loading the bobbin thread.

Manual and Warranty (Back To Top)


Kenmore Sewing Machine Warranty
25 Year Limited Warranty on Sewing Machine Die-Cast Metal Internal Frame; 10 Year Limited Warranty on Internal Mechanical Components; 2 Year Limited Warranty on Sewing Machine Exterior Components; 90 Day Limited Warranty on Mechanical Adjustments and Specified Parts

Kenmore 16231 Extras (Back To Top)

Standard Accessories

Spool pin felt
Assorted needle set
Additional spool pin
Quilter (quilting guide)
Light bulb
Seam ripper/Buttonhole opener
Large screwdriver
Lint brush
Large spool holder
Small spool holder
Foot control

7 Included Snap-On Presser Feet
There are 7 snap-on presser feet included in the box. Press the red button located on the back of the foot holder to snap-off presser foot

*H:Straight stitch foot
*A:Zigzag foot
*F:Satin stitch foot
*E:Zipper foot
*R:Automatic buttonhole foot
*C:Over edge foot
*G:Blind hem foot

Additional Accessories

*214872011    Walking foot
*200030108     1/4″ Seam foot

Products (Back To Top)

You may be interested in the following products:

Stitch by Stitch: Learning To Sew One Project at a Time