The Singer 185 Portable Sewing Machine

It's been awhile since I brought home another vintage sewing machine, right? I found this sewing machine in it's little carrying case on the floor of a second hand store hiding beneath a unicycle.

This is a Singer 185 K portable sewing machine. The letter after the number denotes manufacturing location, and the K means this little machine was made in Kilbowie, Scotland.

Apparently, the 185 was an updated version of the tried-and-true 99 model, the first real portable machine introduced in 1911. I guess after manufacturing the 99 for nearly 50 years with no changes, Singer thought it might be good to give it a makeover. The 185's were made from abut 1958 to 1963 and were available with a plastic carrying case. The plastic cases haven't worn well over time, they grow brittle and break easily. But, since the 185 has the same base size as the 99, this machine will fit any wooden case or cabinet made for the 99.

My particular 185 was manufactured in 1960. When I picked her up, I wasn't totally sure she worked because the belt was in shreds! But the machine turned freely with the handwheel, and the motor turned as well.

I replaced the belt and gave her a thorough cleaning this morning. The light on the back of the machine is TOTALLY futuristic looking! On the plus side, the light is in good working order. On the down side, I read online that the funky little bulb inside this light is no longer available, and I'm not sure where to find a new bulb when the current one burns out.

When I tried to sew the first time, the machine wouldn't form tight stitches.

After like 45 minutes of troubleshooting, I figured out that the whole tension assembly had been put together wrong! Just needed to be put together the right way, and she sewed!

My 185 didn't come with a manual or any accessories (although I found a blog posting a nice threading diagram here), but I did happen to find this nifty sewing box, about the same vintage, at the same secondhand store.

It's perfect for holding bobbins and accessories right in the top tray. I found a walking foot, a patchwork foot, bobbins, and a seam guide in my extra parts stash to go with this machine.

They make a nice pair, like they're meant to be together.

This seems to be one of those machines that has a small cult following of people who absolutely love it. Personally, I think my 99 sews smoother and feels more solid than this 185, but it still forms nice, even stitches and works well.

And most obviously, it looks freakin' cool!

Happy to have found her, and looking forward to sewing on her in the future. Welcome home, little green Singer 185!


Anonymous said…
You can download a manual from
The Singer Spartan 192 is also basically a 99, but the cheaper (Spartan) version. They were made in 1958-59. I have one that I converted to my first hand crank, many years ago. The Spartan also came in the plastic bases that didn't last thru the years. Somewhere I have a 185K but have never used it (yet). Cute little machine you have.
Alcea Rosea 31 said…
Oh, it is a lovely machine, gorgeous colours. So typical of that era. I don't think I have 185k, I must do an inventory.
ceblakeney said…
My 185 came from the floor of a thrift store too! The machine is nice (you really can't kill these), but the case is the same horrible plastic as yours that cracks if you look at it sideways. The supports inside the base are all broken. Eventually I think I will toss the case and get a wooden one. And I thought the bulbs were the screw in type- now I will have to check when I get home, I never even looked at the bulb.
ceblakeney said…
Whoops, that fast, there's a fix! Zorba retrofitted the base in his 185 bulb fixture and it should be able to take an LED as well.
Erika Mulvenna said…
Thanks so much ceblakeney, good to know about the bulb! The inner supports were cracked in my case, so I cut wooden shims to support the machine by the little lets inside the base. It's working great so far. Cheers! - Erika
Erin said…
I use my 185j everyday! I actually have had 2 - one in a table and one that i also thrifted in a carrying case. My case and base was not plastic - it was a square wood covered in a type of vinyl with a plastic handle that was in great condition. Perhaps the made in canada ones were a bit different?
Erika Mulvenna said…
Hi Erin, your 185's sound cool, I've never seen one in a cabinet! I understand the 185's have the same base size as the 99's, so maybe Singer interchanged some of the wooden cases, but this is only a guess. Have you seen this little article about 185's? Lots of great info. Cheers! - Erika
Anonymous said…
The Singer 185 is actually a Singer 99 in a different paint scheme. Normally they have the same wooden box as a base, but it looks like in the 60's they changed this for plastic. Your 99 and 185 should sew identically. The difference is psychological, due to the plastic base, due to being made of aluminium vs iron (most 185s and 99s were iron but Singer did move to aluminium for many sewing machines), due to set up (tension, thread, bobbin etc) or it could be that there's something wrong with your 185.

You're lucky it's not a Singer 285, the later version of the 185 - they are apparently terrible. The Singer 185 is a 99, which is a 3/4 version of the 201, widely considered the best straight stitch sewing machine ever. From what I can tell from comments online the 99 and the 201 aren't identical inside, but the 99 is considered very good still. So going by what people say while perhaps it's not 'the best ever' the 185 is extremely good.
Unknown said…
I just bought one on an online auction and it turns out to be good for parts only. Anyone need one for parts send me an email
Anion said…
The 99 is a 3/4 version of the 66, not the 201. There was no smaller version of the 201 made, but all three models (66, 99, and 201) take the same class-66 bobbins, and all three have the "drop-in" bobbin with no separate bobbin case.

They're all wonderful machines! 99s are my personal favorite due to their size and cuteness (and for sentimental reasons), but I use my 201-2 almost every day, and their smoothness, quietness, and power are incredible.

Just fyi! :)
Erika Mulvenna said…
Hi Anion, thanks for stopping by! Yep, I've got a 99 that I love, and it is indeed a smaller version of the 66 (I've got a blog post about my little 99 too!). This 185 is like a re-packaged 99, but IMHO doesn't sew as well. Still, it's pretty to look at. Cheers!

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