Advice on buying, restoring and using treadle sewing machines – Mother Earth News


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Helen Ellis shares information on buying a treadle sewing machine, restoring sewing machines and sewing machine tips for MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers.

Helen Ellis shares information on buying a treadle sewing machine, restoring sewing machines and sewing machine tips for MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers.

Buy an old treadle sewing machine

[1] Singer is the first choice, White second, and other brands should only be purchased if they are complete (check the coils, the presence of the user manual and the condition of the moving parts). There are more singers and therefore parts for them are more readily available…if not at dealerships then other old machines.

[2] Singer made various models, and accessories weren’t as easy to find in all cases. If the machine you’re considering comes with only one or two spools, for example, make sure it’s the disc variety rather than the rarer long type.

[3] Look closely at the machine. A few small parts may be missing, but these parts are usually replaceable. Major hardware, however, is more difficult to obtain or repair. Move the pedal to make sure it works and check the rods that connect it to the wheel. Check if the skirt protector – a practical element – is in place. And, regardless of its condition, if you come across an unusable machine for free or for a few dollars, take it. It can be a great source of coins.

[4] If you’re at an auction and you hear a woman say she wants a pedal sewer because the cast iron base makes a nice table or the drawers make nice flower boxes, outbid her whether you can. This sort of thing is done far too often, and it’s a terrible waste of good sewing machines.

Restoration of treadle sewing machines

[1] Replace missing parts. Items like the spool holder or the leather wheel belt can be purchased at a sewing machine parts store.

[2] Run the sewing machine oil through the various oil holes.

[3] Use three-in-one oil to clean the head surface (the working part of the machine). Detergent may strip gold leaf ornament. Our Singer’s metal was completely black when we started refurbishing the machine, and we were pleasantly surprised to find the baroque scroll underneath.

[4] To redo the piece of furniture as it is, we chose the raw way… by stripping the old varnish with pure ammonia. (There must be a better way!) Then we refinished the wood and painted the iron parts with black enamel.

Use a treadle sewing machine

Rest assured that a treadle sewing machine can be used as creatively as any zigzag. Remember that your first few hours with the device are a period of social development and don’t try anything elaborate right away.

Tuning is greatly simplified by a good book on the operation of the treadle machine. My favorite is Sewing machine: a treatise on the care and use of household sewing machines and their accessories specially prepared for teachers of home economics, published by Singer Sewing Machine Co., Inc. of New York in 1923. Check antiquarian book sales for this work, it is valuable to treadle machine users. (The sewing machine is no longer available and I cannot reproduce any part of it because Singer company policy does not permit reprinting of company copyrighted publications, Singer, unfortunately, no have no further information on treadle machines for sale or free distribution – MOTHER. )

Here are some basic rules to make foot sewing easier:

[1] From page 7 of Sewing machine: “The most comfortable and efficient position for pedaling is with the ball of the left foot on the upper left corner of the pedal and the heel of the right foot on the lower right corner. Pedaling in this position requires much less effort than when the feet are placed in any other position.

[2] Always use the same thread on the bobbin as on the head. Both strands must come from the same spool or you’ll play with the tension until you go crazy.

[3] The machine has no reverse. Just turn the fabric over and sew in any place you want to reinforce.

[4] The large band wheel that drives the mechanism of my Singer is fitted with a strap lever to remove the leather strap when needed. I found this device interfered with the waistband and often caused it to fall off while I was sewing, so I attached it to the skirt guard and now removed the band manually.

[5] One of the most delicate operations in the normal use of the pedal drainer is the replacement of the bed slider (the metal lid that covers the can hole). On my model, this part must be slipped under the needle of the to the right, gently fitted into the grooves on the sides of the opening and pushed down to the left.

[6] Adjust the bobbin tension where you want it, then learn from experience the correct upper thread setting. (Some sewing machine owners prefer to reverse the procedure. See Kent Rayman’s suggestion in this issue. — MOTHER).

These few precautions make life with a treadle machine much easier. Now that I know my singer, I like him very much. When the old maid gets mad, we have a little conference… and I often find that the problem is ultimately very easy to solve.

Posted March 1, 1975

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